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Essential Boricua Reading List for the 2017 Holiday Season

Another year, another list. Again, by no means comprehensive (and in no particular order), but there should be something for everyone. So whether you're looking to catch up on your reading or pick up a couple of gifts this holiday season, we've got you covered. And if you want more options, check out the 2016 list


Washington, Derrick León, editor; Renta, Priscilla, editor; Hutchinson, Sydney, editor. Rhythm and Power: Performing Salsa in Puerto Rican and Latino Communities. New York, NY: Centro Press. [ISBN: 978-1945662164].

The story of New York salsa—an up-tempo performance of percussive Latin music and Afro-Caribbean-infused dance—is one of cultural fusion, artistry, and skilled marketing. A multi-disciplinary collective of scholars illuminate how immigrant and migrant communities in New York City—most notably from Puerto Rico—nurtured and developed salsa, growing it from a local movement playing out in the city’s streets and clubs into a global phenomenon. The parameters of the work is expansive as it includes the numerous cultural influences of salsa as it is practiced in New York City and Puerto Rico. The papers interrogate the role of record companies and stores in supporting and promoting the 1970s salsa movement, the ways Puerto Rican nationalism and the Nuyorican Movement continue to influence lyrical content, the hybridization of dance styles, and pay close attention to the circular flows of people and ideas traveling between NYC and the Caribbean...

Vargas-Ramos, Carlos, editor. Race Front and Center: Perspectives on Race Among Puerto Ricans. New York, NY: Centro Press. [ISBN: 978-1945662003].

Race, Front and Center: Perspectives on Race among Puerto Ricans is a collection of essays that captures in a single volume the breath of research on the subject of race among Puerto Ricans, both in Puerto Rico, in the United States and in the migration between the two countries. It addresses the intellectual, aesthetic and historial trajectories that have served to inform the creation of a national identity among Puerto Ricans and how race as a social identity fits into the process of national identity-building. It also engages the process of racialization of Puerto Ricans in the United States highlighting how their race has mediated Puerto Ricans; process of incorporation in that society, how different generations of Puerto Ricans have understood their identity in the U.S. society, and how return migrants to Puerto Rico have adapted or re-adapted to island-based understandings of racial and national identities...

Vásquez Hernández, Víctor. Before the Wave: Puerto Ricans in Philadelphia, 1910-1945. New York, NY: Centro Press. [ISBN: 978-1945662027].

Before what some scholars refer to as the second wave of Puerto Rican migration; i.e. the so-called Great Migration that began after World War II; there was the first wave of the pioneering migrants who first settled in the United States. The early diaspora would later be joined by thousands of Puerto Ricans. The influx of migrants would then be converted into sizable diasporic communities in cities like New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. It’s a historical period that has received some though not nearly enough attention, according to Dr. Víctor Vázquez-Hernández; especially, he continues, when you venture beyond the early Puerto Rican community that began to form in New York City during the interwar years. Yet as the title would suggest, his new book, Before the Wave: Puerto Ricans in Philadelphia, 1910-1945, attempts to redress the dearth of research available and explore the early history of Puerto Ricans in the city of brotherly love.


Sanabria, Carlos. The Bodega: Cornerstone of the Puerto Rican Barrio (Justo Marti Collection). New York, NY: Centro Press. [ISBN: 978-1945662065].

From the 1940s to the 1970s bodegas, those ubiquitous corner-stores, in New York City’s barrios were more than places where Puerto Rican recent immigrants bought their groceries. As the photographs in this photo-essay book demonstrates, they were also anchors for the social and cultural life of neighborhoods. This photo book is based on a selection of bodega pictures taken by the well-known photographer of New York’s Latino life Justo Martí.

Melendez, Edwin, co-editor; Vargas-Ramos, Carlos, co-editor. State of Puerto Ricans 2017. New York, NY: Centro Press. [ISBN: 978-1-945662-12-6]. 

