Cayey, Puerto Rico
New York City, New York
- This article is about the Puerto Rican writer. For the politician, see Jesús Colón Berlingeri.
Colón was born in Cayey, Puerto Rico after the Spanish-American War when the American Tobacco Company gained control of most of the tobacco producing land in Puerto Rico. His father was a baker and his family owned the "Colon Hotel". His home was behind the town's cigar factory, which hired "readers" to read stories and current events to the employees whilst they worked. As a child, Colón visited the factory to listen to these stories. He was exposed to the writings of Karl Marx and Émile Zola. From these ideas he formed a personal socialist ideology and also an interest in both the spoken and written word. The family moved to San Juan where he attended and continued his education at the Jose Julian Acosta School. His brother Joaquin attended the Central High School.
New York City
In 1917, when he was 16 he boarded the SS Carolina as an employee and landed in Brooklyn, New York. There he went to live with his older brother, Joaquin Colon, who was already residing in Brooklyn. He worked in various unskilled jobs and was able to observe the deplorable conditions of the working class of the time.
Colón was discriminated against because of the color of his skin (he was of African descent) and because of his difficulty speaking the English language. He wrote about his experiences, as well as the experiences of other immigrants, becoming among the first Puerto Ricans to do so in English. His best known work, A Puerto Rican in New York, set the stage for the literary movement known as the "Nuyorican Movement". Colón inspired other writers such as Piri Thomas, Esmeralda Santiago, Nicholasa Mohr, Pedro Pietri, and others.
Colón began a Spanish language newspaper and in 1955, he wrote a regular column for the Daily Worker, a publication of the Communist Party in New York. Colón was also the president of "Hispanic Publications" which published history books, political pamphlets in Spanish, and literature.
In the 1940s, Colón was president of the Cervantes Fraternal Society, the Spanish language division of the pro-Communist International Workers Order (IWO), a non-profit fraternal organization (life & health insurance, social and cultural activities, etc.) made up of 16 ethnic/language groupings that, in total at its height, counted almost 200,000 members. (The Cervantes Fraternal Society, IWO, should not be confused with the Cervantes Society of America, an academic group.) The IWO, after being included on the U. S. Attorney General's list of "subversive organizations" (the listing was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court), was dissolved by the NY State Supreme Court in 1951.
In the 1950s, during the McCarthy period, Colón was called to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington, D.C. He outraged the Committee when he stated "I will not cooperate with this committee in its aim to destroy the Bill of Rights and other Constitutional rights of the people".
Jesús Colón died in New York City in 1974. In accordance with his wishes, his body was cremated, returned to Puerto Rico and scattered over River La Plata, in Cayey; here the river goes to the north of Puerto Rico and into the Atlantic ocean.
Edna Acosta-Belen, professor of Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of Albany and Virginia Sanchez Korrol, associate professor and Chair of the Department of Puerto Rican Studies at Brooklyn College, put together a booklet of Colón's writings called "The Way it was and Other Writings". Jesus Colon's niece (daughter of Joaquin), Olimpia Colón Aponte, is a retired writer who lives in Puerto Rico.
- Lo que el pueblo me dice--: crónicas de la colonia puertorriqueña en Nueva York, edited and with an introduction by Edwin Karli Padilla Aponte, 2001. Houston, Texas: Arte Público Press. ISBN 1-55885-330-8.
- The way it was, and other writings: historical vignettes about the New York Puerto Rican community. edited with an introductory essay by Edna Acosta-Belén and Virginia Sánchez Korrol, 1993. Houston: Arte Público Press. ISBN 1-55885-057-0.
- A Puerto Rican in New York, and other sketches, 1961. New York: Mainstream Publishers.
- "Kipling and I" (poem), in Wáchale!: poetry and prose about growing up Latino in America, edited by Ilan Stavans, 2001. Chicago: Cricket Books. ISBN 0-8126-4750-5.
- "The teacher was surprised", in Riding low on the streets of gold, edited and with an introduction by Judith Ortiz Cofer, 2003. Houston, Texas: Piñata Books; Arte Público Press.
- "For the Color of My Mother", in Hispanic American literature: an anthology, compiled by Rodolfo Cortina, 1998. Lincolnwood, Illinois : NTC Pub. Group. ISBN 0-8442-5730-3.
- "from A Perfect Silence", in Growing up Puerto Rican: an anthology, edited and with an introduction by Joy L. De Jesʹus; foreword by Ed Vega, 1997. New York: William Morrow. ISBN 0-688-13740-7.
- "Island of Lost Causes" and "The Docile Puerto Rican - Literature and Psychological Reality" in Boricuas: influential Puerto Rican writings - an anthology, edited by Roberto Santiago, 1995. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-39502-6.