| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Tato Laviera was born in Puerto Rico and has lived
in New York City since 1960. A second-generation Puerto Rican writer, a poet
and playwright, he is deeply committed to the social and cultural development
of Puerto Ricans in New York. In addition, he has taught Creative Writing at
Rutgers and other universities on the East Coast.
poetry and plays are linguistic and artistic celebrations of Puerto Rican
culture, African Caribbean traditions, the fast rhythms of life in New York
City, and of life in general. Laviera writes in English, Spanish, and
Spanglish, a mixture of the two. His superior command of both languages and the
playful yet serious value he imparts to Spanglish, distinguishes his writing
from others of his generation. For example, the titles of two of his books,
Enclave and AmeRícan, suggest double readings in Spanish and English. Laviera’s
poetry is highly relevant to the study of bilingual and bicultural issues, for
in it he documents, examines, and questions what it means to be a Puerto Rican
in the United States. His texts have reflected the changes and transitions that
his community has undergone since the major migrations of the 1940s and,
moreover, offer a paradigm of what pluralistic America should really be all
La Carreta Made a U-Turn one finds forceful poems denouncing the hardships,
injustices, and social problems that the poor Puerto Rican confronts in New
York City: cold, hunger, high rents, eviction, drug addiction, linguistic
alienation, unemployment. The second part of this collection, entitled “Loisaida
(Lower East Side) Streets: Latinas Sing,” examines the issues and problems
affecting today’s Latina women. This is, perhaps, one of the few instances in
which a Hispanic male writer conscientiously and sympathetically addresses the
conflicts of bicultural Hispanic women. Laviera concludes this book with a
series of poems which celebrate African Caribbean music, both in its
traditional functions as well as in its resurgence within the contemporary
urban context of New York City.
has been called a “chronicler of life in El Barrio” and rightly so. His poetic
language is not influenced by the written, academic tradition of poetry, but
instead it is informed by popular culture, by the oral tradition of Puerto Rico
and the Caribbean, and by the particular voices spoken and heard in El Barrio.
Gossip, refrains, street language, idiomatic expressions, interjections, poetic
declamation, and African Caribbean music such as salsa, rhumbas, mambos, sones
and música jíbara (mountain music), are but some of the raw material with which
Laviera constructs his poems. Though published in a written format, Laviera’s
poetry is meant to be sung and recited.
central tenet to Laviera’s work is his identification with the African American
community in this country. On the one hand, he reinforces the unity and common
roots of blacks and Puerto Ricans: “it
is called Africa in all of us.” This tendency also reflects the new
multi-ethnic constitution of America which has supplanted the old myth of the
melting pot. In this context Laviera’s poems are reaffirmations of his
Puetroricanness, and of his community’s as a new national identity that
diverges from the insular Puerto Rican. He proposes a new ethnic identity which
includes other minority groups in the country. New York City becomes the space
where this convergence and cultural mestizaje (mixing) takes place. While
maintaining a denunciative stance through the use of irony and tongue-in-cheek
humor, Laviera’s work flourishes with a contagious optimism, and his poems are
true songs to the joy of living which Puerto Ricans profoundly feel despite the
harsh circumstances in which they live.
Frances R. Aparicio|
University of Illinois at Chicago
In the Heath Anthology
La Carreta Made a U-Turn
Olú Clemente (theatre)
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Two student essays on Laviera's work and life.
Frances Aparicio, "La vida es un spanglish disparatero: Bilingualism in Nuyorican Poetry," European Perspectives on Hispanic Literature of the United States, ed. Genevieve Fabre, 1988, pp. 147-160
Wolfgang Binder, "Celebrating Life: The AmeRican Poet Poet Tato Laviera," Introduction to AmeRican by Tato Laviera, 1985, 5-7
Juan Flores, John Attinasi and Pedro Pedraza, Jr., "La Carreta Made a U-Turn: Puerto Rican Language and Culture in the United States," 110:2 Daedalus (Spring, 1981): 193-217
Growing Up Hispanic (videorecording), 1988
William Luis, Dance between Two Cultures: Latino Carribean Literature Written in the U.S., 1997
Marc Zimmerman, U.S. Latino Literature: An Essay and Annotated Bibliography, 1992