Growing up sandwiched between Black & White culture in New York City.

By Ron @VerbSoul

The Bronx, New York — Photo: New York Times

I grew up in The Bronx, New York during the late 70’s & 80’s amidst an explosion of poverty, crime, drugs, and widespread dysfunction. Immersed in a dangerous hotbed of proud varying volatile cultures — I struggled to survive in a barren notorious geographic region known the world over for its hostile, and aggressive nature. Although The Bronx was rapidly decaying — I was beginning my journey through life; sprouting like a rare rose through the cracks of this concrete jungle.

As a kid, I did not realize I was of Puerto Rican descent until African American & Caucasian kids teased me disparagingly at school. Often, the terms “Goya Bean,” or “Roach Killer” were spewed viciously at me. Careful care was taken to mock me in a belittling hateful fashion. Instantly, I became enlightened to the fact that I belonged to a cultural group considered sub-par, inferior, and unwanted in big bad racist New York City.

The atmosphere of my childhood was rife with merciless, racist psychological warfare.The main weapons of choice for this psychological warfare were stereotypes & racial epithets. It was the usual slew of epithets that distastefully came out of vulgar foul mouths like; Spic, Nigger, Honkey, Wop, Chink, Kike, etc etc. The second popular weapon of choice for restless New York City natives was wanton violence. Violence almost always followed any racial epithet uttered on the tense city NYC streets. Knives came out for slashing and stabbing. Base-ball bats would be heard crashing upon an unfortunate soul’s cranium. Gunfire ultimately punctuated the mayhem. The merciless violence would be capped off with a concerto of bullets exiting the barrels of guns that fired them. Ignorance was truly king in the so called “Greatest City in The World.”

Children of The Bronx celebrating Puerto Rican nationalism 1970’s — Photo: The Young Lords

I soon emulated the prevailing Black & White cultures of NYC to mirror my environment. This became my game-plan to adapt & survive the oppressive landscape of Black & White power that presided over it. My inherent “Survival” gene allowed my game-plan to function robustly. I developed one personality to deal with African-American aggression, and I developed another personality to deal with Caucasian aggression. This duality was ever challenging. I lived in a predominantly African-American community of “Bronx River” in The Bronx. I assimilated to this community wholeheartedly. I acted as Afrocentric as I possibly could. I walked with a gangster bop, and spoke with a “hip to the hop, and you don’t stop” cadence, and I was sure to always be dressed in the latest trendy urban fashions, while keeping a mean serious face about me. On the other end of this duality; I would assimilate to the Caucasian environments I became immersed in. I would place a neat part in the middle of my greased hair. I wore a button down dress shirt with slacks, and penny loafers. I spoke very soft and effeminate. I made sure to act nonthreatening as humanly possible when I was in Caucasian confines.This duality demanded intricate cunning, and social skill. As I grew older; this split cultural personality molded me into a new unrecognizable person among my family and friends. This was the fall-out of the duality. My social existence bordered on “Schizophrenia,” as I found myself acting African-American or Caucasian 99% of the time. I was now totally out of contact with my true cultural self. I became in essence, a social hybrid. A phenomena of both Black & White pop-culture.

Popular Bronx, NY Break-Dance & Going off Anthem

Lost in Black and White conscious — I became a step-child to its omnipresence. everything that made me uniquely Puerto Rican was now suppressed. I was dressing exclusively in an Afrocentric style. I spoke constantly in an Afrocentric lingo. I even adopted Afrocentric revolutionary political views. The elements of Hip Hop were eventually being born during my childhood in The Bronx, and I had an upfront view of its magnificent birth. My close friend (who was African-American)“C-Rock,” and his sister Lisa taught me how to dance. We used to watch the “Soul Train” television music show on Saturday mornings, and emulate what the dancers on the show were doing. It would be the summer-time Bronx block parties of the early 70’s where I would learn how to drop down, and dance on the concrete to “James Brown” tracks. This dance style would ultimately evolve globally into what is now known as “Break-Dancing.” During its infancy stage — this style of dance was simply known as “Going-Off.” Once the break section of a record was reached — we would react feverishly to it by dancing expressively on the concrete floor. People would literally “Go Off” as in the same way fireworks would go off. We all busted out with fierce bodily energy, as our minds, hearts, souls, and bodies became possessed by the drum section of popular tracks. This became a productive method to escape the urban blight that was so pervasive during this era, while becoming one of the important elements of Hip-Hop culture.

Puerto Rican Flag

I was now so completely immersed in African-American culture, that whenever I went to Puerto Rico for a vacation, I was joked upon by relatives and friends for acting supremely African-American. I was reminded constantly that I was not Black, and that I should be who I really am; “Boricua” (descendants of Boriken Taino indians). I assimilated very successfully in an environment that was neither embracing, nor similar in nature to my culture. I was now faced with an identity crisis brought on by the primal force of my thriving personal survival. In the success of adapting to my environment; my true essence became a barren wasteland of second-hand consciousness. I found myself rapidly feeling more American than Puerto Rican. The impetus of assimilation catapulted me full frontal into the realm of American pop-culture. All vestiges of my Latino self were now undetectable. I snobbishly even started to look down on my fellow Puerto Ricans, while feeling as though I was somehow not like them. I looked at my own people as peasants. The more successful I became in assimilating to American culture — the more I became a snob. The paradox of being a victim of oppression to being an oppressor soon gave me keen insight into the underlying structure, and malfunctions of American society at large. I had an intellectual awakening, and epiphany of sorts. I found my true innate human self. The real culture of every living, breathing individual. I realized that to truly survive and excel in any environment I dwell in; I must assimilate to basic human civility. I proudly went on to the next level of growing up, because of the fact I grew up sandwiched in between Black, and White culture.