Teaching About Hurricane Maria Recovery: From Hamilton to Grassroots Activist Organizations

By Marilisa Jiménez García

Teaching about Puerto Rico counters the historical erasure that exists regarding the United States and its relationship to its colonies. The aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017 and current earthquake activity in Puerto Rico, once again, underlines public ignorance about how 21st-century colonialism impacts disaster relief. For example, teachers might need to explain to well-meaning students organizing a supplies drive after the hurricanes and/or earthquakes why it is best to give to on-the-ground organizations in Puerto Rico rather than government agencies or even celebrity-led foundations. Or how the Jones Act prevents Puerto Rico from receiving aid from countries outside the United States. Our classrooms provide important spaces for discussing how a just recovery is possible in the context of disaster capitalism, the public economic debt, the devastation of Hurricane Maria, and the continued vulnerability caused by the 2020 earthquakes.

This mini-lesson underlines a critical approach toward Lin-Manuel Miranda’s popular musical Hamilton (2015) and the Hamilton Mixtape (2016) as a way of teaching on current activist movements for Puerto Rican recovery. Specifically, this lesson seeks to amplify voices in these movements that do not get as much attention as Miranda. This lesson encourages students to think with and against the musical in terms of how Miranda’s work is shaping the discourse on Puerto Rican activism, particularly recovery post-hurricane Maria.

The first part focuses on using lyrics from the musical to draw students into larger themes about writing, resilience, surviving disaster, and migrating to the U.S. The second juxtaposes Miranda’s position as an activist post-Maria with the work of grassroots activists, asking students to think about the kind of political and social issues at stake in the recovery process. I have taught this material in a course for college freshmen; however, for middle to high school students, whom I have also taught, I would adapt it by adjusting the readings or breaking up the work over more days.

Since its premiere in 2015, Hamilton has been used by K-12 and higher-ed instructors for various subjects, however, Miranda’s history and identity often gets erased in conversations about the musical. Indeed, the histories of U.S intervention, and specifics of Latinx community struggles are often ignored by U.S. popular culture. Does it matter that the most celebrated musical of the 21st century was written by a Puerto Rican? What does it mean that in 2020, the same teens and parents (predominantly white) rapping Hamilton lyrics don’t know or care that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens? Or how that citizenship came about? How has Miranda elevated the conversation about social justice with regard to Puerto Rico? How does his position on Puerto Rican recovery differ from other activists in Puerto Rico and the diaspora?

Miranda’s position as a Puerto Rican playwright invites educators to consider how Hamilton is in conversation with Latinx literature, culture, politics and activism, and Puerto Rican and Nuyorican literature and poetry — more specifically, of previous generations. Actually, one of the reasons I use Hamilton in the classroom is to problematize its content and to get students thinking about Latinx and Puerto Rican literature and poetry, including Nuyorican poets such as Sandra Maria Esteves, Miguel Algarín, and Pedro Pietri.

I teach an introduction course to Latinx literature and culture at a predominately white institution and wanted to create a course to lead students to see how Puerto Rican, and Latinx culture more broadly, was part of their everyday life. However, I also wanted to disrupt mythologies in both U.S. and Latinx history. For example, I encourage students to consider how some of our national and cultural heroes, such as Jose Martí, could still exhibit sexist and racist attitudes even as they inspire self-determination. Students also consider how Latinx pop culture icons such as Miranda and Residente from Calle 13 differ in terms of the political solutions they champion, and how they connect to the larger landscape of Latinx history, literature, art, and activism.

On our first day of class, I ask students to introduce themselves and describe what they hope to get out of the course. Most of my white students say that they took the course because they saw Hamilton in the course description. Students of color tend to comment they took the class because they wanted the opportunity to study more about their culture in a classroom setting. It is always interesting to hear how some of my white students talk about seeing the stage production, while much my first-generation students of color had only heard the songs on Spotify and YouTube. “I am a huge fan of hip-hop. I know the lyrics of some of the songs by heart,” a white student told me as he sat eagerly looking through the syllabus the first day. The same student later looked at me in disbelief when he read Miranda’s New York Times op-ed on the Puerto Rican economic crisis. “I guess I never thought of him as a Latino. I thought he was just Alexander Hamilton, you know?”

