I heard a report earlier about how Puerto Ricans on the island are dealing with the crisis with ingenuity, resilience, resourcefulness and with a strong sense of community… I’m not at all surprised.
It got me thinking how much of a major role Nuyoricans have played in my life and my culture. We lived in Bushwick the first 10 years of my life. Our apartment was above a Puerto Rican barbershop. I went to sleep on summer nights to hot rhythms from the motherland via CUBA being beaten out on congas, bongos, cowbells and cerveza bottles.
I passed those same cats playing dominoes on the street the next morning. Javier (Havi) was the coolest kid on the block. He saved my life when I was 7 yrs old by jumping in front of a swerving car and swooping me up in his 13 yr old arms just in the nick of time. Me and his brother Junior used to fight every day but if other kids came on the block we were first to defend each other. “Beso mi culo joto!”
I learned to cuss you out in Spanish before I learned how to in English. My first crush was Luz who sat next to me at school. She had braces, barrettes, and Pro-keds. Mr. Julio ran the bodega on the corner. He had pickled pigs feet for 25 cents. He would give me candy for free and tell me not to tell my parents. I got jumped once by some kids from another block and he chased them away with the baseball bat he kept behind the counter. After that, I got boxing lessons every day from him.
When I got older and moved to Flatbush the first friends I made in the neighborhood were the brothers Jose & Pete-o (his name was Pedro). Jose taught me how to build bikes from scratch using pieces from other bikes (that we stole). He was a genius with his hands. He had the BEST Afro and was the first on the block to own a boom box. Pete-o taught me how to write graffiti and uprock (there is no Hip Hop culture without Puerto Ricans…period). That kid was nice with his hands too.
He was the first to hip me to Bruce Lee and took me to Forty-Deuce to see “Enter the Dragon”. It was there that I saw Savage Skulls the Puerto Rican gang from the South Bronx for the first time. To me they were the coolest, toughest and baddest motherfukkas in the city. I’d go to Jose and Pete-o’s house on the way home from school to smoke loose joints and eat rice & beans, chorizo and banana with welfare cheese sandwiches (something I still crave every now and then). Their mom Mrs.Matos never denied me a meal. Yes, and Hector Lavoe and Fanta All-Stars was the soundtrack of my youth mixed along with disco, funk and early hip-hop. Puerto Ricans always had their own style. That gang style. Bandanas and sleeves cut off jean jackets. That tough and sexy street swag. The girls fly, sassy and fine with names like Millie (Milagros) and Lucy they had black girl bootys and “good hair”.
I am so lucky to have been brought up with some of the best most creative, strong and beautiful people on the planet. Puerto Ricans will survive this crisis and make magic from it. Like they always do…
Patrick Dougher was born and raised in Brooklyn. He is an artist, musician, and educator with over 30 years’ experience as a fine artist and drummer/percussionist and over 20 years’ experience in working for community-based arts and social justice organizations. To learn more about Patrick and his work, read this profile on him or visit him on Facebook.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
(via The Good Men Project)