Lisa Sánchez González : 2LP Conversations

Puerto Rican Folktales


You made a conscious effort in the re-telling and deliberate re-visioning of some of these folktales. Why?

Folklore teaches its readers about culture, history, and the world around them. In doing so, it also teaches ethics. So each storyteller will render a tale in a way that she or he thinks will be not only entertaining but instructive. The oral tradition of storytelling in Puerto Rico and its diaspora is radical. I’ve heard from my father’s lips, for example, very funny and sometimes very sad tales that instruct about how to elude getting harassed by the police, how to dress for the cold when your shoes have holes in the soles, and how to cope with injustices of all kinds. My grandmother told me tales about how clever sisters could unite to resist an overbearing patriarch too. But in print, a lot of the oral tradition is twisted around into something conservative and moralistic, in an effort to teach children – especially girls – very bourgeois attitudes and “proper” behavior. For me, the only way to make these folktales feel right in the telling was to refashion the stories for print in the authentic and radical vein of the oral tradition I know and love. I deliberately “decolonized” the colonial era legends, for example, rather than endorsing the Spanish colonial versions of them.

Does folklore still play an important role in Puerto Rico and if so, why?

Boricuas, whether on the island or off of it, are natural storytellers. Storytelling, like poetry and music, is part of our cultural DNA. The oral tradition is alive and well. However, in book form, traditional folktales are nearly extinct. You have to wonder why that is. According to UNESCO, this is a problem all over the world in former colonies, so much so that the organization has formed a task force to find ways of preserving and disseminating these tales. Personally, I think the root of the problem is colonialism and the institutionalized racism it spawns. The school system in Puerto Rico and in places where Boricuas live stateside have Eurocentric curricula. There’s no space for the wisdom of the colonized in that kind of curriculum. There’s no room for stories that humanize the colonized in ways that empower them to love themselves and respect themselves, which I think is a travesty.

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