5. Piri Thomas’ Down These Mean Streets (Part 1)

MASCULINITIES AND RACIALIZED SUBJECTIVITIES

February 19
1. READ: Piri Thomas, Down These Mean Streets, (p. 1 – 91)
2. READ: Juan Gonzalez, Harvest of Empire, “Gonzalez – HoE Puerto Ricans” (PDF)
3. READ: Derek Stanovsky, “Postcolonial Masculinities
4. PRESENTATION: Joseph Sokola & Melanie Gross

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February 21
1. READ: Piri Thomas, Down These Mean Streets, (p. 93 – 128)
2. READ: Rafael L. Ramírez, What It Means To Be A Man: Reflections on Puerto Rican Masculinity, (p. 7 – 42)
3. “The World of Piri Thomas” (optional)
4. PRESENTATION: Ken “Kaydo” Dortche & Jesse Drinks
5. PRESENTATION: Desiree Wimberly & John Wilkison

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Some points to this week’s discussion:

  • What is the role of the father figure? Describe Juan Tomás and his transformation into John Thomas.
  • How is racism conveyed in the chapter “Brothers Under the Skin” in the conversation Piri has with his brother José? What elements does José use to emphasize that in fact he is “White, goddamit!”?
  • In the chapter, “If You Ain’t Got Heart, You Ain’t Got Nada,” what are the rites of passage? What are the rituals Piri must go through to make a space for himself in his new home in Spanish Harlem? What does “no punk out” mean? How do they reinforce their masculinity?
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122 Responses to 5. Piri Thomas’ Down These Mean Streets (Part 1)

  1. jayrodriguez13 says:

    First of all, I want to say that I am really enjoying this book. I’ve already read through most of it. Reading this book, I see that there are some… Confusions (for lack of better term) in the Latino masculinity complex that we have come to know in today’s world. When Piri was younger, he spoke in various parts of the book about wanting to be hombre, a man. However, some of the “initiation” processes into “manhood” he described are rather skewed. I speak of course, of the situation he found himself in when he went to the homosexuals’ house with his friends after Alfredo suggests it (55-61). Piri himself did not wish to go, but rather than look like a punk, or unmanly, he said nothing and just went along with it. Throughout this entire scene in the book, the four boys who went with Alfredo were all very uncomfortable, but didn’t say anything because they “… wanted to belong, and belonging meant doing whatever had to be done” (55). If I had to attribute this to anything, it would be to the “Man-Box” complex that one of my fellow classmates, I believe his name is Jean-Claude, spoke about in class.

    None of these boys wanted to say anything to stress their qualms, because they were afraid of being kicked out of that Man-Box and being ridiculed, beaten, shunned, or worse, by their peers. However, these young men were willing to go to these lengths, that is, willing to do something that society would see as unmanly. This brings in to question how far men are willing to go to be considered “macho” or “manly.” And also, it raises this question: “If a man is willing to have sex with/ receive sexual favors from another man, is that man still considered manly in society?” To me, this scene is just a little confusing and misleading as to a ‘real macho’ hombre. This is just what I took from that one scene. However, this book is very good, and it speaks to me in ways that I’d rather not admit. I hope everyone else is enjoying it as much as I am.

    • Elise316 says:

      I’m also really enjoying reading this! I agree this right of passage is a bit confusing but interpreted it in this way: Piri, and the other boys, wanted to be received fully into this crowd. I think they value belonging more than almost anything. This sexual proposition clearly made Piri and others uneasy, but it was just a price to pay for the benefit of fitting in.

      • Edward Ortega says:

        I forgot to mention this and I was reminded of it when we discussed this issue during lecture. For some reason, when I was reading Piri’s memoir, I was under impression that they were going up to the house to rob them. This could have been intentional; maybe Piri wanted to surprise his readers to instill the same feelings he felt at the time. I am sure he was just as surprised as we were to find out what he was going to have to take part of in order to prove himself as a man.

    • I agree with what you said about Let a guy you know try to sell you a story that they had a homosexual encounter with another man to prove that he was, in fact, a man”. It is true, because if my guy friend told me he finds himself with other men just to prove he is a man, I would be skeptical. Most men that I am friends with cannot even picture themselves sexually intimate with other men or nonetheless even think about it or have others mention it, they find it insulting. I think that Piri acted the way he did, also because of the way in which he already felt about his father neglecting him in an indirect manner. I say indirect, because he doesn’t tell Piri that he is prejudice against him because of his color, instead shows his true feelings by his actions. This all had to do with Piri finding himself at a time when he felt lost.

    • I agree with both Edward and Elise with the whole confusion around Piri’s understanding of his rite of passage , I mean one hand he considers himself to be a real man becomes he has done many things that society may view as acceptable for a real man , but he still engaged in sexual activity with the same sex. I like the point that you made about the authors risky attempt to relate homosexuality as being a crucial factor in achieving a hegemonic masculinity. Its a concept that is still hard for me to accept .

    • Katheryn Maldonado says:

      I think your observation was very interesting. I really liked the fact that you paralleled both authors incorporation of homosexual acts as being a factor in achieving hegemonic masculinity. I honestly don’t think doing homosexual acts in today’s society would prove a man’s manly hood in fact I think people would automatically associate the man as being a homosexual. I still wonder why these authors incorporated these aspects of masculinity. I wonder if it was considered appropriate during the different time periods of the novels. I think it was great to point out the parallels and how taboo they would be in today’s society.

    • Lima James says:

      I also found Piri’s homosexual encounter with other men to prove himself manly a bit odd. It was interesting to see what kind of different acts are accepted as manly and not. For instance, reading the article “Running down these mean streets & Sex” by Veronica Crichlow and having learned in prior classes about how the acts of homosexual sex where the male is the “actor” and not the “recipient” is not looked bad upon, was an interesting detail. Because here in this situation where Piri goes to the apartment of the transvestites, he is the “recipient” and its ironic in the sense that he has gone there to prove his manliness and instead he is doing the opposite. By being the recipient, he is seen as the female figure, which I thought was really interesting.

    • Jean-Claude Nicolas Jr. says:

      Hello jay, the concept of the “man-box” is a reality that exists yet most people don’t openly refer to it. Rather, it is clearly seen in this book, as you pointed out that instead of refusing to perform homosexual acts, they all chose to stay within the man box and act outside of their character, to avoid fear of punishment for stepping out of the man box.

      Let us look at another example: how many times did Piri stand flat-footed and did not back down from a fight? Was it because he had so much “corazon”? Possibly. I much more think he did not want to be viewed as a punk. Real men don’t cry so when Piri had gravel thrown in his eyes, the excruciating pain had tears flowing, yet he was still trying to “man up”

  2. Elise316 says:

    I have been most intrigued by the family dynamics presented thus far in “Down These Mean Streets”. Something very interesting is that Piri hardly focuses on his siblings. His sister is referred to as “sis” and his two brothers, James and Jose, that he seems closest with are really only present in one scene. The scene however is a very important one, where Jose and Piri argue, hurting each other with words and physical force. It is clear Piri resents his brother’s for being light skinned and looking like a “paddy” while he is darker (page 121). I think the reason he doesn’t spend much time with his siblings, or discussing interactions with them is attributed to this emotional pain he associates with them.

    The next dynamic is him and his mother. He tries to protect her from knowing main things about his life. Examples such as him selling marijuana, him not working at the docks, his inital fight with Rocky being about initiation and not just playing, and lastly his denial of Ruthie being in Poppa’s life. She is affectionate, loving and kind and Piri wants very badly to guard her heart.

    His relationship with his father is one constantly seeking approval. He wants to be seen as an hombre by him. He tries to be tough and not show pain to him. However he also resents him for trying to be white and the new life he set up for the family in Long Island. When Piri eventually calls him out on this there is a new element introduced into their relationship. Poppa is deeply hurt and admits to having a similar identity crisis as Piri.

    He blames his father, resents his brothers, and wants to protect his mother. Aside from the sibling dynamic, I see a parallel with these relationships and that presenting in “Freak”.

    • Jacob Finlan says:

      The parallel to ‘Freak’ popped into my head the whole time, too, to the point I was often picturing Piri in my head to look like the comedian in ‘Freak’. His mannerisms and terminology/slang reminded me a lot of Freak, and how he describes his family members and friends.

    • I also believe that the relationship Piri had with his father shaped a lot of who he was . He was constantly searching that approval from his dad ,maybe that was the reason what drove him to do the things he did . I can see that throughout the readings so far in class there is a theme around the importance of the father role in the family

      • Elise316 says:

        I would be interested to study how the female perspective of masculinity is affected and shaped by the father figure as well. So far we have observed how sons mimic the masculine behaviors of their fathers, but I wonder if the gender roles, and how females play into this masculinity have a large part to do with how fathers treat their daughters in relation to their sons.

      • Gresenia Gil Suarez says:

        I agree with this, Piri often looked for some type of affection or attention from his father. Because he was neglected in this case he felt that it was because he was a man, because his father was shaping him to be a man. This did confuse him though because his brothers would get the attention that he craved so much and it often made him think that this was so because of his color.

    • Lima James says:

      Piri’s relationship with his father, and constantly seeking approval reminds me very much of the character in “The rain god” as well as “John Leguizamo”. These characters are also always seeking their dad’s attention, which tells us that this is kind of the norm for most families.

    • Jean-Claude Nicolas Jr. says:

      I as well saw some correlation with this topic and “Freak”. I think what saddens me the most about PIri’s relationship with his father is how the burden of reconnecting that severed relationship should be on the father, yet it is Piri who carries that burden…not fair.
      Hence, we see countless broken relationships in society that really don’t have to be, all it takes is a little humility from dads to admit they were wrong in their behaviors toward their children and you are on your way towards restoration…..children are so forgiving. Wasn’t Piri?

  3. Elizabeth L Fletcher says:

    The constant need for approval from children to their father’s has become a popular topic in all of the readings we have done in class and is again really apparent in this book too. On one hand, the sons want to be seen as masculine, tough men who are independent and will eventually take part in raising the family, but on the other hand they are still secretly hoping their fathers will recognize their efforts and be proud. Piri mentions when he is happy and proud of things that he says or does when his father gives him recognition for it and he seems to refer to himself as “hombre” for his own reminder and to convince himself that his father hopefully sees him this way too.

    I also agree with my classmates that the popular topico of homosexuality is surprising to me because I never would have anticipated so many connections between men being sexual with other men and masculinity. I think it may have to do with these young boys and men figuring out their identity through sexual encounters but it clearly has to be private because their fathers would never approve and they know it is not acceptable. I haven’t ever really thought of the perspective that any sexual encounter contributes to becoming a man because most of the really masculine guys that I know and men that I have read about in books/seen in movies, etc., would not see homosexual encounters as a masculine trait or something that shows you are becoming a man. I thought it was interesting that it is once again a major topic in this book like it was in The Rain God.

    • korb10 says:

      This book approaches homosexuality in an unexpected way. In one scene the boys prove that they are masculine by proving they are comfortable interacting with homosexuals. This is opposite from what one would expect. In many situations, men try to prove they are manly by behaving like homophobes. One man even performs oral sex on Piri as he needs to remind himself that he likes girls. Another one of his “straight” friends engages in sexual intercourse with another man.

      • Ashton Haga says:

        I know a lot of people are commenting on how odd it seems that Piri engaged in a homosexual encounter to prove his masculinity. However, Piri was not GIVING in this encounter, he was merely receiving. I think that the combination of free marijuana, free booze, and just accepting sexual attention made the situation much more comfortable. It is a different power dynamic. If Piri had been the one to have to give sexual pleasure to one of the homosexuals he may not have been as comfortable with it.

  4. franciscotorres01 says:

    I think the most interesting part in this book is indeed masculinity, but even more so than that is Piri’s battle between being a dark and being hispanic. Piri and his father constantly argue, but in that same context, it can be seen that Piri’s father attacks Piri because Pirir is most like him. Piri’s father knows what it means to not fit in with the latinos because your to dark and knows the blacks wont take you because your actually latino.

    The issue of placement thrives in Piri’s life and that can explain the violence and the machismo idea he has in his head. He has to prove he is something and thus proving he is a man is the easiest. Whether to fight for turf, fight Italians to prove he belongs, or just fighting some “fag” like also expressed the Crichlow article. The need to fit in and for masculinity a primary drive make Piri attack those his gang finds to be out of norm. Men have to prove themselves and if they don’t they get jumped. Its all about reputation.