This book provides an updated overview of some of the most salient subjects and themes about the Puerto Rican population in the United States at present. It highlights the continued mobility and expansion of the Puerto Rican population throughout the country, including state-to-state migration, migration from Puerto Rico in light of the economic crisis in the island, as well as the role of service in the armed forces in anchoring new areas of settlement.

Hinojosa, Jennifer, co-editor; Vargas-Ramos, Carlos, co-editor. 2016 Almanac of Puerto Ricans in the United States. New York, NY: Centro Press. 

Learn more about the recent changes in the Puerto Rican community on the mainland United States through national and state-specific demographic data. The almanac compiles information on social, economic, and civic conditions of the Puerto Rican population in nine key states, and includes maps, tables, and descriptions of the population nationwide.



Melendez, Edgardo, guest editor; Venator-Santiago, Charles, guest editor. CENTRO Journal vol. XXIX, no. 2, Summer 2017: U.S. Citizenship in Puerto Rico: One Hundred Years After the Jones Act​. New York, NY: Centro Press. [ISBN] 1538-6279.




Totti, Xavier, editor. CENTRO Journal vol. XXIX, no. 1, Spring 2017. New York, NY: Centro Press. [ISBN] 1538-6279.






Fiol-Matta, Licia. The Great Woman Singer: Gender and Voice in Puerto Rican Music. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. [ISBN: 978-0822362937].

Licia Fiol-Matta traces the careers of four iconic Puerto Rican singers—Myrta Silva, Ruth Fernández, Ernestina Reyes, and Lucecita Benítez—to explore how their voices and performance style transform the possibilities for comprehending the figure of the woman singer. Fiol-Matta shows how these musicians, despite seemingly intractable demands to represent gender norms, exercised their artistic and political agency by challenging expectations of how they should look, sound, and act. Fiol-Matta also breaks with conceptualizations of the female pop voice as spontaneous and intuitive, interrogating the notion of "the great woman singer" to deploy her concept of the "thinking voice"—an event of music, voice, and listening that rewrites dominant narratives. Anchored in the work of Lacan, Foucault, and others, Fiol-Matta's theorization of voice and gender in The Great Woman Singer makes accessible the singing voice's conceptual dimensions while revealing a dynamic archive of Puerto Rican and Latin American popular music.


Meléndez, Edgardo. Sponsored Migration: The State and Puerto Rican Postwar Migration to the United States. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press. [ISBN: 978-0814254158].

Sponsored Migration places Puerto Rico’s migration policy in its historical context, examining the central role the Puerto Rican government played in encouraging and organizing migration during the postwar period. Meléndez sheds an important new light on the many ways in which the government intervened in the movement of its people: attempting to provide labor to U.S. agriculture, incorporating migrants into places like New York City, seeking to expand the island’s air transportation infrastructure, and even promoting migration in the public school system. One of the first scholars to explore this topic in depth, Meléndez illuminates how migration influenced U.S. and Puerto Rican relations from 1898 onward. 


Valdés, Vanessa K. Diasporic Blackness: The Life and Times of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. [ISBN: 978-1438465142].

A Black Puerto Rican–born scholar, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (1874–1938) was a well-known collector and archivist whose personal library was the basis of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library. He was also an autodidact who matched wits with university-educated men and women, a prominent Freemason, a writer, and an institution-builder. Diasporic Blackness is the first book-length examination of Schomburg’s life through the lens of both Blackness and latinidad. 



Muzio, Rose. Radical Imagination, Radical Humanity: Puerto Rican Political Activism in New York. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. [ISBN: 978-1438463551].

