| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Nicholasa Mohr is one of the most widely published
Puerto Rican writers in the United States. Born to parents who came to New York
City with the massive migration during World War II, Mohr grew up in the Bronx
and studied art at the Students’ Art League. She became a well-known graphic
artist. Her art agent once asked her to write about growing up Puerto Rican and
female in the Bronx, perhaps expecting sensationalist tales of crime, drugs,
and gang activity. The stories Mohr wrote were quite different, and she had difficulties
getting editors interested in publishing her work. Nilda, her first novel,
appeared in 1974.
autobiographical, Nilda relates life in the Bronx through the eyes of a
ten-year-old girl who is a second-generation Puerto Rican. Mohr’s protagonist
uses her imagination and her fantasies to sustain herself through the hardships
of her cultural and economic circumstances. As in this book, Mohr chooses to
use a child’s perspective for much of her writing. Felita and Going Home are,
in fact, aimed at an adolescent audience. They relate Felita’s experiences
growing up in El Barrio and on a return trip to Puerto Rico, where she
discovers differences between the values of her family and community in New
York and the values of her relatives and of Puerto Rican society at large.
of Survival: A Woman’s Portfolio is one of Mohr’s most interesting
publications. It consists of six vignettes about adult Puerto Rican women, each
one representing various lifestyles, ages, and circumstances. Their common bond
is their need to survive as individuals and as women free from restricting
social and cultural expectations. In “A Thanksgiving Celebration,” reproduced
here, Amy, the young widowed mother of four children, resorts to her ingenuity
and storytelling traditions inherited from her grandmother, in order to give
meaning to Thanksgiving Day. All of Mohr’s characters have to struggle with the
sexual roles imposed on them by the Hispanic culture, with the machista
attitudes of the men in their lives, and with the expectations set on them by
Nicholasa Mohr has been called a “meat-and-potatoes” writer, because of her
simple style and the emphasis she places on the humanity of her characters, who
are likely to be everyday people with everyday conflicts to surmount, her
storytelling is clear, direct, and powerful. That it found publication in the
adolescent reader market does not detract from its importance as a voice of a
people sometimes marginalized by economic and social stratifications. Mohr’s
work has been important because it has, often for the first time in English,
presented and preserved family and household rituals from the Puerto Rican
culture. It has also recorded the conflicts and ambivalences of a young Puerto
Rican girl growing up in El Barrio of New York. As Mohr once said, “In American
literature, I, as a Puerto Rican child, did not exist...and I as a Puerto Rican
woman do not exist now.” Her prose has established a precedent for young Puerto
Rican women writers to continue to explore, question, and critique their lives
in a bicultural world. Most importantly, Mohr has rescued readers’ images of
Barrio life from stereotypes of puertorriqueños as gang members or criminals.
Her work has received several prizes, among them the 1974 Jane Addams
Children’s Book Award and The New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year. She
was also a National Book Award finalist.
Frances R. Aparicio|
University of Illinois at Chicago
In the Heath Anthology
from Rituals of Survival
El Bronx Remembered
In Nueva York
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A brief biography.
Voices from the Gaps
Offers a biography, criticism, selected bibliography, and links.
Edna Acosta Belen, "The Literature of the Puerto Rican National Minority in the United States," 5:12 The Bilingual Review (Jan.-August 1978)
Arnaldo Cruz, "Teaching Puerto Rican Authors: Modernization and Identity in Nuyorican Literature," ADE Journal published by The Modern Language Association, December, 1988
Growing Up Hispanic (video), 1988
Bridget Kevane and Heredia, eds., "Pa'lante: An Interview with Nicholasa Mohr," Latina Self-portraits: Interviews with Contemporary Women Writers, 2000 (83-96)
William Luis, Dance Between Two Cultures: Latino Carribean Literature Written in the United States, 1997
Nicholasa Mohr, "On Being Authentic," 14:3-4, The American Review, (Fall-Winter 1986):106-109
Eliana Rivero, The House on Mango Street: Tales of Growing Up Female and Hispanic, 1986
Marc Zimmerman, U.S. Latino Literature: An Essay and Annotated Bibliography, 1992