    • Katheryn Maldonado says:

      I completely agree with what you pointed out about Piri’s battle with being a dark hispanic. I found it to be one of the most interesting aspects of the novel. I like the fact that you pointed out the fact that Piri’s father pushes him away the most because he is most like him. I find it sad that Piri’s father does not accept that fact that he is a dark skinned Latino, but then again I understand the difficulty of living in that time period.I understand how difficult it must have been for Piri’s father to accept himself because the discrimination in the 20s and 30s were ten times worse than that of today.

      • misharo says:

        I thought I was the only one! It is fascinating Piri’s own fascination with his dark skin. I agree that it is evident that the father pushed Piri away because he is most like him. It is for his fathers insecurities of his dark skin that roll over onto Piri’s own insecurity.

    • korb10 says:

      What I find surprising is that Piri’s father doesn’t treat Piri better than his other children. Piri is the child that most resembles him, but his father has the greatest distance with him. One would think that Piri’s father would sympathize with him because he knows what it is like to have darker skin and not fit in.

    • Lima James says:

      I also found it interesting that Piri’s dad kept the most distance from him when Piri is infact the most like him. It was kind of odd. I thought it might have been because his dad didn’t want to be reminded of who he really is or his past.

      • Gresenia Gil Suarez says:

        I find it interesting that you say this and i would have to agree with it. I feel like Piris father did push him away becuase he mostly resembled him. Maybe this was so because his father knew that the world outside his home wasnt going to be so nice to him, so as a father he prepared him for what the world was going to give him.

  5. Katheryn Maldonado says:

    I was very much intrigued by the conflicts and ideas presented by Piri Thomas in “Down These Mean Streets”. I can relate the most with the discrimination Piri faced being a “dark” Hispanic. It is sad to say that the discrimination he felt in 1928 still exists today. As a dark Latina woman, I face discrimination not only with other people of different races, but also within the Hispanic community. If you are not light skinned and curly haired, you’re not really considered Hispanic, people automatically assume you have to be mixed, which is not always the case. Today’s society is still very ignorant to the true idea of Latinos and Latinas not fitting into a certain mold. Not being light skinned and curly haired does not make me any less of a Latina woman. I think this is a concept that is very hard for some people to understand. I think it is an issue that is continuing to go unnoticed and I think it really should be addressed.

    I think the part of the novel that affected me the most was the fact that the discrimination Piri felt was not only with the outside world, but also within his family. Piri has to deal with the fact that he is of a different color than his brothers and sister, and his father treats him differently because of that. I think that is one of the most difficult things Piri has to deal with; he is in an internal battel within himself because he doesn’t know his true identity. Throughout the novel, Piri struggles with the idea that because he is dark, to the outside world, he is considered nothing more than an African American. This is something that Piri is ashamed of, and hopes to come to terms with his true identity by going to the South.

    • bethanita says:

      I also found Piri’s struggle with his own identity very compelling; he, like his father, wants to be seen as a Puerto Rican, but the outside world only ever sees him as black. This basically means that Piri doesn’t really get to determine his own identity, because he essentially has an identity superimposed on him–and it’s an identity that he can’t even relate to. If it weren’t for other people’s perceptions of him as a black man, he would probably never even think about how the color of his skin set him apart from other Puerto Ricans. But because of the ignorance you mentioned, people don’t even realize that someone with Piri’s dark-skinned appearance could be anything but African American.

      • Julissa Antigua says:

        I agree with both of you, Piri’s identity struggles prevented him from truly being himself. Being both Black and Hispanic yet only being seen as one thing must be hard. Although we sometimes like to think that other people’s perception of us does not matter or bother us it really does have an effect of us as it did Piri. No one wants to be perceived as something they are not, we all want to be seen exactly for who we are and that was Piri’s main struggle. Piri could not accept who he was because he was not completely like everyone else, his skin color was different and that was a major factor in his life sometimes for the better and other times for worse.

  6. I really have enjoyed reading this book thus far, I really like the way the book is structured. An evolving theme throughout the book is sexuality and the idea of achieving true manhood. As Mr. Castillo pointed out above, Piri considers becoming a Hombre is rites of passage, he believed that no one messes with a hombre, and if they do, he reacts violently. However, does he consider himself a true man when he encounters sexual relations with the same sex?
    Throughout the book Piri is searching for his identity and is trying to find a place where he her belongs. Throughout the book, Piri encounters many challenges that shape the person he is. He has such a strong desire to feel accepted , that , that same drive for his need to feel a part of something is what makes Piri to accept sexual favors from Concha , who is of the same sex as him . As I recall, Piri mentions that when Concha was giving him oral sex, he kept telling himself that he likes girls. It’s almost as he detached himself from the situation and since he wasn’t the one giving the services, he is not gay.
    I feel that is his actually first sexual encounter with anyone, even though throughout the book, Piri and his friends would talk about their sexual activities with various girls.
    I think that there is an underlining message about homosexuality, like its normal for young male to engage in such activities , because that is the way that they find their true self’s. I mean Piri and his friends considered themselves true men, even though they accepted to go to as Alfredo said to some “faggots” house.

    • Edward Ortega says:

      You brought up a very interesting point Brichelle. I also focused on Piri’s homosexual experience with Concha as one of his rites of passage into becoming a man. You mentioned something that I completely overlooked while addressing the topic. Despite his homosexual encounter with Concha, Piri did detach his mind from his body. He kept reciting in his head that he liked girls over and over again, but he also smoked a good amount of pot to be able to endure the sexual encounter without looking like a coward.

      In addition to wanting to seem manly in front of his “boys,” I was also thinking that another reason why he may not have declined the sexual offer was because it would bring about a sense of insecurity. By allowing this event to occur, the guys, including Piri, are showing that they are secure with their sexuality and are just doing it for some “bread.” Maybe if they would have said no, it could have seemed as though they were questioning their sexuality.

    • I think that the boys went had a go big or go home mentality in this situation. While I agree that no one wanted to be the first to “punk out,” rather than seem insecure and possibly give off the vibe that they were questioning their sexuality (as Mr. Ortega mentioned) the boys tried to dominate the situation. This idea of being dominant made it seem as if they were exerting their ‘masculinity’ and take advantage of the situation. Here they were still ‘hombres’ as long as they didn’t bring love or any type of emotion into the picture.

  7. It was interesting to see the struggles that Piri went through as a young boy. He clearly was trying to find his identity both in color and sex. As already explained by my peers, he goes through a faze where he finds himself experimenting his sexuality with others of the same sex. While he’s trying to find his sexuality to prove a point that he was a man, he also struggles with the fact that his father sees him different then his other siblings. He clearly has a hard time dealing with his father and I think this is also part of the cause of why he is trying to prove his sexuality of being a man. He feels like his father favors his other siblings, and so his relationship with the “MAN OF THE HOUSE” in this case his FATHER, is not as strong, so therefor in my opinion he needs to find his manhood elsewhere by experimenting around.

    This is very much alike Felix’s story in “The Rain God” although Felix did not want to prove his manhood instead he felt an attraction for men. I don’t know what to think of this, because my guy cousins and friends wouldn’t even think of being with other men to prove how manly they are or to find their manhood, instead as they were growing up they foud other way like playing outside rough, hitting on girls and fighting etc.

    • laurentodd91 says:

      That’s a good point you make about finding his manhood by experimenting around. After awhile of getting let down and feeling less than to someone who he admires he wants to display this hombre to someone who wants to see it or will have no choice but to watch him be a man. I could see why his sense of belongingness is so strong where ever he goes because he does not feel the belongingness like his siblings get from his father.

      • Rachel Korb says:

        It is true that he does not feel a sense of belonging with his father. He is the one that is most like his father, so you would think that his father would take a particular liking to him. He is best able to see himself in Piri, yet he is more distant from Piri than the rest of his children. Do you think that this is because he does not like himself so he distances Piri in order to avoid a reminder that he has darker skin? Perhaps he enjoys his other children more because they show him that there is white to him.

  8. laurentodd91 says:

    Once again we see these stereotypes being portrayed in the Latino community. It’s hard to not notice the similarities in both ‘Freak’, ‘The Rain God’, and this first part of “Down these Mean Streets” written by Piri Thomas. We see Piri’s father; a tough, strong, sexual and macho man and we see the lengths Piri goes to be hombre and to be get approval and affection from his father. From the very beginning when Piri attempts to runaway all he really wants is his father to know he was gone or to act like he care, but he doesn’t he is brushed aside just like he always is. Piri’s father has pet names for all Piri’s siblings, but him. Piri’s father lack of affection reminded me of ‘Freaks’ father hardly giving him love only when he was drunk, and with Piri’s fa he envies the affection that is given to his siblings by his father and any slight acknowledgement is exaggerated, although it is how Piri feels. Piri tries to show his father how long he could stay under water, “ Look , Pops, I can stay under water a long long time, Watch…..Did you see me, Pops. I must’ve stayed under five minutes.”(32). When Piri’s father said he thought he would be a great swimmer, Piri was so elated by that small comment that anyone else would think is nothing, but to Piri it is the world.

    We see masculinity being portrayed with ‘belongingness’. When they go to the transsexuals house, not any of them want to punk out, giving up or backing down is lame and not hombre. The outlook for them is ‘ It is what it is”. Alfredo is at the top of this hierarchy and no one questions him although he has done this before. Again, when Piri get’s pressured to do drugs he makes excuses to try and get out of it. But, he cannot let himself back out so he does it despite his knowing of the consequences and seriousness of it. Piri aspires to be hombre throughout the first half of the book with the way he walks and talks. For example, when he meets Trina he tells her not to drink too much. He tries to be controlling. Even though she ultimately does what she wants anyways and drinks as much as she wants. We see him sexually emerging as he is allowed to dance with other girls and she’s not. This gives into the theme of infidelity of men from the past main characters in the books/movie we watched. Then we see violence as he tried to hit her even though he missed.

    • Rachel Korb says:

      You brought up the fact that Piri started doing drugs even though he knew the consequences and did not really have interest in doing so. This made me think for the first time in my life that perhaps members of gangs do drugs even though they really do not want to. I always thought of these men as not caring about the consequences of drugs, but perhaps they really were just peer pressured and became addicted.

      • Jacob Finlan says:

        This is definitely an interesting thought – I think it also has to do with the ‘macho, tough guy’ act a lot of these gang members have to put on to survive their environments. They know that if they ‘punk out’ of a little bit of heroine, they will be looked at as punks for the rest of their careers.

        On the other hand, I think a lot of gangs look at drug trafficking as their main form of income, and when they are surrounded by such copious amounts of drugs, it’s very easy for them to become users.

  9. Rachel Korb says:

    Something that really spoke to me in this half of the book was all of the rights of passage that Piri was forced to complete in order to be accepted by the group. When he first gets there, he knows that he will have to fight the leader in order to be accepted in the group. One day he actually does fight him and by expressing his respect for him during the fight, Piri becomes a member of the group. On the streets in Spanish Harlem, one expects that boys become accepted to a group and gain respect as a man by partaking in machismo activities. Activities that would prove their bravery or sexuality or strength. Some of these activities might include getting a girl, fighting, stealing, and possibly bullying. However, in Piri’s group they decide to prove their masculinity in a different way.
    One of the boys tells the boys about going to the home of a transgender and all of the boys agree to go, not because they want to, but because they do not want to “punk out”. “Punking out” is not doing something because you are a wimp. None of these boys want to be the first one to punk out, so they all end up going to the transgender’s house even though they do not want to. Piri describes the men in very feminine ways in order to justify the evening in his head. Once he passes out from intoxication and wakes up again, a man is performing oral sex on him. He has to repeat over and over in his head that despite the fact that he is enjoying this, he likes girls. Others of his friends were also engaging in homosexual acts, yet none of them are homosexual. It is strange that in order to prove they are manly enough to do something, they are doing something that is usually considered the opposite of manly- hooking up with a man.

    • bethanita says:

      The part where Piri has to fight the gang leader stood out to me, as well. He talks about the fight as if there is a whole etiquette of what you should and should not do. Apparently one has to walk a fine line in order to get into a gang; Piri notes that he has to fight hard enough to prove himself, but that he can’t beat the leader up too badly or it will hurt his pride and his reputation. This rite of passage is fascinating to me. At first glance it seemed incredibly odd to me: getting in a fight with someone does not seem like a good way to show your respect on any level. But in a way it makes sense, when you consider that he is trying to become part of a gang that is regularly violent. Each gang member will not only have to be able to hold his own in a fight, but he will also have to respect his fellow gang members enough to back them up if need be. For that reason, before the guys can accept someone new into the gang, they have to make sure he has proper respect for his fellow gang members and adequate fist-fighting abilities.

