I thought this would be the perfect place for me to start. Pride is something that was instilled in me at a very young age. I grew up in a heavily populated Puerto Rican neighborhood. Park Slope to be exact in Brooklyn. Being a late 70’s into 80’s kid you cannot imagine the fun and liberation I grew in unless you were born in that era. Most of the families on the block were immigrants from Puerto Rico and us the kids were first generation. I grew up reading, speaking and writing Spanish. All of us did. Our parents didn’t really speak or read English for the most part it was strictly spanish. It was so hardcore Puerto Rican that even if they knew how to speak English they still spoke Spanish and requested that your ass spoke spanish back.
Everyone knew everybody and I grew up with 20 aunts and 20 uncles. Everyone looked out for each other’s kids. The corner stores (bodegas) gave credit, There was always the older men playing dominoes on a make shift table that was a simple piece of cardboard resting on a milk crate as they sat on folding chairs drinking their beers. There were the block parties which were an annual thing where everyone and their mother came out. The block party is where you showed your ass. Your family brought down the table and barbequed right in front of the building. Everyone pitched in and everyone ate. Somewhere on the block they had the johnny pump open, the right word is fire hydrant on blast and the guys would take turns pushing us in the water as they used a can to make the water flow in a fountain. There was always a DJ that would bring his turntables out and take electricity from the lamp post. That’s when it would get really good. The congas were played till wee hours of the night. It was a guarantee that the older men and women with those authentic voices of the motherland would sing those songs where you just knew it was moving the people on a deeper level. Their raspy voices singing about La Isla. No matter what was going on whether it was good, bad or indifferent there was always music involved.
This is where my love for the arts started. By the time I was 7, I was already dancing in the circles at parties. I knew all the hot dances. At the time what was in style was the hustle which is dancing salsa but to Disco music, then the webo dance came out, then there was the smurf. I knew them all. I knew at that young age that music will never leave my life. I knew that music was going to be special in my life. Everything I go through is associated with music. Until present time it is still the same. As I write this I’m hearing France Joli, Inner Life and some Denroy Morgan.
There was also the Puerto Rican festivals in Red Hook. That was another hood all together different from Park Slope. This was an area completely surrounded by projects, it was also heavily gang populated. No matter how dangerous it was on Sundays it’s where there were salsa bands playing and everywhere you turned you can smell la frituras and buy an alcapurria or a bacalaito and overstuffed bacalaitos. You can also count that there was going to be someone selling shots of Bacardi and Coquito on the low.
My mom through all this was ever present. She worked as a seamstress which is what many of the Puerto Rican women that came straight from the motherland did. My step father was the one in charge of babysitting us, taking us and picking us up from school. He was also the one in charge of making sure that when mom got home the house was clean and the food was cooked. As far as I can remember my mom always worked and made sure that my siblings and I got what was needed to live.
I can’t say that it was a Bill Cosby kinda of family but we definetly stuck it through. I wouldn’t change a thing. It has given me a sense of who I am and definitely a wealth of memories in which I draw so much material from.