Iris Zavala Martínez

A Conversation with
Dr. Carmen Dolores Hernandez

The Center for Puerto Rican Studies had the invaluable opportunity to interview an interviewer, Carmen Dolores Hernández, one of Puerto Rico’s most accomplished, creative and thoughtful literary critics precisely on her exciting interviews of 14 diasporic Puerto Rican writers which were published in Puerto Rican Voices in English (Praeger, 1997). Towards gaining a dynamic appreciation of her experience of these interviews, her motivation for them and her insights, Centro faculty, Iris Zavala Martínez, prompted a stimulating “conversatorio”.

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Carmen Dolores candidly revealed that the book sprang from her own curiosity and Ed Vega’s as sertive questioning of why she did not review any of the books of Puerto Rican writers in the United States, affirming energetically that he too was a Puerto Rican. Such a provocative telephonic encounter gradually led her to submerge herself in the work of a number of Puerto Rican writers writing in English, some of which she had already read, and to conceive a most unique and unparalleled project of interviewing them. This remarkable challenge serendipitously became a “coming of age” for her literary self: a critical broadening of her own literary conceptions, of her “understanding of the different ways you can write and of different perspectives” and of her “cultural vista.”

The work of the Puerto Rican writers writing in English defied the canon of what constituted Puerto Rican literature and heralded the emergence of a literature that reflected the transcultural and transnational diasporic experiences amidst racism, poverty, discrimination, language code-switching, and the evolution of hybrid identities.
Piri Thomas, whose book Down These Mean Streets became a New York Times Best Book of 1967, spoke to her of his experience of being black and Puerto Rican in New York of the 1950’s; Louis Reyes Rivera confronted her with the notion that Spanish was also an imperial language just like English and the importance of affirming his African heritage; Miguel Algarín historicized the invention of the word Nuyorican and the unequaled development of the Nuyorican Poets Café; and the woman’s incisive sensitive voice coalesced in meeting Nicholasa Mohr, Judith Ortíz Cofer, and Sandra Esteves, amongst others.
It was the remarkable openness of these Boricuas in relaying the intertwining of lived experience and creative writing that connected Carmen Dolores to them “on a very personal plane” and fostered in her an enduring excitement about their work and its significance for Puerto Rican literature.

This unique homage to Boricuas writing in English has helped legitimize Puerto Rican diasporic literary contributions and appreciation for literature that challenges the Puerto Rican canon and deconstructs static notions of Puerto Rican identity by privileging hybrid entremundos that envision a renewed transcultural discourse towards bridging consciousness of the expansiveness of our re-imagined patria.

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Featuring Interviews

In Depth Interview with former mayor of Miami Maurice Ferre.
In Depth Interview with Hernan Badillo
In Depth Interview with Miguel Amadeo
In Depth Interview with Dr. Carmen Dolores
In Depth Interview with Sylvia Mendez

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