Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fathers, Sons, and Daughters

¡Hola! Everybody...
I guess this is not your typical fathers day blog offering. Sometimes the hardest thing is to be honest with one’s self… My fathers were good, if flawed, human beings, but they gave much.
Happy Father’s Day, everybody...
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What Does it Mean to Be a Father?
What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?
-- Antonio Machado

I had two fathers and possibly more. I had uncles, older cousins, as well as elders from the community who were to me as fathers in some respects. But the two that were most influential was my biological father, Edwin, and my stepfather, Vincent. The two men were polar opposites.

My father was almost all yang: penetrating intelligence, extroverted, creative, charismatic -- he was everything a little boy wanted as a father. I adored him -- worshipped the very ground he walked and I wanted to be just like him. My father passed on to me the gift of the thirst for knowledge and I could never repay him for that. My father’s example taught me that there was a higher purpose in life and he taught me love for knowledge, beauty, and truth.

My stepfather, Vincent, was almost all yin: he was easy-going, definitely not cerebral, loved doing things with his hands, and loved music. As a child, he would take me to his various jobs and brag to his friends and co-workers that I was a genius. Then he would say something like, “Go ahead, ask him anything,” and his co-workers would and I would almost always get the answer right. He used to get a big kick out of that. Vincent, instead of resenting my intelligence, supported it. Any other man would’ve felt insecure, but not Vincent, because he was easy going almost to a fault. Not that he was a pushover, he wasn’t, he had the hands of a carpenter, large and rough, and I saw him knock out a man much bigger than him with one punch. He was simply less confrontational than my father. Vincent’s example taught me dependability, consistency, or “showing up” as might have put it.

These days it’s popular for talking heads and politicians of all stripes to go on at length about fathers and fatherhood. On one side, there’s the myopic notion that almost all social ills can be placed firmly on the shoulders of fathers -- or “absent” fathers. Of course, this is just a form of scapegoating. Sure, fathers are important in the development of young minds, but a father being more “present” doesn’t automatically translate to a better, more just society.

I once created a leadership development workshop that utilized relationship-building skills. My assumption then and still, was that the essence of leadership is about the ability to connect to people, not forcefully leading them by the nose. Whenever I would ask workshop participants to list what they perceived as leadership qualities, nurturing -- the core skill for relationship -- was almost never mentioned. When our culture emphasizes bread-winning and individual success for men at the expense of care-giving, the welfare of children suffers. A father’s absence influences the son and daughter’s development of social skills, self-esteem, and attitudes towards achievement. But more importantly, our culturally warped understanding of masculinity contributes to various forms of maladjustment, such as lack of impulse control, violence, incompetence, dependence, and irresponsibility. The son of a psychologically absent father experiences a weakened identification with what it means to be a man, and the daughter experiences a weakened relationship to the masculine principle.

Yet, in the name of family financial and psychological welfare, our legal system emphasizes the importance of the father’s job (or ability to earn), and therefore his absence, and award child custody to the mother nine times out of ten. When societal attitudes are unsupportive of the father’s active involvement in the family, then we see the fragmentation of family relationships so common today.

Don’t misunderstand my point: I am not advocating for some vague notion of “men’s rights.” I am saying that we -- all of us -- need to redefine what it means to be a man.

In the end, we are all flawed creatures. We all make mistakes. As for me, I would say that if you were to ask my son, he would give at best a mixed review. More likely, I don’t think he would characterize me as a “good” father. And he has good reasons for his view. In the final analysis, I too am seriously flawed human being. I guess what is important is not to get too stuck in who’s “wrong” and who’s “right,” but to do the right thing at the right time because it is the right thing to do at that moment.

And yet my own experience leaves with the feeling that a good father, however that is defined, requires more than getting the task done right. Perhaps fatherhood is more about being genuine and revealing ones vulnerability to those you love. When I reflect on the relationships between fathers, sons, and daughters, I am reminded of the words of the poet Rumi: “Out beyond rightdoing and wrongdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” My son, if he chooses, will one day be a father and if he can take even a little of what my own teachers gave me, then he will be a man.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Sunday, June 8, 2014

¡Despierta Boricua!

