The daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, Nicholasa Mohr documents life in New York City’s barrios. Mohr examines the Puerto Rican experience from the perspective of girls and young women. Her female characters face multiple social problems associated with the restrictions imposed upon women by Latino culture. The struggle for sexual equality makes Mohr’s literature central to Latina feminism.
Mohr’s characters are an integral part of her realistic portrayal of life in a barrio. The parallels between her characters and her experience are evident. Nilda Ramírez, for example, is a nine-year-old Puerto Rican girl who comes of age during World War II. She also becomes an orphan and is separated from her immediate family. There are close parallels between these events and those of Mohr’s life. In other stories as well girls must face, alone, social adversity, racism, and chauvinistic attitudes. Gays also frequently appear in her work. Gays and girls or young women (especially those who have little or no family) have often been subjected to mistreatment in the male-dominated Puerto Rican culture.
Mohr, a graphic artist and painter, studied at the Brooklyn Museum Art School from 1955 to 1959. Her advocacy to the social underclass is visible in her visual art, which includes elements of graffiti. Her use of graffiti in her art attracted the attention of a publisher who had acquired several of her paintings. Believing that Mohr had a story to tell, the publisher convinced her to write a short autobiographical piece on growing up Puerto Rican in New York. Many changes later, that piece became Nilda, her first novel, which has earned several prizes. Mohr has also drawn pictures for some of her literary work.
New York City is as important to Mohr’s writing as her Puerto Rican characters. The city, with its many barrios, provides a lively background to her stories. Her short-story collections El Bronx Remembered and In Nueva York stress the characters’ relationship to New York. Mohr’s work can be described as cross-cultural, being a careful and artistic portrait of Puerto Rican culture in New York City.