Book beans

A hope­ful story to get kids in­ter­ested in Puerto Rico and in­spire them to visit one day

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

Mar­cus Vega Doesn’t Speak Span­ish

Mar­cus Vega trav­els more than 2 400 kilo­me­tres from his Penn­syl­va­nia home to find his fa­ther on an is­land where peo­ple speak Span­ish, English and some­times a mix of both.

The story is told in Mar­cus Vega Doesn’t Speak Span­ish, an in­spir­ing novel about a 14-year-old boy and his trav­els across Puerto Rico, la Isla del En­canto. The fic­tional story cen­tres on Mar­cus’ de­sire to track down his dad, who left the fam­ily years ear­lier.

What a lot of kids – and adults – don’t know is that Puerto Rico is part of the United States, said author Pablo Car­taya, who is Cuban-Amer­i­can but has been vis­it­ing Puerto Rico since he was young.

Puerto Ri­cans have been part of the Amer­i­can fab­ric since the United States took the is­land from Spain in 1898, just af­ter the Span­ish-Amer­i­can War. They are US cit­i­zens by birth.

They serve in the US mil­i­tary. And they use the same money.

“And yet they can’t vote for the pres­i­dent of the United States. How does that make sense?” Car­taya said, rais­ing a ques­tion that is also in Mar­cus’ mind.

Be­cause Puerto Rico is a ter­ri­tory, res­i­dents of the is­land can’t vote for US pres­i­dent or mem­bers of Congress. They have a com­mis­sioner who rep­re­sents them in Wash­ing­ton, DC

About 5 mil­lion peo­ple born in

Puerto Rico live across the 50 states, ac­cord­ing to the

Pew His­panic Cen­tre. Af­ter Hur­ri­cane

Maria slammed Puerto Rico a year ago, down­ing trees and de­stroy­ing homes and the is­land’s elec­tric grid, thou­sands more Puerto Ri­cans left for the main­land.

Car­taya says he hopes his book and Mar­cus’ story can get kids in­ter­ested in learn­ing more about Puerto Rico and find­ing ways to help the is­land and its peo­ple re­cover. He also wants to in­spire them to visit one day.

“Go visit and see for your­selves,” Car­taya said.

The book takes read­ers on a road trip start­ing in San Juan, the cap­i­tal of Puerto Rico. It’s a city that sounds like “honk­ing, mu­sic and fast cars”.

In the story, Mar­cus trav­els on an old de­liv­ery truck from the nar­row cob­ble­stone streets of Viejo San Juan to an es­tate in the coun­try­side, trekking through an area dense in trees.

The trip helps Mar­cus – who has had trou­ble fit­ting in at school – con­nect with his Puerto Ri­can cul­ture and with fam­ily mem­bers he didn’t know he had.

“It’s like an­other coun­try out here. Ex­cept it’s not,” the boy says.

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