Hispanic family caught between cultures. Sensitive PBS drama looks at questions of ethnicity

The phrase ``melting pot'' is no longer fashionable in a year in which the symbolism of the Statue of Liberty is being reaffirmed. Ethnicity is now almost universally viewed as something to be honored, savored, and retained for its uniqueness rather than integrated so completely into the greater society that it almost disappears. The House of Ram'on Iglesia (PBS, Monday, 9-10 p.m.) is a teleplay that celebrates the non-assimilation of a family of Puerto Ricans. Jos'e Rivera's TV tale, adapted for television from his own Off Broadway play, focuses on a Puerto Rican family in crisis.

The father, Jaime, after 19 years in the United States, decides to sell his house in the suburbs and move his family back to his native Puerto Rico. It is a move which more or less satisfies everybody but his eldest son, Javier, a college graduate who yearns for assimilation, upward mobility, and all the dreams of young Americans.

There is a chain reaction of bitterness and recrimination as father and son recognize that although each is making the proper decision, the repercussions will be painful. Ethnic families in transition are often faced with ambivalence in decisions which may be excruciating but nevertheless necessary.

``Why don't you talk Spanish to pop? Why don't you kiss him anymore? Why are you ashamed of your family?'' These are some of the awkward questions which Javier must face. He must admit to himself that his future ambitions have come into direct conflict with his heritage from the past. And it is not until he is more at ease with his own ethnic origins that he can accept himself and thus accept his own family as they are. It is the kind of problem that faces almost all second generation Americans from all ethnic groups.

So there is a certain universality in this play, although it is obviously most meaningful to Hispanics. It was written and directed by young Hispanics, Rivera and Luis Soto.

``The House of Ramon Iglesia'' is yet another sensitive and adventurous production in the innovative ``American Playhouse'' series which is gathering talent from the entire spectrum of American letters.

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