The Other Island (A Memoir)
by Jaime Martínez Tolentino
Edited by Donna Pearlman
Little Jaime lived in a small village on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. Then, when he was four years old, he contracted polio and almost died from the illness. When he left the hospital, he was crippled, and he would have withered lower limbs and walk with a limp for the rest of his life.
The same year that he left the hospital, his father emigrated to New York City in search of better working conditions. Four years later, in 1951, his father sent for Jaime’s mother, Jaime and his two younger siblings. THE OTHER ISLAND begins with his arrival in NYC, and his adaptation to “the Big Apple.”
New York City was world’s apart from everything that little Jaime had ever known. The scenery was all different, and so was the weather. Moreover, people spoke English, and not Spanish, little Jaime’s native language. Nonetheless, Jaime adapted, and soon spoke English perfectly.
What he could not adapt to was his family’s worsening economic condition in “the Big Apple” which took them from one neighborhood to another, each worse than the previous one.
Nonetheless, through a lucky break, Jaime was chosen for a special program for “gifted and talented students.” And so, for three years, he attended Joan of Arc JHS where he studied with some of the city’s best teachers and students, getting a taste for comparative literature, theater and classical music. However, his experiences at that school and the lives lived by his wealthy classmates were constantly in conflict with the life of poverty that he and his own parents lived.
One of his darkest moments comes when his family moves into the Puerto Rican ghetto of “El Barrio” on the upper East side of the city. Crime, poverty, gangs, filth… it was all almost too much to bear. To top everything off, Jaime’s budding preparation as a future concert cellist was cut short when he failed to gain admission into the prestigious High School of Music and Art.
As the end of his high school years approached, Jaime thought of going to college, something that no one in his family had ever done, and very few inhabitants of “El Barrio” ever attempted. Through fear of rejection, Jaime let several excellent opportunities pass him by, but when things seemed at their worst, he was accepted into one of the city’s most prestigious, and most expensive, universities.
College was a constant effort to come up with the money to pay for his tuition, and the effort took its toll on his grades. At one point, he was on the verge of being suspended from school. But then, another stroke of luck changed everything. When he finally accepted that his future lay in languages and writing, everything fell into place, and Jaime became an excellent student. So much so, that he was given a full fellowship to graduate school.
College in the stormy 1960s was also a chance for Jaime to know romance… several times over. It was also a time of incredible social change, and Jaime embraced it totally. Yet, when he had triumphed over his social environment, Jaime tackled one more obstacle… the search for his Puerto Rican roots.
THE OTHER ISLAND is an American success story, which at the same time, chronicles the existence of one of the U.S.’s most important (and least recognized) minorities. It is also a coming-of-age tale, with the stormy 1960’s as its backdrop. Forget West Side Story, Piri Thomas’ Down These Mean Streets, and Esmeralda Santiago’s When I Was Puerto Rican. This is a real-life story narrated by a professional writer.
About the Author
Jaime Martínez-Tolentino holds degrees from New York University and the Sorbonne. He also holds a Ph.D in French from The University of Madrid, and a Ph.D in Spanish from The University of Massachusetts. He taught languages and literatures at The University of Puerto Rico, the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico, Purdue University, the University of Massachusetts and the State University of New York (Buffalo) from where he retired in 2002. Martínez-Tolentino is the author of 11 books, and the editor of five others, most of them in Spanish and some in French. Those books, published in Puerto Rico, the USA, Germany and Spain, include literary and historical essays, reference works, collections of short stories, and plays. His most recent book [Dos crónicas desconocidas de Lope de Aguirre-Ed. Fundamentos, Madrid: 2012] was subsidized by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports of Spain so that the public libraries of the country could have the book to lend out to their clients. Martínez-Tolentino is also the author of more than 30 publications in newspapers and journals from Puerto Rico, the USA, Spain, Venezuela, Mexico, Peru, Italy and Colombia, and the Internet. He has received literary awards in Portugal, Puerto Rico and the United States, and his work has been the subject of large portions of two published books. Martínez-Tolentino’s work is not really known in the English-speaking world, although it is well-known in the Spanish-speaking world.