Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Life and Times of an Undiagnosed Bipolar Puerto Rican

Life and Times of an Undiagnosed Bipolar Puerto Rican

Literary Nobel Prize Winner George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.”

It’s a passage that strikes me as one of the most honest and sincere that I’ve read. A passage that I myself try to emulate, while at the same time being one of the biggest hypocrites this world has ever seen.

You see, I can work the phones all day trying to save the life of a child… and I can walk outside five minutes later, find my way into an argument with any neighborhood thug, turn and threaten his life and do it all without blinking an eye.

I can march peacefully while holding a banner that reads, “Save Baby Sophia,” while at the same time grabbing a hold of another Puerto Rican “brother” that tries to cut in front of us at the parade… while telling him, “It’s not gonna happen… So don’t do it to yourself…”

I can have dinner with business men… and I can have dinner with stone cold killers… and feel just as at home sitting at both tables… the good and the bad, the protector and the pursuer, the lamb and the lion…

It’s all the same to me… It’s my very own hypocritical existence wherever I go.

There’s something very wrong about me in that sense… and I don’t think its mere anger management that I need… I think I’m displaying more bipolaristic sensibilities than I care to admit to myself…

And for the record… Yes, I just made up the word bipolaristic… Add it to your word dictionary.

I started to write a book called, “Crazy: A Year in the Life of an Undiagnosed Bipolar Puerto Rican…” You have to admit, the title is catchy as hell. But I had to stop, because the book was scary as hell… I don’t think the world is ready for that much honesty.

I began the journey of writing the book by taking one of those bipolar “self-diagnosis” tests on WebMD and writing about it.

Are you so irritable you shout at people and start fights or arguments?

Um, check… everyday, including at my daughters High School graduation ceremony when the people behind me wouldn’t shut the hell up and let me hear the keynote speakers. I almost missed my daughters march due to that one.

At times do you feel more self-confident than usual?

Um, double checks on this one… everyday… sometimes I think I’m the shit… sometimes I don’t think I’m shit…

Does your mind race out of control seemingly in a never ending cycle of thoughts?

Um, triple checks here… every night before I lay me down to sleep… especially when I have to figure out how to make a million things work during the worst economic recession in the history of this country…

Does that mean I’m crazy though?

The findings of my self-diagnosis basically told me to find the nearest psychiatric hospital and check myself in immediately… Do not stop at Go… Do not collect $200.00… Just find help.

Yet here I am still running the streets, looking for fights with disrespectful human beings, feeling unsure about my confidence level and letting my mind race in circles about every worrisome thing I can fit in my head at the same time.

And that’s just in one afternoon…

But isn’t this everyone? Or are you guys going to leave me out here alone on this one? Am I the only crazy one out here?

I’ll tell you who I blame more than the food companies, who’ve been inserting chemicals in the food we eat for so many years now, that we have a ridiculous amount of people on psychotropic drugs… I blame the old neighborhood.

I blame the neighborhood fellas for instilling in me the need to be so respected that at any sign of disrespect I lash out and attack like a shark being pulled into a boat with a metal hook stuck in his body… at that point, it’s either me or you… and I don’t want it to be me – so your ass is gonna get bit.

I lose all sensibilities and I forget that I am supposed to be more man than monster… more gentleman of peace, than fiend of war… more savior than destroyer.

In the book, Crazy, I write – “It doesn’t matter if you are undiagnosed or diagnosed with bipolar disorder. What matters is that you are mindful of its existence in your life so that you can control it any way you know how. Lord knows the medical geniuses haven’t found the cure for the damage the food companies have done to our bodies, both mental and physical…”

Why are five year old children being placed on more psychotropic drugs than ever before? Are the doctors just that much better at diagnosing now? Or is that we’ve given up on teaching coping mechanisms as opposed to just doping up our children? Or are the kickbacks from the drug companies just that great?

Why isn’t anyone being held accountable, from the food companies to the pharmaceutical companies to the gun manufacturers that continue to kill more people off both mentally and physically than every war we’ve ever fought?

