Tato Laviera is one of the best known poets of the diaspora because of the innovative ways in which his poems affirm Puerto Rican identity and capture its transformation within the U.S.
context. He is also known for the connections he establishes with
audiences during his passionate performances in poetry recitals. Laviera is part of the first wave of Nuyorican poets and has established himself as a powerful voice of Puerto Rican cultural affirmation representing those new generations of Puerto Ricans born or raised in the United States
, who resist assimilation into a racist Anglo American mainstream by proclaiming their Puerto Ricanness. A native of Santurce, Puerto Rico Laviera arrived in New York when he was ten years old, which made it possible for him to learn English without loosing his native Spanish. In fact, his bilingualismbilingualism: The habitual use of two languages in the same region or by the same person. allows him to play with words, coin new terms, and convey different cultural and affective meanings through his verses. This interplay between the Spanish and English languages and the cultures of his home and adoptive countries are an essential aspect of his poetic world, in this way accentuating the cultural and linguistic hybridity of the Puerto Rican experience in U.S. society. Laviera validates the notion that there are different ways of being Puerto Rican or expressing a sense of Puerto Ricanness. The poet also has criticized the way in which island Puerto Ricans often belittle Puerto Ricans from the diaspora or question their identity. In his poems "nuyorican" and "asimilao," Laviera reveals some of these feelings and dilemmas: yo peleo por ti, puerto rico, ¿sabes?Yo me defiendo por tu nombre, ¿sabes?Entro a tu isla, me siento extraño, ¿sabes?...(…) me desprecias, me miras mal, me atacas mi hablar,mientras comes mcdonalds en discotecas americanas… así que, si tu no me quieres, pues yo tengo un puerto rico sabrosísimo en que buscar refugioen nueva york… ("nuyorican", Amerícan, 1985, 53)*************************************assimilated? qué assimilated, brother, yo soy asimilao,así mi la o sí es verdadtengo un lado asimilao. ("asimilao", AmeRícan, 1985, 54)Of mulatto origin, Laviera also acknowledges the powerful influence of Afro-Caribbean poetry and African rhythms and symbols in his writing. He also denounces racial prejudice among Puerto Ricans, in addition to the prejudices and inequalities they experience in U.S. society. Although he does not hold a college degree, Laviera has taken courses at Cornell University and Brooklyn College. For several years he was a community and social services worker until he decided to focus on a full time writing career.The author first drew critical attention with the publication of the poetry collection La Carreta Made A U-Turn (1979), a book that disputed the tragic interpretation of the migrant experience found in the classic drama, La carreta [The Oxcart] (1952), authored by prominent island writer, René Marqués's. For Laviera, it was evident that Marqués well-known play was far from representing the multifaceted reality of those Puerto Ricans migrants who never returned to the island or whose offspring was born in the United States. Thus, in that sense, he sees himself as the voice of a new generation. In 1980, Laviera was invited by President Jimmy Carter for a White House gathering of American poets. After La Carreta Made a U-Turn, Laviera published Enclave (1981), winner of the Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Award and a celebration of the author's Afro-Caribbean heritage. But it was in the collection AmeRícan (1985) where the poet begins to reconcile his straddling between the culture of his native Puerto Rico and that of the society where he has grown up. The invented term "AmeRícan" (with an accent on the í) suggests a continental redefinition of what is means to be an American and, at the same time, it is an ontological expression and affirmation of Laviera's national identity ("I am a Rican"). The poet represents a new generation of Puerto Ricans unwilling to relinquish their Puertoricanness in an American society that is no longer the exclusive domain of the white Anglo-Saxon culture. It is a conception of the United States as the place where the many peoples of the Americas converge producing new and vibrant hybrid cultures. In another poetry collection, Mainstream Ethics (1988), Laviera challenges once again the notion of an Anglocentric U.S. society now being transformed by a vibrant multiculturalism that includes a wide diversity of cultural groups. Among these are Puerto Ricans and other Latinos. Laviera is also a playwright and an actor. He coauthored with Miguel Algarín, founder of the Nuyorican Poets Café, the play Olú Clemente (1973), and has written many other plays that have been produced but remain unpublished.
Autor: Dra. Edna Acosta Bel
Published: January 28, 2010.
Version: 06082927 Rev. 1