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Fourteen Women Poets on Being Nuyorican

 

 

 

 

 

Sandra Diana Magdalena Amina
Maria Nancy Lydia Maria
Carmen Jani Marina Caridad
  JFS Viviann  

Sandra Maria Esteves


In my early years I was a silent child who gravitated towards the visual arts. In college I realized that words could be a tool for creative self-expression and began the process of exploring writing as another way of creating art. Then one day I discovered my voice as a poet on a journey that healed the silent child and empowered my consciousness. I read my first poem to an audience at the Bronx Council on the Arts in 1973. Born and raised in the Bronx, I emerged from the Nuyorican community. It is the community that understands and embraces my writing and that is viscerally linked to my being, culture and creative process.

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Diana Gitesha Hernandez

Diana
Although my parents loved the island and tried to go back, they realized they no longer could, they no longer fit, they had become this new breed of Puerto Rican; the  Nuyorican—although that term was not coined. Being a Nuyorican is finally an understanding of being this unique genetic blend of African, native and European and whipping it with the fast groove of the greatest, hippest, cosmopolitan city in the world; the New York Experience. To me someone is a Nuyorican who has figured out how to tap into this particular understanding, the sensibility of island and city and find the in-between, because after all, we are talking about the ever changing ever ready global New York; where you have to be aware and quickened if you are to survive and thrive. I think in the future when all the cultures get boiled down and blended the world's peoples will embody the Nuyorican experience. I call myself a Nuyorican because by choice or instinct I succumb to the past (my island) and the present (the city) and feel the pulse and vibration—island, city and the blending between the two; my expressions, whether in poetry, song, or the plastic arts.

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Magdalena Gomez

Magdalena
I am a vanguard member of the Nuyorican Literary movement.  I wrote, and still do, in English, Spanish and Spanglish. The title of NUYORICAN was for me, being part of a collective embrace of being Boricua, and born in NYC.  My birthplace did not usurp my identity as a Boricua.  I now consider myself a Diasporican  I embrace my cultures of Boricua and Gitana, however, my intellectual citizenry is global and influenced by more than my Latinidad or la Gitanería, both of which I had to rediscover from a shattered familial history.  That shattering, the result of colonialism and imperialistic tyranny has made the forging of my identity an ongoing and lifelong journey. My heart however, is rooted in La Isla y en Andalucía.  It is who I am at the core of my being—one who embraces exile as liberation from being defined by anyone other than myself.

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Amina Muñoz Ali

Amina
I was one of the four women poets published in the original Nuyorican Poetry anthology in 1975. The first time I read professionally was in 1977. I have never used the word Nuyorican to describe myself. I was and am an independentista and have always identified as a Puerto Rican. There was a group called the Nuyorican Poets that gave readings around New York City in the early 70s and sometimes I read my poetry with them. Then they asked me for some poems to put in an anthology. They were the ones who had the contacts to set up the readings at various community events, for which sometimes we got paid in food, and they were the ones who got the book contract.  In 1978 I ended up living on the same street as the original Nuyorican Poets Café on East 6th Street near Avenue A. It was a place where people from the neighborhood went to hear music, have a beer, dance, and listen to an open mike. I was not aware of a "literary movement" at the time, in fact, for me, writing has always been a solitary pursuit and I have never fit into a group or clique, especially during that historical time as a woman.         

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Maria Aponte

Maria
The first time I presented my own work as a poet was in 1979, at the original Nuyorican Poets Café which was located in the Lower East Side, NYC on 6th street between avenues A & B. Henry Street had a Latino Playwrights program, and my first theatre production was Pedro Pietri’s play The Living Room. My character was Tremenda. So my connections to the Nuyorican Literary Movement started there. Then I had the opportunity to work with and for Sandra Maria Esteves who had her own theatre company.  It would be through Sandra that I would then meet Louis Reyes Rivera, Susana Cabanas, Nina Laboy, Americo Casiano, and Jose Angel Figueroa. Through these connections I would grow as a Puerto Rican woman writer and become part of the Nuyorican Literary Movement.  Their artistic influence and love of history and culture would become my foundation. This is where I learned about my history, language, art and poetry. I was constantly encouraged to read and write my own stories and so I did and continue to do so.mI am always am grateful to Miguel Algarín, and his co-founders for creating the Nuyorican Poets Café and giving us a space to become who we are today.

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Nancy Mercado

Nancy
Among many things that I am, I am also a Nuyorican writer because I choose to be at this moment in time, because I am a brew created by unnatural political forces governed by merciless human beings who tsunamied my people and land; originally called Borinquén.

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Lydia Cortes

Lydia
I suppose I began sharing my work on a limited basis sometime around 1988. I have mixed feelings about the label "Nuyorican" because I don't know whether it captures who I really am. And, in all honestly, until fairly recently, and only to a certain degree, do I feel I've been embraced or recognized by many "Nuyorican" poets (have I had a hand in that in some way?) as one of them.  I'm very proud of my Puerto Rican heritage, very proud of my parents who struggled with hardships both in Puerto Rico and New York to make a much better world for their children. Though I'm certainly not offended by being labeled a "Nuyorican", I'm more comfortable identifying as a Puerto Rican born in Brooklyn.