  10. bethanita says:

    Piri’s only really sincere emotional relationship with a woman is his love for his mother. All other women he treats more or less poorly. He cheats on them and bosses them around. But he does have very close, deep, meaningful relationships with his guy friends. It seems that in his life (besides his mother), women are only there for sex and for looking at. He doesn’t really have meaningful conversations with them or respect them very much at all. There is a cross-section between race and masculinity for Piri; it seems to get to Piri a lot more when he experiences racism from white women than when he experiences racism from men. Perhaps this is because if he was white, he would be able to consider himself superior to all women. But since he is black, white women consider themselves superior to him and he finds it emasculating, on top of being offensive simply because of their discrimination and prejudice.

    From the very beginning of the book, Piri learns that to be a man is to be violent. When he makes too much noise, his father beats him. This performance of masculinity is learned by Piri: as he runs away from home, he is trying to be hidden and sneaky, and as he climbs the stairs they make too much noise. He gets the urge to beat them into being quiet, just as his father did to him; thus he learns to internalize his father’s image of masculinity, namely that a man is violent. He also can’t wait to be a man, because people don’t respect a boy, but they respect a man. He says that if someone disrespected him he’d teach them a lesson with violence.

    Later, when Piri gets beat up by the Italian boys, he goes into the apartment seemingly blind. His father is so scared and mad about what happened that he slaps Piri. Piri’s mother scolds him in disbelief, and his father seems shocked by his own actions. He says he really didn’t mean to slap him. It’s as if his response to a frightening or upsetting situation, or perhaps a situation in which he doesn’t know the appropriate response, is automatically to resort to violence.

    • JessicaRaugitinane says:

      I like how you pointed out that Piri becomes emasculated when he experiences racism from white women. I think a huge part of being masculine includes overpowering women. The fact that Piri cannot overpower white women threatens his masculinity. With that, perhaps this emasculating effect causes him to be violent or aggressive with the Latina women he encounters. He may feel that he needs to regain the masculinity that he loses when he interacts with white women. Thus, Piri lashes out on women with aggression and violence to physically overpower them and regain masculinity.

  11. JessicaRaugitinane says:

    I see the scene with Piri, his friends, and the transexuals as a reaction to power or authority. I characterize Piri’s fear of “punking out” as being too intimidated by Alfredo, who “was a little older – not much, but enough to have lived the extra days it takes to learn the needed angles.” (55) I believe another aspect of masculinity is to respect your elders or people with more experience, so Piri and his other friends felt like they had to go along with Alfredo since he is the oldest and most experienced. If someone younger than Piri suggested to go to the transexuals’ place, I think that Piri would feel more comfortable “punking out” of the situation and even talking back and criticizing the idea.

    Also, I see Alfredo’s motivation to engage in sexual acts with these transexuals as a way for him to gain more power or authority. When Alfredo yells at La Vieja for “shit[ting] all over [him,]” Alfredo calls La Vieja a “faggot” and begins to beat La Vieja out of anger (61). Being masculine implies having a strong physical presence, so I think Alfredo feels more masculine and powerful by aggressively engaging in sexual activity with these transexuals and later degrading them with verbal and physical abuse. In addition, being masculine usually requires having some type of power or control over females, whether it be in a negative or positive way. The fact that these men are transexuals classifies them as women in Alfredo’s mind; thus, Alfredo strengthens his masculinity by having this sexual and physical power over these women.

  12. Jacob Finlan says:

    I thought that the prevalence of violence was really important in the first half of the book. Although we didn’t speak about it much in our presentation on Monday, it seems that Piri’s answer to a lot of questions were violent ones. Whether it was beef with other gangs or crews, or if it was an argument with a woman, or if it was a discussion with his brother, he almost always turns to violence. It’s his default for settling an argument. Then again, it isn’t just Piri – it seems that all of his friends and people that he associates himself with act the same way. So is the whole ‘violence is the answer’ concept a Piri thing? Or is it a New York City thing? Or is it a Puerto Rican thing? Or was that just how people dealt with problems at the time? It’s hard to answer these questions, because there are so many factors that revolve around the situations that inevitably turn violent.

    Another big issue for Piri is the concept of self-definition. He feels that he has to constantly prove who he is, to himself and to others. When he’s fighting, he’s proving that he’s as tough as his father wants him to be. When he’s engaging in sexual encounters, he’s proving that he’s not a punk and that he can hang with the crew. When he tries to argue and discuss his nationality and race, he is trying to make his own self-definition clear to everyone. He fights the constant setbacks that push him further from his own self-definition; his brother says he’s white but still Puerto Rican, the white kids call him black, and the Italians call him a spic – he cannot fathom which of these he really is, so he has to do some deep defining of himself to put it all together.

    • JessicaRaugitinane says:

      I agree that violence is a huge aspect of the book so far. I believe the characters resort to violence as a way to preserve masculinity. The characters that result to violence are all males. Also, most of these violent characters are teenagers like Piri, whom I assume may all experience some lack of father-figures in their lives. Therefore, these characters resort to violence to prove to themselves that they are masculine enough since they do not have father-figures to reinforce or help them develop their masculinity in appropriate ways. I think you touch upon this in your second paragraph when you describe how Piri tries to prove to his father that he is tough enough while he is fighting. Due to the lack of a father-figure, Piri internalizes the hegemonic or stereotypical image of masculinity, which consists of being physically strong and aggressive. Thus, Piri finds himself engaging in these violent or aggressive behaviors to live up to this hegemonic view of what it means to be a man and to ultimately gain recognition or appreciation from his distant father.

    • Luis Muniz says:

      I agree that violence is a huge aspect in the book but it is not a NYC, Puerto Rican or Piri thing its a combination of things. He is a product of his environment, His dad telling him to be tough, him and his friends wanting to be hombre. How they are raised into thinking tough means being a man and the only way he knows how to be tough is through violence and not punking out. They were never taught how being tough can also mean taking the higher road. For example no one will ever say that MLK or Ghandi were punks for turning to non violence, instead we say how they were tough and stood for what they believed in. What we see Piri going through is something that is common every where not just isolated to NYC or Puerto Ricans, but its more common in low income and non educated areas. Where people do not see that there is another way to life. He leaves long island because he is scared of his new environment and goes back to what he knows, toughness in the form of violence.

  13. Ashton Haga says:

    During my reading of “Down These Mean Streets”, the main point that stuck out to me is Piri’s fascination with violence to prove he has “heart”. I think this idea dates back to his childhood with his father. Early on in the book, Piri gets into a fight with the Italians in his new neighborhood. When he gets punched in the nose and his nose begins to bleed, Piri is proud he doesn’t touch it, as a sign he is a fighter and a man. This is the first scene where Piri really gets into a serious fight, and his thoughts the entire time are on what his father has taught him about being “manly”.

    Keeping this in mind, I wonder if the subsequent fights that Piri gets into and thrives off of is his way of staying connected to his father. He mentions that his father and him have never been very close, and yet Piri receives attention from his father when he is sent to the hospital because of a fight. Based on Piri mentioning his father during his first fight, and being so obviously happy for his father’s attention after the fight that landed him in the hospital, I believe Piri fights to feel close to his father; to make his father proud. I believe Piri gets a sense of belonging out of fighting with his gang that he needs because he never felt a sense of belonging with his father at home.

  14. lue3291 says:

    The role that Piri’s father takes is one who is tough and hardworking. He is tough in the way he treats Piri compared to his other siblings and how he tell Piri if you hit someone in the nose and the dont put there hands to it you have two chices, run or keep fighting. His father is trying to make Piri a tougher person. He does show compassion for Piri after he gets into a fight and sand thrown into his eyes. The transformation from Juan Tomas to John Thomas was probably to Americanize himself. I personally can relate to this part because I have this happen to my name. my name is Luis but I have people call me Louie or Louis because its easy for people to say and the “~” from my last name as dropped because too many people could not pronounce it or enter it into a computer when i was younger.

    In class we talked about how Piri had to struggle with finding himself because he is a Black Puerto Rican, he didn’t know whether he was Black and Puerto Rican or just Puerto Rican. That is still something we see today. Some sociologist see Hispanic as its own race and others see it as an ethnicity. As an ethnicity it means that your race could be White and your Ethnicity hispanic making you a White Hispanic. As a race, Hispanic would be its own category among White, Black and Asian. I mentioned this in class that I have had this problem before when filling out surveys and applications and them making the only options for race White or Black and the confusion I had trying to figure it out. What Piri goes through trying to figure out whether he is Black and Puerto Rican or whether he is just a dark skinned Puerto Rican is something that is still relavent today 50-60 years later

    • I completely agree. When my sister was younger she would always joke around and say that I was adopted because I looked white because I am the lightest in my family. While at the time it was funny, the disturbing truth is that in today’s society we still try to define people and treat people differently based on what we perceive them to be. In my social anthropology class, we saw a film where a professor (who could pass as being white) made it known that she was black and identified as being black. She made it a point to tell the viewers that people started to treat her differently once they found out that she was black. I think that this book is definitely a good read because people can relate, even 30+ years after it was published.

  15. Throughout the first half of the book we are constantly reminded of Piri’s need to be accepted by his peers. Piri defends his actions, as bad as they may be, by saying that he ‘has heart’ and does not want to punk out. Many of these said actions were to prove his toughness and that he was ‘un hombre’. I took Piri not wanting to punk out to mean that he didn’t want to be seen as less of a man by not owning up to a challenge all in the name of being accepted. This is clearly seen through one of the many rites of passage where Piri, along with his friends, follows Alfredo into an extremely uncomfortable situation. Piri knew that none of his other friends wanted to engage in sexual acts with the transsexuals because they didn’t want to be perceived as being gay, yet no one opposed the idea because they did not want to be the one to punk out. As Piri was with one of the men he kept on telling himself that he liked women and that he was straight. Following Veronica Crichlow’s article, Piri and his friends were more comfortable doing what they did as long as they were getting paid for the services and were still dominant/maintained the power.
    On the other hand, I think that Piri lashed out and constantly reverted back to his roots in Spanish Harlem because he didn’t want to deal with the hardships of becoming acclimated to a new school and environment after one person came off as racist. Throughout the book Piri is shown to never back down or punk out when it came to an issue on the streets yet he was so quick to get on a train back and fall into the same routine he was comfortable with. In my opinion, his decision to move back to Harlem was a punk move on his part. He gave up on Long Island without even giving his new home a chance.

  16. dipali1991 says:

    Someone already mentioned this point but I am shocked by Piri’s relationship with everybody in his family as well. The relationships he has with each member of his family are so different and in my opinion not healthy.
    It seems to me that the most important relationship for Piri that he tries to hard to have but can’t seem to obtain is his relationship with his father. He wants to prove to his father that he is “a man” and acts out to do this. Some of the things he does to prove this point to himself and his father is join a gang, participate in violence, etc. He thinks that if he takes part in these activities he will gain the respect of his father, but in reality this kind of behavior just gets him into a lot of trouble. Piri does not have a relationship with his father at all, and his whole “relationship” with his father is trying to gain his approval. His father is never there for him like he should be, and provides no form of support for Piri in any level whatsoever like a father figure should. Piri does not have a normal relationship with his father like he should in my opinion.
    Piris relationship with his mother is really touching. He does not want to hurt his mother in any way and lies to protect her. I think that this shows that he really cares about his mother and that even though he is trying to gain the constant approval of his father, his mother is the only form of support that he has therefore her relationship is very important to him.
    I thought that Piri had no relationship with his siblings. whatsoever. I think that they constantly made him feel bad and made him feel like an outcast instead of being there for him and making him feel better. The fact that Piri was darker was hard to accept for his siblings, and I don’t think that they could relate to Piri and his situation. They were all siblings but after reading this book I felt like there was no bond there, and to me, this was all due to Piri’s skin color.

    • JessicaRaugitinane says:

      You mentioned that you were shocked by Piri’s familial relationships; I believe this is what Piri Thomas intended to do. He wanted to shock people of the real effects racism has on society and that racism occurs even within similar ethnicities and families. Although Piri does not have a “normal” relationship with his father, the reality is that this distant, abusive relationship between father and son is normal for some people. I think the explosive and dynamic aspect of Piri’s family makes the story relatable to an array of readers and encourages us to realize the effects of racism and to at least put a stop to it within our own blood and family.

  17. Lima James says:

    What i’ve started to notice with all the readings we have been doing in class up till now is the relationship pattern with the father and son. I think this is of importance because it is definitely putting an emphasis on the type of relationship. I feel like through all of these reading, we can conclude that this is the norm. This type of relationship with the father and son is seen as normal in many Latino families back in the day as well as currently. It might not be as effective these days.

