“This Lower East Side is the site of slow motion genocide.” — Miguel Pinero
“O bailan todos o no baile nadie” — the 60s Uruguayan Tupamaros
It was around the time my partner was experimenting with heroin that I crossed paths with Miguel Pinero at a production of his Short Eyes, the much celebrated prison drama in the theatrical scene of 70s New York. Miguel didn’t die (from cirrohsis) until 1988, but he began dying on the streets of the Big Apple around the time I knew him from more than one addiction. The 70s were part-punk and part-academic for me (as a young college professor), but they were mainly my introduction to Big Pharma’s crimes against humanity.
That said, for all of his downsides, Miguel was a supreme treasure for me personally, serving as a mentor of sorts even though I was his senior by four years. The tears I learned to shed through him I wouldn’t have been capable of without his running commentary respecting Spanish Harlem and the South Bronx Puerto Rican scene of the time, and observations about what was coming down at the Nuyorican Poets’ Cafe on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. And — thank God — he was the main reason I stepped into the realm of the incarcerated, which led to my getting down with Liberation Theology in Central and South America in the 80s. Several roads diverged in the city, and — thanks to Miguel — I did not take the yellow route. I bellowed loud and clear because of him.
And I’m still on his shoulders, you might say, to this day obligated to follow through with promises made about making this a better world. Not just promises to him, of course, but I’m focusing on Miguel at this moment because I’m on the verge of relocating to a part of Los Angeles County called La Puente, where I fancy that I’m going to be able to build some bridges.
I recently applied to be a Coordinator of Outreach for a non-profit in the realm, which works with the developmentally disabled, a demographic I spotlighted in a recent article. And just today I sent an email to the Mayor of La Puente, informing her that whether or not I got that gig, I wanted to get down with her about making a difference in her small southern California town. Asking to move in solidarity with her on any basis she might choose, offering to work for nothing in any capacity. With the youth, the elderly… anyone.
Look at her profile. In particular, check out what’s listed under Community Service and Awards. She seems like an Angel from Heaven for my purposes. That being to have a shot at encouraging as many people as possible to address our collective crises following a fresh paradigm.
What well-meaning, highly educated and deeply experienced citizens are doing at present isn’t working. Not working well enough. Not slated to change things soon enough. But the mayor of a given municipality can pack quite a punch on that count. That should be obvious to everyone.
I tried to follow through on the urging of Ralph Nader recently (after reading an article he wrote about a “progressive” Richmond, California mayor), but I didn’t get anywhere, even though I offered the New York publisher of her new book everything but the kitchen sink and my first born to get on board with her campaign and his publishing challenges. Didn’t receive even a “Thanks, but no thanks” reply.
Her campaign people may get around to contacting me, but it’s not like me to hold my breath waiting for such “activists” to take advantage of my singular gestures. Rather — and this has to do with the “lesson” I want to underscore for readers here — I went into high gear in another realm immediately, proceeding as if the only opportunity to make the difference Miguel and my other mentors would want me to make today existed elsewhere.
I certainly didn’t take the “rejection” personally. People — including activists — are on treadmills, and what one needs to seek is authentic solidarity with a single soul to get the ball rolling. Numbers are not important, critical mass not a relevant concern until a core group of committed citizens is formed. And any leading executive can be a catalyst on that count.
Well, wish me luck, ’cause soon we’ll see if the mayor responds to me. And if she does — and if she’s healthy in heart, head and soul, as I believe she is — it will be possible to create a watershed in history in that tiny southern California town… sending the positive ripples which are now necessary nationwide in short order.
Wow, to think that Short Eyes had such an impact on me all these years later. Miguel, the mayor and me. Mmm… the possibilities.
Richard Martin Oxman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He dedicates this piece to a (former) fellow Rutgers University professor, Miguel Algarin, who (though he probably wouldn’t remember at this juncture) introduced him to Miguel Pinero one very cold night by Riverside Church in New York City… the site of many of the author’s most memorable experiences through the years. For both Miguels, the author prays that citizens will acknowledge our responsibilities to the suffering unincorporated Commonwealth today.