In this book Rose Muzio analyzes how structural and historical factors--including colonialism, economic marginalization, racial discrimination, and the Black and Brown Power movements of the 1960s--influenced young Puerto Ricans to reject mainstream ideas about political incorporation and join others in struggles against perceived injustices. This analysis provides the first in-depth account of the origins, evolution, achievements, and failures of El Comite-Movimiento de Izquierda Nacional Puertorriqueno, one of the main organizations of the Puerto Rican Left in the 1970s in New York City. El Comite fought for bilingual education programs in public schools, for access to quality jobs and higher education, and against health care budget cuts. The organization mobilized support nationally and internationally to end the US Navy's occupation of Vieques, denounced colonial rule in Puerto Rico, and opposed US aid to authoritarian regimes in Latin America and Africa. Muzio bases her project on dozens of interviews with participants as well as archival documents and news coverage, and shows how a radical, counterhegemonic political perspective evolved organically, rather than as a product of a priori ideology.

Duany, Jorge. Puerto Rico: What Everyone Needs To Know. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. [ISBN: 978-0190648701].

Puerto Rico: What Everyone Needs to Know provides a succinct, authoritative introduction to the Island's rich history, culture, politics, and economy. The book begins with a historical overview of Puerto Rico during the Spanish colonial period (1493-1898). It then focuses on the first five decades of the U.S. colonial regime, particularly its efforts to control local, political, and economic institutions as well as to "Americanize" the Island's culture and language. Jorge Duany delves into the demographic, economic, political, and cultural features of contemporary Puerto Rico-the inner workings of the Commonwealth government and the island's relationship to the United States. Lastly, the book explores the massive population displacement that has characterized Puerto Rico since the mid-20th century.



Galanes Valldejuli, Luis. Tourism and Language in Vieques: An Ethnography of the Post-Navy Period. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. [ISBN: 978-1498555418].

After more than sixty years of occupation by the U.S. Navy and intensive community struggles, the Puerto Rican island of Vieques was finally returned to civilian control in 2003. But, as this book documents, the Viequenses’ struggles were far form over after the departure of the Navy. The Viequenses were left to contend with the devastating effects of sixty-two years of bombing; the environment and health of the population had been severely harmed. Yet this was a minor issue in comparison to the effects of the newly instated tourism industry on the island. Drawing from ethnographic research conducted between 2004 to 2016, Luis Galanes Valldejuli captures the larger social conflict derived from the arrival of tourists, who brought change to the island in the form of land speculation, work conflicts, racism, language barriers, and neoliberalism. A close observer of the Viequenses, Valldejuli details the deleterious effects of tourism on the voice of the Viequenses: they were no longer heard. This book is recommended for scholars of anthropology, tourism studies, linguistics, cultural geography, political science, and history.

Baver, Sherrie, editor; Falcón, Angelo, editor; Haslip-Viera, Gabriel. Latinos in New York: Communities in Transition, Second Edition. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. [ISBN: 978-0268101510].

Latinos in New York: Communities in Transition, second edition, is the most comprehensive reader available on the experience of New York City's diverse Latino population. The essays in Part I examine the historical and sociocultural context of Latinos in New York. Part II looks at the diversity comprising Latino New York. Contributors focus on specific national origin groups, including Ecuadorians, Colombians, and Central Americans, and examine the factors that prompted emigration from the country of origin, the socioeconomic status of the emigrants, the extent of transnational ties with the home country, and the immigrants' interaction with other Latino groups in New York. Essays in Part III focus on politics and policy issues affecting New York's Latinos. The book brings together leading social analysts and community advocates on the Latino experience to address issues that have been largely neglected in the literature on New York City. These include the role of race, culture and identity, health, the criminal justice system, the media, and higher education, subjects that require greater attention both from academic as well as policy perspectives.


Rivera, Lilliam. The Education of Margot Sanchez. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. [ISBN: 978-1481472111].

Pretty in Pink comes to the South Bronx in this bold and romantic coming-of-age novel about dysfunctional families, good and bad choices, and finding the courage to question everything you ever thought you wanted—from debut author Lilliam Rivera.




Colarusso, Andrew Elias. The Sovereign. Champaign, IL: Dalkey Archive Press. [ISBN: 978-1943150106].

