Famous Puerto Ricans by Clarke Newlon

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Famous Puerto Ricans Analysis

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Reading about the strong women in Newlon’s volume is important for girls, especially those who are Hispanic. Carmen Maymi, Miriam Colón, and Concha Meléndez all give testament to women’s strength and ambition. Although Newlon could have found even a few more female subjects, the women he picks are strong artists and leaders. Maymi, who sees herself as the “chief advocate of more than 33 million workers,” as director of the women’s bureau of the United States Department of Labor in the early 1970’s, is a strong supporter of removing sexist obstacles that stand between women and work. After an early idyllic childhood in Toa Alta that was full of music and hard study, Maymi, the only child of an accountant and teacher, was moved to Chicago, where her father became a foot-press machine operator. In Chicago, she lived among African Americans, Hispanics, and whites. Because Maymi was both African American and Hispanic, she was asked to mediate by both groups, something she considered “good training” for her governmental work later in life. After obtaining two degrees from De Paul University, Maymi served in a variety of community and government positions, working to make life easier for Puerto Rican women. In 1967, she was named Outstanding Puerto Rican Woman by the Council of Puerto Rican Organizations of the Midwest. It was only five years later that she was asked to serve as director of the women’s bureau. Maymi’s commitment to women is obvious. She believed that she experienced more discrimination as a female than as a Puerto Rican, and it was in this area that she expended her energies. Maymi was brave, working to allow women to be more than caseras (ones of the house) if they so choose.

Maymi’s story contains all the elements that make up Newlon’s approach in Famous Puerto Ricans. He gives factual information in a journalistic style, such as dates, names, and places. This aspect of his biographical focus is complemented, however, by more personal information. The stories come alive when he tells of his subjects’ gestures and interprets them for his readers, and even more so when he lets them speak about their own lives through interviews.

In telling the story of golfer “Chi Chi” Rodríguez, Newlon relies on his subject’s book, Chi Chi’s Secrets of Power Golf (1967), and printed statements made by Rodríguez. While there is no interview recorded in this chapter, Rodríguez is portrayed as an interesting fellow. Young adult readers will learn as much about golf as they will about young Juan Rodríguez, who was born in 1935 in San Juan. Young readers will also learn about the barrio, the Puerto Rican equivalent of the American slum, where young Rodríguez grew up. The determination and spirit that he shows—caddying in the daytime for professional golfers and hitting balls in the twilight hours when he was “allowed” to use the course—will be an inspiration for young athletes. His rags-to-riches story is an exciting one. Included in this selection is an explanation of the types of golf tournaments, other golfers’ views about the sport, and a description of Rodríguez, a fun-loving, golf-loving man and a philanthropist who sent poor relatives to college. He is presented as a positive role model for children.

The chapter on Luis Palés Matos, the poet, is one of the most difficult to read. Included in the selection are English and Spanish versions of his poetry, comments by critics, and factual details from Newlon. The omission of Palés Matos’ own words is noticeable; the reader longs for the poet himself to speak, which he does only through his poetry. Yet the poetry itself is mysterious and interesting. Many of his critics were more concerned with whether his work was “Hispanic” or “African-American” than with the poet’s style. Palés Matos took as his subject matter the “African psyche,” as his early caregivers were African American and he drew on the stories that they told...

(The entire section is 1,083 words.)