Passing Away of an Extraordinary Poet: Tato Laviera
By Manuel Hernandez-Carmona copyright
(Professor of English at the University of Phoenix PR Campus
and English Program Facilitator for the Fajardo School District)
When I heard about the death of Jesus Abraham Laviera, Tato
Laviera, I could not help remember the two symposiums that
I organized and coordinated and where he was one of the key
protagonists. The UPR symposiums celebrated in 1997 and 1998
paved the way for further literary analysis on the literature
of the Puerto Rican Diaspora and opened the door for the academic
blueprint that gave birth to an undergraduate course at UPR
Rio Piedras (English 3285). Today, the course is a requirement
for English majors and has also given birth to several graduate
courses at the College of Humanities at UPR Rio Piedras.
When I first met Tato Laviera in 1989, I was a 26 year old
ESL High School teacher at James Monroe High School in the
Bronx, New York. One day, the ESL Program at Monroe invited
a Puerto Rican poet, Tato Laviera. All the ESL teachers took
their students down to the library for the presentation.
I observed him while he got ready. He was dark-skinned, medium
height and had black curly hair and deep brown eyes. He dressed
completely in white and looked like a Santeria priest. He
came in the library with congas. I was anxious to hear the
poet do his thing. When he started reciting his poetry, he
read verses in English, Spanish, Spanglish and what he called
“el mixturao”. He combined music and verses and closed his
eyes as if evoking some supernatural spirit. The students
loved what they heard, and I was amazed at their responses.
Like never before in my life, I felt my veins sizzling in
my bloodstream at the sound of his poetry.
I identified with the message, and I was curious to know
who he was and know more about his poetry. Tato and I became
friends, and he gave me a list of Latino writers who were
writing and performing in the United States and abroad. Next
day, I went to the bookstore and bought a few of the books
recommended by Laviera.
That was the beginning of a 24 year ongoing journey. I brought
him twice to UPR campuses in Rio Piedras, Cayey and Mayaguez
and interviewed him for HitNet in New York City. I deeply
regret his death and continue to build on his legacy. I recently
submitted a new course proposal for the public schools in
Puerto Rico, and Laviera is one of the featured writers. Hopefully,
our high school students will get to read and study his life
and creative work in August of 2014. I join the thousands
of people that were inspired by the life and work of Tato
Laviera and today remember and celebrate his energy, passion
and love for poetry.