By Elias Rodriguez
National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 to October 15. When you are a Latino every day is an occasion to celebrate your Hispanic Heritage. I am proudly a bi-lingual Nuyorican, a moniker utilized to describe a New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent rather than our pure Boricua cousins, who were actually born on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. In my case, the distinction is notable when I fail to roll my double r as in carro. Let it be noted, nonetheless, that I was born on a wonderful and vibrant island, Manhattan. La Gran Manzana or Big Apple lends itself freely to people from other lands and languages. The five boroughs that comprise New York City are home to 2,336,076 Latinos or 28.6 percent of the total population of 8,175,133 persons according to current estimates. In fact, one of the largest Latino organizations in the nation is only a few blocks from our building, The Hispanic Federation.
My parents were born on Borinquen as the natives originally called it before the Spanish conquistadores colonized Puerto Rico. The island commonwealth is not one of the 50 States, but anyone born there is a United States citizen. A new plebiscite on the island’s status is in the works as noted in the March 16, 2011, the President’s Task Force on Political Status. For many years I have enjoyed going back and forth on the New York to San Juan air train. To this day I still forget which airport terminal I need to go to when traveling there, domestic or international? Living in Rio Grande near el Yunque rainforest for a few years was an unforgettable treat. Afraid to fly? If you ever want to experience Latino culture in NYC, a trip to El Museo del Barrio is a great stop. Anybody have other suggestions?
Language is an essential element of my heritage. It is easy to learn Spanish when it is the native tongue of your parents and they speak it to you from birth. On the other hand, among my siblings we spoke our native tongue, English, and that is what comes naturally when I communicate with my own children. Teaching my kids Spanish is a linguistic wrestling match and I emphasize the importance of preserving our ancestors’ language as part of their identity. EPA’s Region 2 cover includes Puerto Rico and for the record, I am very proud of EPA’s efforts to reach Spanish speakers.