Nuyorican Poets Cafe: Covering Soccer the Nuyorican Way

Cesar Diaz@@gritwriterCorrespondent IIDecember 16, 2010

The place where everyone is considered a Nuyorican.
The place where everyone is considered a Nuyorican.

“I write to a listener whose chemistry is changed on hearing these words.” – Miguel Algarin

Prior to becoming a sports writer, I was like an archer without a target. My purpose of writing back then was simply to write whatever was on my mind.

Occasionally, I would hit an open mic to read some of my poetry just for kicks. Other than that, I never imagined that I would be covering soccer.

Out of the places I used to go to listen to some poetry and music, the Nuyorican Poets Café was my favorite. Located in New York City’s Alphabet City, the Lower East Side or Loisaida for many us, the Nuyorican Poets Café is a sanctuary for poets, writers and artists. It is a place where an artist goes to win the adulation's and the respect of the audience and the respect of their peers through their chosen craft.

In honor of the Nuyorican Poets Café and its illustrious history, I want to dedicate this article to its co-founders, Miguel Algarin and Miguel Pinero. What is a Nuyorican? As defined in Miguel Algarin’ book, Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café, a Nuyorican:

"1. Originally Puerto Rican epithet for those of Puerto Rican heritage born in New York: their Spanish was different (Spanglish), their way of dress and look were different. They were the stateless people (like most U.S. poets) until the Nuyorican Poets Café became their homeland. 2. After Algarin and Pinero, a proud poet speaking New York Puerto Rican. 3. A denizen of the Nuyorican Poets Café. 4. New York’s riches."

A Professor Emeritus for more than 30 years of service to Rutgers University, Miguel Algarin taught Shakespeare, Creative Writing and United States Ethnic Literature. In addition to being a Puerto Rican scholar, Miguel is the author of more than 10 published books of poetry.

Along with his three American Book Awards, the Bessie Award for Outstanding Creative Achievement, and an OBIE, Miguel is also the sole translator of the Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda's Songs of Protest. To many, he is one of the most influential Latino writers in the United States and Latin America.

But for me, Miguel (or Tio as I refer to him) will always be my friend who indirectly gave me the target where I would eventually focus my writing on. Like any friendship, we basically hung out a couple of times a week discussing poetry, books, life, work and our Latino Community.

From time to time, we would talk about Miguel Pinero… Miky as he would address him. As described in Miguel Pinero’s 2010 book, Outlaw: The Collected Works of Miguel Pinero:

"Miguel Pinero was a screenwriter, playwright, poet and actor. He appeared in and wrote for the television series Miami Vice, and had writing credits for the Baretta Series and The Jericho Mile. As a playwright, he is best known for his controversial play Short Eyes, which won the Obie Award and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best American Play of the 1973-1974 season. Pinero's other published works include a collection of plays, The Sun Always Shines for the Cool, a book of poems, La Bodega Sold Dreams and a collection of plays, Outrageous One-Act Plays."

While many see Miguel Pinero that way, I see him more like an uncle I never met but I knew very clearly thanks to my conversations with Tio. The only thing I have of Miguel Pinero is an old Underwood Portable Typewriter which I utilize to write my first draft of all my articles.

Granted Miguel was far from ever being a model boy scout but when it came to writing, he was a sage that very few would ever achieve in their lifetime. For someone who some considered a junkie, a thief and an outlaw, Miguel Pinero created his own literary rules in a way few writers have ever done so.

The manner in which he described New York will always be etched in my brain. Much like Tio, Miguel Pinero presented us a New York which was very much real and frightening at times. In my opinion, it was their way of educating the young while reminding the old and now that no matter how hard life can be, we will adapt and survive.

The one thing I learned from both Tio and Miguel is that your best writing comes from the stuff you fully understand; which in my case was Soccer. So in honor of Miguel Pinero’s birthday on Sunday, December 19, 2010, I’ve decided to write a piece on his interpretation of Soccer.

Granted, I am only basing my interpretation of Miguel Pinero from his writings and Tio’s recollection. Whether I hit it on the nail or not, I was given the okay to present it by Tio Miguel. So here goes:

The Soccer Ball: Esta pelota is basically the heart and soul of your community. Without it, you have neither life nor a purpose to even exist. For some, it is a God…for others, it the Devil…depending on the outcome of the game. The soccer ball doesn’t care if you love it or not. Much like the fates, it’s out of your control and all you can do is see which side of the net it’s going in…

The Stadium: La calle where we all live in. We don’t have to like each other but we will accept each other. On a regular basis, we have visitors which we’ll tolerate but cuando ya es tiempo… they’ve got to go, no questions asked.

The Team/Players: Basically, these cats are legally your neighborhood gang that represents us. The colors they wear are supposed to symbolize strength and pride we carry of ourselves in nuestra calle. Some other team steps into our house y trata mandar, and then it’s up to the players to wage war by throwing the first and final punch.

The Refs: The man… take for what it’s worth. Some are honest, some are blind… in the end, there’s nothing you can physically do about the way they handle their business. Scream all you want but in the end, you’ll be treated like wallpaper… seen but not heard.

The Fans: It’s us and the cats who suddenly decide to make their present visible with their cash as they’re sitting in the best seats and eating the best foods while the rest of us are wondering how are we going to feed a family of four on twenty bucks.

Stadium Workers: These eternally debt workers are paid $0.55 cents to dollar are the ones who run the stadiums’ bodegas y tiendas de ropa while charging you $5 dollars for a $2 bottle of water.

The Supporters Group: Just like every street has a religious person, it also has a junkie. Their high is seeing their team win while medicating themselves with alcohol and food. Although many of them have never even played soccer, they feel they’ve earned the right to wear the colors because they’re sacrificing their week’s lunch money in order to be at the game. These crazy cats are cool for the most part but if their team loses an important game, then I advise you to avoid some of them.

The Owner: El Jefe, El Hombre que Manda. This guy will break your heart as he’s taking your money and telling you that he loves your support. In the end, he makes the call…

Cesar Diaz covers Soccer for Latino Sports. You can also follow Cesar on Facebook and Twitter at @CoveringSoccer and @LatinoSports143. Please email Cesar your questions and comments to cesar@latinosports.com.


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