Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 649
Abraham Rodríguez (roh-DREE-gehs), Jr., is a contemporary Puerto Rican writer. Having been raised in the Bronx, he writes stories that depict the experiences of “Nuyoricans.” The concept of Nuyorican varies from generation to generation; Puerto Ricans living in New York during the 1950’s experienced life in that city differently than do members of today’s Nuyorican population. However, the struggle of Puerto Ricans, whether on the island of Puerto Rico or on the American mainland, continues to involve issues of culture and identity not easily revealed in the literature of social sciences, fiction, or elsewhere. The issues are generally complex, and work that tells the stories of the Puerto Ricans living in New York is of value both to the community in New York and to the communities of Puerto Rican people on Puerto Rico and throughout the mainland.
Colonization of Borinquén (Puerto Rico’s indigenous name) resulted in cultural conflicts for those whose parents migrated to New York in several waves. Puerto Ricans, although citizens of the United States, find their identities in terms of culture, race, and class recategorized by the establishment in the United States. These categories often conflict with their family and traditional beliefs—hence the conflicts and problems with their sense of self-identification and how to express their identification to two countries. Rodríguez gives voice to that experience.
In Boy Without a Flag, Rodríguez retells the stories he has heard from his father about American imperialism, specifically the conquest of Puerto Rico in 1898. Conscious of this history, the narrator refuses to salute the American flag. In other stories, Rodríguez depicts violence and poverty in barrio life. He uses the language of the streets and the rhythms of the island from which his family comes. Drugs, promiscuity, and other social issues are addressed in his other works. They reveal the intimate knowledge of a man born and raised in New York’s South Bronx. This area is home to people from various ethnic groups, where they live often in poverty but never in a culturally poor environment. Salsa, guns, and early death are all part of Rodríguez’s milieu, and his writing evokes passion underlying the story lines.
In the novel Spidertown, Rodríguez portrays the life of a young man, Miguel, who works as a drug runner for his friend and “mentor,” Spider. He seems satisfied with the world he lives in until he becomes involved with a beautiful, practical-minded young woman. He then he sees the lack of substance to his life and realizes he must make some choices. Comments about this work praise Rodríguez’s use of language, the pacing of the story, and the realism of the lives portrayed. It is a portrait of poor, urban Puerto Rican lives.
In 1993 Rodríguez earned The New York Times Notable Book of the Year award for Boy Without a Flag. He also won the 1995 American Book Award for Spidertown, which was also published in British, Dutch, German, and Spanish editions. In conjunction with Scan/LaGuardia and the National Book Foundation’s donation of copies of Boy Without a Flag, Rodríguez conducted a workshop for youths and others at Scan/LaGuardia Memorial House in East Harlem, New York, in the spring of 2001. His works have appeared in anthologies and literary magazines including Boricuas, Growing up Puerto Rican, Story, Best Stories from New Writers, The Chattahoochee Review, and Alternative Fiction and Poetry.
Rodríguez received a grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts in 2000, and he served as a literary panel member on the New York State Council of the Arts. His involvement with both the literary foundation and the Scan/LaGuardia Memorial House demonstrates his commitment to his community and to his art. In 2001, he wrote the narration for a film called Chenrezi Vision and started an East Coast small press named Art Bridge.
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