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Tu Vez Blast-From-The-Past Truck: Nuyorican Poets Cafe

Marty McFly and Doc Brown had the Delorean to go travel through time; We have the Tu Vez Blast-From-The-Past Truck. Every week, we’ll hop in our time traveling machine, gun it to 88 MPH, and go back in time to bring you the best from the good ol’ days. Will it be a clip from an old telenovela? An old school music video? Stick around and find out!

American literature has, for the most part, been Anglo-dominated . Poetry especially is as lilly white as Emily Dickinson’s booty. It’s not hard to see why. For the longest time we Latinos were seen but not heard. Who cares what the janitor has to say? 1950s New York saw the rise of the beat poets like Allen Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac who changed the game, if not the color of modern poetry. It would take the sons and daughters of Puerto Rican factory workers to achieve a renaissance in modern Latino-American poetry. The place where it happened was the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.

Starting in the late 40s, Puerto Ricans living in one-goat towns in rural P.R. made the move to la gran manzana. They were promised well paying jobs in factories. Unfortunately, what the got was sweatshops and shitty pay. These laborers had lots of babies– a Latino speciality, if the stereotypes are to be believed– and these kids were known as Nuyoricans. They were not quite Puerto Ricans and not quite New Yorkers. They folded their slice of pie and ate arroz con gandules. Soon, a lot of these Nuyoricans turned to street gangs, like in “West Side Story” but with less dancing. In the late 60s some of these Nuyoricans were inspired by the growing black power movement. A young poet and professor named Miguel Alargin started gathering Nuyorican poets, writers, and activists in his crappy barrio apartment. Soon, the artists started outnumbering the roaches and they had to find a bigger space, so Alargin and his homies rented an old Irish pub in Alphabet City and named it the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. There poets and other artists could read and perform their works within an environment created by and for them.

About the same time in the Bronx and Spanish Harlem a new form of music was arising: Hip Hop. The two forces met when the cafe invented the poetry slam. Poets would “do battle” for the audience’s respect. This was a new and dynamic poetry. No longer were rhymes the sole property of guys in pantaloons like Shelley or Keats. Now they had to deal with Piñero, Cruz, and Espada. To this day the Nuyorican Poets Cafe provides a venue for up and coming Latino artists. If your are in New York you should go to 236 East 3rd Street and check it out.

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