Don Rimx in El Barrio with Revered Poet Jesús “Tato” Laviera

The revered Nuyorican poet Jesús “Tato” Laviera will be honored this weekend with a new mural by artist Don Rimx in Spanish Harlem/El Barrio in addition to the re-naming of 123rd Street after him. Wearing his signature suit and fedora, Laviera gazes skyward below Rimx’s depiction of plants and architectural elements of New York and Puerto Rico painted with an exalted glow, recalling the stained glass of church windows.

Don Rimx tribute to Tato Laviera at Taino Towers Community Center in Spanish Harlem/El Barrio. NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The Puerto Rican poet and playwright, whose acclaimed work addressed language, cultural identity and race, passed away in 2013 and is very much missed by the community, many of whom take comfort in the writings he left behind. The artist and man became Don Rimx’s focus this summer and fall, immersing himself into the life of the individual – even staying in his former home at the invitation of Laviera’s family.

We spoke with Don Rimx about the painting and the project:

Brooklyn Street Art: What is the importance of Tato Laviera in New York City and specifically here in El Barrio?
Don Rimx: Tato Laviera was an important and influential writer who left a mark as one of the founders of a movement in the Puerto Rican community in NYC. He set the standard to follow and we learn from his work, his spirit and his integrity as he worked with the community here in NYC but also in Puerto Rico and other states in the union.

Don Rimx tribute to Tato Laviera at Taino Towers Community Center in Spanish Harlem/El Barrio. NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Can you talk about his contributions to the Nuyorican movement?
Don Rimx: Tato Laviera is one of the founders of the Nuyorican movement. He promoted what we now know as “spanglish”. One can read in his work the combination of the two languages and the sense of identity in a group of people who live between two geographically distinct places but who share the same feelings of patriotism and community.

BSA: Can you describe your experience working on this mural and the reaction of the community?
Don Rimx: Here what touched my heart was the memory of Tato in the minds of the people. The more I hear them talk about him the better an image of him I have in my mind. Their anecdotes about him were so powerful that without personally meeting him I was able to understand his greatness as an artist as well his persona.

Don Rimx tribute to Tato Laviera at Taino Towers Community Center in Spanish Harlem/El Barrio. NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: We understand that you were actually given his rooms to stay in while you were working on this mural. Is it true? What sort of experience did you have while sleeping on his bed and looking at his possessions?
Don Rimx: Being able to live for a few days in his apartment was part of the search and research on him. I immersed myself in the intimacy of his writing. His books, his photographs are still there. So as I was able to experience the trust and the open arms in which his family received me I was able to share my responsibility for his legacy with through my work. I was able to honor his legacy with respect and with my work I continue to promote the legacy, which he left behind for all of us.

BSA: Can you tell us your favorite poem from Tato’s work?
Don Rimx: AmeRícan


AmeRícan

By Tato Laviera

we gave birth to a new generation,

AmeRícan, broader than lost gold

never touched, hidden inside the

puerto rican mountains.

we gave birth to a new generation

AmeRícan, it includes everything

imaginable you-name-it-we-got-it

society.

we gave birth to a new generation,

AmeRícan salutes all folklores,

european, indian, black, spanish

and anything else compatible:

AmeRícan,       singing to composer pedro flores’ palm

                           trees up high in the universal sky!

AmeRícan,       sweet soft spanish danzas gypsies

                           moving lyrics la española cascabelling

                           presence always singing at our side!

AmeRícan,       beating jíbaro modern troubadours

                           crying guitars romantic continental

                           bolero love songs!

AmeRícan,       across forth and across back

                           back across and forth back

                           forth across and back and forth

                           our trips are walking bridges!

                           it all dissolved into itself, an attempt

                           was truly made, the attempt was truly

                           absorbed, digested, we spit out

                           the poison, we spit out in malice,

                           we stand, affirmative in action,

                           to reproduce a broader answer to the

                           marginality that gobbled us up abruptly!

AmeRícan,       walking plena-rhythms in new york,

                           strutting beautifully alert, alive

                           many turning eyes wondering,

                           admiring!

AmeRícan,       defining myself my own way any way many

                           many ways Am e Rícan, with the big R and the

                           accent on the í!

AmeRícan,       like the soul gliding talk of gospel

                           boogie music!

AmeRícan,       speaking new words in spanglish tenements,

                           fast tongue moving street corner “que

                           corta” talk being invented at the insistence

                           of a smile!

AmeRícan,       abounding inside so many ethnic english

                           people, and out of humanity, we blend

                           and mix all that is good!

AmeRícan,       integrating in new york and defining our

                           own destino, our own way of life,

AmeRícan,       defining the new america, humane america,

                           admired america, loved america, harmonious

                           america, the world in peace, our energies

                           collectively invested to find other civili-

                           zations, to touch God, further and further,

                           to dwell in the spirit of divinity!

AmeRícan,       yes, for now, for i love this, my second

                           land, and i dream to take the accent from

                           the altercation, and be proud to call

                           myself american, in the u.s. sense of the

                           word, AmeRícan, America!

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