Monday, February 22, 2010

Mom: You should’ve made me Black

Mom: You should’ve made me Black

If you could choose to be of another race, would you chose differently than what you are today?

I pose the question, because to put it bluntly, I’m not too happy with my Latinos right now.

And why should I be?

Every time I turn around I’m hearing or seeing firsthand how Latinos are continuously failing to be supportive of one another’s ventures.

The end result of that lack of support is a stagnation of progression that has us existing in the 60’s, while our black brethren take leaps and bounds forward so much so that Puff Daddy, P-Diddy, Diddy, Sean Combs or whatever name he goes by these days, has the financial means to purchase his son Justin a $360,000 Maybach Benz for his 16th Birthday.

Talk about a Sweet 16.

Please tell me what Latinos have the financial means to do this for their offspring?

I’m sure there are a few out there. I’ve just never heard of them.

But don’t get me wrong… it’s not just about the fancy car, more so about what the car symbolizes to American success…

It’s more about the fact that Mr. Combs has built an empire powerful enough to employ hundreds of African Americans into positions of power. In turn giving them the financial stability to send their children to the best educational institutions money can buy and afford them the opportunities that will ensure their continued success in life.

How’s that for the progression of a race in forty-years?

And as much as I’m not happy about the direction of Hip Hop, the billion dollar industry has spawned more young Black millionaires than any other business ever created… spawning even more job opportunities for young black Americans.

Bad Boy, Def Jam, Rockefeller, Cash Money and G-Unit to name a few have displayed enough loyalty and unity to each other to create young, powerful entrepreneurs who create, market, promote and sell everything from music and movies to fragrances and fashions the world over.

Will my Latino Hip Hop success stories please stand up…? We’ve had some right?

Well we had… well there was um… what were they called again… um… it’s been a while… Oh yeah, we had the Terror Squad. Unfortunately, the only Latino representation of a real Hip Hop crew died and was buried with the late great Christopher “Big Punisher” Rios.

So much for Latino unity in Hip Hop… The End!

And even if we were capable of building great Latino teams, I’d love to know who’d support them?

Because we’ve certainly proven that we don’t care enough to support one another’s efforts.

What impresses me most about Black people is how they’ve been able to prop one another up and work together towards significant progress in politics, music, film, fashion and anything else you can name.

They’ll take to the streets and make sure they have a voice at the table. They’ll mentor one another in business and even support their shining stars by raising college tuitions to send their most gifted off to school.

Me, well I’ve been accused of disrespecting the Young Lords when I asked them why they’re not around mentoring the next generation of young Latino activists.

Excuse me; I didn’t know it was disrespectful to seek knowledge and guidance from my elders.

Same thing happened to me when I questioned the Latino elders in Hip Hop… Again, I was being disrespectful for questioning their lack of support of the younger generation of up-and-comers.

Excuse me again… my bad!

Seems we Latinos can take a page out of the blueprint that was clearly laid out in the 80’s by the “black pack.”

Ever heard of them?

It was a crew of black comics on the come up including Eddie Murphy, Robert Townsend, Arsenio Hall, Paul Mooney and Keenen Ivory Wayans, who went on to change the face of African American film while supporting one another’s projects.

There goes that word support again…

Apparently they understood that there was power in numbers and if they were going to breakdown doors and change the face of film, they’d need to do so in unison.

They wrote, acted, directed, produced and co-produced each other’s works. And to this day they remain relevant in the industry.

But what impresses me the most is that they did it together… together… together… together!

We Latinos make movies, as is the case with Franc Reyes’ The Ministers and no one shows up to the theaters.


Because we’d rather go see Paranormal Activity than support John Leguizamo, Luis Antonio Ramos, Manny Perez and any other number of Latinos cast in the film.

We don’t have an Oprah Winfrey, but when Soledad O’Brien works hard on a piece about Latinos in America, we call her a pendeja on feel good social networking sites such as “Being Latinos” Facebook page.

I used to think it was founder Lance Rios’ fault that there seemed to be nothing but ignorant dialogue going on there.

But then I realized in his defense that he was listing topics such as “Who is Pedro Albizu Campos?” And while only five people commented on that topic, you had 125 ignorant Latinos dialoguing about how good J-Lo’s ass looked in a certain dress at the VMA’s.

How’s that for Latino intelligence? Not our proudest moment to say the least.

So again, why the hell wouldn’t I want to be black at this point?

I’ve drawn a great deal of my inspiration from the likes of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King and I don’t see the Latino equivalent anywhere in sight.

