Race in Down These Mean Streets

3216 words 13 pages
Qing Xu
HCOM 345
Prof. Nava
Race in Down These Mean Streets “Éste es un mundo brillante, éstas son mis calles, mi barrio de noche, con sus miles de luces, cientos de millones de colores mezclados con los ruidos, un sonido vibrante de carros, maldiciones, murmullos de alegría y de llantos, formando un gran concierto musical (Thomas, Down These Mean Streets, 1998, p. 3)”, is how Piri Thomas describes his birthplace, East Harlem. The diversity of cultures, the vibrant street life, the passion and conflicts of everyday life and media portrayal in movies such as West Side Story make East Harlem an exciting and mysterious place. But hidden under the dirty faces of the children is the struggle in the search for acceptance and belong,
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“Later, when I told this story to my buddy, a colored cat, he said, ‘Hell, Piri… a Negro faces that all the time.’ ‘I know that,’ I said, ‘but I wasn’t a Negro then. I was still only a Puerto Rican.’ (Thomas, Down These Mean Streets, 1998, p. 108)” When Piri and his mother applied for Home Relief, he hated the condescending and suspicious attitude of the government officials. The fact that Piri was perceived as black even though he was a Latino and that he was the only that received all the prejudice out of all his siblings, shows that U.S. society perceives all races in Black-White terms. According to Oquendo, this racial dualism is due to the prominent history of slavery and discrimination of people of African ancestry. He explains that the division of white Puerto Ricans and black Puerto Ricans is non-existent in Puerto Rico. Modern Puerto Rican society emphasizes its African heritage (Oquendo, 1998, p. 63). Berta E. Hernandez-Truyol explains that all Puerto Ricans share the same identity: “I grew up in Puerto Rico… We were big and small, brown-eyed and blue-eyed, blondes and brunettes, but one significant factor we shared was that we were all de Borinquen. Sure, we were diverse peoples, but we were all united—we were all boricua (Hernandez-Truyol, 1998, p. 381).” Because of the different social context in the U.S., Piri were perceived differently from his siblings, which dramatically altered the course of


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