Response Proposal of Nuyorican and Melao

Response Proposal of Nuyorican and Melao


The late Tato Laveria is an internationally acclaimed Nuyorican poet who was based in New York and was part of the Nuyorican movement. Like other poets who were part of this movement, he has his roots in Puerto Rico and is part of the Puerto Rican community that resides in and around the city of New York. This is the largest single community of Puerto Ricans outside of the Island of Puerto Rico. Most of his poems were centered on the cultural experiences that he and his fellow countrymen had in a foreign land. This included issues of race, the memory of Puerto Rican immigrants and also their identity as a people. His poems were written in two languages namely English and Spanish. Occasionally he employed a mixture of the two languages known as Spanglish (Kanelos et al, 153).

In this exercise two of his poems “Nuyorican” and “Melao” will be critically analyzed with respect to the theme of ethnic identity of the Puerto Ricans who reside in the United States.

Essay 1: “Nuyorican” (1985) by Tao Laviera

Thesis Statement: This is a poem about a Puerto Rican who is faced with the uphill task of holding on to his ethnic identity in a foreign land.

Summary of the poem

The narrator of this poem is also the protagonist and he seems to be addressing Puerto Rico, his motherland in an aggressive tone. In the first three stanzas this character insinuates the fact that he has been struggled really hard against invisible forces to maintain the supremacy of this land yet it is all futile as there is a feeling of alienation when the character enters the island. The island of Puerto Rico seems to have rejected him. The character then states that he immigrated against his will to a land of greener pastures since the motherland was poor and unable to provide them with sustenance for the poverty stricken.

The poet further accuses his home country of being hypocritical in that it welcomes other cultures such as American Fast foods while at the same time condemning him for being influenced by the same. As the poem comes to a conclusion, the poet states with somewhat of a resigned tone that the rejection he has experienced while trying to connect with his motherland will not dampen his spirit as he still has a piece of Puerto Rico back at home.

Analysis of the poem with respect to the thesis statement

Throughout the poem there are examples of the theme of identity coming up. The first stanza of the poem which states “I fight for you, Puerto Rico, you know” indicates that the fact that the individual who is featured in this poem is facing the struggle of ensuring ‘puerto rico’ prevails as supreme. In any fight there has to be an opponent. Considering that the poet is an immigrant from the island of Puerto Rico to the city of New York in the United States, it is quite possible that the opponent of his ‘puerto rico’ is New York which is a major city in the United States. The poet is possibly referring to the clash of cultures which he is being exposed to. Being an immigrant who possibly moved here with his nuclear and extended family it is likely that they had a profound impact on the culture he adopted (Luis, 31).

The fact that he is in a foreign land with a very different culture seems to challenge him because he is torn between maintaining his roots and conforming to the new environment. In this struggle it is likely that the position of dominance for each of the cultures in his life keeps interchanging. At times the American culture prevails while other times the Puerto Rican culture does. The poet is however more conscious and deliberate about ensuing that his ethnic culture prevails hence him fighting for it. The second stanza which states “I defend myself for you” indicates the fact that this poet has personalized this fight. The element of defending himself could suggest that he is constantly being bombarded by elements of the foreign culture which he is trying to fight off so as to maintain is ethnic heritage as a Puerto Rican. This shows that the author constantly yearns to express his ethnic identity.

The following stanzas of this poem show the poet experiencing rejection in his homeland and this is very ironical and in a large way a betrayal considering the intensive effort he has put into fighting for Puerto Rico. The poet’s expression of these feelings is found in the fourth stanza of the poem and it is clear that he feels deeply offended by the island of Puerto Rico. This is due to the disconnect that exists between the expectations he had about openly expressing his ethnic identity and the reception he would receive back at home. Rather than a warm welcome, it is likely that the people back in Puerto Rico received him with a cold shoulder. Ordinarily one gets a warm reception when he returns home. Instead it is clear that the inhabitants of this island treat returning immigrants with open disdain.

Still in this section of the poem he indicates that the act of immigration has strained the relationship between the Puerto Ricans who stayed and those who chose to move to New York. The poet then makes a spirited attempt to justify the actions of those who migrated (or those of their ancestors).

The alienation seems to bother him a lot and as a result he claims that it was not his decision to move to America. This immigration he was part of was due to circumstances beyond his control. This is an insinuation that he may have opted to stay had the decision been his. The long stay he has had in a foreign land has had an impact on the way he speaks and despite his best efforts to remain an authentic Puerto Rican, it is impossible for him to hide the accent as evidenced in the way he speaks. This section of the poem is ironical in the sense that this poet has done everything possible to stick to his roots and still experiences the feeling of otherness as he is treated as an outsider by the very people he is trying hard to emulate. It is evident that the waves of immigration of citizens from Puerto Rico to the United States have served to drive a rift between the immigrants and the ones who remained at home.

In the end of the poem the poet in a resigned note concludes that the ethnic identity he has adopted as an member of the immigrant community works best for him when he is immersed in the immigrant community. Here he can freely express his cultural heritage without any fear of being judged harshly. This seems to be the fate of the hundreds of thousands of individuals who make up the population of Puerto Ricans who live in the city of New York.