¡Hola mi Gente!
Today, Puerto Ricans will head to the Puerto Rican Day Parade to show pride in our cultural heritage. Contrary to what you may, or may not, have heard, the parade isn’t a rape fest, or an organized crime spree. I had wanted to post a real history of the parade, how it started and why, and how it was in truth the result of a grassroots movement, but I don’t have the time right now. The following was posted by a Boricua for the NY Post several years ago and it features the many high (and low) lights of what is still one of the largest (if not the largest) outdoor event in the U.S.

A little personal side note: one of my sisters was a PR Parade Beauty queen (in the mid 70s).
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Puerto Rican Parade
50 Greatest Moments
By Eneida del Valle
Last Updated: 5:00 AM, June 6, 2007 / Posted: 5:00 AM, June 6, 2007

From beauty queens who marched in heels to politicians who sported fake smiles to win some votes, to the controversial 'Seinfeld' episode, the Puerto Rican Parade has made Big Apple history for over half a century.

March 1958: Leaders from the Puerto Rican community decide to break away from the Hispanic Day Parade and create the Puerto Rican Day Parade. According to an editorial in "El Diario," the main objective of the Hispanic Day Parade, which was mainly run by Puerto Ricans, is to unite all peoples of the Spanish language. The Puerto Rican Day Parade is founded by Victor Lopez, the march’s first president; coordinator Jose “Chuito” Caballero; Peter Ortiz; Luisa Quintero; Luis Amando Feliciano; Vicente Hernández; Angel M. Arroyo; Atanacio Rivera Feliciano; and Amalio Maisanave Ríos.

April 1958: The first Puerto Rican Day parade is held on Fifth Avenue on April 14 as 5,000 Boricuas march in front of a crowd of 125,000. It’s a huge success, receiving a hail of positive reviews from the media. The Herald Tribune says, “There are longer and larger parades but none encompass the spirit of the Puerto Rican Day Parade,” and the New York Times says, “The Puerto Ricans have taken over Fifth Avenue.” Then-New York Mayor Robert F. Wagner is quoted in the New York Times, as saying “The Puerto Ricans have demonstrated their civic and cultural contributions to the City of New York.” But what really got tongues wagging was when Gloria Burgos, the queen of the parade, and her court, walked all 34 blocks in high heels after the float she was supposed to appear on never showed up. Attendees included then-Governor of Puerto Rico Don Luis Muñoz Marin and Oscar González Suarez, Esq. as the Grand Marshall.

April 12, 1959: The second parade goes off -- but not without a hitch. Community leaders and the media form an alliance called Un Frente Unido por un Solo Desfile (A United Front for One Parade) in an effort to unite the Hispanic Day Parade and the Puerto Rican Day Parade, urging organizers for unity and harmony. But to no avail. The president of the parade, Mr. Victor Lopez, is quoted in El Diario de Nueva York as saying, “The parade will definitely not unite with any other Hispanic parade in New York City.” Despite the 40-degree weather, it’s attended by 160,000 people and more than 10,000 people make their way up Fifth Avenue. Then-New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller is in attendance.

April 1960 & 1961: Parade continues its success up Fifth Avenue with more than 165,000 in attendance both years.

June 1962: It’s official! The parade is held on June 10, the second Sunday in June and that date has not changed since. In order to have the legislators from the main island attend the parade – they’re all tied up until May 30 -- organizers decide to change the date to accommodate them and the route is extended from 44th-86th streets. Good thing they waited! The ‘62 parade is billed as the best, brightest, biggest and most expensive ever, costing $100,000 with 50 floats and 40 bands -- and half a million Boricuas in attendance. Yet it was former Mayor of San Juan Felisa Rincón who stole the show. Instead of staying with the rest of the politicians at the stage on 64th Street, she made the decision to ride in a convertible, causing an outpouring of love and support from the crowd. 

1965: Described as the best organized parade yet, thousands of people start lining along the route to get a glimpse of what the media called “The most genuine representation of Boricuas in the United States.” 

