Puerto Rican Diaspora / Nuyorican Poets
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Nuyorican Poets Cafe
No other artistic movement has drawn more attention to the U.S. Puerto Rican experience than the one associated with the founding of the Nuyorican Poets’ Cafe. Established in 1975, the Cafe was the idea of writer Miguel Algarín and a concept that originated from frequent tertulias or gathering of poets at his home. Located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan (promptly baptized Loisaida by these poets, a Spanish adaptation of the name), the Cafe was aimed at providing an alternative formative stage for unknown poets to share their work orally with public audiences. Plays were also frequently performed at the Cafe. In fact, most of the Nuyorican poets became accomplished performance artists and playwrights, and their poetry served important communal functions.

Before the founding of the Nuyorican Poets’ Cafe, literary activity by Puerto Ricans born or raised in the United States was limited and little known outside the New York community. Only a handful of writers had published works dealing with the migrant experience (see Jesús Colón, Piri Thomas, and Víctor Hernández Cruz). Most major U.S. publishers were largely indifferent to Latino ethnic literature under claims that there was not a significant readership among the poor or that this literature had no appeal to mainstream readers. In the meantime, many of these writers were reading and performing in a variety of public spaces--political demonstrations, cafes, schools and universities, community centers, the streets--bringing an unprecedented cultural vitality to the civil rights’ struggles and ethnic revitalization movements taking place during those years among Puerto Ricans and other ethnoracial minorities in U.S. society.

Before it began to be used by Nuyorican poets, the label Nuyorican was mostly a derogative term used by island Puerto Ricans to distance themselves from the marginalized and stereotyped lives of their migrant compatriots. The word also carried the underlying assumption that U.S. Puerto Ricans were mostly from New York, a situation that has changed significantly in recent decades with the gradual dispersion of Puerto Rican migrants to other U.S. urban and semi-urban communities. Thus the term was not adopted by all U.S. Puerto Rican writers. This did not deter critics and the general public from using the label to refer to all U.S. Puerto Ricans, particularly writers and artists. But it was Nuyorican poets Algarín and Miguel Piñero who proudly adopted and popularized the term as a way of bringing legitimacy and attention to a different way of being Puerto Rican. It is a Puerto Ricanness born out of migration and survival experiences in a racist ethnocentric U.S. society, with as many differences as shared commonalities with island culture. Sometimes these writers mythified island culture and traditions; other times they rejected or were critical to some aspects of that heritage as critic Efrain Barradas has pointed out (1980). These authors write primarily in English, but also in Spanish or in a mixture of both languages. Their so-called "Spanglish" includes frequent code switching between English and Spanish or adapting English words to Spanish morphological structures. Most of them learned Spanish at home without any formal instruction and English in the schools or the streets.

Most of the Nuyorican poets were born or raised in New York’s Spanish Harlem, the Lower East Side, the South Bronx, or Los sures (Williamsburgh, Brooklyn), barrios with large concentrations of Puerto Ricans and other Latinos. Through the readings and performances at the Nuyorican Poets’ Cafe writers like Algarín, Miguel Piñero, Jesús Papoleto Meléndez, Pedro Pietri, Sandra María Esteves, José Angel Figueroa, Tato Laviera, among others, first introduced the works that years later made them some of the best known names of the Nuyorican poetic movement. The publication of Nuyorican Poetry: An Anthology of Words and Feelings (1975), edited by Miguel Algarín and Miguel Piñero, was another significant step in introducing the public to the Nuyorican experience. In the book’s introduction, Algarín defines the cultural and linguistic essence of the new movement:

The poet is responsible for inventing the newness. The newness needs words, words never heard before or used before. The poet has to invent a new language, a new tradition of communication...(9)
The experience of Puerto Ricans on the streets has caused a new language to grow: Nuyorican. Nuyoricans are a special experience in the immigrationimmigration: Arrival and settlement of people in a place that is different from their place of origin. history of the city of New York. We come to the city as citizens and can retain the use of Spanish and include English....The interchange between both yields new verbal possibilities, new images to deal with the stresses of living on tar and cement..." (15).
The power of Nuyorican talk is that it is street rooted" (16).

The Nuyorican poets viewed themselves as the voices of the people; representatives of those generations of Puerto Ricans born or raised in the United States who grew up straddling two cultures and languages and experiencing racism and poverty. The concepts of "street" or "outlaw" poetry were frequently used to describe an artistic movement that came from the margins to challenge the conventions, myths, and exclusions of the white Anglo-Saxon tradition of ethnoracial minorities, by the white Anglo-Saxon tradition.

The Cafe is now a New York artistic institution, a gathering place for new artists to receive audience approval or be booed in its (in)famous "poetry slams".

Autor: Dra. Edna Acosta Bel
Published: September 11, 2014.

Version: 06082920 Rev. 1
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Colón, Jesús
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The Puerto Rican Diaspora: Migratory Cycles and Communities in the Distance