This comment really helped me, as a teacher, see the disconnect between some of the social justice issues many have praised the musical for, and the way audiences read the bodies and voices performing on stage and on the YouTube-Sphere. I knew Hamilton had garnered fans from all walks of life, but it’s largely white, affluent audience of Broadway-goers also tend to keep Miranda’s perhaps more revolutionary critiques of the U.S. under the radar, for example, few take into account the musical’s tendency to attribute U.S. foundational history and achievement directly to the labor and creativity of people of color.

Similarly, some of my students of color had also never thought of how Hamilton, and Miranda, more specifically, makes connections between the “founding fathers” and immigrants. However, students of color commented on how they felt at odds with the immense popularity of Miranda and the musical, and with how few working-class and communities of color could afford a ticket. In my first class session using these materials last year, when we did an observation and annotation of the musical’s lyrics (see below), students of color were the most critical of Miranda’s lyrics.

One student said, “I think this was clearly written for a mainstream audience and not for Latinxs. When he says the whole ‘in New York you can be a new man,’ he makes it seem like you just have to come here and work hard and anything is possible. That’s the American Dream. And that is not true for everybody.” My follow-up question was, “So how can we compare Miranda’s lyrics here to the ways other Latinxs describe their relationship to work? For example, when we read Pedro Pietri’s ‘Puerto Rican Obituary,’ and the way he pictures the American Dream. Keep your eyes open to the way other authors describe the relationship to labor and work.”

In 2016, I taught Hamilton in the context of the Puerto Rican economic crisis, while in 2017, I did so in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. When I surveyed students in my course in 2016 about Miranda’s ethnic identity, most replied that they thought he was “Latino.” In 2017, more of my students were specifically identifying Miranda as “Puerto Rican,” something I attribute to Miranda’s prominence in mainstream media as a voice for Puerto Rican struggles after Hurricane Maria. I led students to consider Miranda’s celebration as an activist in mainstream media and to remember that just because someone is the most prominent doesn’t mean that they are necessarily representing the totality of a cause.

I start our first session on Miranda by playing a news clip (such as “‘Hamilton’ creator Lin-Manuel Miranda takes on new role as activist for Puerto Rico”) of Miranda speaking about his role as activist and then have students listen to the tracks and annotate the lyrics. Or alternatively, depending on how students respond to the topic, I have students listen, annotate, and discuss the tracks first and then assign one of Miranda’s op-eds (see below in Activities) as a reading for homework with a prompt asking them to think about how he connects the musical to his personal activism.

In our class time talking about Miranda’s activism, I ask students, “How are his perspectives seen as perhaps more status quo than other activist circles?” The musical’s ability to center people of color while also maintaining a certain status quo is something critical educators should wrestle with, and in turn, students. Hamilton provides opportunities for me, as an educator, to discuss who and what gets left out of U.S. history. For example, Hamilton presents a watered-down history of U.S. slavery, including Alexander Hamilton himself, who owned enslaved people. The musical also leaves out the history of indigenous peoples during the early republic. I would suggest reading critiques of Hamilton such as Dr. Debbie Reese’s thread on Twitter:

Also, see Dr. Adrienne Keene’s post on the absence of Native Americans in the stage production in Native Appropriations (April 5, 2016), “Where are the Natives in Hamilton?

Students, particularly my students of color, were keen to point out that though actors of color are prominently displayed on the stage, the voices of people of color during the U.S. revolutionary era are almost nonexistent. They felt that the Hamilton Mixtape — a compilation album produced by Miranda a year after the original Hamilton soundtrack with collaborations with some of the most respected contemporary rappers — contained a much edgier critique of U.S. imperialism. Yet, when we used online platforms such as YouTube to listen to the original and mixtape tracks, students quickly noted that the mixtape had considerably less playbacks and Likes than the original.