Why do we just keep taking it?

I guess we’re all just a little too crazy to see with clarity what is being done to our society, to ourselves, to our children, to our futures… Or maybe we just don’t have time to care anymore because Farmville, Mafia Wars and Casper Martinez’s Facebook rants keep us plenty amused… plenty entertained… and plenty dead inside.

Whatever it is that’s making me so angry inside… I hope I can get it out of my system, before it gets the best of me… I’m an argument away from arguing with the wrong person…

It’s funny to me when I get so many messages from people saying I’m an inspiration, a healer, a savior… Even from as far away as the Philippines last week.

It’s funny to me because I can’t even figure out how to save myself – much less your child.

I guess we’re all just trying to find our own sanity in the midst of the madness.

Most just aren’t honest enough to admit to themselves… much less to the world!

When all else fails – go see a doctor, they’ve got a prescription for you. And it’ll only cost you a $20.00 co-pay and your sanity.

As for me – I’ll keep writing it out of my system.

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, June 14, 2010

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice

There is an unknown author who once wrote, “We are each burdened with prejudice; against the poor or the rich, the smart or the slow, the gaunt or the obese. It is natural to develop prejudices. It is noble to rise above them.”

So much for me ever being knighted into nobility, for I will forever remain prejudice against one group of people… that group being spics.

In all honesty, I haven’t had a problem with the word since the Irish kid (Danny) spit it out of his mouth in my direction in the 4th or 5th grade. It led to a fistfight and although he was bigger than me, I accidentally knocked him onto a bottle cutting his arm all up, ending the scuffle and declaring me victorious by default.

After that day, I never had a problem with the word – understanding that if it was used in a derogatory manner towards me, I’d stand and defend the honor of mi gente…

But then, what was there to defend once I grew into a little bad ass spic myself and had no honor in the way I carried myself into my late teens and early twenties?

I was the embodiment of a little spic, running around town, disrespecting everyone, robbing anything that wasn’t nailed down and believing that I had every right to do so… just because I felt like it.

Simply put… I wasn’t only a spic… I was a next level spic!

This weekend I experienced the beauty of being Latino, while at the same time experiencing the most disturbing side of our people… Yeah, the spics…

It was an emotional rollercoaster filled with love and hate, sometimes in the same five-minute span.

As I walked up 3rd Avenue towards 116th Street, I was overcome with the feeling of belonging as I was awash in a sea of red, white and blue…

The pride, the beautiful people, the Salsa, Reggaeton and Big Pun blaring from seemingly every corner on every block for miles around…

And the food… oh… the sweet heavenly smell of fried everything, from the empanadas y pastillios to the papa de rellenos y accapurias…

I had high hopes for this festival, being that it was the first time I’d ever stepped foot onto the concrete of El Barrio for the event.

But then I started hearing the spics… and they were everywhere…

Yo ma, if you let me hit that… I’ll turn you out like the trick you are…” “F you beeyatch… you ain’t that cute anyway…” And x-rated things I’d never be able to repeat…

And then I heard mi gente… the laughter of children, the “Weeeeepa’s,” y, “Baya!! Boricuas…”

Then I saw the spics… “Fight, fight, fight…”

And then I saw mi gente: the baby with the “Got Marrow” sticker gently placed there by Aiesha who was with the Urban Latino Familia working hard to spread the word about 6-month-old baby Sophia’s plight to find a bone marrow donor of Latino descent.

I felt good, I felt bad… I felt happy, I felt sad… I felt like I was experiencing a Dr. Seuss existence with all of the colorful imagery blowing by me… both positive and negative…

It was some ride, let me tell you.

But overall, I’ll be honest and say I left feeling more prejudiced than proud that night…

The next morning I made my way over to 47th and 5th Avenue with a new friend, breast cancer survivor Vivian Rivera, who although is still healing from her own life or death battle, found the pride and heart to come out and march with the Urban Latino Familia and Hispanic Society of the MTA in support of Baby Sophia…

Unfortunately, within the first two-minutes of being there… I argued with a disrespectful cop and saw thirty Latin Kings & Queens standing on the corner looking for trouble way too early in the damn morning… They’d find their trouble later in the day while being handcuffed and hauled away by an all too happy NYPD.

