Literature, Block 4
October 27, 2014
Down These Mean Streets, by Piri Thomas, In this memoir the author explains to the reader about his life struggles and the journey he went through to find who he truly is in the community because he dealt with racial profiling and discrimination on a daily basis. Eventually
Piri learns from his mistakes and learns what it takes to be a man. His journey made him into a stronger individual because he realizes his true identity. Piri was born Puerto Rican but in the eyes of the public he was an African American because he was a dark skinned male. It was important to Piri to find his place among his peers and the community. He had so much hatred towards the whites for their privileged status and the Blacks because deep down he knew he was one of them. Piri Thomas uses conflict and characterization to show the reader how he conducted himself with his journey to manhood and to find his true identity.
Puerto Rico is a country of people who have been mixed, ethnically, through centuries of war and Imperialism. Puerto Rico was originally home to more than 50,000 native Tainos. In
1493, the small caribbean island was discovered by the Spanish, who then seized and colonized the new land. As the numbers of native Tainos decreased due to diseases or simply because of them fleeing the island, The Spanish began to introduce African slaves, who began to pair off with the Tainos that were left. In addition to that racial mix, The Spaniards also mated with the people of the island, to make the distinct racial and ethnic mix of the Puerto Rican people’s there is today.
In his youth, Piri Thomas lived in the “Barrio” the streets of Spanish Harlem in the
1940’s to the 1950’s. Growing up Piri’s father,John Thomas, wasn’t affectionate and was distant towards his children. Piri’s thoughts on this was that out of all of his fathers children he was the one getting the most resentment from his dad : “How come when we all get hit for doing
something wrong, I feel it the hardest? Maybe cause I’m the biggest, huh? Or maybe because it’s cause I’m the darkest in this family. pops, you ain’t like Herby’s father, are you? I mean you love us all the same right” (p.22). Piri’s dubiousness and insecurities with his father is a large factor in how effortlessly he is willing to do dangerous and criminal activity during his life. Piri is affected by the environment he lives in because he has no positive support to fall back on, whether it is because his identity crisis or his later on heroin addiction.
Throughout the memoir, Piri portrayed a sense of loneliness. To make up for that, Piri is willing to do whatever it takes to fit in with the the crowd. In one passage, Piri and his gang of friends are asked to go to a house full of gay men by an older boy, Piri goes along not because he wants to but because out of fear of being labeled as a punk: “The stud snapped his fingers, as if to say motherfuckers, who’s a punk? Nobody, man. Without a word we jumped off the stoop and, grinning, shuffled towards the faggots building” (p.55). Piri’s need to belong gets the upper hand which leads to him disobeying his morals and restrictions. This action is repeated many times when Piri is faced with a situation he doesn't agree with.
Piri’s identity crisis worsens as he gets older and is unprotected by Americas discrimination. When Piri moves to Long Island with his