    The idea that the son, in this case PIri, is seeking approval, attention, and affection from his dad clearly shows that here. Like many of the other readings, Piri’s story portrays the need or want to be closer to his dad, but at the same time shows us a son who is understanding about not getting what he wants. Piri wants his dad’s affection and attention but at the same time he is telling the reader how he understands that his dad is a busy man. That his dad is tired after working for his kids and wife and that Piri should give him his own time to relax. It is showing us that he feels, this is how a man is. A man works for his family and wife and may not have time to spend with them, but that it’s okay. And he talks about how because he is the oldest son, he needs to be even more understanding. That his dad needs to save his energy for his younger siblings. In a sense, we see that Piri although very understanding about the situation is feeling left out. He is being pushed more and more out of the family picture sort to say.

  18. Jean-Claude Nicolas Jr. says:

    I must say that this book is easy reading and quite enjoyable. I understand why Piri had to use the vernaclular he did. I did, at times, struggle with some of the spanish words and spelling of the english words he used. This book hits home for me as my parents were both born in Haiti. I am a first generation Haitian to be born stateside. As I was reading this book, I was able to relate to some of the stories my parents told me of when they lived in Brooklyn in the mid 1960’s. Some of the same internal struggles Piri faced mirrored the struggles my parents faced. For example, my dad is slightly darker than I am and my mother’s skin color is just as fair as a caucasian women. That mirrored Piri’s parents. My dad still faces the same language barriers that Piri’s parents did. This book is a clear reminder of how racism is still alive today. Just as caucasians called Puerto Ricans “spics” and blacks “niggers”, that behavior still occurs today. One of my friends in Alabama is an elementary school teacher who still scolds his students for engraving swastikas on their school desks.

    Piri had an internal struggle as to he is not black, yet society would still view him as black. Not much has changed today. When i take my mother out shopping, people look at her, then me, then back and forth. It has made my mother uncomfortable at times, that she felt she had to explain to others that I was her son. It took Piri moving just three blocks out of spanish Harlem into Italian Harlem and him noticing how differently he was treated to start this internal process of finding his own identity. I congratulate Piri for standing up for who he really is, in the face of racial adversity, and in the face of his family rejecting his newfound understanding. There are priceless lessons we can learn from Piri. If we can accept who we were born as, the competition to becoming someone else’s image of who we should be gets eliminated.

    • Luis Muniz says:

      I agree that this book reminds us of the racism in this country. It was an added struggle in his life because he was already struggling with what it meant to be a man and how to fit in and make it on the streets as well as his personal identity issues.

  19. Elise316 says:

    I think its safe to say that some masculine mindsets that are reinforced by society and influencial figures such as fathers are really devastating to males in general. There is an excessive pressure to behave in a way that is unhealthy emotionally, damaging to other people as well as one’s own perspective.

    I see a similar problem for females in their feminitity. One example is the enourmous pressure for women to be skinny. I think families can contribute to this pressure just as much as the mass media, peers etc. Unhealthy body image distorts a women’s feminitity similar to how a misguided interpretation of power can damange a male’s masculinity.

    In Freak, he is called names by his father, beaten by his father, and held to high sexual expectations and pressures by him. Growing up with such a perception of what it is to be a masculine man, of course he internalized some of his father’s behaviors. This in addition to our other readings, shows it to be alright to cheat on your wife. In “Down these Mean Streets” Piri’s father also is unfaithful to his wife. As much as Piri seems to love Trina and want to be with her in the long run, it doesn’t stop him from having sex with the prostitute when he is at sea, or taking a swing at her when he’s mad. These learned ‘masculine’ behaviors are certainly unhealthy for the males and females of each situation.

  20. Edward Ortega says:

    I found it to be quite odd that one of Piri’s many rites of passage into manhood was to have sexual encounters with the same sex. This reoccurring theme of homosexuality versus hegemonic masculinity is also presented in Islas’ “The Rain God” through Felix’s encounter with the young soldier, which sadly ended his life. I could not help but notice that both Piri and Islas incorporated homosexuality in their novels with the intention of empowering the idea of masculinity, instead of keeping both entities exclusive from one another.

    Islas describes Felix’s homosexual encounters as a result of his conformity to a hegemonic masculinity. Islas lets the reader know that because Felix was a family man and the head of his household, Felix felt somewhat free to indulge in his homosexual fantasies. Felix felt that by following society’s gender norms, it would be okay to secretly break its “rules” as long as it did not affect or reflect his life at home (specifically his role as father and husband). Like Felix, Piri talks about his first homosexual encounter as a defining moment in his pursuit of becoming a man. Although he mentions that he was more or less coerced into the situation, Piri did not turn down the invitation because he felt that it would make him less of a man (he would be portrayed as fearful and insecure).

    Let a guy you know try to sell you a story that they had a homosexual encounter with another man to prove that he was, in fact, a man. I highly doubt that anyone will be easily convinced. I cannot think of anything else that society would consider to be demeaning to a man’s masculinity than to engage in sexual acts with another man. Interestingly enough, Islas and Piri both found a way to showcase homosexuality as a concept that is closely associated with masculinity. This is important because both authors are a reflection of Latino culture, where there is a widespread sense of machismo. I thought it was very risky that both authors portrayed homosexuality as being a crucial factor in achieving a hegemonic masculinity.

    • misharo says:

      I’m not sure who said it in class but it was said that Piri was ok with these sexual acts because he was sure of himself and knows that he was homosexual. I wouldn’t consider this to be a rite of passage although it is an interesting argument.

      The issue with homosexuality is that we begin to attribute feminine characteristics to it but this is not always true. There are very “masculine” homosexual men.

  21. Gresenia Gil Suarez says:

    I also found this book to be rather interesting and really enjoyed reading it. Like Edward had stated above about his encounter with the transvesties in the apartment i found it odd that he would think that receiving oral sex from a male was ok. He believes that becuase he is the one receiving the act that he is not homosexual. As many of you guys have stated if this were to happen in todays society people would definetly associate you as someone that is Gay. In terms of Piri and his racial identity i feel like he’s stuck in two places. While his family moves from place to place he encounters all these issues that have to do with his color and not his masculinity. The way he reacts to these issues though i feel like he is trying to define what a man is. Although he didnt confront the issues of color in the areas he was living he instead decided to go back to spanish harlem where he was accepted. I feel like he confronts his identity more than what his father did. Yea he ran from the issues about color by going back to harlem but he also faces them by deciding to go down south even after his friend told him that things were very different down there. Im not sure if he does this because he wants to confront it or because deep down inside he is hoping that the south wont treat him like the people from New York he hopes that they would se that he is not really black although its obvious that, that is his skin color.

    • Julissa Antigua says:

      I like how you mention that the color of Piri’s skin affected his masculinity or people’s perception of it. Maybe Piri did want to confront the problem of his skin color so he and others could finally focus on his masculinity and being men. It seems as if Piri wanted to grow out of the racial state and do things to make people forget about the skin barrier and just focus on his actions. This would explain his criminal and sexual acts.

  22. misharo says:

    In the beginnings of the book we are introduced to an insecure Piri. He expresses his insecurities soley based on the way his father treats him. The entire novel he has this battle within himself because he is always searching to prove something to his father. The problem is his father does not lead by example and causes his son to have this inner conscience about his dark skin. Perhaps if his father never discriminated against Piri for his dark skin and great resemblance to his father it wouldn’t have been such a key role in Piri’s mind all the time.

    There are instances in the book that stood out to me to be interesting in terms of acceptance. It seems that everyone relates Piri’s skin color for him acting the way he acts or acting “black”. I couldn’t disagree more because if Piri’s father wasn’t so caught up in his own insecurities of being a black Puerto Rican it wouldn’t have been considered the reason for Piri’s actions.

    Also we discussed in class something else I didn’t really agree with. A lot of people were saying Pirir would act black or act his skin color. I’m not really understanding this. How does someone act because of his skin color. It would have been different if we were saying the way he acts because of his background but we were explicitly basing some of his actions on the color of his skin. So my question is what does it mean to act black? Spanish? White?

    • Lauren Todd says:

      That’s exactly it! Piri is extremely insecure of the color of his skin mostly due to his fathers actions and comments. If Piri grew up without being discriminated against by the color of his skin he would probably not have nearly the amount of insecurities he had. He may only feel a little different just because of the basic and clear skin difference he sees visibly between him and his family. I guess in terms of the class discussion that they probably meant that acting in a way that is stereotypical of a certain kind of race. But, that goes along with other kinds of differences to acting in different ways. For example, religion, hair color, weight, ethnicity, age and pretty much anything people always stigmatize a group for acting a particular way. Although, it is wrong to generalize and it is not true I think that is what they meant by that. For instance, blondes act dumb and Jews act stingy with their money. In terms of black, Spanish, and white this goes a long with the stereotypes too which unfortunately need to be demolished.

      • misharo says:

        Yes, I agree I know what we meant as a class but the comments made. But it’s interesting to look at it because just as the characters in the books that we are reading are discriminating against as well. By using general stigmas sometimes we can add to what the characters are struggling with in these stories. It is cool and interesting to see it come to life in class rather than just reading it.

  23. arussell11 says:

    Part I of this story was very interesting to say the least. It shed light on issues that many of us may have never experienced and takes us on a journey with another Latino man that is striving for perfection. I believe that that is one of the most interesting plots to follow. Throughout the text we see Piri following in the footsteps of his father-being self conscious about his outward appearance and the way he is perceived by others. This is important because as the story progresses, we see Piri loss that battle time and time again. We also see the struggle dissipate once he leaves his father.

    Piri’s blackness is a theme that plagues the story. It shows his insecurities and ultimately, a weakness that stays with him as his life progresses. But it is important to realize that this struggle is not specific to Latinos. Many lighter skinned Blacks and bi-racial people are often mistaken as being Latino. So if this issue spans across race and ethnicities, how are we able to stop it? We have to start with our circle. How often do we put people in a box without getting to know them? How often do we challenge our friends who make these assumptions? We have to start there.

    • Lauren Todd says:

      You’re exactly right, it is important to realize that this struggle is not specific to Latinos and it is a struggle that is within every type of person. I would say that we have to start trying to stop this by not making assumptions, which in then turns to stereotypes. If we stop from the very beginning on the cycle to discrimination all of this could be ended. And you’re right something like this is extremely hard because what we have to do is not only change minds, but change how minds work and operate. When you look at a person you should not be putting them in a box like you said and get to know them for the individual person they are. Standing up to your friends when comments are made is how we start ending this cycle like you said! Great points!

  24. Carlos Perez says:

    In Piri Thomas’ “Down these Mean Streets” we see a repeating theme the role of the father in the life of a kid. Piri’s life is a reflection in the story of what his dad created. The thought of not being accepted and having to the fight through his own identity issues. I think the issue of his skin color was more of an addition to his insecurities then it was an issue overall. The way his dad treated him relates to the way Miguel Chico was treated by his dad. This was an overall theme in this course because the way males not only latino males but all males is shaped in a huge part by the relationship with his dad.

  25. Brimar Guerrero says:

    Piri Thomas, Down These Mean Streets was a very interesting novel. I enjoyed how the memoir portrays young Latino males growing up in Spanish Harlem. Throughout the works it seemed as if Piri always wanted to grow up faster; to become an “hombre” and that is why he gets involved with drug, fights, and prison. This seems to be a common theme throughout Latino masculinity, in particular when such persons grow up in low income communities. I think this is a result of the lack of resources persons receive in urban communities, in particular minorities.

    Throughout the works it seems as if Piri is always seeking approval from his father. He tries to be tough and show no pain because Piri wants to be seen as a “hombre”; this is a very prominent theme throughout the works. In the novel, Piri seems to be dealing with an identity crisis because he does not look like his brothers or mother. In a way he feels like the “ugly duckling” because he was darker than them; that is why he resents his father when they move to Long Island because he thinks he is trying to make them conform; meaning trying to be “white”.

  26. Julissa Antigua says:

    This book was highlights the same themes we have been discussing in class, masculinity, sexuality, and even peer pressure and the desire to fit in. I believe that Piri fell into a life of crime because he saw others do it and in order to be accepted he needed to do the same. At the same, time Piri was proving that he was man enough to handle being a criminal and drug dealing. Like the other characters we have read about Piri was very sexually active. Although I did find it odd that being such a “macho” Piri allowed another man to perform oral sex on him. Again he did it because of the pressure from his friends. Piri figured they are all doing it, he didn’t want to be left out again so instead he fallowed. Overall, the need to feel accepted came from his lack of self confidence due to his skin color since both his friends and family singled him out about the color of his skin at one point or another.