13 October ―01 and inching toward midnight, Lieutenant Frances Villegas sits at a Steinway trying desperately to play Stravinsky’s Petrushka while the Colonel watches, wheezing from a wing chair. They are waiting on the enigmatic voice of the people, Adjutant General Arjún J. Joglar, due to arrive at any minute from Lares. Downstairs, Baldomero Richter, presiding over a captive body stripped bare of clothes, hair, genitals, and one ear, awaits an order to terminate. It is the eve of the Evangelist Insurrection and in a few hours the great city of XXX XXXX will go up in smoke, swallowed by the warm waters of the Caribbean. All of this to declare, finally, independence.



Hernández Cruz, Víctor. Beneath the Spanish. Minneapolis, MN: Cofee House Press. [ISBN: 978-1566894890].

Beneath the Spanish tracks the way that languages intersect and inform each other, and how language and music shapes experience. Moving across landscapes from Puerto Rico to Manhattan to Morocco, these poems are one man's history and a song that begs to be performed.



Miranda-Rodríguez, Edgardo. La Borinqueña. Brooklyn, NY: Somos Arte. [ISBN: 978-0692789940].

La Borinqueña is an original character and patriotic symbol presented in a classic superhero story created and written by graphic novelist Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez. Her powers are drawn from history and and mysticism found on the island of Puerto Rico. The fictional character, Marisol Rios De La Luz, is a Columbia University Earth and Environmental Sciences Undergraduate student living with her parents in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She takes a semester of study abroad in collaboration with the University of Puerto Rico. There she explores the caves of Puerto Rico and finds five similar sized crystals. Atabex, the Taino mother goddess, appears before Marisol once the crystals are united and summons her sons Yúcahu, spirt of the seas and mountains and Juracan, spirit of the hurricanes. They give Marisol superhuman strength, the power of flight, and control of the storms.


Rivera, Gabby. America Vol. 1: The Life and Times of America Chavez. New York, NY: Marvel Press. [ISBN: 978-1302908812].

At last! Everyone's favorite no-nonsense powerhouse, America Chavez, gets her own series! Critically acclaimed young-adult novelist Gabby Rivera and all-star artist Joe Quinones unite to shine a solo spotlight on America's high-octane and hard-hitting adventures! She was a Young Avenger. She leads the Ultimates. And now she officially claims her place as the preeminent butt-kicker of the entire Marvel Universe! But what's a super-powered teenager to do when she's looking for a little personal fulfi llment? She goes to college! America just has to stop an interdimensional monster or two first and shut down a pesky alien cult that's begun worshipping her exploits before work can begin. Then she can get on with her first assignment: a field trip to the front lines of World War II - with Captain America as her wingman!


Rodriguez, Ivelisse. The Belindas. Tammy: a journal.

The Belindas is about how we can disrobe from the husk of our selves, over and over again, until new selves emerge. When Belinda returns to New York City, she is unrecognizable; an extraordinary amount of weight serves as her disguise—a necessary tool in order to stalk her abusive ex-boyfriend David. From afar she envies his sparkling life—he is still handsome, a law student, and he has a new amor at his side. And she has broken down on the side of the road. The Belindas focuses on the arduous journey of reaching and gaining a new self. Ivelisse Rodriguez is the creator of the Contemporary Puerto Rican authors interview series for Centro Voices. Her forthcoming short story collection, Love War Stories is due out in July 2018 and will be published by the Feminist Press. 

Lalo, Eduardo, author. Levine, Suzanne Jill, translator. Uselessness: A Novel. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. [ISBN: 978-0226207797].

