Puerto Rico basks in exports of pop culture
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- (AP) -- New York Yankees Bernie Williams,
Ledee and Jorge Posada helped win the World Series. Singer Ricky Martin is
burning up the charts. Boxing champ Felix ``Tito'' Trinidad just unseated golden
boy Oscar de la Hoya.
They all hail from the Spanish-speaking U.S. territory Puerto
Rico -- part of a wave
of new stars that also includes New York-born singers Jennifer Lopez and Marc
Although some Puerto Ricans lament that it is their athletes and
singers -- not
scientists and writers -- that are achieving all the fame, many more are loving their
day in the pop culture sun.
``It's like the world is suddenly discovering the talent we have,''
said Tito Peraza,
owner of the Milagros Barbecue in Cupey, Puerto Rico, where Trinidad grew up
eating seasoned red beans and sweet yellow plantains.
And while Congress is still reluctant to consider making Puerto
Rico the 51st
state, the stars have given islanders hope that their stereotype as ruffians and
cheap laborers may be fading.
``In a few months, they have done much to undo the decades of
damage done by
West Side Story,'' said local Sen. Kenneth McClintock, referring to the U.S.
musical that portrayed Puerto Ricans as street gangsters. His Senate colleague
Charlie Rodriguez delighted that Latinos have been accepted by American young
Trinidad's upset of Mexican-American Oscar De La Hoya in September
watched by millions. Martin, Lopez and Anthony have stormed Billboard charts,
while 10 Puerto Ricans were nominated for Grammys this year. Singers
Chayanne and Elvis Crespo play to packed stadiums in Latin America and Spain,
and label EMI is grooming Carlos Ponce to become a pop icon too.
Puerto Rican successes are not unprecedented. They include baseball
Roberto Clemente, actor Raul Julia, singer Jose Feliciano and boxer Wilfredo
Gomez. But the magnitude of the current crop is impressive considering there are
only 4 million Puerto Ricans here and 2 million on the mainland.
The phenomenon is rooted in social and cultural factors.
Puerto Ricans credit their wealth of athletes to strong sports
six professional baseball teams.
The island is also fertile ground for musicians. Official news
feature live music, and no political rally is complete without a roster of bands.
Small recording studios churn out jingles for a booming radio market and
inexpensive albums featuring salsa, merengue, plena, bolero and rap-reggae
The U.S. Hispanic population will become the largest minority
group by 2010,
according to the Census Bureau, and such growth feeds demand and easier artist
access to producers and scouts.
``It is all linked with the rise of Hispanics in the United States,''
manager, Angelo Medina.
Martin and Anthony have also expanded their audience with English-language
The cultural successes have accompanied -- and perhaps fed --
a surge of Puerto
Rican nationalism, fueled by the release from prison of 11 Puerto Rican
independence activists and the controversy about live U.S. Navy bombings on the
populated outlying island of Vieques. The Navy says the training is vital.
Martin, Trinidad and others have pushed for the closure of the
Martin -- whose World Cup soccer anthem, ``La Copa de la Vida,'' was adopted
by Puerto Rico's pro-statehood party -- has promised to bring up Vieques when
he meets President Clinton in January.
``People are rediscovering their roots and have more pride in
being Puerto Rican,''
said sociologist Ricardo Alegria. Times have changed, he noted, since U.S.
cartoons depicted islanders as savages and there was ``a complex of inferiority
because we are so small and were so poor.''
Alegria complained that while the United States knows the island's
musicians, the language barrier, and ignorance of Latin American culture, has
blinded Americans to other contributions.
Writer Luis Rafael Sanchez, for example, is one of Latin America's
acclaimed writers but has only published one book in English. Novelist Rosario
Ferre was barely known in the United States until her first book in English, ``The
House on the Lagoon,'' was nominated for a National Book Award in 1995.
Frustrated with what they see as slighting of their literature,
the island's cultural
institutions launched an unsuccessful letter-writing campaign this year urging the
Swedish Academy to award a Nobel Prize to Enrique Laguerre, a prolific author
whose ``The Blaze'' is required reading in schools here.
The island also boasts historians and political theorists, a small
respected filmmakers and a flourishing art scene led by internationally known
painters Rafael Tufino, Arturo Martorell and Luis Alonzo.
There's science too. International Telephone and Telegraph was
founded in San
Juan, and AIDS expert Antonio Novello became U.S. Surgeon General under
President Bush. On the island is the world's largest radiotelescope dish, used by
scientists to detect planets outside the solar system. The Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention researches dengue fever and other tropical diseases here,
and the U.S. Sea Grant Program at the University of Puerto Rico leads studies of
The university produces more than 2,000 science, math, engineering
technological degrees annually -- but most graduates head to the mainland for
jobs; NASA has more than 200 Puerto Rican engineers and researchers.
``We produce great scientists, great engineers -- but when I talk
to people in the
States all they say is, `Hey, you make great boxers and singers down there,'''
said Manuel Gomez, vice president of research at the University of Puerto Rico.
``It hurts a little.''