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New York + Puerto Rico = Nuyorican!

NYC History NYC Story

New York and Puerto Rico go together like red beans and rice, like salsa and merengue. Though, I never really thought much about the Puerto Rican diaspora into our city until last weekend when I had the awesome opportunity to visit the Rich Port with my lady Danielle for her 30th birthday!

Puerto Rico in New YorkGid and Dani eating chicken Pasteles in the El Yunque Rainforest!

And good heavens, what a beautiful island. Puerto Rico was first “discovered” by Christopher Columbus on his second trip to the Americas in 1493. “Discovered” being a subjective term of course, as it was already populated by Taino Indians who called the Island Boriken (or Borinquen in Spanish, a title which many Puerto Ricans still claim with pride.) Columbus lieutenant Juan Ponce de Leon established it as a Spanish colony in 1508.

USS Maine Memorial

During the American imperialist expansion of the 1890s, the U.S. offered Spain $160 million dollars for the Rich Port. Spain refused. Eight years later, the Spanish-American war made the acquisition of P.R. much easier. The explosion and sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor acted as a catalyst for the war, as well as made for a pretty sculpture at the SW entrance of Central Park.

Puerto Rico in New YorkPuerto Rican roots in the Rainforest run deep!

It wasn’t until the Gran Migracion (Grand Migration) of the 1950’s and 1960’s when Puerto-Ricans and Puerto-Rican culture began to truly infiltrate major American cities like New York, giving birth to the very unique term: Nuyorican! Like the Italians before them, and the Eastern European Jews before them, and the Irish before themthese new New Yorkers made the city their own.

Once Puerto Ricans settled in places like East Harlem, the Lower East Side, Brooklyn and The Bronx, they merged their native culture with the pace, energy and attitude of New York, creating a cultural group all their own. Though Boricuas (native Puerto Ricans) tend to use the term Nuyorican as derogatory for 2nd and 3rd generation American-born Puerto Ricans, many “Nuyoricans” have adopted the term with great pride, especially on E4th street and Ave B at the New York Landmark: The Nuyorican Poets Cafe.

Puerto Rico in New York

Possibly the most venerated spot in New York for Poetry and Performance art, The Nuyorican Poets Cafe was founded in 1973 as a non-profit arts space in the back of an old Irish pub. Throughout the waves of gentrification that have changed the neighborhood all around it, has stayed a non-profit arts organization, attracting three generations of poets and activists to its stage ever since.

Puerto Rico in New York

Pinero and Rivas, two legendary Nuyoricans who founded the Poets cafe in 1973

Now it’s time for my full disclosure: I did not get to experience the beauty and wonderment of Puerto Rican culture during my 4-day trip to the island, as Danielle and I spent the vast majority of the time sitting poolside at a resort, sipping pina coladas and working on our tans. And no. I’m not ashamed of that.

So to make up for the decidedly unadventurous vacation that I enjoyed immensely, I think I’m going to take another weekend trip all the way down to Loisaida, hear some slam poetry at the Nuyorican Cafe and then finish it off with a lip-smacking, hot plate of Mofongo! Happy Spring everyone!

By Gideon Levy