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Ismael Hernandez

Oral history interview conducted by Morton Marks

May 04, 1989

Call number: 1989.004.08

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MARKS: Where were you born?

HERNANDEZ: I was actually born in Puerto Rico, in Quebradillas, Puerto Rico.

MARKS: Where is that? What part of it is that?

HERNANDEZ: That's in the west side of the country.

MARKS: Near Mayagüez?

HERNANDEZ: Near Mayagüez.

MARKS: Is it a small town?

HERNANDEZ: Sure. It's a small town.

MARKS: Is it a country town?

HERNANDEZ: It's a--Yes, country.

MARKS: What did your family do there?

HERNANDEZ: What do you mean? For a living?


HERNANDEZ: Well, basically, my mother used to live on welfare and my father used to work on--country work, you know, like farming and stuff.

MARKS: Did the family have a farm there?

HERNANDEZ: Excuse me?

MARKS: Did you have a farm? Did he have his own little farm or did he work on somebody else's?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, we had our own little farm.

MARKS: What did he raise? Was it crops or--?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, he raised crops, different kinds of crops.

MARKS: How old were you when you came here?


HERNANDEZ: Well, this is the story. First of all, when I was two years old, I came to the United States and I studied until the third grade and I came up. After I finished third grade then I went back to Puerto Rico. After I stayed a while in Puerto Rico, like for six years, and then I came back in 1985.

MARKS: You were going to school in Mayagüez, near Mayagüez then?

HERNANDEZ: No, I went to school in San Sebastián. That's no different than our town.

MARKS: Is it also in the same area?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, in the same area on the west side.

MARKS: And who--Did both your parents come up here?


MARKS: You live in Bushwick?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, I live in Bushwick.

MARKS: What does your father do now? Does he work here?

HERNANDEZ: No, my father's actually in Puerto Rico.

MARKS: And your mother is--?

HERNANDEZ: She's in Puerto Rico also.

MARKS: So, who are you staying with?

HERNANDEZ: I' m staying here with my brother.

MARKS: I see. How old is he?

HERNANDEZ: He's twenty-five.

MARKS: What does he do?


HERNANDEZ: He works as a truck help.

MARKS: It's just the two of you living together?


MARKS: You have your own apartment and everything?


MARKS: Do you go back to Puerto Rico to see your family?

HERNANDEZ: Sure, hopefully, next summer. This summer.

MARKS: What are you studying here in high school? What do you like to study?

HERNANDEZ: Business. Since I am going to major in Business Administration, so I'm taking a couple of business courses in school.

MARKS: Do you plan to go back to Puerto Rico to continue studying?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, college.

MARKS: Here, I mean, where you live, is it mostly a Puerto Rican neighborhood? You know, in the part of Bushwick where you live?

HERNANDEZ: Not really. It's all kind of different races.

MARKS: Where are they from? Are they mostly from Latin America?

HERNANDEZ: Latin America, Black American people, you know.

MARKS: It's all mixed together?

HERNANDEZ: Yes. It's all blended.

MARKS: Are there, you know, bodegas? Are there--


MARKS: What about here in school? I notice that here it looks like there are a 3:00lot of Latin American students. Are most of your friends, you know, from Latin America?

HERNANDEZ: Yes. Most of my friends are from Latin America, which I like, and, yes, I feel comfortable.

MARKS: Where are they from?

HERNANDEZ: Most of them, I would say, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, and Venezuela, even Venezuela.

MARKS: Really?


MARKS: Have they come recently? In other words, Bushwick is now becoming more Latin American. I mean, the neighborhood?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, I believe so. It's been increasing, I guess, so, yes.

MARKS: Do you have Black American friends?

HERNANDEZ: Sure, many.

MARKS: Do the Black students and the Hispanic students, do they get along well together?

HERNANDEZ: Well, I get together with them, so, yes, most of them they do get along well.

MARKS: Do the Hispanic students have their own kinds of cultural activities? You know, like clubs for Hispanic students?

HERNANDEZ: Hispanic students?


HERNANDEZ: Like, you mean, clubs?


