Hispanic New York: Tato Laviera, Prominent Nuyorican Poet, Died on Friday: By Claudio Iván Remeseira
Poet, musician, dramatist and songwriter Jesús Abraham "Tato" Laviera, one of the most important and beloved representatives of the Nuyorican movement, died on November 1 (Día de los Muertos in the Catholic calendar) at New York City's Mount Sinai Hospital, his family announced. Mr. Laviera, who had been bed-ridden an unconscious for most of this year, suffered from advanced diabetes.
Services will be held on Thursday, Saint Peters Church, 54th and Lexington Avenue from 1 to 4pm. Burial Friday morning at Woodlawn Cemetery.
Born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, in 1951, nine years later he came to New York City with his mother. They first established in the Lower East Side (la Loisaida), a hotspot of the Puerto Rican post-WWII Great Migration. The young Tato —as everybody called him in his family— studied at local Catholic schools and went on to attend Cornell University and Brooklyn College, but never graduated. Instead, he took over as director of the "University of the Streets," an initiative aimed at helping young inner-city Puerto Ricans and other minorities attend college. He also taught writing at Rutgers University and was active in various forms of community service.
His first collection of poems, La Carreta Made a U-Turn (1979) is a self-assuring response to the play La Carreta (The Oxcart, 1953), by Puerto Rican author René Marqués, a play that offers a dispirited perspective on the immigrant journey from the Caribbean island's impoverished countryside to New York City's slums. Laviera's third poetry collection,AmeRícan (1986), is a much-celebrated tribute to the multiethnic, multiracial Puerto Rican heritage. Both books, as the rest of Laviera's production, was published by the pioneering Hispanic imprint Arte Público Press.
A livelong supporter of Puerto Rican independence, Laviera was an artist deeply rooted in his Afro-Latino heritage. Harold Augenbraum and Margarite Fernández Olmos, authors of the anthology The Latino Reader, said that "the influence of music, particularly African rhythms, combined with a keen ear for street talk, double talk, and barrio dialect” make his poems particularly apt for live performance. Indeed, he was a fixture in spoken-word poetry venues across the country.
Last May, Hostos Community College organized a tribute to the poet [WATCH VIDEOHERE]
His immediate survivors include a sister, Ruth (a former hairdresser for Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, and other Latino show-business celebrities), his daugther Ella, and Ella’s grandmother, Jenny Benítez, who along her husband Víctor took the young Tato under their wing fresh out of the plane who brought him to New York City in 1960. Tato Laviera’s admirers have also set up a prayer page in Facebook.