a storytelling edited by Raymond R. Beltrán
I have to admit that when I received a chain letter from the Nuyorican Poets Café, I hadn’t the faintest clue who Pedro Pietri was. I hadn’t read the book Puerto Rican Obituaries, or any other world-renowned plays or poems he’s written, The Masses Are Asses, Traffic Violations, or Invisible Poetry. Although, the Nuyorican culture he helped to create is a name that stands firm in the ground of poetic minds across the world.
The letter said that this man, Pedro, is struggling with a tumor in his stomach, one side effect related to the exposure to Agent Orange, while serving time as a draftee in the U.S. Army during the climax of the Vietnam War. The letter read that after surviving exploratory surgery at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center last month in New York, Pedro sought out holistic healing at Oasis of Hope Hospital in Playas de Tijuana, México, no more than thirty minutes from my neighborhood in National City.
Nuyorican Poet, El Reverendo Pedro Pietri, tells his story from Oasis of Hope Hospital in Playas de Tijuana, México. Photo by Cal A. Vera
In hitching a ride across the border with Calaca Press to visit Pedro in hopes of raising his spirits and interviewing him for a story, I came across a man whose experience and whose story helped to create a Nuyorican culture, not far from the Chicano experience in the past and in the present. In fact, they parallel. To ask questions and to receive answers was not a problem. The problem was writing his story in a way that you, the reader, would understand him. In wrestling with words, I’ve come to the conclusion that only Pedro, El Reverendo de La Iglesia de Tomates; Pedro, product of Operation Boot Strap; Pedro, Nuyorican Poet; Pedro, Spanglish Metaphor Consultant of the Latin Insomniacs Motorcycle Club Without Motorcycles; Pedro, Young Lords Poet-Laureate; Pedro, honorary member of the Royal Chicano Air Force; Pedro, a person who won’t let anyone determine his fate, and only Pedro, has the right to tell his story. In conclusion, the following is only an attempt at that story, through an interview from Oasis Hospital, and only after a careful editing process. Meet one of the original Nuyorican Poets, Pedro Pietri, in his own words ...
It was in New York City where I was trying to cure myself, thinking I was a physician, and suddenly, I couldn’t hold food. So, I asked my brother and sister to take me to the hospital, and it was at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center where the bad news happened. They did a CAT scan, then they did exploratory surgery, and they found the cancer. That’s when they cut me up and got scared, sewed me up and sent me home, so I could waste away.