HERNANDEZ: In this school, I haven't seen that yet. I haven't noticed it 4:00from--you know, so I can't say.

MARKS: What do you like to do with your friends after--You know, do you have a job after school?


MARKS: What do you do?

HERNANDEZ: I work for the HPD, Housing Program Development, and, yes, that's what I do. I do office work.

MARKS: I see. Where are they? Are they in Bushwick?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, Bushwick neighborhood.

MARKS: What do you do for fun?

HERNANDEZ: For fun? I enjoy sports, like baseball, weight training, etcetera.

MARKS: Does the school have a baseball team?

HERNANDEZ: This school? Yes, it does.

MARKS: What about, you know, cultural activities? Do you like music?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, I like music.

MARKS: What kind of music do you like? Do you like Latin, you know, salsa?

HERNANDEZ: I like Latin music, salsa, merengue, anything romantic music, and all kinds of music. Even American music I like: disco, rock and roll, like that. So, that's about it. [laughter]


MARKS: Your parents have no plans to come up here? You and your brother are both going to go back to Puerto Rico?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, thank God, hopefully.

MARKS: You would rather be there than here?

HERNANDEZ: I like it over there better.

MARKS: What do you like better?

HERNANDEZ: It's my native country and, you know, even though the economic situation is not too good, but still, you know, I get that feeling for my country.

MARKS: Do you still continue to live in the small town or--?

HERNANDEZ: In a small town. In the countryside.

MARKS: Do you know, do you have many Puerto Rican friends here in New York?


MARKS: Are they also--Have they come recently? Because there are people from Puerto Rico who have been here since almost the first World War, since 1918. But do you know, have they come recently or--?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, they have come recently.

MARKS: Are they from your area? Are they from around Mayagüez or some other part there?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, most of them. And, I don't know--See, most of them come from the 6:00countryside, not from the city, because, you know, people in the city they live-- you know, they have good economic situation, so why would they come here, anyway, you know.

MARKS: So, the people--we're talking about Bushwick--who come from the small towns?

HERNANDEZ: From the small towns?

MARKS: Do you know? I mean, sometimes I notice people come to one neighborhood from just a couple of small towns. Do you know of people who come from a small area into Bushwick? Are they from a particular part of Puerto Rico?

HERNANDEZ: To Bushwick?

MARKS: Yes. Do you know?

HERNANDEZ: No, I don't know.

MARKS: Do you know where your friends are from here? You know, in the high school, where their families are from?

HERNANDEZ: Sure. I have a lot of friends. Most of them are from the west side, Mayagüez. I have friends from Aguadilla and even--I'd say--Isabela, which is in the west. Even in the city, I have a couple of friends from San Juan, Fajardo, Carolina, and all that.

MARKS: Are there a lot of people from all these little places around Mayagüez who came here?


MARKS: And mostly country people?

HERNANDEZ: Country people, mostly.

MARKS: So-called jíbaros.



MARKS: Do you listen to jíbaro music at all?

HERNANDEZ: Not really. Not jíbaro music.

MARKS: At home do you do that?

HERNANDEZ: Jíbaro music? No.

MARKS: Do the people-- Do your parents listen to that kind of music?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, my parents do.

MARKS: Especially at Christmas time?


MARKS: Like the aguinaldos?

HERNANDEZ: Aguinaldos, yes, they do.

MARKS: Do you know about the asalto navideño and all that?

HERNANDEZ: The what?

MARKS: --the parrandas at Christmas time?


MARKS: Do they have that in your town?

HERNANDEZ: They still have it and it's great. I have a lot of fun--

MARKS: Do you go back for Christmas?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, I'll be there for Christmas.

MARKS: Do you go back? How many times a year do you go back?

HERNANDEZ: How many times--

MARKS: A year.

HERNANDEZ: I went back to Puerto Rico?


HERNANDEZ: I would say twice, twice a year.

MARKS: How much more do you have to study, to go here, you know, before you finish high school?

HERNANDEZ: How much I have to study?

MARKS: Yes, how much more time, you know, do you have to go before you graduate?

