House of Ramon
Iglesias(still)Nuyorican Cinema
Our Latin Thing: The Nuyorican Experience in Narrative Film
Nuyorican Film Series

NUYORICAN CINEMA: The Films of the Puerto Rican Diaspora

by Judith Escalona

Nuyorican Cinema describes the body of films produced by Puerto Ricans either born or raised in the United States, specifically, in New York City where the greatest number of Puerto Ricans came to live and work betweenthe decades of the forties and sixties. The term is used to distinguish these works from Puerto Rican film production on the island.

Operation Bootstrap, the U.S. government-sponsored program initiated in the late forties in order to industrialize Puerto Rico, resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of rural people who migrated to New York City to fill low paying jobs. There was a rupture with the past and a concommitant longing for it that exists to this day, half a century later. Nuyoricans or the children of the Puerto Rican diaspora are, as a prominent scholar has argued, a "broken memory" without a place in the national histories of Puerto Rico or their adopted land the United States.

Nuyorican Cinema, then, is the Cinema of the Puerto Rican Diaspora. The focus here is on narrative or fictional films, not the documentaries of the same period which are better known. Screening these features and short films in chronological order allows one to grasp the transformation of the Puerto Rican from rural immigrant to urban denizen with all of its complexity and pain. It also represents the first decades of Latino filmmaking in the eastern part of the United States and continues to speak to the soul of today's New York City Latino community which, while predominantly Puerto Rican, has become more diversely enriched by Cubans, Dominicans, Mexicans, and Central and South Americans.

Unlike other American cinemas, such as the Chicano, African-American and mainstream independent, however, Nuyorican Cinema is ethnically and racially diverse. Today it is common to see greater diversity in American film and television, yet, in most cases it remains a kind of tokenism. Early on, the Puerto Rican diasporic narratives included racially and ethnically diverse characters in leading roles. Nuyorican Cinema is also bilingual or multilingual, organically developing meaning from its linguistic diversity. Spanish and English are interchanged for their affective value. Emotionally intense scenes are rendered in Spanish or Spanglish. Distinctions of origin, class, education and background are codified through the choice of Spanish, Spanglish, English and slang.

Although spanning over thirty years, from the seventies to the new millenium, these films remain an unknown part of U.S. independent filmmaking, both reflecting and influencing its trends. Some Nuyorican films were "breakthrough films," presenting a completely original story or establishing a new approach to telling a story: Short Eyes and Brincando El Charco are among these.

It would be best to screen these works in their original form as films, however, video is more accessible and economical. For many of the older films, the negatives are no longer available and what we have are poor video copies of the originals. Nevertheless, these works will prove a startling discovery for most audiences who can see beyond the wear and tear of time to the heart and soul of this vibrant Latino community.


Copyright (c)2003 Judith Escalona