So why wouldn’t I want to be black?

I see Terry McMillan selling millions of copies of her chick lit books, but Linda Nieves-Powell can’t sell 50,000 copies of her book Freestyle?

Why wouldn’t I want to be black?

I see Omar Tyree selling million of copies of his urban fiction books, but Daniel Serrano can’t sell 25,000 copies of Gun Metal Black?

Why wouldn’t I want to be black people?

I see Tyler Perry bringing the real black experience to the screen and even those who hate on him and say his films are stereotypical bullshit go see the films anyway.

So why wouldn’t I want to be black?

I’d love to be supported like that.

And then we have the nerve to wonder why we’re underrepresented in Hollywood, on film, in the bookstores, in the media?

You ever think it’s because they don’t believe we’re viable, sellable, marketable talent?

I’m invited to share my book at the NAACP Centennial Author Pavilion for the 100 Years, 100 Authors event… I’m invited to do a documentary with the National Black Programming Consortium… I’m invited to do black talk radio to promote my book… I’m interviewed by Black Beat Magazine but not my own Urban Latino Magazine…

Yes, THIS Urban Latino Magazine, the one I’m blogging for right now.

So tell me Latinos… Why on God’s green earth… would I not want to be black?

Yes, I’m ready to have my Latino card revoked. I don’t speak Spanish anyway.

When you all figure this thing out called Latino pride and Latino unity I hope you’ll have me back someday.

For now, I’m off to the other side… the black hand side.

I’m not sure if they’re going to make me an honorary member, or if they’re going to have me at all… But so far, they’ve supported me a lot more than my own people.

And I’m not sure how moms going to feel about this blog…

But mom, you truly should’ve made me black to begin with.

I’d have more role models to look up to that way.

Cojelo con take it easy… mi gente!

Ivan Sanchez is the author of Next Stop: Growing up Wild-Style in the Bronx (Touchstone – Simon & Schuster, 2008). The book is the first memoir released by a major publishing house written by a Puerto Rican from the Bronx. Sanchez is also the co-author of It’s Just Begun: The Epic Journey of DJ Disco Wiz, Hip Hop’s First Latino DJ (powerHouse, 2009). He was awarded the National Novel honors for his first fiction offering and is currently working on several new books about NY Latinos. He is also the co-host of Rebel Radio on Urban Latino Radio.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Welcome to Being Homeless in New York

Welcome to Being Homeless in New York

In 2008 I was fortunate enough to see a lifelong dream come true when I became the first Puerto Rican in the Bronx to have his memoir published by a major publishing house (Simon & Schuster).

That same year, I signed a second book deal and was named one of the “2009 Top Ten “New” Latino Authors to Watch (and Read),”

With my star rising rapidly, I had no way of foreseeing that what they actually meant to say was, “Top ten Latino authors likely to become homeless in New York in 2009.” But that’s exactly what happened, and it all occurred in the blink of an eye leaving me dazed and confused.

My newfound homelessness was the result of getting in the way of a domestic violence situation in which the landlord of the house thought it was OK to use his fiancé as a punching bag.

Unfortunately for him and me, stopping a woman from being beaten took precedence over having a place to call home.

And with the majority of my income going back to Virginia Beach to take care of my three
daughters, no money in the bank and not much disposable income… I dropped the “Welcome Home,” mat in front of my truck.

At the time I had no way of knowing it was illegal to live in your vehicle, not that I would’ve cared at that moment. I was stressed and sleepy so I drove to a safe neighborhood in Riverdale and fell asleep with a few tears in my eyes not knowing how my life had taken such an unlikely turn.

Latinos are a proud people, and asking for assistance isn’t one of our strong suits. It’s that double-edged sword that keeps us cutting ourselves on both ends.

Although I didn’t know what being homeless was going to be like, I did know that if I was going to be this way for any length of time I’d need one of those signs to let the world know about my

Maybe the sign should read, “Will ghostwrite for room and board…” or perhaps, “Will write for a clean place to shower,” since I wasn’t actually going to be living on the streets, but rather comfortably in the backseat of my Ford Expedition.

The next night I slept across the street from Harris Baseball Field by Lehman College where I used to play little league as a kid.

There was something about the memories of playing ball there as a child, coupled with missing my own children and the sound of heavy rain beating on the roof of the truck that immediately sent the tears streaming down my face just as hard as the rain that was falling that night.
I was sad, I was alone, I felt hopeless and I was officially homeless…

And even if I took that pain and multiplied it a thousand times over, I don’t believe I’d
understand the pain of a parent that ends up homeless with his children.

