by Bernice Sosa-Izquierdo
Sometimes all we need is a little encouragement, from a soft ear with a strong voice, securing us in the knowledge that we are listened to as our voices do matter. There is a yearning for a sense of belonging as hearts and souls migrate away from oblivion and into spiritual consciousness, soaring with phoenix wings towards freedom of all internal imprisonment. There was a time when Nuyoricans had no place to go where we could embrace our identity and culture, while they embraced us back. Battling the streets is one thing, but battling the sense of not belonging in Puerto Rico and not belonging in the United States is a beast all of its own. Circa 1973: Miguel Algarin lends his ear and voice to the people, becoming the force behind a new movement while creating a safe haven within the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. “Poetry, the vital sign of a new culture, needed to be heard live” (About Us, www.nuyorican.org) The word began to take form in a way that NYC and Nuyoricans alike never knew. Mirroring our Bomba and Plena, periodicos de ayer, our people would gather and share stories of life, love, happiness, politics, religion, crime, injustice, unity, belonging, and raised consciousness of social and political oppression through rhythmic assonance. Voices from Miguel Algarin, Miguel Pinero, Piri Thomas, Bobby Gonzales, Sandra Maria Esteves, Pedro Pietri (and others) carved and claimed cultural space for the people. Fast forward to present day and the non-profit organization continues standing strong promoting poetry, music, hip-hop, video, visual arts, comedy and theatre created and delivered by modern day griots such as: Caridad de La Luz, Oveous Maximus, Helena Lewis, Rock Wilk, El Grito de Poetas and countless others.
The Nuyorican continues strong as a new force grows in Brooklyn. In March of 2007, pioneers George ‘Urban Jibaro’ Torres (Urban Latino Social Media Specialist; Founder of Sofrito Media Group and On-Air personality for The Capicu Show on Urban Latino Radio; and a recipient of Comite Noviembre’s Lo Mejor De Nuestra Comunidad Award in October 2010) and Juan ‘PaPo Swiggity’ Santiago (Nuyorican Poet; self-proclaimed Social Media Brujo) joined forces and founded the Capicu Poetry & Cultural Showcase. With Swiggity serving as Creative Director, Talent Curator and Program Host, Capicu is “supported by some of NYC’s most powerful artists & musicians including some of the elders from Nuyorican Poets Cafe and welcomes all styles and poets, though our showcase is themed around our Nuyorican origins. We also develop open mic and featured artists events all across NYC and Long Island…we use the principles of Edutainment to culturally enrich and empower our urban community” (Capicu Cultural Showcase, http://www.sofritoforyoursoul.com/capicupoetry.html) Capicu continues to build a strong following and reputation for featuring veteran and upcoming (spoken word and visual) artists, comedians, select musical guests, as well as up and coming entrepreneurs providing Brooklyn with an eclectic refuge for participants and audience, alike. Capicu’s stage has been graced with the presence of ground-breaking artists like: Roberto Plena Irizarry, Jani Bomba Rose, Maria Isa, Bonafide Rojas, The Mona Passage, The Babble[O]nianz, Welfare Poets, Lemon Andersen, Marthalicia Matarrita and many, many more. Babble[O]nianz member, Blaze A Page(whose powerful spoken word is known to mirror his own life), invites us to witness the education of a young subject in need of salvation from self in his innovative piece Identity: “Don’t you see? Albizu was me Albizu was you. Ruiz, Betances and yes Filiberto too. Campos was tio, Lolita was your tia, Alejandrina is your sister, And Isabela es tu madre. Now tell me youngin’ what wouldn’t you do to defend your family?” Looking back from the other side of the mirror He replied… ‘Anything’” Compelling words reminding us of a history neglected and bastardized by text books, but necessary to pass along if we have any hopes of moving forward.
My father was the first to introduce me to the movement through Pietri’s Puerto Rican Obituary. Even at the age of ten I could not help but relate to “Juan, Miguel, Milagros, Olga, (and) Manuel (who) all died yesterday today and will all die again tomorrow”. For years I would hear stories from my father’s little brother about the movement. An activist and advocate, himself, tio would enlighten me about the progression of our people. There were stories of marches and protests, the Young Lord Party, the Nuyorican, the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights, Puerto Rican freedom fighters, charity events, unity, bomba, plena, classic salsa, Latin jazz and so on and so on and so on. Always teaching my brother and I (and those whose paths would cross with his) making sure our history, our struggles, our identity never went forgotten. It wasn’t until my college days that I first confessed to my uncle my admiration of him and even my envy of his exposure to and involvement within our community – the community whose movement I felt as though I had been born in its time, but missed. The movement whose consciousness fed my own salvation, a gift I can bestow upon my own two children. We all yearn for the security of belonging, of family, of freedom.
(inspired by Puntos laced throughout the works of Piri Thomas & all our children in need of flying)
There’s a quilt of unsung word songs
struggling to keep our children warm on frigid nights
where hatred thunders, injustice howls and ignorance storms.
There’s a quilt of unsung words whispering in the dreams of future child poets
awakening, nourishing imprisoned souls.
There is a quilt of historical patchwork threaded with gold griot tongue
in hues of Piri, Miguel, Pedro and Bobby.
Ghetto children envision a place where
Sounds of the Streets no longer dominate
No Mo’ Barrio Blues.
Fantasies propelling them to a time when those with less shared more
and stars flash light for us to join them at the peak of success.
Where true Latin Kings are free of Cara de Palo Thoughts
and smiles of judicial peace aren’t “wasted”
but, instead, “drive demons away”.
Here, looking through blind eyes and listening with deaf ears
unleashes subjugated hearts
allowing them to engorge with dignity
and words become concrete with honor.
There’s a quilt whose patches of knowledge, experience, compassion and wisdom
are stitched with fine lexis
providing a secure blueprint for generations to come,
allowing historical preservation.
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