  27. SPRING 2013 POSTS & COMMENTS

  28. Amber Jones says:

    First I would like to say that I am truly enjoying reading “Down These Mean Streets”. The chapter that I would like to focus on is If You Ain’t Got heart, You Ain’t Got Nada. This chapter depicts the rite of passage that boys have to go through in order to become recognized as manly. When Piri moved to a new block he understood that he had to earn respect, “ Even when the block belongs to your own people you are still an outsider who has to prove himself a down stud with heart”(Thomas 47). He knew that respect is not just given he had to prove himself. I believe the word prove is essential to note, Piri knew that in order to be accepted he had to take drastic measurements. This drastic measurement came in the form of fighting. We can tell that Piri did not want to fight but knew he HAD to, “ I thought caramba, live punk, dead hero. I ‘m no punk kid. I’m not copping any pleas. I kept walking, hell’s a-burning” (Thomas 49). Piri possessed this type of pride that pushed him to risk his own safety to just prove his manliness. And even when Piri was deeply afraid he still had to show his strength and this was through his words, “ Waneko was starting to look uneasy. He had bit on my worm and felt like a suckerfish. His boys were now light on me” (Thomas 49). Through his words he expressed a sense of bravery but in reality he was truly afraid, this goes into the idea of wearing a mask. I think many men actually partake in this type of pretending. I can relate this to my own experiences. My little brother who is only eleven years old already plays into the role of what he thinks a man should be. He fights abundantly in school because he thinks that it’s the only way to prove himself to the other boys.. After Piri and Waneko finished fighting Piri knew that Waneko and his boys accepted him but he also knew that he could not let his guard down, “ Not that I could relax. In Harlem you always lived on the edge of losing rep” (Thomas 51). In essence boys/men have to always keep their guard up this can create the feeling that they always have to be defensive, hard, and mean in order to give the image of being manly. If they put their guard down and show an image that is unmanly in society’s eyes their reputation that they have worked all their life for is gone in a matter of seconds. To live with this constant fear must be nerve wrecking.

    • Amber,
      The excerpt about the “rite of passage” that boys have to go through in order to become recognized as manly is one that I paid a lot of attention to as well. There seems to be this extra burden for boy to bear that requires them to maintain a brave and masculine demeanor in order to earn respect. This isn’t just a one time thing either, but something that must be revisited and reattained with every brand new setting that Piri has to encounter (moving to a new neighborhood, for instance.)

      • I am on the same page as both of you, this topic also stuck out to me while reading. One thing that I would add is the influence that his father had on his actions. On page 31 while he is in the middle of fighting with the Italians, Piri talks about how his father taught him to fight along with the do’s and don’ts of fighting, and he writes, “Poppa, I thought, I ain’t gonna cop out. I’m a fighter, too. I pulled away from Tony and blew my fist into his belly. He puffed and butted my nose with his head. I sniffed back. Poppa, I didn’t put my hands to my nose.” I wonder if he would have ended up being so violent had his father not encouraged it with his “manly” advice.

  29. Becky Taylor says:

    Interactions Piri has with his father, as well as different kids his age in the different neighborhoods he inhabits throughout the first section of Down These Mean Streets, reveal complex racial tensions that go beyond ethnic background. Piri is often read as black because of his dark skin, and the prejudice that accompanies this reading complicates his relationships with others. Early on, he suspects that his father does not love him as much as he loves his lighter-skinned children: “How come when we all get hit for doing something wrong, I feel it the hardest? … maybe it’s ‘cause I’m the darkest in this family” (Thomas 22). Peers in different neighborhoods of Spanish Harlem also target Piri for verbal and physical violence because of his skin, and kids in Long Island shun him in less direct ways for the same reason. Colorism thus plays an important role in Piri’s experiences growing up in New York and in Long Island. Piri, a Cuban and Puerto Rican boy, faces conflicts that go along with Gonzalez’s description of a “schizophrenic” Puerto Rican culture, one which may be more comparable to African or Native American experiences than to those of other Latin American cultures. Moving forward, I want to pay attention to the ways in which ethnocentrism, racism, and colorism interact to determine Piri’s experiences in each new environment. Stanovsky’s piece “Postcolonial Masculinities” supports an intersectional view of masculinities which takes all of these intricacies of experience into account.

    • Becky,
      I was also interested in the salient racial tensions that seem to be pervade Piri’s experience of life down those mean streets. Sure, it is an external reality for everyone who lives in Spanish Harlem, but yes, we definitely also witness an internalization of the racial tendency in Piri with his internal monologues about the reasons why his father may not like him as much as the rest of his siblings (who are lighter-skinned than he is.)

      Also, thanks for the motivation/reminder to read Stanovsky’s piece about intersectionality, I will definitely be looking for those themes in the text after I read the article.

      • It is unfortunate that Piri’s insecurities of the color of his skin have such a negative affect on the way that people treat him, and also on the relationships that he has with people such as his family or friends. I wonder whether or not his father really does treat him differently because he is differently, and because Poppa never really expresses his emotions throughout the reading, it seems very unclear to me, but I also consider it to be a possibility given the way Piri is sometimes picked on at home.

  30. There were a lot of different topics in this reading that were worth discussing, but I think that one of the most important topics is in regards to Piri’s relationship with his father, which is clearly a complicated one. Piri struggles with his emotions towards his dad and is constantly craving his attention and approval. His father, also struggling, is trying hard to make ends meet and provide for his family, and therefore cannot always give Piri the attention that he needs, but Piri still loves him unconditionally and looks up to him despite this.

    “Pops, I wondered, how come me and you is always on the outs? Is it something we don’t know nothing about? I wonder if its something I done, or something I am. Why do I feel left outta things with you; like Moms is both of you to me, like if you and me was just an accident around here? I dig when you holler at the other kids for doing something wrong. How come it sounds so different when you holler at me? Why does it sound harder and meaner? Maybe I’m wrong, Pops. I know we all get the same food and clothes, anything and everything; except there’s this feeling between you and me. Like it’s not the same for me. How come when we all play with you, I can’t really enjoy it like the rest? How come when we all get hit for something something wrong, I feel it the hardest? Maybe ‘cause I’m the biggest, huh? Or maybe it’s ‘cause I’m the darkest in this family. Pops, you ain’t like Herby’s father, are you? I mean you love us all the same, right?” (Piri, p. 22)

    Another thing that stuck out to me was how “Poppa” seemed to portray the common stereotypical qualities that many associate with masculine latino males; providing for his family, masking his emotions, cheating on his wife, etc. Though Piri often criticizes his father for these traits, he also envies them a great deal. He feels as though if he can mirror these qualities then maybe he can make his father proud and receive the acceptance that he yearns for. Unfortunately, this quickly leads him down a path of violence, drugs, and crime.

    • Amber Jones says:

      I definitely noticed Piri’s yearning for his father’s love and approval. He seemed to make reasons why his father did not love him a certain way or did not play with him a certain way. From the very first page we see Piri’s need for his fathers love when he runs away. He wanted his run away to cause attention; to make his father worry about him. But when he realized that his father would not take notice he went back home. When he arrived home his father opened the door absent minded of his son’s where about’s and did not even notice that he actually ran away. Piri’s call for attention was in vain because his father took no notice. I feel as though Piri is constantly struggling to gain a relationship with a man ( his father) that does not even notice him. In reading the story a sense of sadness overcame me due to this fact.

    • Becky Taylor says:

      I think a quote from the text that well illustrates your discussion of Piri’s father is on page 38, when he calls to his son, “you’re un hombre” (Thomas 36). This is a key moment of validation for Piri in which his father assures him he is on the right path to manhood.

    • Sabryne Vidal says:

      I also noticed Piri yearning for that acceptance and I feel like at times it causes him a lot of personal conflict within. There’s a lot of resentment that he holds onto towards his father, but he also wants to be just as “hombre” as his dad was. I feel as if though Piri is highly motivated by the need to understand and justify the reasons for why his father treats him like such an outcast, and I think that the only way to achieve this is by Piri idolizing him to the point of wanting to identify and mirror his qualities. By doing this, Piri not only becomes the man he’s always wanted to be, but will also be able to comprehend why his father acted the way he did.This I believe will eventually lead to his inner peace and ease of mind really- and the strong need for acceptance to gradually subside.
      ~Sabryne Vidal
      2/20/2013

  31. Lauren Carabetta says:

    While reading Piri Thomas’ Down These Mean Streets, I noticed that Piri is often seeking his father’s approval. Piri tries to show off around his father and wants his father to notice him doing things like holding his breath in the bathtub (22). Piri was so disappointed when he thought his father wasn’t watching him hold his breath, but once his father commented on how long Piri was under there, Piri was ecstatic. Piri wants his father to see him as a man (23). While Piri sought his affection, he justified that he did not need his father to be “mushy” with him because he was the oldest and the man (23). Piri didn’t want to tell his father he got in a fight with the other kids because he didn’t want to be a snitch. He had to prove himself through fighting and fighting fair. He constantly was trying to prove himself to the other boys and to his father. He wanted everyone to see him as a man. This is an example of how we are taught gender by those who are around us. We look for approval from others.

    When Piri was in the hospital, his father told him “you’re un hombre” (23). Piri felt his father’s approval at that moment. He became full of pride. But the reason why his father called him a man was that Piri was acting like a tough guy, like his eyes didn’t hurt him. It is interesting that after this scene, Piri doesn’t mention seeking his father’s approval. He talks about how he is a man and he establishes himself as a tough guy around the other guys to build his rep. They all act fearless together and no one wants to be the first to “punk out”. They are all proving their masculinity to each other. I think this happens often in male peer groups. Boys are taught to act tough around each other and around everyone else. They follow the stereotypes of what they think they should do to be seen as masculine. It is interesting that Piri mentions many of his models of masculinity are from the media (16, 38).

    • Brittany Demers says:

      I never even realized that Piri didn’t talk about seeking is fathers approval after that incident. I think that it is possible that Piri felt accomplished after hearing his father say that. After looking for this response from his father for so long, could it be that since his father said he is it once, that he didn’t even need to hear it again? I also agree with you that boys are taught to act tough around each other. When boys are young I feel like they tend to compete with each other to be the best at certain things, the strongest, the toughest, and the most troublesome.

  32. Sabryne Vidal says:

    First off let me start by saying how much I truly enjoy “Down These Mean Streets” by Piri Thomas. I felt like it was a very easy read, yet it provided a lot of detail at the same time. I thought the text captured Latino masculinity at its fullest whenever Piri displayed violence to gain the respect of others on his street. As Amber mentioned in a previous post, this transformation that boys go through from boyhood to manhood is marked by acts of violence and gaining that “heart”. From what I understood in the text, it seemed as if the only way to get that respect and that “don’t mess with me” reputation was if you showed heart, meaning if you showed your courage, your fearlessness and guts; the only way Piri knew how was by getting into these gang fights. Piri develops this perspective from having experienced a firsthand account of brutality from Rocky and his Italian gang. Since Piri had stood up for himself, this showed them that he also had the heart or corazón to fight back- they no longer dared to bother him after that (Thomas, 31-32). This is a prime example of masculinity because men, especially Latino men- tend to believe that to have “balls” or “Cojones” means to have guts, and this in turn becomes a threat to anyone who dares to challenge him. Men publicly announce this, even in everyday discourse- it’s like something they learn to protect overtime, something they have to maintain and establish in the eyes of everyone because if they lose that stability and/or ability to intimidate, the respect is lost and there’s no way of getting it back. Because Piri has fought and shown his “heart” in the past, he has interpreted respect to be a result of his own violent demeanor when he is the all mighty “hombre”.