1967: For the first time in its history, the Puerto Rican Day Parade is broadcast on television the same evening, June 4 from 9 p.m.-10:30 p.m. on channel 47 Telemundo, sponsored by Schaefer Beer.

1968: The parade goes commercial. Responding to a petition by various Puerto Rican organizations, Goya, Accent, Café Caribe and Sazón all donate floats to the parade and once again, the event is hailed a success.

1969: The parade marks its first political incident, as supporters of Castro and Puerto Rican Nationalists march in protest and try to disturb the festive sprit by yelling “Yankees Go Home!” But nothing can ruin the excitement of over 100,000 marchers and 350,000 spectators. The festivities continued with no further interruptions, highlighted by artists such as the great Rita Moreno.

1972: Hailed as one of the most diverse parades in years, this year the parade opened its doors not just to dignitaries and beauty queens but also to nationalist and militant groups. They are allowed to march peacefully in protest against the U.S. involvement in Puerto Rico.

1975: Once again the parade hits another peak when more than half a million people march up Fifth Avenue for the annual festivities. The parade is dedicated to singer, songwriter and composer Bobby Capó, who, to this day, is considered one of Puerto Rico’s best.

1977: With 350,000-plus in attendance, the parade is once again interrupted, but not by communist or nationalist groups. This time it’s former New York Congressman Herman Badillo. The police had to intervene when, without authorization from parade officials, he and his legion of organizers -- he was running for mayor -- decided to march. “El Diario La Prensa” quoted him as saying, “I march because I am one of the founders of the parade.” To avoid any further disruptions, coordinator Federico Pérez told police to let them march.

1980s: Throughout the ‘80s, the parade goes off without a hitch. It gets larger as more than 200,000 march and attendance nears the one million mark. The parade acquires more sponsors, such as Budweiser and Heineken, and many Puerto Rican legends, like Tito Puente, march. There are also flurries of parades throughout the boroughs and in New Jersey.

1990: One question was on the mind of every Boricua at the parade, should Puerto Ricans living in the United States be allowed to vote on the island’s future? The referendum on whether the island should become a state, stay a commonwealth or become independent was front-page news and on the minds of the politicians, such as then-Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer and former New York Mayor David Dinkins. However, some onlookers boo the politicians, deciding the parade was no place for politics.

1995: It goes national! The Puerto Rican Day Parade becomes the National Puerto Rican Day Parade and delegates from 31 states join in. Salsa is the theme this year as singing sensations Tony Vega and Jerry Rivera join the march, along with the granddaddy of them all, Parade Godfather Gilberto Santa Rosa.

1996: The man who is known as the father of Puerto Rican culture, anthropologist, geologist and recipient of the National Endowment for the Humanities award, Dr. Ricardo Alegría, is honored as the grand marshal of the parade. It is dedicated to the Korean War’s highly decorated 65th Infantry Regiment of Puerto Rico. It is also broadcast for the first time on English-language TV, New York's WPIX/Channel 11. Seventy floats and over 150,000 marchers take part. And close to 2 million come out to boo then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani (and cheer Geraldo Rivera).

1998: Oh yes they did! They went there. A week before the “Seinfeld” grand finale and a month before the parade, Boricuas everywhere were shocked when one of the most popular shows in TV history aired the infamous flag-burning episode. The episode is set around the Puerto Rican Day Parade where Seinfeld and his buddies are driving back to the city after a Mets game and get stuck in traffic. Kramer blurts out “every Puerto Rican in the world must be out here.” While lighting a cigar with a sparkler, he sets a Puerto Rican flag on fire when he throws the sparkler in the back seat. In an attempt to put out the flames, he starts stomping on it. A group of spectators see him and declare “Maybe we should stomp you like you stomp the flag!” He screams and runs off as they chase him. Jerry, who by then is in his apartment, makes it to the window in time to see the crowd destroy his car. All while Kramer says, “It's like this every day in Puerto Rico.” Because of the backlash, NBC promised to never air the “Puerto Rican Day Parade” episode again. Coincidentally, the parade for the first time is aired nationally on NBC. Still, organizers were able to attract more corporate sponsors as Hershey and Palmolive join. A heavy downpour would not keep folks away as they danced to the sounds of La India and Marc Anthony and enjoyed watching Julio Diaz, known for dancing around NYC subways with a foam woman attached to his waist.

