From the Margin to the Center: Puerto Rican Cinema in New York
Without a doubt, in order to stand on our own two feet Puerto Ricans of all generations must begin by affirming our own history. It is as if we are saying--we have roots, therefore we are!
-- Bernardo Vega1
For many Puerto Rican film and video makers, picking up the camera was equivalent to "picking up the gun" in defense of civil and human rights in the United States after the Civil Rights Movement. The beginning of this "coming to self" as bell hooks describes it, was the desire to expose the terrible conditions under which Puerto Ricans of this generation had been raised; challenge the assumptions under which these conditions thrived; and re-create the institutions and society that had engendered them. In this war, images were a potent weapon. Through popular culture, distorted images of spitfires and Latin lovers (oversexed and irresponsible Latinos), brutish farm workers (substandard intelligence), bandidos (untrustworthy), petty tyrants, welfare recipients or drug addicts (undisciplined children) had burned their place into the collective consciousness of Puerto Ricans and the broader society. In effect, the dominant ideology and its cultural machinery indicted Puerto Ricans as responsible for their own conditions. It followed that American benevolence, through its institutions, was necessary to protect them from themselves. In the late 60s and early 70s, a new generation of Puerto Ricans responded to these assumptions with, "Fuego, fuego, fuego, los yankis quieren fuego" (Fire, fire, fire, the yankees want fire). As Iris Morales, a Young Lord in the documentary film produced by