HERNANDEZ: I graduate in June, actually.

MARKS: Oh, you do?


MARKS: And then what are you going to do?


HERNANDEZ: After that I will go attend college in Puerto Rico.

MARKS: Which school?

HERNANDEZ: In San Germán. That's in the southwest.

MARKS: Yes. Have you been accepted and everything?


MARKS: And you're going to study Business Administration?

HERNANDEZ: Business Administration.

MARKS: And you'll stay in Puerto Rico, do you think?

HERNANDEZ: Where else than Puerto Rico?

MARKS: What do you think you want to do?

HERNANDEZ: Office manager, I think, office manager.

MARKS: Have you been happy living in Brooklyn?

HERNANDEZ: Yes. I like it, you know. I'm quite accustomed to the environment.

MARKS: And did you learn to speak English here or there?

HERNANDEZ: Well, I would say here.

MARKS: But you speak perfectly.

HERNANDEZ: I don't believe so. My English is not too good.

MARKS: No it's perfect. Do you speak Spanish with your brother or do you speak English?

HERNANDEZ: We speak Spanish at home.

MARKS: Does he speak English also?

HERNANDEZ: My brother? Yes, he does.

MARKS: Did you learn a lot of English here while you were studying?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, I did.

MARKS: Do you have bilingual classes?


MARKS: Did you have to--When you started, did you have to go into the bilingual classes to learn English?

HERNANDEZ: When I started, yes. That was the first thing I did. I went to the 9:00Bilingual Program.

MARKS: So, you didn't know that much English when you came?

HERNANDEZ: No, not at all.

MARKS: Do they give classes bilingually or is it mostly to speak--to learn English? Or do they actually give real, you know, whole classes in both languages?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, both languages. Whole classes, you get them in both languages.

MARKS: And where are most of the students from in the bilingual classes? Where are the new arrivals coming from?

HERNANDEZ: The new arrivals? I would say from Dominican Republic and Ecuador, mostly all of them.

MARKS: Are they also, do you know, are they from small places? Are they from the country or--?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, they're from the country.



MARKS: Do you all hang together? You know, do all of you Latin American students hang out together?

HERNANDEZ: Once in a while, I would say, because I hang out with American people, too.

MARKS: Where are they--You mean just regular--

HERNANDEZ: Black Americans from the neighborhoods. Yes, but they do gather together, most of them.

MARKS: Do you ever listen to-- I'd heard recently there's now rap music in Spanish. Are you familiar with that?


HERNANDEZ: Yes, in Puerto Rico.

MARKS: Is it good?

HERNANDEZ: It's good, but I don't really, you know, kind of like it 'cause the message they bring to us, you know. It's nothing too good.

MARKS: What is the message?

HERNANDEZ: It will be drugs and all that, you know. Everything that's actually happening--But it kind of tries to get you into it, rather than, you know, get you up.

MARKS: Get you up.

HERNANDEZ: So, I don't like it.

MARKS: What do you do with your Black friends? Just hang out together?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, we hang out.

MARKS: Are there dances that the school sponsors? Are there any kinds of social activities?

HERNANDEZ: Social? No, not that I know.

MARKS: Do you think there's some kind of, you know, cultural connection growing between Black students and Hispanic students? Or do they keep separate? You know, do a lot of the Hispanic students hang out with Black friends?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, they do.

MARKS: They do? So, there's a lot of interaction in school?

HERNANDEZ: Yes. It's like a melting pot, they get all together and, you know.

MARKS: I notice a lot of the Black kids are Muslims. Do you know about that? They're wearing Muslim hats, you know. The Muslim religion?


HERNANDEZ: Most of my friends are from Catholic religions, not Muslims, so--

MARKS: Was your family religious?

HERNANDEZ: My family? Not really.

MARKS: Are you religious in any way?

HERNANDEZ: Well, I would say no because I hardly attend church. So, I would say no.

MARKS: You don't attend church?

HERNANDEZ: Not really. The last couple of years, I haven't been attending church.

