A Master of the Rosary: Apology and Confession in Selected Writings of Jesús Colón's A Puerto Rican in New York and Other Sketches

By García, David A. | Afro - Hispanic Review, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

A Master of the Rosary: Apology and Confession in Selected Writings of Jesús Colón's A Puerto Rican in New York and Other Sketches


García, David A., Afro - Hispanic Review


The best part of the visible world is mankind, and within mankind, the understanding, and thus its triumphs are highest. This capital gift adapts itself to two others-depth of judgment and elevation of the intellect-and a prodigy is formal whenever they come together, [. . .] The judgment is the throne of prudence, and the intellect is the sphere of wit. Which should be preferred, and in what proportion, is a matter best argued in the court of personal taste. I'm with the woman who prayed, "My son, may God give you the understanding of the good! "

-Baltasar Gracián

I.

Jesús Colón is one of the earliest writers of Latino literature. In 1961, he published his major work, A Puerto Rican in New York and Other Sketches. Despite its neglect in literary criticism, Colón's works have affinities with African American, American, and other academic discipline, but is of significant importance to religious studies. Colón was an afmborindueño, black and a native of Puerto Rico, and his early writings show that he had a mastery command of the Spanish language. As a black Puerto Rican, the author faced many racial and linguistic challenges, but many of his challenges were a result of his social politics: Colón was a proclaimed socialist. His political convictions not only contributed to his marginal condition in society, but the conflicts also affected his personal relationships, and what I argue are his religious and spiritual beliefs. In the twenty-eighth sketch, "Carmencita," of the fifty-five sketches that make up A Puerto Rican in New York, the author reveals the tension-filled relationship with his mother-in-law. The author's relationship with Carmencita, a devout and traditional Catholic, is important for establishing and supporting the premise that because of the demands of his politics, Colón may have masterfully concealed his religious beliefs as a Catholic in his text. Beginning with a careful reading of the sketch in question, my reading supports that the structure of A Puerto Rican in New York mirrors the Catholic Church's version of the Holy Rosary, in particular the ritual of the "novena," which is also present in the sketch, "Carmencita." Although superficially simple, the author creates not only other versions of the rosary, but in doing so, he also offers alternative versions of his work.

The ritual of the rosary requires the believer to reflect on the mysteries of the life of Jesus Christ. Colón believed in eternal life, which in Christianity, especially as prescribed in the epistles of the Apostle Paul, the Christian achieves by accepting Christ as Lord and Saviour. In traditional Catholicism, believers call on the Virgin Mary to intercede on behalf of sinners, in life and purgatory, through the ritual of the rosary. A Puerto Rican in New York is Colon's rosary-structured autobiography, where the author contemplates his own life and that of Christ, vicariously through the life of others less fortunate in society.1 In a comparative reading of A Puerto Rican in New York with the Confessions of St. Augustine, I also show how the reader could approach Colón's work as apology and confessions, and become aware of the author as a "conductor of the rosary," but also a master narrator of his text.

In Frank N. McGill's anthology Masterpieces of Latino Literature (1994), which includes more than two hundred works of Latin American Boom, Post-Boom, and Latino US writers, Colón's A Puerto Rican in New York and Other Sketches is noticeably absent. The anthology displays authors and their works, but McGill does not place them within the literary history that has distinguished them. Arguably, the most defining authors and works of the Spanish American Boom are Gabriel García Márquez's Cien años de soledad, Mario Vargas Llosa's La casa verde, Carlos Fuentes's La muerte de Artemio Cruz, Julio Cortázar's Rayuela, and Guillermo Cabrera Infante's Tres tristes tigres. Although other Spanish American novels were also published in the 1960s, such as Manuel Puig's El beso de h mujer araña and many others, they are considered to be works belonging to the Post-Boom, a period when women, blacks, and gay writers from the margins also began to receive greater attention. …

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