Notes on the Nuyoricans
By Soledad Santiago
February 19, 1979
It's 15 minutes to airtime at NewsCenter 4 on a Saturday night. Felipe Luciano, Emmy-award-winning journalist and former head of the Young Lord's Party, is weekend co-anchor. Around him at least six clocks tick simultaneously, making tangible the rush of time as news pours in from around the world.
"Ten seconds . . . 10 seconds to the real thing," says the stage manager, starting the countdown. Then Luciano begins. Twenty-seven monitors and two cameras are going at once.
Luciano is projected into living rooms around New York City every weekend. He is among the most visible of young Latinos who herald the arrival of a new breed—the Nuyorican. Technically Nuyoricans are second generation Puerto Ricans who have made New York their home. But to me, Nuyoricans cannot be defined by age or date of arrival. Nuyorican is a state of mind.
Many Latinos remember with pride the splash the Young Lords made across the front pages of the nation's newspapers in the late '60s. They remember Luciano as a brilliant public speaker who exhorted the young to rise up against the system. He once told a graduating class at East Harlem's Ben Franklin High School: "You are not going to get it by getting people elected to Congress, by a good education, or by praying. The only way you are going to get it is by ripping it up. Seize the schools, seize the courts, seize the prisons where three quarters of our people are." . . .
The successful Nuyorican is often cut off from his roots by the very nature of success, suspended in the time warp of a culture in transition, a culture of synthesis which is defining and asserting its values, attempting to allow tradition to survive assimilation. The dilemma of Nuyorican identity is not a racial but a class one. In the uncomfortable limbo between black and white, rich and poor, the Nuyorican pioneers a new identity.
The Nuyoricans walk a tightrope between yesterday and tomorrow, cherishing the positive in Puerto Rican culture while wrestling with its ingrained restraints that have no place in their new life; attracted by the personal freedom of an anonymous urban society yet repulsed by its indifference; aspiring to middle-class accoutrements yet shackled by the code of machismo which presupposes that the male in the family be the only wage earner.
Not all New York Puerto Ricans are Nuyoricans. Many stay in enclaves, never learning English and never touching the mainstream of New York life. The Nuyorican identity has emerged as the result of a series of choices, an individuality born of historical necessity.