Yet in these difficult economic times that’s exactly what’s occurring at an alarming rate throughout the country on a daily basis.

We see the news reports every night about the banks foreclosing on record numbers of homes.

But do we ever stop to think about where the residents of those homes are now living?

TIME magazine reports more homeless people living in cars and campers than ever before.

The New York Times reports on another Latino author and poet, Tato Laviera, ending up homeless this year after emergency brain surgery.

Interestingly enough, I met Tato last week at United Bronx Parents transitional shelter, Casita Esperanza (Little House of Hope) where I’m currently employed, and where I washed up in the basement when I was homeless for those three, seemingly never-ending days.

And if being homeless wasn’t enough of a challenge, the New York Daily News broke a story last week about a Brooklyn High School senior, Rosa Bracero, who was refused her High School Diploma after being forced to sit in a shelter intake process with her family while missing a Regents exam.

Can you imagine being a whiz student, being homeless and then being stripped of your education just as you’re starting to feel some hope in your life?

Seems these days the Bloomberg administration will do anything to keep an education out of reach of a minority. After all there aren’t enough jobs to go around these days.

The story prompted MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann to name New York State Education Commissioner the “Worst Person in the World,” on Tuesday February 9th of this year. And while he rightfully deserves it, I’d still give that title to Mr. Bloomberg on most other days for the mess he’s made of New York.

There is paper out called Undercounting the Homeless 2010, in which “A Columbia University professor hired by the city to help conduct an annual estimate of homeless people has disavowed the project, saying its methods cause the number to be understated.”

Does anyone else see a problem here with New York’s inability to report valid numbers whether in crime statistics, educational statistics and now homeless statistics?

Or have we all just given up on humanity?

Luckily for me, my homeless streak ended after three days and a phone call that came seemingly from the heavens.

The caller – a good friend of mine – as well as a poet, actress, activist and all around compassionate human being who shall remain nameless for the time being, saved me from another day of wondering where I’d shower next, when I’d be able to use the restroom again or whether I’d wake up in the middle of the night to someone trying to break into my new home.

And by the time that call came, my pride had faded enough for me to share with her my plight.

She acted without hesitation and later that evening I was renting a room from one of her family members.

With my journey of wandering aimlessly coming to an end, I learned a very valuable lesson in humility, in humanity and in compassion.

And while I’ve always been the type to give money and clothes to the homeless, living through this ordeal for as short a time as three days, introduced me to a horror the likes of which I had no other way of ever understanding.

So when you reach into your pockets to send money to Haiti, remember that we have a backyard filled with our own that are hurting as well.

When you walk past a homeless person understand that circumstances beyond their control may have appeared out of nowhere, in the blink of an eye.

Don’t be afraid to extend yourself and travel outside of your comfort zone to help someone in need.

After all, these are dire times and if the scholars, financial analyst and people paying attention to what’s going on are correct… we haven’t even begun to see the bottom just yet.

Before you lay down in your comfortable warm bed tonight… ask yourself, “Have I done enough this week to help someone in my community?”

You just never know when you might be the one in search of a warm bed…

For more information on the homeless issue, please visit The Coalition for the Homeless.

Ivan Sanchez is the author of Next Stop: Growing up Wild-Style in the Bronx (Touchstone – Simon & Schuster, 2008). The book is the first memoir released by a major publishing house written by a Puerto Rican from the Bronx. Sanchez is also the co-author of It’s Just Begun: The Epic Journey of DJ Disco Wiz, Hip Hop’s First Latino DJ (powerHouse, 2009). He was awarded the National Novel honors for his first fiction offering and is currently working on several new books about NY Latinos. He is also the co-host of Rebel Radio on Urban Latino Radio.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Mis-Education of This Generation

The Mis-Education of This Generation

In New York City, visiting someone on Rikers Island, one of the most notorious prisons in the country, affords you the exact same experience as walking into Jane Adams High School in the South Bronx.

The stone faced guards, the metal detectors, the stare downs, the pat downs, the walkie talkies screaming orders to anyone within ears reach and more importantly the anxiety of being treated like a criminal.

It leaves the burning question in your mind… Is this a school or a penitentiary?

It’s as if many of our youth, the students, are being preconditioned on a daily basis for
a lifetime of degradation and humiliation… all before 7:00 AM.

And the school system, much like prison also has its very own warden. Mr. Michael Bloomberg, who I’m sure will give me one of his little orange tickets and fine me $350.00 for failing to call him Mayor.