The streets of Paris at night are pathways coursing with light and shadow, channels along which identity may be formed and lost, where the grand inflow of history, art, language, and thought—and of love—can both inspire and enfeeble. For the narrator of Eduardo Lalo’s Uselessness, it is a world long desired. But as this young aspiring writer discovers upon leaving his home in San Juan to study—to live and be reborn—in the city of his dreams, Paris’s twinned influences can rip you apart. Lalo’s first novel, Uselessness is something of a bildungsroman of his own student days in Paris. But more than this, it is a literary précis of his oeuvre—of themes that obsess him still. Told in two parts, Uselessness first follows our narrator through his romantic and intellectual awakenings in Paris, where he elevates his adopted home over the moribund one he has left behind. But as he falls in and out of love he comes to realize that as a Puerto Rican, he will always be apart. Ending the greatest romance of his life—that with the city of Paris itself—he returns to San Juan. And in this new era of his life, he is forced to confront choices made, ambitions lost or unmet—to look upon lives not lived. A tale of the travails of youthful romance and adult acceptance, of foreignness and isolation both at home and abroad, and of the stultifying power of the desire to belong—and to be moved—Uselessness is here rendered into English by the masterful translator Suzanne Jill Levine. For anyone who has been touched by the disquieting passion of Paris, Uselessness is a stirring saga.

Montes, Lara Mimosa. The SomnambulistProvidence, RI: Horse Less Press. [ISBN: 978-0998127200].

Poetry. Hybrid Genre. Latino/Latina Studies. "The Somnambulist, a no-holds-barred monodrama, jolts the reader awake. Lara Mimosa Montes is a startling and powerful poet, who opts for vertigo, and whose greatest virtue may be her ability to perform flamboyantly while abstaining from histrionics--to recuse herself, with the exercise of a triumphant minimalism, from her own virtuoso spotlight. Braiding together numbness and desire, she brilliantly demonstrates, in the close-miked fashion of a cabaret Maurice Blanchot, the weirdness of being a witness, a quietly divulging voice."


Delgado, Joseph F. Coming of  Queer Age in Puerto Rico: The Curse of Memory[ISBN: 978-1978111813].

The author chronicles the first seventten years of his life in a small town in Puerto Rico. Together with accounts of a childhood riddled with physical and verbal abuse Joseph F. Delgado analyzes the social macho-centric context in Latin America that makes it acceptable for men young and mature to have sex with boys without developing a homosexual identity and objectify passive sexual partners for contempt and ridicule. The author further examines how in Puerto Rico inflexible, religion-based conventions prevail in the debate on LGTBQ rights and political participation.




Rodriguez, Joseph. Spanish Harlem: El Barrio in the 80s. Brooklyn, NY: powerHouse Books. [ISBN: 978-1576878255].

When Brooklyn-raised photographer Joseph Rodriguez first debuted his body of work shot in Spanish Harlem in the 1980s, it changed the face of documentary photography. Grit, elegy, celebration, pride, lurking cataclysm—all embedded in the portrait of a place and the people. Now, three decades later, Rodriguez and powerHouse Books are revisiting that groundbreaking series: unearthing huge new caches of images, and re-editing and showcasing the body of work in a beautiful, deluxe monograph, reframing the project as one that pushed beyond documentary into the realm of fine art. Over 30 years since the project began, Spanish Harlem: El Barrio in the 80s finally brings this unparalleled endeavor to fruition.

Meltz-Collazo, Sebastian. El Golpe del Río: The Coup of the River. Brooklyn, NY: Lit Riot Press. [ISBN: 978-0999294321].

The coup of the river is known as the moment in which heavy rainfall turns a stream into an overwhelming body of water, violently washing away everything in its path as it rushes down the current. Taking into consideration this natural occurrence and the cultural/political status of Puerto Rico, Sebastián Meltz-Collazo studies these concepts as analogous structures evoked through the city of Ponce. Interconnecting photographs and memoirs, this book explores evidence and past experiences as results of varying yet synonymous episodes in the island’s stream, culminating into a singular, chaotic event through time, "El Golpe del Río".


© Center for Puerto Rican Studies. Published in Centro Voices 06 December 2017.