Every second Sunday in June, New York City's 5th Avenue is lined with proud Puerto Ricans for the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade. The parade is one of the largest demonstrations of ethnic pride in the U.S. and is a cultural icon in New York City.
As a kid, I watched the parade on TV but I didn't know much else about Puerto Rican culture or history other than it was a commonwealth of the United States. I discovered the world of Puerto Rican literature and history as a college student. From that moment I scoured bookstore shelves and searched the internet, eager to find any book penned by or about a Puerto Rican.
I am among the millions proudly waving my flag and dancing in celebration each year. But beyond la bandera and bomba, there is so much more to Puerto Rican culture and history. I may not speak Spanish (that's a topic for another day) but I do know my history. It's knowledge that instills my pride, not language. I want to be able to pass that knowledge on to my son.
The books on my list aren't for children. While many of the memoirs are acceptable for young adults, the books listed are for mature readers who want to know more about Puerto Rican culture. Because the more you know about culture and heritage, the better you can teach it to your kids.
Here are 26 books I love that celebrate Puerto Rican culture:
1. " When I Was Puerto Rican " by Esmeralda Santiago A coming of age memoir that begins in rural Puerto Rican and ends in Brooklyn, New York. Not only does it embrace the beauty of childhood, it captures the bittersweet moment when you realize childhood is over.
2. "Almost a Woman" by Esmeralda Santiago Picking up where "When I was Puerto Rican" left off, this book tells the story of a young woman caught between two worlds, clashing between cultures during her journey into womanhood.
3. "Down These Mean Streets" by Piri Thomas This book is a beautifully written and heartbreaking account of life and survival in Spanish Harlem in the 1940s.
5. "Nilda" by Nicholasa Mohr This classic novel chronicles a Puerto Rican girl's coming of age in New York during World War II.
6. "An Island Like You" by Judith Ortiz Cofer This award-winning Young Adult novel is a collection of stories of teenagers in El Barrio caught between two cultures — "childhood and adulthood."
7. "When the Spirit Dances Mambo" by Marta Moreno Vega This book is a memoir that celebrates mambo, family and the American culture of the 1950s and '60s.
8. "The Ladies Gallery" by Irene Vilar In this memoir of family secrets, Vilar (the granddaughter of political activist Lolita Lebron) explores the "familial pattern of self-destruction" to reclaim her own identity.
9. "A Child of No Importance" by Luis C. Miranda Miranda grew up an orphan in Puerto Rico. In spite of poverty and tragedy, he continued to dream of a life in New York City. "A Child of No Importance" is an inspirational novel of overcoming all odds to achieve your dreams and create the life you want.
10. "Puerto Rican Voices in English" by Carmen Dolores Hernandez Hernandez interviews 14 successful Puerto Rican writers living in the United States. The writers speak with candor about their lives and their literary legacy.
11. "Growing Up Puerto Rican" edited by Joy L. DeJesus This anthology features 20 essays, excerpts and short stories from prominent Puerto Rican writers, including Abraham Rodriguez, Jr., Edwin Torres and Ana Lydia Vega.
12: "Boricuas: Influential Puerto Rican Writings" edited by Roberto Santiago This anthology covers more than 50 selections of poetry, fiction, plays, essays, monologues, screenplays, and speeches "from some of the most vibrant and original voices in Puerto Rican literature."
13. "Short Eyes" by Miguel Pinero This powerful and poignant prison life drama won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award.
This bilingual collection of photographs, documents and advertisements are amazing pieces of history.
18. "Worker in the Cane" by Sidney W. Mintz This book chronicals the testimony of Don Taso, a Puerto Rican sugar cane worker during the Great Depression.
19. "Women in San Juan (1820-1868)" by Felix V. Matos-Rodriguez The women in our lives have always been influential. The "Women in San Juan" places the historical roots of female contributions to the urban modernization of San Juan.
20. "The Route: The Forgotten Side of Vieques" by Pragmacio The island of Vieques became a significant Naval station during World War II and forced Vieques families to be expropriated from their homes. "The Route" is a recollection of stories of Vieques residents between 1930-1950.
21. "Stories from Puerto Rico" by Robert L. Muckley and Adela Martinez-Santiago This book celebrates Puerto Rican folklore and legends. (bilingual)
22. "The Puerto Ricans" edited by Kal Wagenheim and Olga Jimenez de Wagenheim Hailed by The New York Times as "an essential sourcebook," this is the go-to book if you ever have a question regarding Puerto Rican history.
23. "Puerto Rico's Fighting 65th U.S.Infantry" by W.W. Harris, Brigadier General, U.S. Army (Ret.) The 65th Infantry Regimen was a Puerto Rican unit in the United States Army. In spite of prejudice and mistreatment, the men of the 65th fought with pride and valor. In 2014, they were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
24. "The Puerto Rican Diaspora" edited by Carmen Teresa Whalen and Victor Vazquez-Hernandez This book is a collection of essays which provides insight to colonization, citizenship and migration.
25. "Song of the Simple Truth" by Julia De Burgos This book is the first bilingual edition of more than 200 of Julia De Burgos' complete poems. Her poetry is passionate, political and perfect for all lovers of literature.
26. "Puerto Rico in the American Century: A History since 1898" by Cesar J. Ayala and Rafael Bernabe This book is the first English-language volume of Puerto Rican history to include contemporary history (until 2004). It provides a broad overview of who we are, where we came from and where we are going.