Essay 2: “Melao” (1988) by Tato Laviera

Thesis Statement: The key message in this poem is about the fact that the challenge of one being rejected on the basis of the ethnic identity they have adopted is a very real problem for different generations of the Puerto Rican immigrant population that inhabits the city of New York. This challenge is experienced most when they are among their fellow countrymen whether in the United States or back at home in Puerto Rico. This rejection is largely based on the idea that one’s ethnicity needs to be tied in to the purity of language he or she exhibits.

Summary of the Poem

The poem features the cultural experiences of two characters, a man and his son. The man is called Melao and the son Melatio. The first part of the poem is set twenty years in the past when Melao is still a youth and new in New York City. In this new land he continues to speak his native language which is Santurce Spanish. Twenty years on he is still speaking the same language. By this time he has a son, Melatio whose speech is heavily influenced by the speech patterns of the black population of America which is said to have some soul in it. When Melatio speaks however, what comes out is a mixture of the local English and the influence of Spanish.

The fact that neighbors are concerned and critical about the awkward form of speech exhibited by Melatio does not seem to bother Melao since he too experienced rejection back at home for his use of Spanish in an English class. Melao seems to have become content with the fact that there will always exist critics who get bothered by differences in speech perceived as speech impediments which are caused by environmental factors. The fact that they are black means that the linguistic challenges that they will experience are unique in their quest to express their ethnic identity (Martin, 272).

Analysis of the poem

The first two stanzas of the poem are used by the poet to emphasize the fact that the issue of linguistic difference and how it impedes the ethnic identity of Puerto Rican Immigrants of African descent. This is because of the use of the father and son which is used to juxtapose the cultural dilemma that continues to plague different generations. The fact that the father continues to speak Santurce Spanish twenty years down the line is a clear suggestion that this is part and parcel of his person. Despite emigrating to New York and interacting from people on the streets, he has not changed the language he speaks or the way he speaks it. This fact is instrumental in helping the reader of the poem to understand the rest of the poem and the poet’s core message (Duany, 6).

The two languages that Melao and Melatio are expected to speak perfectly are English and Spanish respectively. This is however clearly an impossibility for both of them to do because of the fact that they have grown up in neighborhoods where their languages of choice are spoken in a particular way. Melao for instance speaks Santurce Spanish and this seems to have made his English teachers uncomfortable considering the fact that it was mainly spoken by the black community in Puerto Rico. This therefore indicates the fact that the English teachers who taught in the school he attended had their ideals shaped by imperialism (Martinez, 30).

This rejection he experienced probably made it harder for him to learn English and as a result he only remains with the Santurce Spanish. This discrimination he faced on the basis of the language he speaks not only made him closer to his Spanish. It also gave him the ability to empathize with his son, Melatio’s situation rather than side with the neighbors and Puerto Ricans who discriminated against him (Martinez, 30). As a matter of fact, the way he perceives the son’s speech suggests that it is pleasant to the ear.

The reason why Melatio has a unique form of speech that combines English and Spanish into a language called Spanglish is the fact that in New York he found comfort hanging out with the African American youths whose first language is English though spoken in a manner that makes them sound ‘soulful.’ Soulful speech presumably has more emotion in it. This creates for Melatio a dilemma in his effort to express his ethnic identity because what he portrays is a mixture of his Puerto Rican roots and his association with the African Americans who stay in New York. This is not causes for him problems with not just the immigrant Puerto Rican Community but also the ones who are still in Puerto Rico. The fact that he is black only serves to further complicate his situation since it is easier for him to assimilate into the African American community since he feels alienated by the community that he belongs to (Martin, 272).

The rejection and discrimination that the father and son have experienced appears to strengthen their bond. This seems to go against the norm as the main cause of a rift between generations is the adoption of new ideals by the younger ones which makes them appear to be rebellious against the way of life advocated for by their elders.

This situation of being rejected by his fellow countrymen however seems to bother Melao. As a result of this, Melao and his son have resolved to confirm their Puerto Rican identity by confirming to those who doubt them by telling them that they are indeed from that country though different in appearance from the general population. What is being expressed by the poet is a deliberate decision by those who feel that they are part of the mainstream or ‘normal’ to push out those who are different. This then imposes on Melao and his Son a feeling of being outsiders in their own communities. Melao experienced this most during his formative years back in Puerto Rico while his son has experienced the same while in the United States. Despite these challenges they have decided to remain steadfast in holding on to their Puerto Rican roots regardless of how tough it is for them (Martin, 272).

Works Cited

Duany, Jorge. “Nation on the move: The construction of cultural identities in Puerto Rico and the diaspora.” American Ethnologist 27.1 (2000): 5-30.

KANELLOS, NICOLAS. “LAVIERA, TATO 153.” Biographical dictionary of Hispanic literature in the United States: the literature of Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans, and other Hispanic writers (1989): 153.

Luis, William. “Afro-Latino Identity And the Poetry of Tato Laviera.” Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas 78. 42 [1] (2009) 31-41MLA International  Bibliography. Web 22 Nov 2013

Martin Rodriguez, Manuel M. “A Sense of (Dis)Place(Ment)” Tato Laviera’s American Identity.” Monographic Review/Revisita Monographica 15. (1999):  262-272 MLA Internaitonal Bibliography. Web. 22 Nov 2013

Martinez, Stephanie, Alvarez “!?Que Que?!” – Transculturation and Tato Laviera’s Spanglish Poetics.” Centro Journal 18.2 (2006): 24-47. Academic Search Complete. Web 7 Nov 2013




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