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Tribute To Pedro Pietri

Rep. José E. Serrano

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Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor the life and work of Pedro Pietri, a fine Puerto Rican poet, who passed away on March 3, 2004, just weeks short of his 60th birthday.

Pedro was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico on March 21, 1944. He moved to Harlem in New York at the age of 3. Under the influence of his aunt, Irene Rodriguez, Pedro became very interested in poetry and as a teenager began to compose his own poems. After graduating from high school, Pedro worked a variety of jobs before being drafted. He served in a light infantry brigade in Vietnam. His experience in this war, he claimed, further radicalized his beliefs. Upon his return, he began to seriously pursue his interest in poetry in order to address the social ills that plagued not only his community but America as a whole.

In 1969, a Puerto Rican activist organization named the Young Lords briefly took control of the church Pedro attended as a child. It was during this takeover that Pedro gave the first public reading of what has arguably become his most notable poem, ``Puerto Rican Obituary''.

This powerful poem, published in 1973, traces the lives of five Puerto Ricans who came to the mainland hoping to fulfill their dreams of a better life, but whose dreams soon become nightmares as they found themselves shut out of America's economic opportunities and lifestyle. All of Pedro's works, though at times humorous, contain a powerful political message.

Mr. Speaker, Pedro was not special because he was a gifted writer, he was special because he used his gift to inspire his community to rise above the oppression they had endured. In his countless poems and plays Pedro defined the Nuyorican (Puerto Rican New Yorkers) experience, inspiring a new generation of Nuyorican poets to take up the cause he dedicated his life to. In addition, his works have inspired poets of oppressed peoples in the United States and abroad since the 1960's.

Pedro's publications include Illusions of a Revolving Door: Plays (1992), The Masses are Asses (1984), Traffic Violations (1983), Lost in the Museum of Natural History (1980), Invisible Poetry (1979), and Puerto Rican Obituary (1973). His work has also been included in anthologies such as The Prentice Hall Anthology of Latino Literature (ed. Eduardo del Rio, 2002); The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry (ed. Alan Kaufman, 2000), The Latino Reader (eds. Harold Augenbraum and Margarite Fernandez Olmos, 1997), Inventing a Word: An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Puerto Rican Poetry (ed. Julio Marzan, 1980), and The United States of Poetry. He was the recipient of several New York State Creative Arts in Public Service grants and a grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Mr. Speaker, for his invaluable contribution to American literature and his commitment to addressing issues of great importance to our nation; I ask that my colleagues join me in paying tribute to Pedro Pietri.