“Silence, Storytelling, and Madness: Strategies of Resistance in Nuyorican and Other Latina Women’s Coming-of-Age Stories,” by Jane Heil Usyk Pub. date: Nov. 1, 2013
This book takes us into the world of young women from Puerto Rico now living in New York, as they were growing up and as they dealt with some of the major issues of their transition from childhood into adulthood. They are a particular segment of Latinas and were a part of a major mass movement that began in the mid-Twentieth Century.
The reason was economic; they and their families could no longer make a decent living in Puerto Rico, and, since they were citizens of the U.S., Puerto Rico having been declared a commonwealth, they knew there were jobs and housing available, in New York City, and they could come to New York without a passport. So they did, and these are their stories and the stories of their children.
The coming-of-age book is a little over 200 years old, begun by Goethe in Germany in 1774. For 150 years it was the province, mainly, of successful white men wanting to tell the story of their rise to prominence and their adjustment to their nation. But in the last fifty or sixty years, the coming-of-age story has become the property of the common man and woman determined to tell the story of their influences, hardships, family, teachers, mentors, education (or the lack of it), neighborhoods, and how they became the people they are today.
The Twentieth Century saw the coming-of-age story blossom, and we heard from many areas and groups heretofore silent. Among those who wrote coming-of-age stories in the Twentieth Century are ordinary people in every country, women (who had not been heard from much), and minorities, and among those minorities are Latinas from the Caribbean who came to the New York City area for jobs and better prospects. The people from Puerto Rico are called Nuyoricans, and they are the subject of this book.
The first Nuyorican coming-of-age story was published by Nicholasa Mohr in 1973, with her memoir “Nilda.” More and more Nuyoricans and Latinas have written stories of their youth since then. These stories differ from the original coming-of-age stories because there is a great deal of commuting between countries involved, two homes, two languages minimum, at least two schools, a confusing array of challenges regarding home, family, friends, languages, behavior, schools, cities, and their adjustment to each. Several characteristics link the stories: storytelling, silences, mental illness, language issues, the pull between the Caribbean and New York City, new neighborhoods, the question of “where is home.”
Ms. Usyk taught Puerto Rican teenagers in schools in Manhattan and Sunset Park, Brooklyn, for fifteen years, from 1997 to 2012. She is available to speak on the subject and sign books.
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