    However, in some instances it seems as though he wants to avoid physical confrontation such as when he says to himself, “Make a break for it down the basement steps and through the back yards- get away in one piece”(Thomas, 49). This shows how he is at times doubtful and maybe even a little afraid to get hurt, but then he reminds himself that he has to show his “heart” once more. This innate quality that men develop over time is very conflicting, and Piri is a prime example of how just strong this conflict is. It’s like he has to do this to prove to himself that he’s just as strong an “hombre” as any other, and that he’s no “punk kid, not copping any pleas”(Thomas, 49). This new sense of masculinity that he develops impacts how he interacts with others as soon as he moves out of Italian turf to the Spanish Harlem. When he senses an unfamiliar face staring at him, he quickly understands what he must do in order to eliminate that stare. For him to be able to reestablish that respect he had with the Italian community- he has to once again prove to those who don’t know him that he is man and that he does have “heart” to fight whoever stands in his way. The question is why this “heart” has to lead to violence? There are obviously other things at work here, racial tensions and cultural conflicts. However, both of these factors may have gradually diminished over time, but violence will still persist as a form of domination amongst men.
    ~Sabryne Vidal
    2/18/2013

  33. Brittany Demers says:

    I feel bad for Piri because is mixed up with drugs, violence, robberies/other crimes, and street life in general. He is so young and he is heading in a direction that will land him in jail for a long time or the rest of his life. Piri is also building a drug addiction which deeply saddens me because at first it didn’t seem like he wanted to do heroin. He even tried to make an excuse to Angelo by saying he was already high, but after Angelo said “I never dug you for a punk,” (Thomas, 110) I feel that Piri thought his street credibility was in question. On the next page when Piri is thinking, he says “You’re on your way, baby, you’re walking into junkies’ alley,” (111) I feel that this could be foreshadowing for a possible drug dependency. I guess I don’t really understand why it would make someone tough or hard if they do drugs. How does doing heroin make you tough? (I would really like someone to help me understand this). I think that it takes more strength to stand up for yourself and say no. Piri always gives in to pressures because he doesn’t want his credibility threatened.

    I also feel bad for Piri because of the racism that he has to endure. I think that Piri might have gotten off the streets for good if he wasn’t discouraged by the people in Long Island. I can’t believe how harsh those kids were at the dance, it made me sick to read what they were saying. I was also upset when Piri wasn’t offered the sales job because of his skin color. I’m not really sure that even if Piri got that job that it would help him straighten his life out. Piri is deeply bothered by the racism and I don’t blame him because it seems like everywhere he goes someone is racist towards him. I hope that later on in the book he can catch a break from the racism. The story was set in an era where escaping from racism is not really possible.

    • I also felt sick whilst reading what those snotty kids were saying behind Piri’s back at the dance. I wished that he hadn’t been so hard on Angelo afterwards though, because I think Angelo would have stuck by his side and helped him through the racist attacks.

      I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be comical or not, but it was definitely ironic in some sense of the word when Piri says: I said to him very nicely politely, “Do me a favor you motherfuckin’ paddy, and go back with your people.” One does not simply say such words nicely or politely.

  34. emilyvanburen2013 says:

    After reading the first part of Down These Mean Streets, I learned a great deal about what is considered masculine in Spanish Harlem in the 1940’s-1950’s and what manhood consisted of for the main characters. On a similar note, I also came to understand what boyhood was through the eyes of Piri, a Puerto-Rican child who grew up living in Harlem and then later Long Island. The way it was explained in the book was that Piri’s father was very tough from whipping his children to shoveling snow for a living to support his family. However Piri’s father also loved and cared for his children. Piri explains that he thinks his father may have had a different connection with him than his other siblings. He feels that he gets into trouble a lot more often then the others and that his father is usually more angry with him but Piri, like all children, love their parents unconditionally. “Gee Pops, you’re great, you’re the swellest, the bestest Pops in the whole wide world, even though you don’t understand us too good” (Thomas, 12). Through this quote I understood that Piri loved his father and wanted to connect with his father on any level he could even when his father was difficult to connect with.

    Even though Piri struggled to have a good relationship with his dad, he was lucky enough to have a great relationship with his mother. Piri’s mother always spoke about her childhood years spent in Puerto Rico. She explained that the world was green in Puerto Rico and even though her family was very poor, she felt more wealthy there than anywhere else in the world. In my opinion Piri’s mother was a very strong, wise woman. She knew enough about where she came from and the happiness she felt there to know that the life her family was living in Harlem, was not one she wanted for her children. “Sometimes when you have too much, the good gets lost within and you have to look very hard. But when you have little, then the good does not have to be looked for so hard” (Thomas, 9). When Piri’s mother had said this, she was talking about all she had in Puerto Rico, which wasn’t much. However she explained that when you have just a little in your life, your life will seem better. I like this part and I like this character a great deal.

    • Lauren Carabetta says:

      I like how you mention the unconditional love a child has for his parents. I agree that Piri loves his father even when he feels his father treats him differently at times. I also noticed that Piri tried had to connect with his father and to impress his father. He wanted his father to be proud of him and did his best to get his attention. Sometimes he didn’t get that approval, but when he did he was so happy. He was looking for confirmation that he was a man. I also admired how Piri cared for his mother. I really like her quote about having little too. It shows her core values and how she will instill those values in her children.

  35. I would like to comment on how DTMS begins with the portrayal of Piri has an aggressive and hypermasculine youth. Right from the beginning, he “felt like giving (the creaky roof) a beating for making all of that noise” (4). Piri’s relationship with his father is also very violent, physically and emotionally. When Piri runs away and figures out that his father wasn’t even worried, Piri “felt so fucking cheated out of whipping his father with worry” and wished he had ran away during the day. (4)

    On page 15, we gather an understanding of what it means to be “hombre,” as Piri discusses that it means people take you seriously and no one cant tell you what to do.
    Piri’s strong sense of masculinity clashes with his desire to be loved and comforted by his father on age 22 when he tries to understand why is father calls the rest of his siblings “honey” and not him. This is further complicated by the fact that Piri begins to attribute this behavior to the fact that he was the darkest of all of his siblings.

    Piri also justifies his father’s lack of affection by attributing it to his masculine identity. Piri “couldn’t expect him to be mushy over me all the time” because that is simply just part of being hombre. Deep down, I don’t think this is enough justification for Piri, and I think he secretly desires more from his father. However, His hypermasculine tendencies doesn’t allow him to see this.

    • Desiree W. says:

      I love what you have pointed out here Chris, I would have to agree that Piri does display this sense of a lost in identity or a conflict in roles. Part of it I wonder if it is because Piri is the oldest he would automatically be treated differently than the other kids, which could be my only rational as to why he doesn’t get called “honey” as well. I find that being the older child at time rules and regulations are often made and kept stricter on the first born because they should know better. Verses the younger ones rules are often forgotten or bent for them. But then again, there has to be an underlying story as to why a child would display so much anger towards one individual to the point he wants to retaliate and show that same anger on objects such as the roof top.

  36. Desiree W. says:

    I honestly think I like this book the book the most right now. Piri Thomas’ work really touch me differently than Rain God, because I could relate to the stories being told. I too come from an immigrant family with struggles and dreams of pushing their family members forward for a better way of life. The first two chapters alone had me going down memory lane of my own childhood. I remember the discipline I got at home being the oldest of two girls I too often took the blame for my younger sister. the scene where Piri’s mother talks about life in Puerto Rico reminded me of how my mother schooled me and my younger sister on our “roots” and heritage, she makes a point to talk about the past to educate her kids as to the reason why they came to America and that there is a reason for their struggle- to give back to those that are around them. I find this to be true in most cultures there is a sense of collectivism verse or capitalistic and individualistic ways. I side with this story, because my mother told us a very similar one. We may not have had a hard background in Jamaica, filled with struggle and poverty ; but we always had more than enough and shared it with others. Which is a lesson I still carry with me to this day, never forget where you came from in order to get to where you are going, respect humble beginnings.

    A second point I wanted to point out was that the role of the father is very very very different from what we have been seeing in the other books and even in the movie Freak. The father of these households are usually seen as ruthless, mean, drunkards, that are womanizers who are also very cold and distant towards their families. Here so far you don’t really see that. The first chapter you see that the son (Piri) is upset about a beating he got earlier on in the day and runs away because of it, which ends shortly due to his hunger and guilty feelings. (I can remember doing stupid things like this growing up as well) But to his surprise the father never does anything that could be seen are this negative image. We also see how the father looses his job but still goes out to look for another job to provide for his family, yet again another example of a social construct you would not expect to see in the Latin home due to the images that are often painted of brokenness and fatherless-ness. Its interesting to see these as two social constructs that go against that norm. You also see a lot of quality time spent with the family and kids and the mother is painted to be a submissive/ passive female character (not common).

    • Desiree W. says:

      Another thing to note though, is that as although Piri paints a lot of positive images, there is this slight negative tone under everything he does say. He wanted to make his father worry about him running away after his beating and tells him “I hate you,” as hes getting beat , but yet in the next scene he loves his dad and says he’s the best. He also seems to cuss about his dad a lot, and we get a feel for a love hate relationship for him that could be interrupted as the normal “growing pains.”

      • emilyvanburen2013 says:

        Desi, I get where you are coming from when you say you can relate to Piri because you are an oldest child. I am the oldest of four children in my family so I too related to Piri when he was explaining his frustration about taking on more pressure and blame than his younger siblings.

        In regards to your second paragraph about how fatherhood roles are different in this book than The Rain God I also agree. Piri’s father is generally a good father. He’s got the basics down, he supports his family financially, takes care of them when they are hurt, and wants a good future for them. After our discussion in class on Tuesday when we discussed whether or not we thought Piri’s dad was a good one, I came to the personal conclusion that for the time and place in which this man was a father, he was probably doing the best he could and that his fathering was much better than that of Miguel Grande or Felix in The Rain God.

        In terms of your last paragraph, I too picked up on Piri’s constant angst with his father. He does seem to love him, but also curse him at the same time. I think Piri, like all children, resents his father for certain things and it’s very possible that Piri will attribute some of the things he hates about himself to the way he was raised by his father.

  37. Iris Foley says:

    In Down These Mean Streets, Piri Thomas introduces us to Spanish Harlem, a breeding ground for hypermasculinity. In Piri’s neighborhood(s), having “heart” is the most important thing for a boy or a man to have. There is constant pressure to prove yourself and keep your reputation as a tough guy intact. Piri is constantly getting into fights on his own and with his gang to prove to himself and to the other boys that he’s got heart. Proving his heart to the others is important, especially when entering a new neighborhood, but Piri is also obsessed with how macho he sees himself in his own mind. His italicized inner thoughts remind us that he has to keep reassuring himself of how much of a man he is. Seeing himself as tough is half the battle – the inner confidence gives him the bravery he needs to fight kids who are bigger and stronger than he is, and win.

    I think Piri’s need to be a man stems from the respect he has for his father, a real man in his eyes. He tries to prove his toughness and grownup-ness to his father even before he runs with gangs. Because Piri is the oldest in his family he is always trying to prove how mature he is to his father. Even simple things like holding his breath in the bathtub to impress his father become majorly important. Being the oldest, Piri tries to convince himself that he doesn’t need to be emotional when it comes to the love he feels for his father. He realizes that his father doesn’t treat him the same way he does his younger children, but rather than being emotional and sad over it, he hides his emotions and tells himself that his father sees him as an hombre who doesn’t need the same attention his siblings do. Instead of connecting on an emotional level with his father, he tries to prove to himself that he can be tough and take care of himself.

    • I definitely believe that Piri’s need to be a mans terms from the respect he has for his father, but it also baffles me that he maintains respect for him even though his father would beat him mercilessly.
      When he is fighting, we see Piri actually thinking about what his Poppa would be saying if he was there. He likes the thought of his father watching him approvingly. It is interesting however when he goes home and Moms asks him what happened, he just tells her that he was “playing.” Then again, he tells both of his parents that he was playing when he was almost blinded by the gravel, so perhaps the manly way in which he looks up to is father only goes so far, and when it really comes down to it BOTH of his parents mean something that goes much further than Piri’s sense of masculinity and hombre.

      • Iris Foley says:

        I like that you pointed out that Piri “likes the thought of his father watching him approvingly.” One of my favorite scenes detailing the relationship between Piri and his father was the one where Piri was taking a bath when his father came home from a long day’s work. Piri saw an opportunity to impress his father by showing him how long he could hold his breath under the water. When he came up for air he was so disappointed that his father had left the room before he popped out of the water without witnessing his feat. This was one of the scenes that reinforced that his father, though he had his faults, was a good dad. He realized the importance of telling his disappointed son that he had heard him hold his breath and pop out of the water through the wall and was impressed by him. He understood the love Piri had for him and how much he wanted him to be proud of him. I think that the ability to understand how much value your children place on the little things is an important parental trait.