One student noted, “I guess we can see which version most people hear. Even if the mixtape has these other voices, not as many people get to hear it.” One of my students, after hearing “The Immigrants Track” on Mixtape, and specifically Residente’s solo, said that if Miranda had included the mixtape lyrics in the stage version, white Broadway-goers might have been less tolerant of the show and of the rap music in the score. “I feel like the Mixtape is more him (Miranda), and the Broadway version is who he thinks he needs to be to be accepted.”

In this section, I model how to use popular music in the classroom to discuss Puerto Rico. Depending on audience, some recently arrived students from Puerto Rico may not be as familiar with Hamilton and Miranda as those in continental U.S. I recommend also sampling songs from artists in Puerto Rico such as Rafael Hernandez (e.g., “Preciosa” which emphasize the importance of pride without cultural and national markers) or Calle 13 (e.g. “Los Hijos del Cañavaral” and or “The Immigrants Track” from The Hamilton Mixtape in which Residente of Calle 13 has a solo).


For this first part of the lesson, you will need to play for students two tracks and print the lyrics for students to annotate. The tracks are “Hurricane” from Hamilton and “I Wrote My Way Out” from the Hamilton Mixtape. They contain themes about writing, surviving disaster, resilience, and migration. The lyrics took on new meaning after students had seen the effects of Hurricane Maria and Irma on the island and its people.

“Hurricane,” from the original Hamilton soundtrack:


“I Wrote My Way Out,” from the Hamilton Mixtape, featuring Nas and Lin-Manuel Miranda:

Open up for discussion: The discussion should ground students in why they are studying Hamilton in class and preview some of the ideas about Miranda’s connection to Puerto Rico and his developing role as activist. One of the main ideas, in terms of both songs, however, for students to think about the role of writing as outlet for expression, but also the way both tracks discuss writing as means of creating “a way out.” We spend a lot of time in my classroom talking about what that “way out” is — from a means to expressing frustration and injustice to a means of creating opportunities and resources. Perhaps, have students watch the news clips on the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and the recovery effort. Lead students in a preliminary discussion their responses to the footage and their knowledge of Puerto Rico and its current environmental crisis.

For younger students, it is appropriate to allow them to discuss their feelings of sadness, anger, and even indifference. Ask students if they have heard of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Hamilton or The Hamilton Mixtape. A simple question such as, “What does his position as a Puerto Rican mean for his career and writing?” accompanied by a visual, for example, of Miranda marching in the Unity March in Washington, might serve as an ideal link to discuss Miranda as Puerto Rican writer.

Allow students to discuss their thoughts about Miranda as Puerto Rican. As Latinx. Some might say they knew he was, and that he is doing great things for Puerto Rico. Some might roll their eyes, indicating they have since moved on to other icons and lyrics. Some of my Puerto Rican students, in particular, knew some of the lyrics by heart. Yet, I found that because Miranda plays such an icon of “American” culture (Alexander Hamilton), some students have a hard time coding him as a person of color while playing the role.

  1. Play track for students: Before playing, tell students to follow along on the lyric printout and make annotations on references to images of hurricanes, writing, and migration.
  2. Annotate: As students note references to the theme of “hurricanes,” they can consider how it used as a metaphor and/or symbol for a larger societal and cultural issues. Another possibility is to have students consider what voices (e.g. ethnic, racial, cultural) are magnified in this track rather than in the traditional “Hurricane” song. In terms of musical style, student could annotate the different styles of hip-hop utilized in each song and why?
  3. Discuss: Students can break up into groups and compare their annotations with group member for about 10 minutes. Have one student in each group list the group’s observations on a sheet of paper that you can collect at the end of the period.
  4. Collaborate: As the instructor, make a table on the board in which you note the observations students make about the hurricane metaphor, the differences between “Hurricane” and “I Wrote My Way Out,” and the difference in hip-hop styles. Ask each group to voice their observations as you write them on the board.
  5. Write: For homework, give students the choice of one of the following discussion questions in a response journal.
  6. Possible Discussion Questions Using Hamilton:
    1. How does the original soundtrack version of “Hurricane” compare and contrast with “I Wrote My Way Out” in terms of imagery, lyrics, tone, and plot?
    2. Which voices in terms of U.S. history (people of color, working class, youth, etc.) are emphasized in “Hurricane” versus “I Wrote My Way Out”?
    3. How does “Hurricane” describe the effects and aftermath of a hurricane (tone, point-of-view, rap style, etc.) compared to “I Wrote My Way Out”?
    4. What does each song say about writing? What do these songs tell us about how we can use writing to transform circumstances? How might this compare to other writers of color and Puerto Rican artists?

