“i think in spanish / i write in english / i want to go back to puerto rico / but I wonder if my kink could live / in ponce, mayaguez and carolina.” Born in Puerto Rico but raised in New York City, Tato Laviera’s poetry reflects his bilingual, bicultural Nuyorican existence while celebrating the universality of the human condition and his European, indigenous and African roots.
Tato Laviera explores identity, community, urban life, oppression and much more in these multi-layered pieces that spanned his too-short life. Many deal with themes specific to the immigrant experience, such as the sense of alienation many feel when they are not accepted in their native or adopted land. In “nuyorican,” he writes about returning to his native island, only to be looked down upon for his way of speaking: “ahora regreso, con un corazón boricua, y tú / me desprecias, me miras mal, me atacas mi hablar.”
Music and dance, an integral part of Puerto Rican life, permeate Laviera’s verse and pay homage to the Caribbean’s African roots. “i hear merengue in french haiti / and in dominican blood, / and the guaracha in yoruba, / and the mambo sounds inside the plena.”
Including all of his previously published poems and some that have never been published, these are bold expressions of hybridity in which people of mixed races speak a combination of languages. He skillfully weaves English and Spanish, and frequently writes in Spanglish. The importance of language and its impact on his identity is evident in poems entitled “Español,” “Bilingue” and “Spanglish.” Known for his lively, energetic poetry readings, Bendición represents an internationally recognized poet’s life work and will serve to keep Tato Laviera’s words and the issues he wrote about alive long after his death.