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Cupeyville School is a small school in Puerto Rico where I graduated with about 54 students in grade 12. These students grew up with me and went to school with me since kindergarten, and many of us became very close and are still connected to this day. However, not everyone was close to me.
Back then, when a student was bullied, it was mostly in the classroom because there was no social media back then. For me, going to this preparatory school was magical and allowed me to learn a lot about myself. To escape the mean girls, I made friends with students of different levels and built a close group of best friends. I took up writing for the school newspaper, scribbling poetry in a small notebook and reading. Lots and lots of reading. As I indulged in teenage classics at the time, like Sweet Valley High and anything street of fearAlong the same lines, it was my required readings in my English and Spanish classes that made me realize a lot about Puerto Rico, myself, and our culture.
In the United States today, a disturbing trend is occurring. Books like Romina Garber’s Lobizona and the excellent Kalynn Bayron Cinderella is dead are considered banned in various school libraries, general libraries, and other educational institutions in the United States in record numbers. For me, and for many others, this is extremely awkward, especially when many of these books feature different cultures, backgrounds, realistic issues, and relatable LGBTQ characters. Honestly, it makes me nostalgic to have grown up as a young reader in Puerto Rico, to be part of the culture of the island and a culture in the classroom that encouraged self-expression and reading books with realistic themes, without restriction.
For example, there was a book that really changed my life when I read it back then. It was that of Manuel Zenio Gandia La Charcawhich explored themes that still capture the reader’s attention to this day. La Charca was considered one of the first books to catapult and find a fanbase inside and outside of Puerto Rico, as it explored what happened behind the scenes while the rich and countries indulged in black coffee harvested in Puerto Rico, or Coffee. Behind the magic coffee beans lurked an ominous reality where pickers resided in small, dilapidated huts and faced starvation.
Exploring Puerto Rico’s little neighborhoods on the hill and understanding unique Puerto Rican slang, the book was full of real-life moments, such as the meaning of the charca itself, which meant a stagnant pond, which the author used to depict the colonial era when so many Puerto Ricans were oppressed and faced sadness, disease, and struggles. Tome, La Charca and its themes still resonate with so many of us, even beyond Puerto Rican culture, who deal with oppression and injustice in a world obsessed with pleasing the rich at all costs.
Books like these remind me of those that are banned today, because of how much they make us aware of the way the world is and open our eyes to realities we might not have been educated differently. In my honest opinion, if we protect ourselves and ignore our history, where we come from and the fate of others, we cannot be sensitive and knowledgeable humans as a society. This is why book bans completely terrify me, especially as a modern educator who encourages diverse reflection and discussion, as well as in-depth analysis of current events and global issues around us.
Another life-changing book that was covered in my high school curriculum was the Classic Puerto Rican History of 1935. The Llamarada by Enrique Laguerre. The author, whose full name was Enrique Arturo Laguerre Vélez, lived his life as a teacher, writer, playwright, critic and journalist with his own column at the time. He was from Moca, Puerto Rico, and was definitely ahead of his time as a writer who explored the island’s intricacies and issues. Although the writing is dense, if you really dig you will find a significant story about the sugarcane industry in Puerto Rico, an island that has survived thanks to its unique farming and harvesting industry. The novel also explored the struggle of Puerto Rican society during the era of the Great Depression, and how the rural world was and its people were affected. This historical novel has stood the test of time, discussing the struggles that many working citizens faced at the time, and I’m glad I got to read it and explore its themes in a classroom. of high school.
Ultimately, I’m so grateful that I lived as a teenager growing up in Puerto Rico in a time and place where freedom of expression reigned and we were able to discuss and read these kinds of books exploring the realities stories of Puerto Rico that made us aware of where we came from and where we want to be in the future as citizens of the world. I feel like the world today has a lot to learn from my time as a high school student on the island, where we read books that, yes, would explore difficult topics, but made us more educated. and better informed about our culture: where it was and where it was heading.
As an educator myself, I hold those brave teachers who have assigned us this type of remarkable and unforgettable novels as inspiration to this day, and I believe that students should have the chance to discuss all types of books, themes and historical questions that also teaches us a lot about our present. Without this kind of intellectual freedom, I really fear for the future. As a teacher myself, I will always do my best to educate, inspire and empower my students to read books: the ones they choose themselves and the ones they learn from in my class and beyond. of the.
What books do you remember reading as a teenager? Are there any assigned books that opened your eyes and that you, to this day, have not forgotten? Let me know on Twitter @AuroraMiami.