Book: “Puerto Rico 1965-1990” Gives Glimpses Into Rich History of U.S. Territory

Puerto Rico 1965-1990 immerses readers in a time and place rich with both culture and contradictions.

Photos: Robert Friedman

Like many “statesiders,” Robert Friedman was first introduced to the people and culture of Puerto Rico when he watched the film version of West Side Story (in which, incidentally, only one Puerto Rican had a major role: Rita Moreno). Friedman would later call Puerto Rico home for several decades and go on to interview Leonard Bernstein himself in the Caribe Hilton Hotel in 1965.

“I figured that there must be more to this small, 100-by-35-mile home to some 3 million sort-of U.S. citizens (minus certain rights, like voting representation in Congress and casting ballots for president) than meets the average American eye,” Friedman wrote in the introduction to his new book, Puerto Rico 1965-1990: A Quarter Century of Highlights, Hope, Status and Stasis.

Friedman lived in Puerto Rico from the mid-1960s through the 1970s and 1980s, the years he spent there as a journalist for the San Juan Star newspaper.

Far from an encompassing history, Puerto Rico 1965-1990 is Friedman’s vivid and nostalgic memoir of the era, a journalist-eye view of life decades ago in the U.S. quasi-colony.

“When I settled in at the Star and in my new home-away-from-home in Old San Juan, I was as ignorant as most statesiders about the life, history, culture and the hard and colorful times of the people and the place,” Friedman added.

In his book, he shares his impressions of the island and its people, plus articles he wrote for the San Juan Star. He also includes stories based on his interviews with Leonard Bernstein, Jackie Kennedy, Mohammed Ali, Jose Ferrer and other cultural icons. Along the way, he gives readers an understanding of the humane, colorful and difficult life lived by the island’s residents, as it was when he was there, and from all accounts, remains the same today.

Puerto Rico 1965-1990 immerses readers in a time and place rich with both culture and contradictions.

Robert Friedman was a reporter, columnist and city editor for the San Juan Star in Puerto Rico for more than 20 years, and was the newspaper’s Washington correspondent until it folded in 2009. While in Puerto Rico, he was also a special correspondent for the New York Daily News. He has won four Overseas Press Club awards.

Friedman is also the author of six published novels, including The Puerto Rico Trilogy — in which he has explored the colorful and often struggling lives of island residents who try to cope, both personally and politically, with the highly ambivalent U.S-Puerto Rico relationship.

Born and bred in and branded by the Bronx, New York, he now lives in Silver Spring, Maryland. He has previously lived in Paris, Stockholm and Darmstadt, Germany, where he worked for The Stars and Stripes; Athens, Greece, working for the English-language Athens News; and Athens, Ohio, where he graduated from Ohio University. All of his novels have been set in Puerto Rico, the place and people that have stuck deepest in his head and heart.