By Raymond R. Beltrán
Nuyorican icon, Pedro Pietri, died twice last week at the age of 59. Having been born three times prior, his companions and family members continue to hold onto one life he left behind.
The end of the life of Pedro’s second birth, being naturally born to his mother in Ponce, Puerto Rico in 1944, occurred first when he was being transferred via airplane back to his home in Midtown on the Westside of Manhattan, where he’d spent the last twenty years of his life. Two months prior, Pedro sought out holistic healing at the Oasis of Hope Hospital in Las Playas de Tijuana, México for a stomach tumor he’d been battling for some time.
Papoleto Melendez, a 30-year friend of Pedro, and Joe Pietri, Pedro’s brother, were at his side the moment he passed away on a mini-jet while refueling in El Paso, Texas. Papoleto stated that the plane was approximately 40,000 feet in the air when suddenly, without warning, Pedro let go and passed away.
“It was a peacefully beautiful experience, something only life could make up,” said Papoleto.
He says that the last conversations held with Pedro were that of singing duets to Bob Dylan songs like “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Just Like a Woman” while awaiting their departure in Pedro’s hospital room at two o’clock in the morning.
This life, Pedro’s second birth, died approximately 10 p.m. on Tuesday, March 2, somewhere over Texas. Pedro Pietri is survived by his mother Ms. Pietri Diaz, his brother Joe, his sister Carmen Pietri Diaz, his wife Margarita Deida Pietri, and four children.
The life of Pedro’s third birth, which occurred in 1947 when he arrived in the U.S. through the epic of Operation Bootstrap, ended at twelve midnight in New York. This life sparked the creation of the Nuyorican culture.
Having self-proclaimed himself El Reverendo de la Iglesia de la Madre de Tomates long ago, Pedro suffered the disillusionment of America, surrounded by suicides, racism and poverty. He was introduced to the world of poetry after having been drafted to the U.S. Army during the climax of the Vietnam War. After being a proud accomplice in helping America lose its first war ever, he returned to New York to find that an accumulation of minimum wage work was the only means of survival in the disenfranchised Puerto Rican-American community. Beginning to write world-renowned poems, which have been translated in over twenty languages, El Reverendo Pietri created the definition of the Nuyorican culture and its diaspora in his piece Puerto Rican Obituary.
In this life, he’s worn many hats in the struggle for the liberation of the minds of people and poets all over. In co-creating a dynamic foundation for the Nuyorican culture during the 1960s, El Reverendo Pietri played the part of Spanglish Metaphor Consultant for the Latin Insomniacs Motorcycle Club Without Motorcycles Inc., as well as Poet-Laureate for the Young Lords Party. While building cross-cultural relations, in visits to California, he became an honorary member of the Royal Chicano Air Force.
“La Raza!” cried out Papoleto wholeheartedly, having witnessed El Reverendo’s final performance. “That’s like Pedro, there’s the connection. He was an honorary member of the Royal Chicano Air Force, and he left us in a plane over El Paso, very peacefully, like he saw something we didn’t.”
El Reverendo Pietri contributed to many aspects of the poetics in the United States. He co-founded the Nuyorican Poets Café (originally on Sixth Street in Lower Eastside Manhattan, New York), and along with Miguel Algarín, Lucky Cienfuegos, Papoleto Melendez and the notorious Miguel Piñero, he began the First Draft Nuyorican Poetry Movement, a movement by which first draft poems are shared aloud without hesitation or corrections. This movement carried on the legacy of street poetry, which began to dilapidate with the loss of the Beat Generation.
In his struggle for Nuyorican liberation in the United States, he co-found El Puerto Rican Embassy, which “represents a new generation of experimental Puerto Rican artists working at the margin of established art movements - who take risks which illuminate contemporary issues, question established cultural aesthetics and challenge dominant political issues.” El Embassy provides passports to all Puerto Ricans who suffer from being marginalized due to language barriers, racism and lack of a relevant historical education about their culture.
El Reverendo Pedro Pietri died on Wednesday, March 3rd, at midnight in a place that could possibly be called Nuyoricua, New York (a.k.a. the Lower Eastside, the Westide, and the Nuyorican Poets Café). El Reverendo is survived by Nuyoricans and Nuyorican-appreciators across the globe.
The life of his first birth, which remains today, occurred in 1898 when the United States infiltrated and occupied Puerto Rico. This life of his is the life of all oppressed people across the world and one that remains a struggle, which El Reverendo Pedro Pietri highlighted in his repertoire of poetry and plays (The Masses Are Asses, Traffic Violations, Invisible Poetry and Puerto Rican Obituary). Passing on the legacy to Nuyorican poets, who constantly multiply in a country where they’re not wanted, Pedro left behind his vision, words and experiences for us to study, like history books that will never make it into the chapters of educational texts in the American school system but will lie in the consciousness of every Latino barrio across the United States.
“Everybody knows about the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, and there have been many positive encuentros between Chicano and Nuyorican artists over the years,” said Victor Payan, member of the Save Our Centro Coalition and the Red CalacArts Collective. “I hope we were able to do our part to lighten the load of a man whose vision and whose community have contributed so much to our mutual empowerment.”
Funeral services were held last Sunday, March 7, at the People’s Church in New York. As Papoleto stated, if we are to take anything from this man’s existence, it should be the humanity embedded in his life and work.