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PR Voices S1E5: Rediscovering one's roots the nontraditional way


Generally, when one thinks of rediscovering roots, it’s inevitable to conjure up images of tostones and Puerto Rican flags dancing around a pandero. As wonderful and symbolic as these images are, Puerto Rican roots and identities come in many shapes and forms. These are the stories we bring you today.

Julia Torres Barden turned a sorrowful life moment into an opportunity to rescue a culture she had long left behind. She shares with us the story of how she lost and ultimately embarked on a journey to rediscover her Puerto Rican roots. This journey culminated in a book, Newyorican Girl: Surviving My Spanglish Life, which tells the inspiring tale of a violent childhood in New York City and triumph over ones own circumstances. Today, Julia has continued her book in a new format—her blog newyoricangirl.com. This is a story about the healing power of sharing ones voice. 

Sometimes that rediscovery comes from the unlikeliest of places, taking us way back in history and borders to our Spanish roots. In this second segment, we bring you the story of Teatro Círculo, which began as a farewell exercise for distinguished scholar of Spanish Language and Literature, the Cervantes’s specialist Isaías Lerner, who was set to retire from his post at CUNY. Today, Teatro Círculo balances classic Spanish and Latin American theater with new and original productions that showcase the breadth and talent of our Latino artists. In the process, they have also expanded their efforts to create bridges between Puerto Rico and the U.S. Watch on to learn about this and much more about this unique Puerto Rican-founded NY theater. 

This episode of PR Voices finishes with a wacky and endearing look at El Barrio. Artist Steven Perez takes us on an unconventional tour of this iconic neighborhood. Perez’s is not your abuela’s tour yet it may very well invoke images of your own grandma. Perez himself was raised by his grandmother in the neighborhood, where he also developed an inkling for drawing and painting. As Perez suggests at a point in the intriguing tour, it is a very strong force that keeps pulling you back to grandma’s house, to El Barrio (or your version of El Barrio). That is the strength of culture, of connecting to ones roots. Meet the self-described loud artist and see this equally vibrant neighborhood through his eyes. This is a tale as old as time told through the eyes of a new generation. 

From Cervantes to new ways of seeing our old spaces, from difficult moments turned into direct pathways to a lost culture, our Puerto Rican Voices remain connected. This is perhaps what makes Puerto Ricans in the U.S. almost a larger than life entity—many unique voices that converge into one Puerto Rican voice, in many manifestations.

© Center for Puerto Rican Studies. Published in Centro Voices on 9 October 2015.