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YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY GERALD AND THOMAS: THE SUBTEXT WITHIN THE TEXT IN DOWN THESE MEAN STREETS ALFREDO J. SOSA-VELASCO I consider myself Un negrito, and I also have blood of the Taino, as well as the blood of the conquerors, the Spanish, and Other Europeans along the way. Piri Thomas IN New York City’s Spanish Harlem – el barrio – in the 1960s and 1970s, guessing was the only way Puerto Ricans could figure out their culture and history. In his introduction to Boricuas (1995), Roberto Santiago points out that school was the place where they learned about everyone else except themselves. They learned about the Fourth of July and how the United States was founded by English people who proclaimed that, in this nation, all men were created equal. They learned about how the Europeans shared dinner with the Indians on Thanksgiving . They learned about Christianity and how people who hold Christian values treated one another with love and respect. They learned about the environment and how important it was to keep the air and water clean. But who they were as a people was never a consideration; it was a question that seldom entered their minds. Every other group – the Italians, the Irish, the Jews, the African-Americans – seemed to have an idea who they were (xiii-xiv). By looking for an idea of what a Puerto Rican is, Down These Mean Streets (1967) is the journey of Piri Thomas, a black-skinned Puerto Rican, from hatred of everything white or white-like to a more complex understanding of race. Down These Mean Streets is a hybrid text of testimonial and imaginative literature, initiating the Nuyorican stage of continental Puerto Rican writing. In this novelized autobiography, YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY 287 Thomas deals with many of the issues society stereotypically associates with Latino minorities: poverty, educational failure, gang membership, drug addiction, welfare, petty crime, sexual perversity, and prison life (Sánchez 118-19). Thomas tells the reader not only how poverty in the ghetto leads him to drugs, youth gangs, and a series of criminal activities for which he will serve seven years in prison, but also how he faces a racism that he does not understand. Thomas’s autobiographical account corresponds to the category of radicalized African-American works, such as Alex Haley’s The Autobiography of Malcom X (1965) and Elridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice (1967), emerging at the time as a reaction to the perceived shortcomings of the non-violent Civil Rights Movements of the fifties and early sixties (Hiraldo 88). Besides the AfricanAmerican literary tradition, Down These Mean Streets is also a book claimed by other literary traditions, such as U.S. Latino/a literature or Hispanic literature of the U.S. and Puerto Rican literature written in English.1 The categorization of Thomas’s literary production as an African-American, U.S. Latino, or Puerto Rican exceeds any classification , making the reader consider it as something more universal that transcends borders, literary traditions, and time as it might present or deal with issues concerning these societies back then or today.2 288 ROMANCE NOTES 1 Harold Augenbraum and Ilan Stavans include Chapter 4 of Down These Mean Streets, “Alien Turf,” in Growing Up Latino (1993), accompanied by other writers, such as Nash Candelaria, Nicholasa Mohr, Tomás Rivera, Jesús Colón, Américo Paredes, José Antonio Villareal, and Óscar “Zeta” Acosta. Roberto Santiago includes a short story written by Thomas, “The Konk” in Boricuas (1995), next to Puerto Rican and U.S. born writers such as Pedro Pietri, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Julia de Burgos, Joseph B. Vasquez, Martín Espada, René Marqués, and Esmeralda Santiago. Joy L. de Jesús includes Chapter 15 of Down These Mean Streets, “Brothers Under the Skin,” in Growing Up Puerto Rican (1997), next to Judith Ortiz Cofer, Esmeralda Santiago, Magali García Ramis, and Yvonne V. Sapia. Nicolás Kanellos also includes the same chapter of Thomas’s book in Herencia. The Anthology of Hispanic Literature of the United States (2002), accompanied by José Yglesias, Miguel Piñero, Tato Laviera, Cherríe Moraga, Gloria Anzaldúa, Alicia Achy Obejas, Sandra María Esteves, Aurora Levins Morales, Rosario Morales, Óscar...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2165-7599
Print ISSN
0035-7995
Pages
pp. 287-299
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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