Juan Bobo History Lesson: Piri Thomas

Posted: March 19, 2013 in Recent Posts
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Juan bobo

Juan Bobo History Lesson:

Piri Thomas

In 1967, a raw and disturbing autobiography was published by Knopf Doubleday. It was called Down these Mean Streets by Piri Thomas.

A Puerto Rican ex-felon, Piri wrote a scathing account of his East Harlem childhood, and the choices he made which landed him in prison. The language was sharp and unvarnished. The publisher saw great dramatic value in giving Piri free rein, to tell his story in his own vernacular.

The book caught on and has been in print ever since, for nearly fifty years. Martin Scorcese’s second feature film, Mean Streets, borrowed its title and ambience.

The New York Times celebrated its dysfunction, calling it “a report from the guts and heart.”

There is clearly more to the Puerto Rican (or any) experience than crime, drugs, prison and family dysfunction. But Piri was ghetto fabulous, Piri delivered the “real deal,” and Piri got published.

Here is a YouTube video about the life and work of Piri Thomas: 

  1. Joe Sanchez says:

    That’s my good friend, Gene Serina who was raised in the Lower East Side. As an Italian, he grew up with Puerto Rican friends, as well as blacks and whites. Gene saw no color; just respect for his fellow man. Gene can write his own book about the mean streets. Hey, Gene, somebody up there does love you, my brother.Gene’s Website is. http://www.cozycornerradio.com Doo-Wop on midnight/Sunday

  2. Gene Serina says:

    The man tells it like it was and is. Damn, I grew up on the Lower East Side and I know what those streets are like. I traveled down that road of green, thought the easy way was the way it was supposed to be. Too much green brought too much attention and with blind eyes I thought it would never end and yeah, I kept collectng green. A blue day appeared out of nowhere, Mister-Mister brought me down, threw me away in a place I couldn’t find on a map. I counted minutes, hours, days, months and years till I relalized “Hey, this can’t go on”. Freedom came and I took my knowledge of the streets and the hustle inside me and applied the mix to something I loved, “Musiic”. What do I know today? Somebody up there loves me and showed me the way. Hey mama, look at me now!
    Gene Serina
    New York City (Brooklyn)
    Cozy Corner Radio

  3. Joe Sanchez says:

    Unlike Frank Sinatra who did it his way, Juan Pedro “Piri” Tomas realized where he was heading due to his drug addiction and crime. He gave his heart to the Lord Jesus Christ, and did it His way. No longer down these mean streets, Piri is now walking with the Lord, down these Golden Streets. -Joe Sanchez, co-author of Latin Blues, True Blue: A Tale of the enemy within, and Red Herring:The Stinking Trail…Police Corruption in Washington Heights, and a 4th book to come: Yellow Streak

  4. Margaret Hildebrand says:

    Great information in this blog. I even found the recent post (from Edna Paoli) extremely illuminating.

    Many thanks.

  5. Edna Paoli says:

    You’re absolutely right about the “ghetto fabulous” formula. Publishers, movies studios and record companies – the general culture at large – love to depict the “seamy, sexy, raw, violent” aspects of inner-city life. One look at the rap music industry tells you everything you need to know about this corporate outlook.

    For all its merits and provocativeness, a book like “Down These Mean Streets” reinforces an impression that we are all criminals — and forgets that the great majority of our underclass are trying to lift themselves out of it with hard work, education, and a desperate faith in the (crumbling) American dream.

    When a book like this is celebrated, it victimizes the victim – creating yet another layer of prejudice, misunderstanding and animosity for that community to overcome. It fuels a “stop & frisk” mentality for the local police.

    It also makes the parents’ job much harder. They are trying to provide positive role modeling and constructive hopes for their children. Then along comes this book (and rap music, and exploitation films) to cloud their brain with destructive, self-hating nonsense.

    I’m glad this blog presented a proper context for this book. Thank you.

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