MARKS: In this school, are there special teachers who help the Hispanic students or, you know, what about Miss Velasquez? Are there special programs to help the Spanish students? Is there a special program?

HERNANDEZ: Special programs? Not really, because most of the other classes are, you know, mixed together. Since they're bilingual, you know, they get together, English and Spanish, but they don't have really a specific program that can help 12:00bilingual students. They don't have it.

MARKS: What percentage of students are Hispanic in this school, do you know?

HERNANDEZ: In the school? I would say--I would say, I would say 45 percent.

MARKS: That much?

HERNANDEZ: It's a lot. And most of them are Black Americans. I would say 45 percent. There's a lot of Hispanics in here.

MARKS: In the parts of-- You live in Bushwick, right? I mean, do you live nearby, near the school?

HERNANDEZ: Do I live nearby the school? Yes.

MARKS: Everybody here lives--comes from Bushwick, right?


MARKS: Is Bushwick divided up? Is, is--Are the Black sections mixed with the, you know, the Hispanic ones or is it all kinds of-- Is it separate?

HERNANDEZ: No, they're all mixed.

MARKS: It's all totally mixed?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, totally mixed.

MARKS: So, the same block can have both Black and Hispanic people and--

HERNANDEZ: Yes, yes. It's all mixed.

MARKS: And the Hispanics can be from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, from Ecuador?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, they're all mixed together.

MARKS: Is the Hispanic community, do you think, expanding more than the Black community in Bushwick? Do you think it will be a Hispanic community eventually?


HERNANDEZ: I would say yes, because a lot of Hispanic people--been immigrating from other countries here in the last years, so I would say yes.

MARKS: But, generally, the relations are good between Blacks and Hispanics? And there's no friction between people?

HERNANDEZ: No, not really. Only at the-- When you first come in the country, then you start having some problems with them, but then you get along with them. In a while, you get accustomed to them and they will get accustomed to you, so there won't be no problem. Just at the beginning, you know. Like, you don't know them, so you have to learn their customs, they have to learn your customs. And that's how it goes.

MARKS: Does the school try to bring together the different student groups or do they just let it happen on its own? Does the school try to promote, you know, friendships or anything like that?

HERNANDEZ: No, not this school. No, not this school. That's true, I know. You do-- You know, bilingual is one place, and history and the other, you know, 14:00regular classes-- You know, not really.

MARKS: Does the school ever bring in, you know, cultural groups, for the students?

HERNANDEZ: In school?

MARKS: Or promote anything like that? Any kind of cultural activities?

HERNANDEZ: Cultural activities? Not that I know. No, not that I know. I have no idea, so I can't tell you. My goals are to attend college, major in business, and try to help the community.

MARKS: How? Help them in what way?

HERNANDEZ: I would say economically helping them. See, because I had an idea of being a social worker. A social worker usually helps people with low incomes and 15:00all that. And, you know, I always wanted the best thing for my people, so I would say I would like to help them economically. And even drugs, try to keep them creating programs and all that.

MARKS: Is there a drug problem in Puerto Rico now?

HERNANDEZ: There's a big drug problem in Puerto Rico.

MARKS: Is it crack or--?

HERNANDEZ: A lot of smuggling drugs into the country.

MARKS: But you think you want to stay there and help people in Puerto Rico and not the Puerto Rican community here in New York, in Brooklyn.

HERNANDEZ: Well, actually, I would like to help the community here in New York, specifically, but since I'm going to be in my country, I believe I have to help my people in my country.

MARKS: As far as you know, among your Puerto Rican friends, do they go back a lot? Is there a lot of back and forth traveling between here and Puerto Rico?


MARKS: Do people go back and visit a lot?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, they do.

MARKS: So, part of the family might be here and--

HERNANDEZ: There's a great, warm feeling between the families, in Puerto Rico and here.


MARKS: So, part of the family's here, part of it is in Puerto Rico?


MARKS: And people would travel back and forth?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, they travel.

MARKS: Do you think that's true of a lot of the students here in Bushwick?

