West Side Story: A Puerto Rican Reading of "America"
Alberto Sandoval Sánchez
My final prayer:
O my body, make of me always a man who questions!
-- Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks
To my nephew and niece in the U.S.A.,
Laura and Vladimir Estrada Sandoval
After my immigration to Wisconsin in 1973 to attend college, the musical film West Side Story frequently was imposed upon me as a "model of/for" my Puerto Rican ethnic identity. Certainly it was a strange and foreign model for a newcomer, but not for the Anglo-Americans who actualize with my bodily presence their stereotypes of Latinos' Otherness. Over and over again, to make me feel comfortable in their family rooms and to tell me of their knowledge about Puerto Ricans, they would start their conversations with West Side Story: "Al, we loved West Side Story." "Have you seen the movie?" "Did you like it?" On other occasions, some people even sang parodically in my ears: "Alberto, I've just met a guy named Alberto." And, how can I forget those who upon my arrival would start tapping flamenco steps and squealing: "I like to be in America! . . . Everything free in America." 1 As the years passed by I grew accustomed to their actions and reactions to my presence. I would smile and ignore the stereotype of Puerto Ricans that Hollywood promotes. Or perhaps, was I unwilling to identify with the Puerto Rican immigrants living in New York because of my own prejudices of class or race?
As it happened I moved to New York City in 1983, to the neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen which borders the area where the film takes place, better known today as Lincoln Center. I lived in the neighborhood for eight months with the New York Puerto Ricans. Given that at the time I became acquainted with New York territories