It was 1993. Bill Clinton was beginning his term as President of the United States—which would end in great scandal—and the pediatric surgeon, who danced “La Macarena,” was making his debut as Governor of Puerto Rico. The Internet and computers were just beginning to make up a part of some homes, and cell phones with giant touch screens were still the stuff of science fiction, along with flying cars.
A middle-aged Puerto Rican woman living in New York decided to write a book about her life. The premise was simple, it was the archetypal case of a family who, in hopes of a better life, – an American dream – moved to the United States to face the difficult reality of being aliens with papers. The book was titledwhen i was puerto rico(When I was Puerto Rican) and publishing it changed a life Emerald Santiago Forever.
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Many things have changed since then, but Esmeralda Santiago still believes in the power of writing stories about Puerto Rico and its people. She said, “My goal as a Puerto Rican writer is to write about the lives of Puerto Ricans, before and lives now.”
Author located on the island as part of Caguas Annual Book FairHe spoke with El Nuevo Día about his new book, “momsThe influence of his work, the changes in Puerto Rican society and the cultural battle being waged in the United States.
Santiago explained that through his writing he attempted to project the struggles of Puerto Rico through time. “Now in ‘Las Madres’ I’m in 2017, during a period [los huracanes] Irma and Maria. It is the story of a group of women who are relatives and friends who are on the island during a hurricane and the days that follow. For me, it was very important to write about this situation, because their memories are very short in the States of this kind of thing happening here in Puerto Rico. But we Puerto Ricans never forget that and I wanted there to be a record of what happened here and what continues to happen.”
He also talked about the cultural conflict that is taking place in some states such as Florida, where books are banned because their content is not in line with the speech and ideology of their ruler. “I think this is a very dangerous thing. When they start removing books from libraries or not allowing young people to read what they want to readSantiago maintained.
“My books have been taken from libraries and unfortunately some people don’t like them, they don’t want to know what I’m writing about. But I find that the more things get banned, the more people are interested in research, especially young people. Young people are full of curiosity, they want to know what’s going on and they look for it and find it. No I think it’s the government’s duty to tell us what we can and can’t read. It’s not part of what we expect of them and it’s not their job either.”
He said that the context and opportunities for Puerto Rican authors in the United States have also changed a lot. “There are many of us who write in English in the United States who are of Puerto Rican descent. Every book written by a successful Puerto Rican writer outside of Puerto Rico and inside Puerto Rico gives other writers and other writers the opportunity to try and write their stories.”
Santiago was worried about the big changes he was seeing on the island, especially with the loss of culture. “The most surprising thing for those of us who live off the island is how quickly Puerto Rico is changing, because I’m of the 20th century generation. I see more and more influence of North American culture every day. I see so much waste of Puerto Rican culture. I wanted to go to a little coffee shop.” To sit down and have a coffee, but there’s a Starbucks everywhere. “We’ve lost something,” he said. “Instead of having a coffee shop there’s a Starbucks, we’ve lost something from our culture.”
The writer called on the new generations to take over the country and preserve the things that characterize the island. “We are fighting to preserve our Puerto Rican culture and here in Puerto Rico you have to do that too. You have to write about your experiences, you have to paint, you have to write songs, you have to create art, because it is art that carries culture from one place to another, from one person to another.”
“It is very important that they, like young people, are the keepers of culture. They also have to recover what they have lost, because things, when lost, can sometimes be recovered“, He said.
“I don’t know how, because the truth is, I don’t know how, but I know they can do it.”
Annual Book Fair
Esmeralda Santiago will be part of the conversation on Saturday, 4:45 p.m., at the Caguas Fine Arts Center.
The annual book fair runs on Friday and continues into Saturday with a series of seminars and activities that will include the participation of many Puerto Rican authors.
on Friday at 5:00 p.m. There will be a round table titled “Who can publish a book for me?” , with spokespersons for various local publishing houses. There will also be a panel on identities and the future of Puerto Rican literature by Mayra Santos Febres.
Saturday afternoon roundtable titled “Hybrid Text: Tearing Frontiers” with the participation of Mairim Cruz Bernal, José Rabelo and Norma Lisa Rosa. There will be a panel discussion on “Faces of Writing: The Real Lives of Authors” and a dialogue on the 40th anniversary of “Seva” with its author Luis Lopez Nieves and journalist Benjamin Torres Gutay.
“Infuriatingly humble travel fanatic. Passionate social media practitioner. Amateur writer. Wannabe problem solver. General food specialist.”