HERNANDEZ: They have I would say they have a nomadic life, you know, they're not very stable--[laughter] Puerto Rico here-- nomadic life.

MARKS: Do you have a feeling in your future you'll be doing the same thing? You'll spend part of the time in Puerto Rico and maybe come back here part of the time?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, who knows? You know, one never knows in that situation. So, I would say my life will be nomadic, too. And that's it. What else do I have to say?

MARKS: But why are you going into Business Administration if you want to be a social worker? You don't want to go to social work school?

HERNANDEZ: Because I would love to be a social worker, that's what I said, but I'm actually majoring in business.

MARKS: Right.

HERNANDEZ: But one never knows what will happen in the future. But if I go into college, I would like business, I would say. Even though I like it here, college is a lot different. So, one never knows-- change your mind.


MARKS: So, business is really kind of like a back-up.


MARKS: Your real interest is in doing social work.

HERNANDEZ: Yes. That's what I mean.

MARKS: There must be a lot of agencies in Puerto Rico, right? Like, social agencies, the way they have here?

HERNANDEZ: Yes. They are. In every town they have a social agency to help the community.

MARKS: Are you familiar with any of the other neighborhoods in Brooklyn that have, you know, big Puerto Rican populations? You know, for example, Sunset Park? Do you ever have any connections with other parts of Brooklyn?

HERNANDEZ: Parts of Brooklyn.

MARKS: There are large Puerto Rican communities in different sections.

HERNANDEZ: There is one in Graham Avenue. I don't know if you've heard of it, Graham Avenue?

MARKS: Oh, yes.

HERNANDEZ: That's why they call it Avenida of Puerto Rico.

MARKS: What's it called?

HERNANDEZ: Avenida of Puerto Rico.

MARKS: And what is its real name?

HERNANDEZ: That's Graham Avenue.

MARKS: Graham Avenue?


MARKS: Where is that? Is that in--?

HERNANDEZ: That's right here in Flushing.

MARKS: Oh, it is? In Bushwick?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, in Bushwick.


MARKS: Why do they call it that?

HERNANDEZ: There's a lot of Puerto Ricans in there.

MARKS: Really? In stores or--

HERNANDEZ: A lot of bodegas, marquetas, and all that.

MARKS: A lot of tropical produce and--?


MARKS: That's the main shopping street?


MARKS: The main Puerto Rican shopping area?


MARKS: Are there bodegas in other parts of Bushwick or mostly on that one street?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, they are in other parts, but there are a lot in Graham Avenue. It's--

MARKS: Are most of those people from the same area, from around Mayagüez?

HERNANDEZ: No, they're from all different parts, the north, south, Arecibo--and all that.

MARKS: Do the other--You know, like, let's say, people from Ecuador or Dominican Republic, do they also shop at these same bodegas?

HERNANDEZ: The Puerto Rican?


HERNANDEZ: Yes, they do.

MARKS: They have special products for people from other places, too? You know, do they have products for people, let's say, from Ecuador or from, you know, special foods or anything like that, that you know of?

HERNANDEZ: Special foods?


MARKS: Or is most of the stuff the same from one bodega to the next?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, mostly are the same. They kind of have like-- You know, they eat the same food, I would say. Except for Honduras, which they eat a lot of, I would say, beans.

MARKS: Oh, yes?

HERNANDEZ: They eat a lot of beans in Honduras.

MARKS: Are there Honduran students here, too?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, many. There are, and they're kind of like us, you know, mostly the same customs.

MARKS: Who do you feel closest to, among the, you know, other Hispanic students? Not Puerto Rican, but who do you feel closest to, you know, culturally and customs?

HERNANDEZ: Culturally, I would say-- Let me see, I'd say Dominicans.

MARKS: Really?


MARKS: There are a lot of Dominican students here.

HERNANDEZ: Yes, there are.

MARKS: Do Dominicans and Puerto Ricans hang out together?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, sure.

MARKS: But you feel it's a real similarity?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, there's a great similarity, a great one.

MARKS: I mean, anything in particular or just as a general feeling?

HERNANDEZ: Their customs, their food, and everything. Mostly everything.