Writing Assignments

Students might write a comparison and contrast response paper on the differences and similarities of the lyrics.

Students might construct their own poetry and/or song in response to Miranda and Nas’s lyrics, or write a comparison and contrast essay using one of the prompt discussion questions above.

Student Projects: While none of my students ended up choosing Miranda as a subject of their final research project, the work students did thinking about the roots of hip-hop in Latinx culture inspired one student to write a series of poems based on the lives of Selena Quintanilla and Tupac Shakur and another student worked on the role of Puerto Rican artists in American rap. One student wrote a story and poem about being Nuyorican — the poem is included at the end of this lesson.

Discerning Different Voices in Hurricane Recovery Activism:

For this second part of the lesson, we focus more on hurricane recovery activism and humanitarian aid. I want students to consider how “recovery” projects were or were not connected to root cases that make Puerto Rico vulnerable, particularly with regard to U.S. colonialism, and legislation such as the Jones Act, which made it impossible to receive supply ships apart from the United States. I use Lin-Manuel Miranda and Hamilton’s visibility in the news and pop culture as a means of examining issues about Puerto Rico that may not be as visible for students. Listening to the tracks brought up students ideas about how Miranda was using his position to fundraise for the recovery process.

After Hurricane Maria, many of my students told me that they felt powerless in terms of how to support Puerto Rico’s recovery. Many students expressed suspicion about fundraising efforts, saying, “That money never goes to the people.” We spent time as a class thinking about what organizations seemed the best for sending donations, whether monetary or material. In class, students would Google campaign efforts on their phones (the one time I approved of cell phone use in class) and found Lin-Manuel Miranda’s posts directing people to the Hispanic Federation. I asked them questions like, “Do you think an organization on the island is more trustworthy than one here? Do any of these organizations seem to have a political slant, particularly in terms of Puerto Rico’s status? How do we know?” For example, students found out that Unidos for Puerto Rico was founded by Beatriz Rossello, the First Lady of Puerto Rico. Some students felt the organization was more trusted because of Rossello’s presence; others felt that it was suspicious, asking, “So, where does the money end up? In the government?” Given the events of the summer of 2019 and the recent earthquakes, students’ initial suspicions about where the aid collected by partisan politicians ended up were spot on.

An organization I respect that works with visual art, agitate (http://agitarte.info), created this helpful infographic highlighting organizations supporting the decolonization of Puerto Rico. Some of these on-the-ground organizations continue accepting donations for the recent earthquakes:In the days after Hurricane Maria, grassroots organizations became more visible online with campaigns and hashtags such as #PRontheMap and #JustRecovery, underlining the value of social media as opposed to mainstream television in representing diverse voices. One of the main differences between grassroots organizations and the Hispanic Federation, the organization Miranda recommended for donations, was that the grassroots took issue with root causes of colonialism that made Puerto Rico vulnerable to environmental disaster and unfair economic policies. Students, for example, found information on activist Rosa Clemente and asked me if I had seen her comments on how certain celebrities were hurting efforts in ways that didn’t support a sustainable recovery.

