I was eight years old when I was became aware that the universe I inhabited in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles included people who were Latino but not Mexican like me. When I asked my mother about the neighbor woman that spoke with a funny accent, I was told she spoke Spanish differently from us because “ella es Puertoriqueña” I really didn’t know what that meant, except that the woman made an excellent dish I grew to love which she called, “arroz con pollo.” This was my introduction to a people that would become friends, allies and collaborators for the rest of my life and which reflects the enduring bond between the people of Borinquen and Aztlán. Perhaps because of the innate bond forged of a shared poverty and discrimination and, of course, our common Latino culture, Puerto Ricans have always been there throughout my career as a filmmaker and social activist.
This month mainland Puerto Ricans celebrate Dia de San Juan, a prideful celebration of Puerto Ricanness, and Latinopia will join in with posting blogs and videos about the Puerto Rican experience through out the month.
Puerto Ricans were there in 1969 when I participated in and filmed the Denver Youth Conference, a gathering of some 1500 Mexican American and Puerto Rican young people rallying for social justice and equality. The Denver Youth Conference was an important event for both groups. Mexican Americans came away calling themselves “Chicanos,” and espousing a nationalist ideology of “Aztlán,” the ancient homeland of our Mexican ancestors; this an ideological thrust that would inspire social activism for decades. For Puerto Ricans, “Young Lords” and other Nuyoricans, who had a homeland known as Boriquen (the original Taino name for Puerto Rico), it was an affirmation of an identity rooted in activism and pride in being Boricuas.
In 1972, I produced the first Mexican American television talk show in Los Angeles. Acción Chicano was a weekly show covering the news, culture and arts of the Mexican American community. Across the continent, in New York City, a Puerto Rican producer, Humberto Cintrón, was doing the same thing–covering the New York Puerto Rican community in a television show he called Realidades. Landing these two shows, at a time when the national media ignored Latinos, was not something easily accomplished. Gaining this platform was the result of hard-fought protests, social activism and astute political pressure.
As soon as Humberto and I discovered each other’s work, we immediately set about sharing our shows. I’d broadcast an episode of Accion Chicano in Los Angeles and then ship the videotape to New York the next day (in those days program tapes had to be physically shipped from broadcast location to broadcast location). Humberto would then broadcast the show in New York before sending me his current episode of Realidades for me to broadcast in Los Angeles. We both understood the importance of sharing our work with our communities and spurring Boricuas and Chicanos on both coasts onward to social activism.
By the 1970s and 1980s, finding Puerto Rican brothers and sisters working side by side with Chicanos and Chicana in media activism was more commonplace. By then we had mastered the intricacies of how to work together, how to lobby together and how to win together. In media we learned how to confront our common discrimination with sustained effort to make public broadcasting more responsive to the communication needs of Latinos in the United States. As we lobbied at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Humanities, The Endowment for the Arts and other organizations, we sought more representation of Latinos both in television and film but also behind the scenes. We are successful on many fronts. That legacy has informed present day Latino media activism.
The bond of amistad and cultura is strong between the Mexican American and Puerto Rican people and is bolstered by a common love of freedom, commitment to hard work and an aspiration to build a better world. I believe this deep connection stems from the common heritage of having been colonized by the United States–Mexicans as an outcome of the Mexican American War of 1848 and Puerto Ricans as a result of the Spanish American War of 1898. Both peoples have had to struggle with the resultant legacy of poverty and discrimination, and yet, in spite of this, have managed to overcome and make major contributions to American society and the world.
This commitment by Puerto Ricans and Chicanos to advance our communities continues to the present but now has the added dimension of often being a joint enterprise: Boricuas and Chicanos, working together for a better future. Boricuas and Chicanos inextricably bonded by the past, the present and the future.
Copyrighted 2017 by Jesús Salvador Treviño. Denver Youth Conference photos copyrighted by Barrio Dog Productions, Inc. All other photos used are in the public domain.