Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In Famous Puerto Ricans, Clarke Newlon takes the young reader far beyond the popular screen image of Puerto Ricans in West Side Story (1961), the musical in which young Puerto Ricans of New York City try to adjust to their new surroundings. “I want to go back to San Juan,” sings one; “I know a boat you can get on,” another replies. These statements vividly relay the struggle any minority group faces in the United States. Newlon’s book, however, shows that not all Puerto Ricans must come to the United States in order to contribute to their culture or to accomplish their goals. Most of his chosen subjects traveled to the United States and elsewhere but brought their art, music, and politics home to enrich the lives of other Puerto Ricans. This book helps educate those readers unfamiliar with Puerto Rico and the accomplishments of many of its citizens.

Newlon’s book contains a foreword written by Maurice Ferré, the mayor of Miami in the early 1970’s, that stresses the importance of the book for all young readers, Hispanic and non-Hispanic. There is also an introduction, written by Newlon, that discusses the history of Puerto Rico, beginning with the voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492 and ending with the 1970’s. Photographs of all the chosen subjects help make their stories come to life. These thirteen individuals—politicians, activists, athletes, and artists—make up the bulk of the book. In every chapter, the reader learns details about an individual’s childhood, education, accomplishments, family life, and future direction. In addition, most chapters provide direct quotations from the subject, telling readers the story of his or her work and life.

By covering several aspects of Puerto Rican culture, sports, the arts, politics, and literature, Newlon provides role models for young people in many different endeavors. While the author examines these individuals, he also analyzes the tie between the United States and Puerto Rico and the beliefs, customs, and soul of Puerto Rican people. Their fierce loyalties to family, community, and art are evident in all the narratives. Even those individuals who focus their energies on politics are also sometimes poets and artists; both Luis Muñoz Rivera and Luis Muñoz Marín, for example, show their love of their culture through activism, art, and family life.