In 1917, the U.S. Congress granted citizenship to Puerto Ricans through the Jones Act. Even though no visas are necessary, emigrating from this island can be just as challenging.
José Figueroa was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico in 1965. When he was just five years old, his parents and three brothers moved to New York City; he stayed behind with his grandparents. While he lived with his grandparents, José was exposed to several different aspects of Puerto Rican culture. When he rejoined his family in South Bronx, it felt a nothing like Puerto Rico. Transitioning was still very difficult. When he first arrived in New York, José couldn’t even talk to his brothers; they didn’t speak the same language.
But Mr. Figueroa never let any obstacle stand in his way. In high school, José was mentored by his physical education teacher. He was inspired to try to become an Olympic gymnast and represent the United States.
Although Mr. Figueroa never made the Olympic team, he coached two young men to the Junior Olympic squad. José’s interest in gymnastics evolved into a passion for martial arts. The first time he visited a karate studio, he took a punch to the chest and was knocked flat on his back.
He’s been in love with it ever since. He has been awarded more than 40 world gold medals in Chen Style Taijiquan and has been inducted into four halls of fame. Through one of his Taiji brothers, Mr. Figueroa was presented the opportunity to choreograph martial arts for a theatrical production called Voice of Dragon.
That experience encouraged José to attend the New York Film Academy and established his own company: Dark Raven Productions. With his company, Mr. Figueroa hopes to produce movies that shed light on different cultures, using art to bring people together. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
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