As an instructor, you could decide to use Clemente’s comments on the Unity March as a means of introducing work from other activists into the discussion. In my classroom, some students expressed that if someone as popular and visible as Miranda were not discussing Puerto Rican hurricane recovery, then perhaps no one would care. For example, only a few of my students of color had even heard of Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina (and Puerto Rican) Supreme Court Justice, appointed by Barack Obama in 2010. This led us to discuss how Puerto Rican lives are valued in American culture: As cultural performers, perhaps, but not political agents?

How does what Miranda recommended help/hurt a just version of recovery — one in which wealth is not extracted from Puerto Rico? At the same time, if Miranda wasn’t using his platform as a gifted playwright and artist to draw attention to Puerto Rico, would anyone even listen? Miranda’s role as political activist for Puerto Rico has evolved over the past year and a half given his role in advocating for the island in regard to the economic crisis and now Hurricane Maria. In particular, Miranda has drawn clear parallels to his role as Hamilton, the Caribbean immigrant who helps build the U.S. and his position as a Puerto Rican man. After working with the lyrics and listening to tracks, students can read pieces such as:

Discussion: Teachers might ask students to consider how Miranda draws parallels between himself and the character of Hamilton in the New York Times op-ed. What are the benefits/problems with Miranda, as a Puerto Rican, comparing himself to Alexander Hamilton? How might this change students’ reading of the musical?

Research: Some of my students found grassroots organizations online and shared them with me and other students. However, after spending some time talking about Miranda’s work, I have spent a bit more time with students outlining some of the barriers in terms of recovery. For example, most of my students, even those from Puerto Rico, had never heard of the Jones Act, which allows Puerto Rico to only trade with the U.S. and limits the relief they can receive from other nations, even in the event of a disaster. Have students look up social media hashtags such as #PRontheMap and #JustRecovery. I recommend the web resource PR on the Map, which features clips and stories from grassroots journalists and activists documenting the recovery process on the island. Also, have students research local Puerto Rican grassroots organizations on the island, such as Casa Pueblo and Brigada Solideridad del Oeste, and report their observations. Students can compare celebrity organizations such as Ricky Martin Foundation, Unidos por Puerto Rico, and Hispanic Federation with the platforms of other organizations.

In-Class Group Work: Ask students to circle key words that seem to be repeated in the organizations’ materials and websites (e.g. solidarity, self-determination). What do these terms mean and how are they tied to political platforms? Do those discussing “recovery” and “rebuilding” resist colonialism? Do they support privatization and other policies associated with disaster capitalism? How do organizations advocate for creating sustainable economies and environments that generate opportunities and wealth in Puerto Rico for working-class Puerto Ricans?

In my classes, I projected the demands below on a whiteboard and scrolled through the site, asking students to raise their hands if they saw a key word, image, or phrase that they found meaningful. For example, many students noted the black Puerto Rican flag as a sign of protest. We took time to think about the meaning of the words and how they shape discourse on recovery. For example, the OurPowerPRNYC graphic was created by the grassroots organization Uprose, based in New York, which details particular demands in terms of a program for Puerto Rico’s recovery. Consider teaching the graphic and having students research the consequences of U.S. policy like the Jones Act. Also, you might ask students to consider how we might problematize Miranda’s political organizing in terms of other activists on the island and the diaspora in the movement for Puerto Rico.

Actionable Work: After students have done this research, you might approach school administration and see if there is a way that students and teachers can organize a donation drive for organizations students vetted online. It’s a tangible way for students to make a contribution to the recovery effort. Offer students extra credit for writing a story in the school newspaper in which they highlight reputable organizations supporting social justice in Puerto Rico. Or write the story together as a class. Consider using the graphic by AgitArte.

Students can be inspired by Miranda’s tremendous work while remaining critical and placing him in conversation with the struggles of Puerto Rican communities, and other communities of color, as a way of discerning the different voices that are currently speaking up for Puerto Rico.