  38. Skylar Smith says:

    Unfortunately for Piri, ideas of prejudice begin in his home and enter his mind for the long run. He is constantly under the impression that he has to impress his father and society around him. I believe this is because he believes his father is prejudice towards him and not his siblings because of his dark skin complexion which he got from his father. Behind this different relationship he receives from his father, it stems out other beliefs and ideas for the need to be accepted by other people and building up a credible reputation. For these reasons, Piri decided to engage in a fight with Rocky which plays in to his viewpoint of what masculinity is. He commonly uses street slang as a means to reinforce his masculinity in the streets and continue to build his reputation.
    Throughout these first few chapters we see Piri constantly trying to save or build up his reputation wherever he may be. In the hospital his father tells him hes “un hombre” because he acts as if his eyes do not hurt him or he is not in any pain. He wants to remain credible and protect his reputation, as his reputation seems to mean everything to him rather than who he really is. In his quest to understanding who he really is, which includes the journey from childhood to adulthood, all his decisions and ideas of himself and society seem to stem from the simple concept he learned in his household about prejudice and why he has been treated so differently because of his skin color. Piri is continuing to blame or focus all of his attention on the color of his skin when he needs to embrace and acknowledge his African American descent while also understanding his Puerto Rican background.

    • Becky Taylor says:

      I agree that much of Piri’s racial insecurity begins to manifest itself in his home setting, due to his interactions with his parents and siblings. However, these early experiences with differential treatment due to his race reflect future racial conflicts with people outside his family. In the most recent section of the book, this may be seen in the instance of Piri’s interview with Harold Christian (Thomas 99-102), in which Piri is turned away from a sales job solely because of his skin color. In this way, the racial climate of his house may be seen as a kind of training ground for reality, albeit one as affected by social norms as any other.

      • emilyvanburen2013 says:

        Skylar, I agree with your point of view, that Piri believes his father treats him differently than his siblings because he has a darker skin color. Whether or not this is true, it saddens me that that any child would think their parents don’t like them as much as their siblings. I’m also in agreement about Piri’s tendency to protect himself and his pride. When he does get into situations in which his reputation is threatened, he lashes out and ends up blaming many of his problems on his skin color. Many times he will even say, I don’t hate white people, I just hate their skin color. Through these statements we come to understand that Piri recognizes that he doesn’t hate a group of people based on their skin color, he just hates the stereotypes attached to skin color.

  39. crestrepo1991 says:

    When it comes to the lives of Latinos within the urban community, Piri Thomas’ Down These Mean Streets is truly one of the best reads of American literature in regards to accurately portraying the lives and the social atmospheres that many Latinos and other minority groups endure in their everyday lives. From the portrayals of the city atmosphere that they are surrounded in to the depictions of the domestic lives they have within the household, Down These Mean Streets shows us how hard life can be for Latino and other minority groups within the urban community, with the life of Piri being focused on as a representation.

    Within the novel, we can see one of the best examples of the family life in regards to the relationship between Piri and his father, in which Poppa tends to be more harsh and strict in his interactions with his son in comparison to all the other kids. Piri at first questions his father whether hes holding a personal tension or anger towards him, but his father tells him that he acts in such a way to him because he wants him to be “un hombre” (a man) by becoming tougher both physically and emotionally. This is a perfect reflection of the machismo perspective, which is a dominant aspect of Latino masculinity within society in general, and in this case it is a tactic used by the father in order to toughen his son up to what a man so ideally be.

    • Brittany Demers says:

      I agree that Piri’s father encourages Piri to become tougher physically and emotionally. I also think that Piri is determined to show his father that he is “un hombre” as well. I think it is important to Piri that he is accepted by his father. There is many times where Piri is doing things to get his fathers attention, and he really wants a caring reaction out of him. I also agree that this is a good example of machismo because Piri is very concerned with masculine traits and his culture playing a role in it.

      • Joseph C. Sokola says:

        I would agree that Down These Mean Streets accurately portrays Piri’s life and conflicts as he transitions into adulthood in a time and place where prejudice against Puerto Ricans was common. Piri’s relationship with his father is complex, as it seems as though he is more harsh on him than his siblings. I would agree that his father gives him advice on certain things such as fighting because he wants him to become “un hombre”. Perhaps he emphasizes Piri’s need to become a man more than his siblings because he is the oldest one. I would also agree that his father’s expectations for him to become a man and embody the stereotypes of “machismo” are some of the biggest influences on Piri’s actions in his everyday life.

    • In your second paragraph, I think that you are trying to point out that the relationship between Piri and his father (Pops) is a good example of how “machismo” is passed down from generation to generation. If that is so, then I agree. I think that Piri learns the art of machismo, that is, of acting superior, strong, and tough, all from his father. I think the question is: why does this get passed down? In “What it means to be a Man” Ramirez points out that “machismo” is a cultural phenomenon that has grown to become a “cause” AND and effect, thus legitimizing itself and making itself become persistent in the reality of many men and women. (Ramirez, 17)

      I guess that is my answer for why it gets passed down from generation to generation.

    • sorlyz says:

      I agree with this novel being a good read and actually a great portrayal of life in the streets of a struggling dark Latino. The fighting that Piri encounters is a way that he can prove his masculinity and create a stronger rep where people will not try to step all over him. His rep is everything and if someone “dares” him to do anything, Piri has to do it. There is no stepping down from a dare.

  40. Nelson Veras says:

    So far, Down These Mean Streets has been very interesting compared to our other readings. While reading, it was hard to not notice the relationship Piri and his father have and how it has an impact on Piri. His dad is constantly working to support the family, like a stereotypical Hispanic man is expected to do. Piri feels as if his dad has a “different” type of love for him and is often seeking attention from his father. A prime example can be when he was bragging to his dad about the fight, while he’s telling his mom a completely different story. His dad was not worried when he ran away which makes him feel like he isn’t loved. In my opinion, this is his dad’s way of letting Piri grow up on his own with limited affection shown only when needed.

    Piri and his mother are much closer than Piri and his dad are, which has a strong impact on him. Piri says on page 19, “She was holding her sides, my fat little momma, tears rolling out her eyes. Caramba, it was great to see momma happy. I’d go through the rest of my life making like funnies if I was sure momma would be happy.” He loves her and respects her so much that it translates onto his other relationships with women. Typically, guys talk about everything, including sex, with their best friends. Piri is very private about his sex life and doesn’t speak much on it despite the reader knowing he’s been sleeping with women. I viewed it as due to his loyalty to his mom, he also stays loyal to other women by not exposing their business to anyone.

    • Nelson,

      Your point about Piri being more reserved in his discussion about his sexual exploits is definitely true. In Ramirez’s article, “What it means to be a Man,” he calls the tendency to talk about sex “Masculine exhibitionism” which is the exhibiting or emphasizing gestures, or behaviors that are customary in men and machismo culture. It is interesting that Piri doesn’t feel the need to do this, and I wonder if that has to do with how his parents brought him up or with just his natural inclination to be stoic about who he “hooks up” with.

  41. Joseph C. Sokola says:

    In the chapter, “If You Ain’t Got Heart, You Ain’t Got Nada,” the rites of passage for Piri include proving that he is tough enough to become a member of “TNT’s”. In order to do this, he had to intimidate and fight against Waneko. As a member of the teenage gang, he and his friends had to fight against the other Puerto Rican gang, the Jolly Rogers. The act of fighting in Spanish Harlem would occur under certain rules to keep it fair, such as having one’s back to their own neighborhood during a fight. Additionally, he and his friends would do anything the belong and prove that they had “heart” and truly deserved to be in the group.

    When Alfredo suggested going to the apartment where the house where the homosexuals lived and engaged in sexual acts with them, he reinforced his masculinity and self-identification as a heterosexual by calling them derogatory names. Piri justified the sexual acts that were performed on him by claiming to like “broads” and “muchachas” in his head. When Piri thinks to himself that he will not “punk out,” he meant that he will not back out of anything that would help him become a part of the group in his neighborhood. Not “punking out” also is a way for Piri to keep reinforcing his masculinity and toughness.

    • Lauren Carabetta says:

      I found the rules of fighting fair interesting. I read about the “code of the streets” in a different class which talked about the rules of the street and the link to respect. I think it is important to see how Piri functioned in his group of friends in order to belong. I agree with your thought that he did not want to be rejected so he went along with the rest of the group to prove his masculinity. It really speaks to the powerful influence peers have on each other. Piri did not want to become an outcast. He wanted to be respected by his group.

    • Desiree W. says:

      I feel like this section is a very important aspect of Piri journey to manhood and his quest to seek his father’s love. We constantly see him battle with images of how he thinks a man should be. This scene he is seeking to belong to the gang but is in question of their behaviors, I kind of wonder why he didn’t speak up and say this that he wouldn’t be a part of the act? He questions himself too as to whether “poppa” would approve of that behaviors. He knows that it’s not very macho or masculine to have homosexual interaction, but because it is being done with the “guys” there’s nothing wrong with it at all, although he is internally fighting it.

      • It is interesting to see how Piri struggles between what he wants to do and what he needs to do in order to fit in. He knows that fighting proves to people that he has heart, and he also thinks that it will make his father proud of him, so therefore he seems to want to engage in physical altercations. On the other hand, in regards to the scene where they go up to the apartment, it is clear that he doesn’t want to, but he knows that if he doesn’t then he will ostracize himself from the group, so he does it anyway because he needs to fit in.

  42. Pages 93-128:

    Using the Ramirez “What it means to be a Man” text, I am going to hone in on the fact that that he makes about the “Machismo Traits Lists” on pages 13 and 14. Ramirez points out that these “traits” are more like actions, for example: aggressiveness, extravagance, honor, etc. He also points out that these so-called traits are not a comprehensive way in which to define Latino masculinities, and that when used in analysis and literature, they actually confine the possibilities and actualities of how Latino men actually display their masculinity.

    However, the lists that Ramirez shares are, arguably, logical trends in how (at least I) perceive differing examples of masculinity to actually be. On page 113, Piri goes to punch Trina in the face and misses her, punching the window with his fist. When he goes to the hospital, he surprisingly and willingly tells someone that he actually meant to “swing out at his old lady” (115) I was confused as to why Piri admitted this, thinking that he ought to be ashamed of himself. However, Ramirez’s description of “aggressiveness” actually pinpoints a very plausible reason as to why Piri would be so ready to admit that he intended to actually harm a woman. Ramirez defines Masculine Aggressiveness as “being physically or psychologically violent” in order to be “successful” in the settling of differences. Ramirez points out that this is one of the most characteristic traits of machismo. Although this may not be the definition of machismo for many men, I believe Piri could have possibly fed into this stereotype (not because he wanted to) but because it was so salient to his reality.

  43. Amber Jones says:

    Pages 93-128

    Last class you stated that you wanted us to pick a quote and write about, well my quote comes from the end of “My Marine Tiger”. Towards the end of this chapter we see that Piri’s hand is broken and although he is hurting he pushes the pain aside to assert his masculinity. When he sees Trina dancing with another guy he immediately becomes jealous and decides to grab her away from him. In doing this he starts an uproar with the other guy (Tony).
    I looked at him hard. “I got many hands, motherfucker, “I said nodding my head in the direction of my boys. “ Enough for you and them two faggots you got with you.” Louie and about fifteen of my boys surrounded us, smooth and quiet. “Wanna leave now, cool, or get wasted, motherfucker? “ I said. The mother and his two faggot boys looked, and without another word, left. What a world! Whether you’re right or wrong, as long as you’re strong you’re right” (Thomas 118).
    I really want to focus on the last line. This sense of strength plays an immense role in Latino masculinity and masculinity as a whole. The ability to possess strength asserts one’s power. Although Piri was somewhat powerless by himself he knew that he could rely on the strength of all his friends. I believe in the famous saying that you are only as strong as those who surround you and I believe that Piri fully understood that. This idea goes into the formation of gangs; by having other men by your side it assists in constantly asserting pride and strength and keeps you at the top. In the reading “What it means to be a Man” we can see this dynamic.

    This ideology forms and guides us in our behavior as men. In class societies these behaviors are manifested unequally and at the same time are articulated in the position that each person occupies in the same socila hierarchy for that reason although there is ideology there are various behaviors they vary according to the power and privileges that each man possess. The least powerful men and those in competition with others to demorstrate their manhood restort to acts of behavior that exaggerate attributes of masculinity” ( Ramirez 16).

    As we see here there is this constant strain between the most powerful and the least powerful. Every day these two types of men are either trying to maintain the spot of superiority or trying to gain more of a reputation so they can hold the top spot. In both cases there is a certain type of behavior that needs to be displayed in order to expose their macho. And in this scene in Down These Mean Streets, Piri and Tony express the dynamic between superior and inferior; men who desire to maintain their spot or rise higher in prestige.Piri though asserts his masculinity with aid of his fellow macho counterparts.