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Maria Fernandez aka “Mariposa”

Maria
I read, for the first time, for an audience in the year 1990 when I was a freshman in college at NYU. I self-identify as a Nuyorican poet because I am proud of the literary tradition that was started by poets like Pedro Pietri, Sandra Maria Esteves, Tato Laviera and others. What I resent is being boxed in. We are multi-faceted and nuanced and I believe that our poetry and the topics we write about span a multitude of issues, experiences and topics. I also self-identify as an activist, a womanist/mujerista/feminist, as an Afro Latina, as a Black Puerto Rican woman, as a daughter of the diaspora. I am very proud of my heritage and roots. At the end of the day we are poets. We are writers. Our work, the work of Nuyorican/Puerto Rican Diasporic writers, is finally being recognized in books of literary criticism and poetics; in addition to the fields of sociology, Latino studies, women studies, etc., and this too is affirming. I embrace all of who I am. What I resist is being "contained" inside of a category.

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Carmen Bardeguez-Brown

Carmen
I was influenced by the poetry of Julia de Burgos and Palés Matos.  In 1991 I read work many, in English and Spanish, at The Nuyorican Poets Café. I am trilingual and I think in three languages. My second poetic birth was baptized by Pedro Pietri, Sandra Maria Estevez and Nancy Mercado. I listened and read their poems and they shaped my understanding of who I was as a Puerto Rican that transformed into a Nuyorican writer.

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Jani Rose

Jani
When I was 13, I found a copy of Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas on the little bookshelf in my living room. My father was long gone and my mother had never heard of the book, so I don’t know how it got there. I recognized my voice, language, my streets, my sentiments, in a book. I knew that somehow, someday, I could become a published writer, too. It was what I had always hoped for. These books I began reading showed me that I could write in my own voice. I allowed the Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx to be the storyteller. I started seeking out poets who spoke the way I speak and found books by Pedro Pietri and Miguel Algarin. I found my most beloved, Julia de Burgos. I had been calling myself both a Nuyorican and a poet for years, but the two came together in 1993, when I began performing at the Nuyorican Poets Café. I realized that I too, was a Nuyorican poet when I became exposed to them: Piñero, Bimbo, Lucky, Papoleto, Sandra, Tato, Nancy, Victor Hernandez Cruz, Martin Espada. I'm grateful to have been accepted as one of their own.

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Marina Ortiz

Marina
I first read at the Kenkeleba Gallery in 1993 at the invitation of El Reverendo Pedro Pietri.  I have been active in the Nuyorican poetry scene since the early 1990s when I was welcomed into this wondrous comunidad by Sandra Maria Esteves and El Reverendo Pedro Pietri. My earliest influence was the Puerto Rican poet laureate Julia de Burgos, who inspired me to unmask the madness of life as a Nuyorican woman feeling alone in the belly of the beast. Pedro and Sandra then encouraged me to speak aloud and construct a decidedly Nuyorican rebel yell that others might listen and learn. Professor Myrna Nieves eventually gave me the means with which to move from victim to victor, from diarist to author.

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Caridad De La Luz  aka “La Bruja”

Caridad
I first presented my work to an audience in 1996. I am first generation born Nuyorican. I encompass what Nuyorican truly means, though I am limitless by definition.

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J. F. Seary

JFS
I first presented my work to an audience in 1996 while I was studying for my degree at Binghamton University. I performed my poetry at the Nuyorican Poets Café for the very first time in 2008 (ish). I consider myself a Nuyorican poet because both are parts of my identity. I am a Puerto Rican who was born and raised in NYC. I never knew myself as anything other than Boricua. My ethnic identity is as important an influence in my life as my geographic identity. There is something special and unique about the Boricuas who've had to navigate the streets of New York from the 30s through today. My poetic works are often influenced by my experiences being Puerto Rican and growing up and living in NYC. I also always consider Nuyorican a geopolitical term. It was a way for me to honor my Puerto Rican heritage despite the fact that I wasn't born on the island. Also, I think of it as homage to all of the Puerto Rican and Nuyorican poets, writers and artists that came before me. Those that paved the way for artists like me to be able to create and share our work with audiences.

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Viviann “True” Rodriguez

Viviann
I actually never considered myself a Nuyorican writer. I was content with being a writer without any additional labels. It wasn't until my success with El Grito de Poetas that I began to hear myself referred to as a Nuyorican writer. It is a label I wear with pride, but without attachment. I am a writer, who happens to be Nuyorican.  I first stepped on a poetry stage at the Brooklyn Moon Cafe in October of 1999.

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Published in Centro Voices on 10 April 2015.