"Reverendo Pedro (Pedro Peitri) - Puerto Rican Obituary" June 2004
What is the identity of a Caucasian person born in South Africa? Is he an African, Afrikaans, European, just White? What about a Chinese elder born in Jamaica who is a Rastafarian? What is he? How about a Black teenage girl born and raised in a very upscale neighborhood with an accent that differs from her "community" (I hate that phrase)? What about a White kid from an urban part of the world who loves, dresses, and speaks all things hip hop? What do you call a Samoan wrestler born in the Republic of Kazakhstan (former part of the Russian empire) who looks like an Australian Aboriginal (Torres Strait Islander) ?WTF! If stereotypical, and perhaps insulting responses quickly popped in your mind, you too have been infected with the mind virus of categorizing, packaging and selling souls, with little room to grow in your definitions of the ever increasing human spirit. I am guilty of it myself.
Identity is a powerful and controversial subject matter. If you ask what it means to be ________(fill in the blank) you get many conflicting answers based culture, genetics, customs, genealogy, bloodlines, family traditions, passions, roots but mostly.......opinions. Always on our mind, we ask questions like: "Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? Am I accepted by my peers? Do I fit in? Do I matter?" Many can base the foundations of their lives with unwavering deep convictions, clenching and never letting go, like a naive Roller coaster rider clinging the handle bars for dear life, afraid of falling off at each threatening dip and curve. We paint broad brushstrokes over the exceptions and offbeat artifacts.
I am a son of Puerto Rican parents. (Mommy from Spanish Harlem New York City and Pop from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico). I was always a Parallelogram peg, (not even a square one,) trying to fit into that round hole everyone else seemed to slip into. Just a misunderstood quiet odd shy nerd with a big heart rocking thick dorky glasses where people used them to burn ants using the sun rays like a magnifying glass :( ( violins playing) :)
I hated salsa music at the time because I could not relate to it. It just didn't move me. The sound of too many trumpets drove me insane. Having bilingual parents, spanish clicked for everyone except me. I was so much more of a visual learner who always had trouble with language and communication. I couldn't enjoy what they were singing about. I sucked at salsa dancing. The kids made fun of my lack of spanish every summers spent in Puerto Rico. Native people over there may call me an American, Gringo or something else if I claimed "Pure" Puerto Rican status. New York Puerto Ricans may call me "Nuyorican" (Puerto Rican born in New York). My parents may call me something else, but who is right? What was my identity? I did not look white, yet I had a little cotton swab afro but yet I was too pale to be black yet I did not speak spanish and felt crappy every time the spanish teacher in class would call on me expecting to be fluent as all looked watched me stumble with words.
Yet. as a child I was listening to really avant guard german electronic music, I was into this new style of art coming from Japan, and was remixing early rap songs with my pause button on the family tape deck. I could not dance, but I could "B-boy"(breakdance) spin on my hand and do crazy moves. By other peoples' standards, what am I? Who am I?
Is culture so thinly sliced that it cannot have room to represent other colorul branches of the larger tree?
Isn't it possible to invent NEW cultures, new positive stereotypes, new patterns of seeing things without waiting to be appreciated 20 years later?
Isn't that what our parents and grandparents did in their youth did by creating new music, fashions and dance based on their new era? And don't we now enjoy the fruits of their breaking of tradition and adding it to the collective consciousness of our customs?
Since all language is made up, all fashion is made up, all dance is made up all arts are made up by a few brave (or crazy) people who listened to their deepest heart, souls and their own 808 drumbeat, going against the grain paving their own definitions of identity, shouldn't stop acting like culture is a crystalized unbending thing and be open to new things that aren't mainstream, take unpopular stances, experiment more. Isn't each person here to broaden the scopes of humanity?
Again What defines a person?
Their family traditions?
Their passions, hearts and souls?
Their roots ?
Who is right?
But this is a huge topic and can get to that another time. Here is the artwork.
As a move to attempt to contribute to my cultural upbringing, and departing from all of the bullshit self serving conceptual fine art I was surrounding myself with, i began painting prominent Puerto Rican icons and subjects and try to dig some deeper roots, give back to the culture and perhaps take it to new places.
This piece is of the great "Nuyorican" poet Pedro Pietri, who also went by " Reverendo Pedro " (The Reverend Pedro)
There is so much work he left behind for us to enjoy. He is credited as a founding member of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York and help broaden the cultural identity of Puerto Ricans living in a new land, in a new era, in a harsh city, living and working in unfair conditions yet missing the culture of their homeland. His groundbreaking piece was "Puerto Rican Obituary" which is written within the black shapes of this portrait. I did this the weekend of his passing in mid 2004