Pick one of the four paintings by Martin Wong. In an index card describe what do you see. How does the painting give a spotlight on how life was in NYC in the 1980s?
Wong’s work ties together brick, queer erotics, tenement living, city disinvestment, exploitative landlord arson to cash in on insurance money, and the Black, Brown, and Asian lives of Loisaida. Wong’s paintings, and the poems of Piñero and Rivas, represent a time that the current landscape of the Lower East Side actively conceals. The condemned tenement I pass by seems to be one of the only remnants left. It gives shape to the stories of yesterday, with its blasted windows and barred doors, this obelisk invisibly inscribed with their memories, keeping their Loisaida alive.
Non-fiction writer, Marcos Gonzalez, of Puerto Rican and Mexican descent reflects on his time living in Loisaida (LES). He makes references to architecture, poetry, visual arts, and scholarly work to reflect on the Lower East Side’s history, vibrant culture, systemic marginalization, the derivative social ills that came with it, and eventual gentrification. In the essay, he argues that in order to avoid the erasures that come with gentrification it is vital to learn from the stories of the long-standing neighbors of the area as well as the arts.
Groups 1 and 2
In groups, select and discuss a quote from the essay in which Gonzalez tries to respond to these questions: How do we “continue to struggle for the rights, well-being, and lives of the marginalized, in places like Loisaida, New York City, and beyond? How do we keep thinking of, and fighting for, the displaced?”
Groups 3 and 4
How does Gonzalez compare life in suburbia vs life in the city?
Nuyorican Poets (Cafe) and Urban Storytelling/Poetics
My time in Loisaida cultivated a particular kind of sensibility which was not the one I was raised on. The high concentration of people in such a small perimeter taught me ways of being in the world with others that were about caring and responsiveness, about being attuned to the ebbs and flows of neighbors and strangers alike. It was about the ways a story is told – the emphases of the voice, the twists and turns of a plot, the preciseness of words – and not just about the content itself. It was about the listener and audience, keeping them with you in story, in emotion, in longing, towards laughter, crying, thinking. My time in Loisaida was about learning to live in a space where the odds were stacked against you. It was about the imaginative reanimating of a past that was but will never again be, lived through the streets and tenements.
What urban descriptions stand out from Miguel Algarín’s poem?
How does Piñero’s poem create simultaneously a portrait of himself and the neighborhood?
How does Denise Frohman think of her mother’s accent? How does she connect it to Puerto Rican culture?