1999: The first-ever Puerto Rican Day Parade is held in Queens. 

2000: It’s a sad day for all, as the parade is dedicated to the memory of Boricua Great Tito Puente, whose unexpected death comes one month before the national event. And, in a shameful turn of events, the parade, not ever having a single incident of lawlessness, is marred by controversy as more than 50 women are assaulted in Central Park. The world watches as video is shown by various news organizations. As it turns out, most of the men arrested were not Latino or Puerto Rican. In total, 18 are arrested for the assaults. The police are accused of not doing enough to stop the attacks. Video showed police doing nothing while the women are groped and stripped.

2001: Although the assaults of the previous year loom over the parade, politicians such as former Mayor Guiliani, Senator Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer urge people to not hold the parade responsible for the previous year’s tragedy. Celebrities come out in droves, including boxing champ Tito Trinidad, Marc Anthony, former Ms. Universe Denise Quiñones and Puerto Rico’s first female governor, Sila M. Calderon. The focus of the parade was Vieques and thousands wore white ribbons in support of efforts to stop the bombing and remove the Navy from the island. 

2002-2003: Even though a record-breaking 2.5 million Puerto Ricans attended the parade in 2003, the public and media won't forget what happened and the positive message to be proud of Puerto Rican heritage and its contributions to America seems lost.

2004: There’s controversy again as businesses and condos board up their exteriors along the route. Storeowners and tenants claim property will be destroyed by parade goers. The community is outraged and Mayor Bloomberg criticizes the move. The Post sponsors its first float, featuring reggaetón superstars Tego Calderon and Vico C.

2005: Reggaetón continues to rise in popularity. Daddy Yankee is the N.Y. Post's float star. At 96th Street, he has to be escorted out by police as thousands of screaming fans storm police barricades to get close to their idol.

2006: Rocking a guayabera, Mayor Bloomberg marches alongside the Latino mega-power couple Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez. Rosie Perez, Jimmy Smits, Willie Colón and Don Omar, among others, march. Grand Marshal Marc Anthony and J-Lo sit in a convertible and are escorted by NYPD security 12-deep. The New York Post keeps it local, getting Yerba Buena to rock their float with traditional folkloric songs.

Sources: Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños at Hunter College; El Diario; El Imparcial; El Diario; La Prensa.

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My name I Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Saturday, June 7, 2014

What It Means to be a Puerto Rican, pt. II

Hola mi Gente…
In some cultures, part of the coming-of-age ritual involved the offering of a praise poem. It was a way of identifying your gifts, of establishing who you were, and what you were bringing to your community. In a way, the praise poem tradition forced a member of a tribe or society to recognize and commit to their gifts. The following poem, written by Aurora Levins Morales, was inspired by her multicultural heritage and diversity. In it, she identifies the virtues of her diversity, the power she derives from her multi-ethnic make up. Perhaps you can write a poem following her format describing your own ethnic background.

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Child of the Americas

I am a child of the Americas,
a light-skinned mestiza from the Caribbean,
a child of many diaspora, born into this continent at a crossroads.

I am a U.S. Puerto Rican Jew,
a product of the ghettos of New York I have never known.
An immigrant of the daughter and grandaughter of immigrants.
I speak English with passion: it's the tongue of my consciousness,
a flashing blade of cristal, my tool, my craft.

I am Caribeña, island-grown. Spanish is my flesh,
Ripples from my tongue, lodges in my hips:
the language of garlic and mangoes,
the singing of poetry, the flying gestures of my hands.
I am of Latinoamerica, rooted in the history of my continent,
I speak from that body.

I am not African. Africa is in me, but I cannot return.
I am not taína. Taíno is in me, but there is no way back.
I am not European. Europe lives in me, but I have no home there.

I am new. History has made me. My first language was spanglish.
I was born at the crossroads
and I am whole.

-- Aurora Levins Morales

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…


[un]Common Sense