In the eye of a hurricane
There is quiet

For just a moment
A yellow sky

When I was 17 a hurricane
Destroyed my town
I didn’t drown
I couldn’t seem to die

I wrote my way out
Wrote everything down far as I could see
I wrote my way out
I looked up and the town had its eyes on me

They passed a plate around
Total strangers
Moved to kindness by my story
Raised enough for me to book passage on a
Ship that was New York bound…

I wrote my way out of hell
I wrote my way to revolution
I was louder than the crack in the bell
I wrote Eliza love letters until she fell
I wrote about The Constitution and defended it well

And in the face of ignorance and resistance
I wrote financial systems into existence
And when my prayers to God were met with indifference
I picked up a pen, I wrote my own deliverance

In the eye of a hurricane
There is quiet
For just a moment
A yellow sky

I was 12 when my mother died
She was holding me
We were sick and she was holding me

I couldn’t seem to die


Wait for it, wait for it, wait for it…


Wait for it, wait for it, wait for it…
Wait for it, wait for it, wait for it, wait…


I’ll write my way out…
Write ev’rything down, far as I can see…
I’ll write my way out…
Overwhelm them with honesty


History has its eyes on you


This is the eye of the hurricane, this is the only
Way I can protect my legacy…


Wait for it, wait for it, wait for it, wait…


“I Wrote My Way Out”

[Hook: Aloe Blacc and Lin-Manuel Miranda]

I wrote my way out
When the world turned its back on me
I was up against the wall
I had no foundation
No friends and no family to catch my fall
Running on empty, with nothing left in me but doubt
I picked up a pen
And wrote my way out (I wrote my way out)

[Verse 1: Nas]

I picked up the pen like Hamilton
Street analyst, now I write words that try to channel ’em
No political power, just lyrical power
Sittin’ on a crate on a corner, sippin’ for hours
Schemin’ on a come up, from evenin’ to sun up
My man awaitin’ trial, misdemeanors we younger
Courtroom prejudice, insufficient evidence
Jailhouse lawyers, these images still relevant
Flickerin’ lights inside my project hall
Sickenin’, the mice crawl all night long
And ’87 Reaganism, many pages I’ve written on
Writin’ songs about rights and wrongs and bails bonds
Master bedroom, bigger than the crib that I was raised at
I’m the architect like I wrote the code to Waze app
I’m driven, black Elohim from the streets of Queens
The definition of what It Was Written means
Know what I mean?

[Hook: Aloe Blacc and Lin-Manuel Miranda]

I wrote my way out
When the world turned its back on me
I was up against the wall
I had no foundation
No friends and no family to catch my fall
Running on empty, there was nothing left in me but doubt
I picked up a pen
And I wrote my way out (I wrote my way out)

[Verse 2: Dave East]

I really wrote my way up out of 6E
Develop relationships with fiends, I know they miss me
Before the MetroCards, it was tokens, I did the 10-speed
Never had wrote a rhyme in my life, what was a 16?
At 16, arrested in housin’, trips to the mountains
Came right back, trappin’ off couches, watchin’ for mouses
Only tools we was posed with, had a spot, smoke lit
The hate is just confusion, pay attention how them jokes switch
Diadora was my favorite, the Mark Buchanans
Mama couldn’t afford them, I learned everythin’ on the border
That’s a big 8, Clicquot parties with private dancers with no mixtape
Bumble Bee Tuna, now we could get steak
I persevered, composition, I kept it close
Competition near, I’m a Spartan without the spear
Three hundred rhymes, it was written before I wrote it
Opportunity knockin’, might miss it, that window closin’
This poetry in motion, I’m a poet

[Hook: Aloe Blacc and Lin-Manuel Miranda]

I wrote my way out
When the world turned its back on me
I was up against the wall
I had no foundation
No friends and no family to catch my fall
Running on empty, there was nothing left in me but doubt
I picked up a pen
And I wrote my way out (I wrote my way out)

[Verse 3: Lin-Manuel Miranda]