I couldn’t help but allow the feelings of disgust from the day before to come flooding back like a thirty-foot wave in a Tsunami.

What the hell was I doing here again?

I just wrote a blog telling the world I didn’t believe in the false pride, the corruption of the Galos Corporation and National Puerto Rican Day Parade Inc.

I wrote, “This man here sees no reason to raise the Puerto Rican flag in celebration…” I spoke about the lack of loyalty and support… But then life decided to teach me a lesson about both…

I was asked to help raise awareness about Baby Sophia Lopez’s fight for her life… and I realized that there was support and loyalty in my own camp… And my Rebel Radio family, Trig One and Liza Marie never hesitated when we found out a banner for the baby would cost us a few hundred dollars… We went to work and we made things happen in a relatively short time…

So there I was getting ready to march with people who were proud to be there, had reason to be there… had reason to be proud… And we marched that banner right up 5th Avenue in front of hundreds of thousands of people who displayed that same pride… in every wave of their flag and every scream in their voices…

I saw the smiles on the faces of the future…

I saw beauty and purity in the smiles of children who couldn’t contain their own excitement when you made eye contact and waved a flag at them…

I saw love, I saw pride… I saw joy… I saw life and what it could be if we all respected our past, present and future… If we all respected each other…

I saw myself eating my words… and I smiled about it because I have no problem doing just that in an effort to show my support for a Latino familia in need.

I marched with my Urban Latino familia… I danced… I blew into that whistle like I was a crossing-guard directing our children safely into school each morning… I high-stepped and strutted my way down 5th Avenue with tears of joy inside knowing that someone in that crowd looked deeply into the eyes of Baby Sophia’s picture and realized that she could be their child.

That there was no true pride in just standing on the sidelines… that the truest pride would come from an action… a step forward to help save a child’s life… an extending of your own heart in order to help another…

And in the end, I put away my prejudice and I found my pride in the moment. And as the rain began to fall down upon me as we reached the end… I was overjoyed… I was truly happy… I was fulfilled in another mission complete…

I was proud to be Latino… Proud to walk amongst mi gente… Proud to stand for something!

Visit today… and stand for something…

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.

Photos Courtesy of Francisco Reyes @ and Jenuine Focus and Aiesha Engineer

Monday, June 7, 2010

Yo Soy Nuyorican… But Not Like You

Yo Soy Nuyorican… But Not Like You

As we prepare to celebrate our Puerto Ricaness and all of its beautiful intricacies this weekend at the 2010 Puerto Rican Day Parade along Fifth Avenue, I can’t help but wonder if anyone even cares about the struggles – both past and present – of our people…

On any given Sunday in the past history of the parade you might’ve been marching behind the Latin King and Queen Nation who pretended to be an organization for the people, all the while killing their own brothers over drug deals gone badly.

This Sunday you might find yourself marching behind a group of self-professed, self-titled Taínos who are no more peaceful than the conquistadors of Christopher Columbus who cut Yucayeke (village) boys in half and fed the bodies of Taíno babies to their dogs.

I know… it’s a strong statement which makes us all sick to our stomachs.

But the problem is, there is truth behind my words, as I’ve heard one of these self-appointed Taíno chieftains threaten to pull out his glock-nine on anyone he deems an enemy of his people.

I guess he wants to ensure there will be no more genocide under his watch.

The only difference is that the Taínos only responded to vi
olence, never perpetrated it.

To me personally, the Puerto Rican Day Parade is as representative of Latino people as the “Being Latino” Facebook fan page.

Which is to say it serves no real purpose, has no real sense of direction and merely serves as a mirage to make us all feel accomplished. When the truth is we have a long way to go before we should ever dream of raising a triumphant flag of our own red, white and blue design.