    • Iris Foley says:

      I like that you focused on the last line of your quote. I had also highlighted it while I was reading this section. I find that the idea “whether you’re right or wrong, as long as you’re strong you’re right” is a central theme throughout DTMS from the very beginning. Piri justifies many of the bad things he does by the fact that the gang he runs with can back him up against anyone who might question him or his actions. This idea is also present today in our world. Many leaders of gangs or violent groups, even political groups or world leaders (most often men asserting masculinity,) can get away with doing whatever they want regardless of who they hurt or who gets in their way because they have manpower and money behind them. Even if you know what you’re doing is wrong, you’re more likely to justify it if you know that you can silence any naysayers with your financial or physical strength – two things which seem to be big indicators of masculinity and power.

    • Romy Garcia says:

      Great connection here Amber! From before joining the gang Piri knew he would be getting into something bigger than himself and he would be “rolling with” guys who would have his back. In fact, throughout the reading we hear excuse his actions because he know that his boys would have his back. This very idea is present to us even in our own society where fame and money equals high status and power and in-turn these individuals and families get away with much more illegal activity than a poor individual would. So “whether you’re right or wrong, as long as you’re strong you’re right,” couldn’t be said any better.

  44. I found the parenting style very interesting. I believe in anytime period you should be more attentive to your children and aware of their well being. However, I understand why his parents acted the way they did and why it is seen as ok. I wouldn`t go as far as saying Piri`s parents were great, but they did try and they were present and engaged. I found the lessons his father taught him intriguing. I find that depending on the era the information we are told by our parents will be heavily influenced by it. Our environment and the people in it has a huge impact on how we function on a day to day. In Piri`s case sometimes I feel as if he`s acting out in hope to receive more recognition from his father. Piri`s actions throughout the book are pretty “macho” and I think a part of a reason for it is to prove to himself that he`s a man, but at the same time you see childlike thoughts come across his mind.

    Another topic I found interesting is the sexual scene. I didn`t think Piri`s friends were performing these actions for pleasure, but for power and a way to gain loyalty. I once read book I can`t remember the name of it but the main character went through sort of the same thing. Before he was able to officially be apart of the group he was coerced to have sexual acts with men in this group. The group members seen these acts as a way to keep their members permanently involved in their gang not so much as homosexual acts. I find this interesting because of the various ways some men feel the need to gain control as well as keep it.

  45. sorlyz says:

    In the Harlem chapter of Down These Mean Streets, there is a great discussion of skin color. Piri begins his journey looking for jobs and jumping from place to place for sleep. Because I forgot the times this story was written in, I did not see the thorough questioning in the job interview Piri went through ending as a denied application. Mr. Christian failed to see the intelligence and charisma that Piri showed in his interview only because of his skin color. During the interview, Mr. Christian asked about religions and Piri tried his hardest to relate in order to nail this job. When the foul-mouthed Louie lands the job only because he has a lighter skin color.
    On page 100, Piri has to explain his mother’s maiden name in order to prove that he is Puerto Rican and not Black. Mr. Christian is almost surprised at the fact that such a dark skinned person is Puerto Rican. He says, “You aren’t Puerto Rican are you?” Piri almost goes into a whole history lesson when he says, “a lot of Americans were stationed there and got married to Puerto Rican girls” (pg 100). Piri tries to not make Mr. Christian feel uncomfortable with race and the color of his skin but Piri still fails to get the job. If this were to happen more often and as forward as it happened to Piri, there would be an uproar and lawsuit.

    • While I do agree that Piri not getting the job because of his skin color was unjust, you have to remember what time period they were in. In the early 1940’s occurrences like this were not uncommon since the real road to racial equality did not begin for a decade or two later. Even nowadays, while it is illegal, racial discrimination still happens with jobs very frequently. At my own job at a jewelry store at home I work in a very caucasian filled town, and even though many people of all races have applied only caucasians have been hired. They even turned down a boy because they thought a boy was unfitting for the job. Its very disturbing, but it does still occur.

  46. In class today we didn’t have a chance to use the quotes we had picked out previously, so I would like to take the opportunity to discuss them now. On page 123, Brew and Piri had a discussion about race. It goes as follows,

    “Yeah, Brew,” I said, “it must be tough on your Negroes.”
    “Wha’ yuh mean, us Negroes? Ain’t yuh includin’ yourself? Hell, you ain’t but a coupla shades lighter’n me, and even if yuh was even lighter’n that, you’d still be a Negro.”
    I felt my chest get tighter and tighter. I said, “I ain’t no damn Negro and I ain’t no paddy. I’m Puerto Rican.”
    “You think that means anything to them James Crow paddies?” Brew said coolly. (123)

    This passage really struck me for some reason. For a city that was filled with so many immigrants and races it really struck me that racism could be so filled in these streets. It just seemed like make of the inhabitants had immigrated from a certain country, so shouldn’t they be more forgiving of others’ differences? And then I realized, its not necessarily anything being held against other races more than a pride of your own race. After Piri had moved out of the Italian neighborhood, he even admitted that the Italians may not have been so bad after all. It seems as if racism stems from our own pride of our culture, not necessarily disproving of other cultures.

    • Romy Garcia says:

      I clearly remember reading this conversation in the book, and it funny because it remind me of the time I learned out different races,. It wasn’t until I was about 12 years old that I learned what race was and I only learned because my classmates had to make it a point that I knew my “place” in the community. I grew up in a predominately African-American neighborhood where my family was one of the three Puerto Rican families in the area. My parents being the friendly people they are treated my Spanish friends the same way they treated my black friends (reason why I didn’t notice race). But one day in school one classmate made it clear to me that I wasn’t black and that I was just a “dark-Puerto Rican” My story just further confirms that this is a common for a child like Piri to be going through an identity crisis even in a widely diverse town.

  47. Ernie Abreu says:

    Post-colonialism is definitely a factor on masculinity as Stanovsky has mentioned in his article. Because of post-colonialism, a fusion of what is considered to have masculinity along with the new settlers’ ideologies occurred, thus complicating the term masculinity. During the great depression, the many different demographics and their definition of masculinity, fused together and gave the definition to what we know today as masculinity. But masculinity has not changed much since then. Masculinity is portrayed by displaying toughness and having others aware of it. Piri is a prime example of the resemblance of what is considered to by masculine. He was independent, lived for himself, and constantly proving his existence to reassure his masculinity. He blew pot and copped girls’ drawers, proving to others that he is a badass and could get girls.

    Piri’s was a lone wolf through his childhood. He was the oldest of his brothers and the closest to his age was his sister who was two years younger. He always felt like the outcast of the family because everyone else besides his father, were lighter skinned, straighter hair and slimmer noses. But he wasn’t at all close to his father. The opening scene of the book was a testament of how Piri felt about his father when he said “I felt so fucking cheated out of whipping Poppa back with worry” (pg. 4). Since a kid, he has always wanted to get back at his father for whipping him and his mother at will. I’m interested in seeing how their relationship develops once Piri becomes a man and is able to fight his father back.

  48. Ernie Abreu says:

    Today’s class discussion was very interesting and eye opening. For one, we discussed machismo and how there are positive and negative ways of viewing it, and how masculinity can be perceived as natural occurrence or shaped my society (nature vs. nurture). Lastly the section about Piri adopting other peoples’ struggles was interesting to examine how it enhances his hypermasculine behaviors.

    Machismo has a very negative connotation to it, and it has been viewed this way for decades through various mediums. In movie films, novels, stories and even cartoons, latino men carry the stigma of being “machista” or macho, displaying actions of controling, dominant, strong, womanizers, and good looking. However, the video shown in class today, explicitly express how machismo can be viewed in a positive light. Being a responsible father, a respectful and loyal husband, a caregiver, and family man, are characteristics not typically associated with machismo, but are in fact definitions of machismo. The media never portrays this form of machismo and if does, its not categorized as machismo.

    The nature vs. nurture aspect about masculinity is a debate that could never be resolved. Everyone has their own opinion about this topic. Personally, I believe that there isn’t a fine line to choose from, but it is a combination of the two. Men that are born tall, athletic, strong physique, and handsome are very much assumed to be masculine. But social constructs also apply in determining masculinity. Men that have all the characteristics I have mentioned above, but also have a soft, high pitched voice while wearing tight clothing, can be perceived by society to be homosexual. Men that have been “hanged” or in Piri’s term “ranked” (made fun of) for absence of masculinity behavior are quick to change their image, so society doesn’t impose false assumptions of his sexuality. Both biology and society shape masculinity, sometimes one is more affecting than the other.

    Piri takes his masculinity up to a notch with his adoption of struggles. Masculinity is also defined by competitiveness, where men suffering the most or having the most is the most masculine. In this case, Piri wants to make a point about his masculinity by proving that he is “harder” than anyone else around. He listened to his friend Brew talk about the South and how bizarre the living conditions are. Since he only has experienced the struggles of being Puerto Rican in New York, he cannot relate to Brew’s struggles in the South. He wants to experience these struggles in hopes of finding more to boost about. Piri is trapped in his own hypermasculinity and cannot find a way out. Proving his worth and his perseverance are the only morals that he live by.

  49. Machismo is seldom viewed as having positive side however in the presentation , it was portrayed as a man using his strength to protect his family. A man that is both masculine and a father. A man who is a provider and takes care of his family as opposed to control it. Conversely, the media often represents machismo as a pejorative. A male who is hyper masculine, controlling, and borderline sexist. Ramirez however believed that the term machismo was often an over generalization and an over simplistic definition of the masculine experience. Machismo was also not considered to carry the same meaning or connotation across diverse Latino cultures. What is seen as machismo in Mexican men vs. other Latino men is different. What may come across as negative in one culture may be viewed as acceptable in another.

    In the book, Down these Mean Streets for example being aggressive is not viewed as violent but a basic survival tool. The other view of Machismo suggested by Stylos, is that masculinity is a nature vs nurture theory. It is usually seen as a dynamic of both biology and environment. Personally I believe it goes down to whether one has a Y chromosome or not. Even when it comes to a person taking hormones, its the biology of the person that you are changing. The male hormones cause the deepening of the voice, the muscle, and even excess growth of hair. All these physical features have a rough and dominant effect to it. It makes sense men to have innate masculine traits and features. Ofcourse nurture can make way someone being sexist, but biology determines “how macho” one is.

    • Iris Foley says:

      I agree with your point about the positive side of machismo. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to protect your family and be a provider. It’s positive. The negative view of machismo doesn’t take these into account. It only looks at the hyper-masculine and potentially dangerous aspects of machismo.

  50. Romy Garcia says:

    Down These Mean Streets is a good read and funny enough it relates to the other readings and even the movie Freak. One thing that has caught my attention in this portion of the reading is the different family relationships in this story. First Piri and his father, throughout the story Piri is seeking for some sort of acknowledgement or approval from his father. He feels as though his father likes him less or is harder on him than his brothers and is always looking for a way to out shine his siblings. With his mother, Piri acts as protective son. Piri keeps secrets from his mother to supposedly protect her, but in the doing so he is covering himself from a spanking for selling marijuana, gang involvement, and fighting and also covering his father as he cheats on his mother.

    Being the oldest he not only should be a protector to his mother but also a protector and example to his siblings. However the sibling dynamics in this book are a little different. Well one because his sister doesn’t even have a real name (Sis) and his two brothers are barely mentioned positively or at all. The only time Piri mentions his brothers is when he has the fist fight with Jose and when he is comparing himself to his brothers. The reason why the brothers are not mentioned could have to do with the fact that Piri is dealing with a self identity issue and he is always comparing himself to his brothers, “Why did this have to happen to me, why couldn’t I be born like them?” Through this it is clear he resents his brothers for being what they are, light skin-Puerto Ricans while he is a dark skin-Puerto Rican.

    • Iris Foley says:

      I like the point you made about Piri’s siblings. I didn’t think about it while reading, but you’re right. Even in narration, Piri isolated himself from his family. They were always referred to as them, as others. He was always the outsider.

  51. Often times when we think of Machismo we automatically think of someone who is masculine and is dominant over the family and even the relationship. But often times we are so rapped up into the society and what we are expected to act like to fully portray how we feel. A man can be seen the protector of the family which is viewed as a positive aspect but our society and media shows it in a different light. Machismo is viewed as the man is extremely hyper masculine and he is considered to take his anger out on his family and the people around him.

    We are able to see these portrays in the book, Down These Mean Streets the author is able to convey that the more aggressive the man is the more likely he is to survive and be viewed as an important aspect to his community. You always have to prove yourself and always having people view you as a person to not mess with. This concept is in machismo because a man can never let his guard down he always has to be on the edge and making sure that he is the person who is feared or else he will get a bad reputation and become isolated from his community.

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