MARKS: Their music, too?

HERNANDEZ: Their music? Puerto Ricans' music is salsa, but I believe they enjoy the most merengue, which is Dominican music.

MARKS: Right.

HERNANDEZ: You know, they kind of get around together and have that warm feeling, yes.

MARKS: Are there any social clubs in the neighborhood, you know, Puerto Rican or Dominican social clubs?

HERNANDEZ: No, not in my neighborhood. We have any--

MARKS: Are there dances in the neighborhood? You know, Latin dances?

HERNANDEZ: Yes. They have a dance club right here in the community, "Casa Borínquen."

MARKS: Do they have live bands come in and-- ?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, they have these orchestras from Santo Domingo and Puerto Rico, all different salsa and merengue, and they all join together, dance, have fun, you know. It's really nice.

MARKS: It's mostly Puerto Ricans and Dominicans who go?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, mostly Puerto Rican and Dominicans. See, so they have that quite warm feeling.

MARKS: Is there anything else you want to add? Anything you want to say about 21:00your life here or what you hope to do in your future?

HERNANDEZ: What I would like to do in the future? I can't say.

MARKS: Anything that you haven't said?

HERNANDEZ: I would say my life is--talk about my life here. My life here has been great. I have nothing to regret and I have even learned many customs from the Americans. It's like American power. You learn what-- Mostly you cannot forget from your culture, some customs. When you come here, you no longer want to eat rice and beans, right? You just want to eat hamburgers, hot dogs and all that. And even go out to the ball park and watch baseball. That's the American way. We have a lot of freedom.

MARKS: Did you stop eating rice and beans?

HERNANDEZ: I would say yes. I eat a lot of junk food now. I would say yes.

MARKS: Well, do you think when you go back you'll drop your American ways, when 22:00you go back to Puerto Rico?

HERNANDEZ: Not really, because in Puerto Rico they have American food, too, so--fast foods. So, I would say not really.

MARKS: So, you're sort of a combination of--

HERNANDEZ: Yes, a combination of both. It's good.

MARKS: Okay, thanks a lot.

HERNANDEZ: Thank you. You're welcome.

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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Ismael Hernandez

Ismael Hernandez was born circa 1970 in Quebradillas, a small town in the west of Puerto Rico. Hernandez came to New York as an infant where he attended school until the third grade, and then returned to Puerto Rico for six years. He came back to New York in 1985 at the age of 15 and lived with an older brother in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. His parents remained in Puerto Rico.

In the interview, Ismael discusses his Latino/a friends, as well as relations between African-American and Latino/a students at Bushwick High School, where he is a student. He talks about his experiences in the school's bilingual program, and about life in the neighborhood. He mentions Casa Borínquen, a local Latin dance club, and ''La Avenida de Puerto Rico," or Graham Avenue, so called because of the large number of Latino/a businesses there. Finally, he talks of his hopes of returning to Puerto Rico and continuing his education there, and of the impact American culture has had on him. Interview conducted by Morton Marks.

Brooklyn Historical Society initiated the Hispanic Communities Documentation Project in 1988. Over fifty interviews were conducted to document the experiences of Brooklyn residents who arrived from Puerto Rico, Panama, Ecuador, and several other Central and South American nations in the latter half of the twentieth century. This collection includes recordings and transcripts of interviews conducted between 1988 and 1989. The oral histories often contain descriptions of immigration, living arrangements, neighborhood demographics, discrimination, employment, community development, and political leadership. Also included are photographs and printed ephemera.


Hernandez, Ismael, Oral history interview conducted by Morton Marks, May 04, 1989, Hispanic Communities Documentation Project records and oral histories, 1989.004.08; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • Hernandez, Ismael


  • African Americans
  • Dominican Americans
  • Ecuadorian Americans
  • Education
  • High school students
  • Hispanic Americans
  • Music
  • Puerto Rican youth
  • Puerto Ricans


  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Bushwick (New York, N.Y.)
  • Puerto Rico


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Hispanic Communities Documentation Project records and oral histories