Why would I say the PR Parade doesn’t represent me in anyway? Well for one thing, my daughters aren’t represented by the half-naked girls walking around with Puerto Rican flags covering their overtly protruding breasts… barely fourteen years old with enough Sazón to season fifty pernils.

And although a great majority of young Latino males are in desperate need of male role models to guide them into adulthood. I refuse to believe that those showing off their Puerto Rican flag boxer shorts and do-rags are any representation of the next generation of Latino leaders we’ll surely have to find in order to be represented properly in the future of government and corporate America.

The Latino politicians who wave atop $50,000 floats certainly aren’t representing the communities they were voted in to improve upon…

And who the hell keeps inviting the man who changed the laws to be mayor, “Moneybags Bloomberg,” to this event every year? He certainly is no friend to the Latinos in New York, though he certainly puts on a great act every year complete with straw hat and guayabera.

Much like everything else in this world, the Puerto Rican Day Parade has become a big business trying to grab hold of the billions of dollars Latinos spend each year.

As such… the Galos Corporation and the National Puerto Rican Day Parade Inc., have secured the best spots along the parade route for the big money investors, while people trying to spread messages of hope and survival are priced completely out of the parade.

Case in point, the DKMS, can’t even afford a float or a banner to promote its lifesaving efforts for six-month-old Bronx Latina, Sophia Lopez who is in desperate need of a bone marrow donor of Latino descent.

She will certainly die without a match being found… and as she prepares to enter the hospital, possibly for the last time, no one has stepped up to assist in these life-saving promotional efforts.

There is a very real chance that a match could be found in the two-million Latinos expected to cover the parade route. But apparently, Sophia’s life comes behind the hottest reggaetón band whose record label can afford the float, so the young, half-naked little ladies in attendance will show the world just how much Sazón a 14-year-old has.

Are you starting to understand why I don’t exactly feel represented by this parade?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be proud of our heritage, our legacy, where we’ve been and where we’re going.

But during a time when Latino support and loyalty seems to be non-existent or a very rare find.

During a time when Latinos are flunking out of school at close to 60 percent in many districts in New York.

During a time when we’re suffering from obesity, drug addiction, poverty, homelessness, mental health disorder and many levels of abuse in the home.

During a time when it’s almo
st illegal to be Latino in some parts of the country…

This man here sees no reason to raise the Puerto Rican flag in celebration.

My loyalty is to humanity…

And when I see so many Latinos failing to show humanity in the simplest way to a six-month-old Latina baby… I see no reason to show solidarity in that.
No reason to show my pride in something I’m certainly not proud of. Maybe next year…

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.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Unwritten Life

The Unwritten Life
If I had a dollar for every time someone sent me a message posing the question, “How do I get published?” I’d have about $107.00.

And while I don’t consider the question to be a nuisance or a waste of my time, it is a very difficult question for me to answer. Because honestly, there is no right or wrong answer, no formulas that will guarantee you success and no secrets that only published authors share while trying to keep the next best writers locked out of the literary world.

What I can share with you is that becoming published requires more patience than your mother had to have with you not to beat you at
the dinner table every time you refused to eat your vegetables – which for me, was every single time I sat at the table – right up to present day.

That’s right, I’ve never eaten a vegetable and I’m damn proud of that little known fact.

However, what I lacked in the taste buds department I more than made up for in the patience to someday see my story – in black and white – in some type of binding for a broad audience, preferably the entire world, to read.

It took me almost five years to become published, and even then I was only discovered by a friend of a friend who knew someone (Max Nomad) who owned a very small publishing company in Virginia Beach called Bohemian Griot Publishing.

I still recall the first phone conversation I had with Max when he said into the phone something to the effect of, “I don’t know how to market a book like this… but I know this story needs to be
shared with the world… let’s meet…”

And the rest as they say is Latino literary history.

Prior to that fateful call though, I recollect taking the last $300.00 out of the bank to drive to New York to attend the BEA Conference at the Jacob K. Javits Center. The promise of the Book Expo of America and this particular conference was that you’d get to have your manuscript reviewed by a real publ
isher, literary agent or editor.