However, the best I can do is address him correctly, by calling him a dictator, since he changed the law to be elected mayor for a third term using his vast amounts of wealth and nothing else.

How the people of this city allowed one man to become the overseer of the entire education system is beyond me. But he continues to dictate his will to principals across the city by forcing them to grade and fire teachers based on one criterion… test scores.

News flash Mr. Bloomberg… I hated taking tests in school and I failed a lot of them miserably. It didn’t mean my teachers were failing me, it just meant my testing anxiety got the best of me more times than I care to recall. And it’s a problem that stayed with me right up until I completed my Bachelors Degree.

If I was in school back when Mr. Bloomberg implemented his reform, there would’ve been a lot of great teachers out of work.

These new reforms have caused the best teachers to flee the urban schools and head out to suburban areas, where the better fed, better sheltered, youth show up to school
without first dealing with the obstacles inner-city youth deal with on a daily basis.

I’m talking about obstacles such as children nine and ten-years-old feeding, bathing and clothing their siblings, because fathers are missing from the homes and mothers are sometimes lacking in the motherly department.

I believe the system calls these children, latchkey kids, because at nine-years-old, they have keys to their apartment and they’re already locking up the home trying to get their younger siblings off to school on time.

I see them walking across the streets in the South Bronx every day, and I have to pay special attention because they never look both ways before they cross… How could they? Their parents haven’t even taught them this basic principle of life in the city.

I wonder if Mr. Bloomberg takes any of these kids into consideration when he dictates his policy, a policy which is completely out of touch with the reality many of our youth face.

Why would any teacher want to teach at a school where they’re already at a disadvantage to teach children who
are hungry or sleepy from the night before because of what goes on in the home?

The answer is simple… they wouldn’t.

What these reforms do instead is lead to principals changing grades in order to graduate more students. Such is the case at Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx, in which the principal cooked the books, much like the NYPD does with crime statistics, to graduate more than the 47% of students due to graduate last year.

It’s a complete systematic failure that then leads to Bloomberg announcing the closing of schools all over New York City, 91 schools since 2002 to be exact.

It’s not like it’s the law or anything to offer equal education opportunities to all regardless of race, color, sex or national origin. Or wait a minute isn’t that the Equal Education Opportunities Act?

Another law Bloomberg ignores or simply doesn’t believe applies to billionaires.

At Columbus High School in the Bronx where I’ve gone to offer students hope through my story of survival, principal Lisa Fuentes believes her schools been marked for closure simply because the city wants her space for smaller charter schools.

And at Jane Adams High School where the teachers can no longer teach of their own accord, Sue O’Rourke decides to purchase copies of my book out of her own pocket due to her realization that my story offers insight into surviving the streets of the Bronx.

I’m sure Bloomberg would fire her on the spot and throw her out of the trailer she teaches in behind the school – you know – where the bad kids are kept from the good kids.

Unfortunately under Bloomberg’s regime, there is no room for creative teaching, for thinking outside the box or for trying to speak to the students in a language they might actually understand and relate to.

Nope, in this regime… you fail a test… you’re school gets an
F… and you’ve failed yourself right out of a job, right out of a school.

Under Bloomberg’s regime it’s not about educating the teens at Jane Adams or Columbus… It’s about teaching them how to take orders and be future convicts, because after all, that’s what the metal detectors and guards are there for right… to keep order…

Ivan Sanchez is the author of Next Stop: Growing up Wild-Style in the Bronx (Touchstone – Simon & Schuster, 2008). The book is the first memoir released by a major publishing house written by a Puerto Rican from the Bronx. Sanchez is also the co-author of It’s Just Begun: The Epic Journey of DJ Disco Wiz, Hip Hop’s First Latino DJ (powerHouse, 2009). He was awarded the National Novel honors for his first fiction offering and is currently working on several new books about NY Latinos. He is also the co-host of Rebel Radio on Urban Latino Radio.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Gun Violence: It's OUR problem to fix...

Gun violence:

It’s our problem to fix…

Back in November I wrote a blog for CNN’s AC360 about gun violence in the Bronx titled, “The Bronx is a warzone: Four decades of gunplay with no end in sight.

While I was happy that the blog received an overwhelmingly positive response from non-profits across the city that deal with everyday gun violence, I was equally as bothered by a few email responses I received from other community activists.

One in particular said I was, “Opening the floodgates of criticism,” in regards to what is otherwise a wonderful borough to be a part of and that my article would give the NYPD reason to come into these communities and over-police us.