High speed, dubbin’ these rhymes in my dual cassette deck
Runnin’ out of time like I’m Jonathan Larson’s rent check
My mind is where the wild things are, Maurice Sendak
In withdrawal, I want it all, please give me that pen back
Y’all, I caught my first beatin’ from the other kids when I was caught readin’
“Oh, you think you smart? Blah! Start bleedin’”
My pops tried in vain to get me to fight back
Sister tapped my brains, said, pssh, you’ll get ’em right back
Oversensitive, defenseless, I made sense of it, I pencil in
The lengths to which I’d go to learn my strengths and knock ’em senseless
These sentences are endless, so what if they leave me friendless?
Damn, you got no chill, fuckin’ right I’m relentless
I know Abuela’s never really gonna win the lottery
So it’s up to me to draw blood with this pen, hit an artery
This Puerto Rican’s brains are leakin’ through the speakers
And if he can be the shinin’ beacon this side of the G.W.B and
Shine a light when it’s gray out

[Bridge: Aloe Blacc and Lin-Manuel Miranda]

I wrote my way out
Oh, I was born in the eye of a storm
No lovin’ arms to keep me warm
This hurricane in my brain is the burden I bear
I can do without, I’m here (I’m here)
Cause I wrote my way out

[Outro: Nas, Dave East, Lin-Manuel Miranda]

I picked up the pen like Hamilton
I wrote my way out of the projects
Wrote-wrote my way out of the projects
Picked up the pen like Hamilton
I wrote my way out of the
Wrote-wrote my way out of the projects
I wrote my way out
Picked up the pen like Hamilton
I wrote my way out of the

[Spoken: Nas & Lin-Manuel Miranda]

(I wrote my way out)

Really, I saw like a hole in the rap game
so if I wanted to put my little two cents in the game, then it would be from a different perspective

(I wrote my way out)

I thought that I would represent for my neighborhood and tell their story, be their voice, in a way that nobody has done it
Tell the real story


Student Poem

Dancing, a beautiful flower
in a whirlwind I scatter my petals.
I am graceful
I am proud

To call myself a Puertorriqueña
it’s an honor.

Living live,
born in a city that never sleeps
I know the turns and how to get lost —
and that’s hard to learn, not an easy get.

To call myself American,
I should be happy to do.

Like a trapeze artist,
I must learn to balance
not to fall
Be careful of where my feet step

To call myself…
What can I call myself?

In between
Not fully here
but not fully there
I’m everywhere I want to be

Puerto Rican, American, Nuyorican,
any way you put it, I am still me.

Mirianna Torres, Hunter College, December 2015

Marilisa Jiménez García is an interdisciplinary scholar specializing in Latino/a literature and culture. She is an assistant professor of English at Lehigh University and a member of the See What We See coalition. She has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Florida and an M.A. in English and B.S. in Journalism from the University of Miami. She was born in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.

Marilisa’s research on Latinx literature has appeared in Latino Studies, CENTRO: A Journal of Puerto Rican Studies, The Lion and the Unicorn, and Children’s Literature. Her forthcoming book, Side by Side: U.S. Empire, Puerto Rico and the Roots of American Youth Literature and Culture (University Press of Mississippi) examines the history of colonialism in Puerto Rico through an analysis of youth literature and culture both in the archipelago and in the diaspora. Her dissertation on Puerto Rican children’s literature won the 2012 Puerto Rican Studies Association. She is also a Cultivating New Voices Among Scholars of Color Fellowship recipient from the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE).

Marilisa seeks to create pathways in her research between the multiple fields of Latinx Studies, Puerto Rican Studies, children’s and young adult literature, comparative literature, and education. Her work with Teaching for Change seeks to bring together research and practical tools for classroom teachers advocating for social justice. She has worked as a classroom volunteer in Miami and New York City public schools and with The Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School’s book selection committee.


Caribbean Connections: Puerto Rico

This piece is from the upcoming third edition of Caribbean Connections: Puerto Rico, edited by Marilisa Jiménez García, which introduces students to the history, economy, environment, and culture of Puerto Rico through essays, poetry, and fiction.

Learn more.