There I stood with a nearly completed manuscript titled, “Next Stop: Growing up in the Kingsbridge Section of the Bronx,” – the name would later be changed by Nomad – and a firm belief that the stories of my old neighborhood deserved a grand platform.

I believed in the deepest part of my soul that the stories of survival and the memoriam to those
who didn’t make it out deserved to be documented for an eternity. And no one could tell me that my gut instinct was wrong.

These were the unwritten stories of our lives… and I wanted them to be cemented in the concrete of literary greatness for generations to come.

My hands shook when I handed the manuscript to the first editor and after browsing through the first few pages he promptly closed it and said, “I can’t market this,” and sent me on my way.

I quickly got in
to line number two to hear virtually the same thing… and as I walked up to Sharlene Martin of Martin Literary Management on my third and final try, my spirits had already been crushed and my hopes of finding anyone to publish me that afternoon had completely vanished.

And while Sharlene didn’t provide me with a publishing deal that afternoon, she did provide me with one thing the others did not… she provided me with kinds words of hope when she said, “Your stories seem to have potential, just polish up the manuscript and don’t give up.”

But that’s what I did at that very moment… I gave up… I quit… I accepted my fate as a failed writer.

While I sat on the sidewalk outside the Javits Center, for what seemed like an eternity, eating the only thing I could afford to eat – a dirty water dog – before trekking back to Virginia Beach, the only feelings I could muster were those of defeat.

I’d l
et everyone down… but at least I had the courage to try, right?

I tried to look at the bright side of Sharlene’s words, but the fact that I’d spent my families last few dollars trying to “make it,” was enough to cloud the bright side of anything in a wall of tears.

The manuscript for “Next Stop,” sat collecting dust for an entire year before a friend of Nomad’s
overheard me talking about the forgotten tales I’d written at a beach party and offered to pass it on for review.

So you see… there is no great secret to being published… In my case, I still believe it was fate. And to this day I still believe that the lives of my friends who died on the streets of New York deserved to be shared with the world, if for no other reason, than to prove that they existed in some time or space.

And so if I had to give you just one bit of advice, I’d tell you to write a manuscript that is so honest it will literally hurt you to write it.

Moreover, that even if you’re writing a novel, take all of the pain and pleasure you’ve ever
experienced in life and pour it onto the pages as if your only hope of survival is to confess the truths for what they are… the truth… the sad, lonely, happy, funny, unapologetic truths of life. Because I for one don’t want to read anything less than that.

Understand that your life, the lives of those around you deserve to be documented… deserve to be written… deserve to be told by us for future generations to experience.

Next Stop: Growing up Wild Style in the Bronx,” was never a marketable book. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an important book.

And for the last year I’ve blamed everyone and their mother for not supporting and purchasing the book. Only to come to the realization through conversations with filmmakers like Franc Reyes and Mr. Moe that it was never the audiences fault.

How can you buy a book that you don’t even know exists?

And so in that regard we are still very much invisible to the mainstream markets of America.

Only this time, there is no need to give up… but instead to write more books and document more stories in hopes that eventually the market will find us.

Next Stop
is officially going out of print on May 27, 2010.

But the book has its place in history as the first memoir by a Puerto Rican from the Bronx to be published by a major publishing house. And though Simon & Schuster never really pushed this book, my editor Sulay Hernandez fought hard to allow it to see the light of day on the bookshelves of Barnes & Noble and Borders.

I was fortunate enough to count amongst my fans people like Casper Martinez, Luis Guzman, Rosie Perez, Ramon Rodriguez, Luis Antonio Ramos and Urban Latino Magazine’s founder Jorge Cano-Moreno. But more importantly teens across America that saw themselves in the pages and questioned the paths they were traveling in life…

A few even altered their paths to find their own success in life.

Doors opened, friendships were built and new legacies were secured.
In the end, my gut instinct was right… Our unwritten lives… deserved to be written.

To Be Continued

"It's the raw and brutally honest portrayal of a violent youth who walks through fire in order to find himself." -- Linda Nieves-Powell, author of
Free Style

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.