I’m assuming this activist isn’t in the South Bronx very often

where we’re already over-policed on a daily basis regardless of whom you are, what you do professionally or what right you have to be in a certain area at a certain time of night.

I myself have been a victim of police harassment more times than I care to mention in this blog over the last year… and I’m a college educated professional who’s authored two books.

So my response to said activist was simple… we don’t need over-policing. What we need is community policing. What we need is respected professionals and elders in the community who actually care about stopping senseless gun violence before it occurs. What we need is a respected partnership between the community police and the community itself that identifies the highest risk situations and stops them before they become deadly situations.

Do you ever wonder why only urban communities are left in a state of intimidation and fear at the hands of their own youth?

In my humble opinion it’s because WE allow the problems that plague us to remain just that… our problems.

After all these are the places that WE call home. And if we have no intentions of cleaning up our own homes, then why are we expecting someone else to come in and clean them up for us?

And over the past 40-years while we’ve stood idly by waiting for the state and government to come in and clean house, we’ve lost more people to gun violence in our communities than all the wars we’ve fought combined since World War I.

So you tell me we’re not our own worst enemies… and I’ll call you a liar!

You may be wondering why I even care to address this topic repeatedly knowing I’ll be attacked for it later.

Well the answer is simple.

I care because I was that teenager sitting on a greyhound bus headed back from Virginia Beach towards my hometown of the Bronx; New York back in the early 90’s transporting guns illegally.

I care because I wasn’t coming back a vacationer; I was coming back a killer.

I care because by the time the bus pulled into the Port Authority, I was not only a full-fledged gunrunner; I was a murderer of my community… and of my own people.

And I care bec

ause sometimes when you destroy something… it becomes your responsibility and your duty to rebuild it.

I can offer words of apology for my past indiscretions, but what good do those words do anyone if my actions don’t reflect my remorse?

I was rewarded handsomely for becoming a gunrunner.

I was gifted with seeing my brother go off to jail while witnessing my mother’s heartbreak over her sons becoming criminals.

Blessed with watching my friends lifeless bodies lay in coffins, all of their potential stripped out of their bodies, much like their blood as it spilt onto the sidewalks of New York… all rewards for bringing guns into the neighborhood.

What wonderful memories to have of a short-lived career on the other side of the law.

These days I take a special interest in trying to combat teenagers beliefs that living by the gun and dying by the gun is as romantic a notion as every other Hip Hop video makes it out to be.

And I closely monitor politicians, such as Ruben Diaz Jr. proclaim the success of a recent gun buyback program that removed almost 1,200 guns off the streets of the Bronx.

But I wonder aloud how much of a success these programs really are.

Sure, you can dress it up and say each gun represents a saved life… But do they really?

I can’t help but wonder if the teens on the corners carrying guns to protect their “businesses” are involved in turning in their thousand dollar submachine guns for a $200 bank card.

Can’t help but wonder if any of those corner kids decided to simply turn in a gun just because they simply didn’t want to live the life anymore.

I listen to the Hot 97 Morning show in which a caller proclaims to have turned in a gun because of a broken clip… and I think to myself that this can’t be the only thing we’re doing to combat guns on the streets of New York.

Especially when the caller proudly proclaims that he still owns more weapons.

It’s a problem that continues to destroy our society’s morality and decency, in addition to the financial toll it’s taken on us.

According to the Violence Prevention Institute it costs us $100 billion annually to deal with gun violence, including the medical costs, the deaths, the investigations, incarcerations and everything else that plays into this never-ending pandemic.

I can’t tell you how much I’d love to witness a day when that money is geared towards the creation of jobs, strengthening the educational system, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and on and on…

Sorry, I just got lost in a dream that’ll never manifest itself… It was nice while it lasted.

But damn, $100 billion dollars – with that kind of money even Obama’s change could manage to be realized – I think.

Until then, I’ll do my part to apologize for destroying my community with my action to change them for the better, before we lose another 40-years and another $4 trillion dollars.

Before I lose myself again… It’s our problem. And it’s time we realize that we need to fix it ourselves.

~ Ivan Sanchez

Ivan Sanchez is the author of Next Stop: Growing up Wild-Style in the Bronx (Touchstone – Simon & Schuster, 2008). The book is the first memoir released by a major publishing house written by a Puerto Rican from the Bronx. Sanchez is also the co-author of It’s Just Begun: The Epic Journey of DJ Disco Wiz, Hip Hop’s First Latino DJ (powerHouse, 2009). He was awarded the National Novel honors for his first fiction offering and is currently working on several new books about NY Latinos.