“Many of us lived through the desperate years of the Great Depression and struggled to survive life in the ghettos, where the invasions of hot and cold-running cockroaches and king-size rats always seemed to come from other apartments but never from your own. There was always the pain from the pressure of fear brought about by racism: although many black and brown lives were snuffed out at the end of a rope, any means would do, including baseball bats. We all went through the exploitation that came from greed and listened to politicians wearing smiles on their faces that were wasted because they did not match what was in their hearts, making promises that never came to be.”
Born Juan Pedro Tomás, of Puerto Rican and Cuban parents in New York City’s Spanish Harlem in 1928, Piri Thomas began his struggle for survival, identity, and recognition at an early age. The vicious street environment of poverty, racism, and street crime took its toll and he served seven years of nightmarish incarceration at hard labor. But, with the knowledge that he had not been born a criminal, he rose above his violent background of drugs and gang warfare, and he vowed to use his street and prison know-how to reach hard core youth and turn them away from a life of crime.
Las Navidades de mi niñez eran más que Kris Kringle, alias Santa Claus, alias Mami y Papi, o quien sea. Para mi las Navidades eran la alegría de estar con la familia–pobres de bolsillo, pero ricos de corazón.
Christmas to me, from childhood on, has been a kaleidoscope of things.
Christmas was, as I remember it, Momma’s version of Seventh Day Adventist Christ and having to deal with hopped-up prices. Poppa was always the kind of pops that strained his brains digging up ways on the WPA to make the extra pesos needed at Christmas times.
I have always had a special fondness for, and empathy with books and libraries. As I grew up, I lived, breathed, and ran between the raindrops that were not water, but drops of acid known as bigotry, hatred, and rejection. My one island of refuge in El Barrio was the public library on 110th St., between Lexington and 3rd Aves., where I gorged myself on books, borrowing two books as allowed and slipping three or four under my jacket, and replacing them with three or four more soon to be read.
Of course, I returned them all. Reading helped me to realize that there was a world out there far vaster than the narrow confines of El Barrio. I learned that there were people who didn’t care about color being a measure of superiority or inferiority. What mattered was the dignity of one’s heart and the honor of one’s word. (An excerpt.)
Proceed to the essay here…
The roots of Borinquen (the original indigenous name for the Puerto Rico) were trampled from the beginning of the European presence, where some lost sea captain who called himself Christopher Columbus landed on the island and renamed it Puerto Rico almost 500 years ago. Columbus and the conquistadores who followed him knew only how to plunder.
The natives who greeted Columbus were members of the fierce Arawaks and peaceful Tainos, who lived on the shores as fishermen. Columbus claimed their land in the name of Spain, and opened the door to Western exploiters who came in droves to colonize the island.