Latino Heritage Month: Miguel Piñero

Miguel Piñero (1946-1988) entered this world in the belly of U.S. empire, the island of Puerto Rico.  Like almost half of the island’s population, he and his family migrated to New York in the 1950s, settling in the urban jungle of Manhattan’s Lower East Side.  A child of the streets, who started getting into gangs and drugs and crime at an early age, Piñero was in and out of the juvenile justice system, his formal preparation for an adult life in prison.

At the age of 25, while serving a sentence at Sing Sing, he wrote a play, Short Eyes, as part of a prison writing workshop.  When he got out, two years later, it was performed at famed Riverside Church, where it caught the eye of a noted producer. When the play opened on Broadway, Piñero seemed an overnight success.  It was nominated for six Tony Awards, and it garnered the New York Drama Critics Circle Awards and the Obie.

It became a move, Piñero a part-time actor and full-time writer. With others he started the famed Nuyorican Poets Café, perhaps the single greatest institutional effort behind the poetic movement today called “slam” poetry.  He was a poet, a playwright, and a screenplay writer for TV and film. But he was also a junkie, a drinker, a child of the pain and violence of which he wrote.  He died in 1988, of cirrhosis.

His words live on.

___________________________________________

A LOWER EAST SIDE POEM (1980)

Just once before I die
I want to climb up on a
tenement sky
to dream my lungs out till
I cry
then scatter my ashes thru
the Lower East Side.

So let me sing my song tonight
let me feel out of sight
and let all eyes be dry
when they scatter my ashes thru
the Lower East Side.

From Houston to 14th Street
from Second Avenue to the mighty D
here the hustlers & suckers meet
the faggots and freaks will all get
high
on the ashes that have been scattered
thru the Lower East Side.

There’s no other place for me to be
there’s no other place that I can see
there’s no other town around that
brings you up or keeps you down
no food little heat sweeps by
fancy cars & pimps’ bars & juke saloons
& greasy spoons make my spirits fly
with my ashes scattered thru the
Lower East Side.

A thief, a junkie I’ve been
committed every known sin
Jews and Gentiles. . . Bums and Men
of style. . . run away child
police shooting wild. . .

mother’s futile wail. . . pushers
making sales. . . dope wheelers
& cocaine dealers. . . smoking pot
streets are hot & feed off those who bleed to
death. . .

all that’s true
all that’s true
all that is true
but this ain’t no lie
when I ask that my ashes be scattered thru
the Lower East Side.

So here I am, look at me
I stand proud as you can see
pleased to be from the Lower East
a street fighting man
a problem of this land
I am the Philosopher of the Criminal Mind
a dweller of prison time
a cancer of Rockefeller’s ghettocide
this concrete tomb is my home
to belong to survive you gotta be strong
you can’t be shy less without request
someone will scatter your ashes thru
the Lower East Side.

I don’t wanna be buried in Puerto Rico
I don’t wanna rest in long island cemetery
I wanna be near the stabbing shooting
gambling fighting & unnatural dying
& new birth crying
so please when I die. . .
don’t take me far away
keep me near by
take my ashes and scatter them thru out
the Lower East Side. . .

Please feel free to share your thoughts below…

The “Border Beat” (June 24, 2009)

Time for another run-down of some of the Latino-themed stories you might have missed in the last two weeks.  Damas y caballeros, the BORDER BEAT!

• “Sotomayor & Identity Politics” (The Nation)
Just a taste, really, of the buffet that is the blogosphere and the chatter about Sonia Sotomayor and “identity politics.” Along with the frequent discussions about Sotomayor and affirmative action, they generally help us to see the chronic ignorance of the mainstream on issues of race and power.  Here, we get some links to an alternative and the proof bearing pudding, so to speak.

• “Third year of fewer illegal immigrants caught” (Houston Chronicle)
For you “data queens” out there: some figures on the declination in the immigrant flow measured by border apprehensions. For you humanists, the comments offer proof that “border-militia radicals” are not “data queens.”

• “Border Companies Thrive on Mexican-Americans” (NY Times)
A rabid form of racial nationalism (like we have here in the U.S.) is not very compatible with free-market capitalism (like we have here in the U.S.).  Oh, irony!

• “Payments for Injuries to Workers Here Illegally” (NY Times)
Unauthorized immigrants face a host of legal barriers which discourage the protection of the rights they do have.  As workers, for example, they are more prone to abuse, physical injury, discrimination, and a violation of labor laws.  This story, from New York, describes the successful defense of the rights of “illegal” workers using the U.S. Courts as a tool for justice.

• “Utah Latinos learn details of new immigration law, SB81” (Salt Lake Tribune)
I’m prone to posting articles dealing with Latinos in Utah. Someday, when they takeover the state and overcome the minor theocracy they’ve established there, I want to be remembered as one of those visionaries who saw it coming. Right now, fodder for the future takeover as Utah decides to racially profile Latinos.

• “Sotomayor Shaped By Her ‘Nuyorican’ Roots” (NPR)
Well, it’s a bit strange to me, but a lot of people still don’t see Latinos as “people.” Stories like this background piece on Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor help with that, to be sure. Of course, I’m more interested in the word ‘Nuyorican’ becoming part of the mainstream.

• “Court backs LAPD immigration policy” (SF Chronicle)
A recent court decision defends the practices within local law enforcement agencies which do not comply with federal laws on immigration as part of their law enforcement duties. This has the potential to translate into precedent defending the right of cities to declare themselves “sanctuary cities.”

SPOTLIGHT STORY:


• “In the Coachella Valley, hope withers on the vine” (LA Times)

And the “can’t miss” story of the week comes from the Los Angeles Times and details the continued injustice in the fields of the Coachella Valley.

Read more LATINO LIKE ME.