Posts Tagged ‘El Diario’

PRdream mourns the passing of José “Chegui” Torres, 1936 – 2009

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

Boxing’s renaissance man Jose Torres commanded ring & respect
by Mike Lupica

torres-jose.jpg

For the old-timers, the ones who come out of fight nights at the old Garden and out of a much older New York, it will always be 1965 for Jose Torres, when he was young. It will be the night at the old Garden when he beat Willie Pastrano, dancing and jabbing and finally body-punching his way to a TKO. He became the light-heavyweight champion of the world that night and seemed to have won the championship of the city as well. Jose Torres came from Puerto Rico, but by then he was more here than there.

The next day he made his first stop as champ at 110th and Lexington Ave., climbed up on a fire escape and addressed a crowd of thousands.

“This is for everybody,” he said, and told the crowd that if he could do something like this in the city of New York, anything was possible.

But he was so much more than just a prizefighter, even if that is how the world first knew him. He became the first Latino columnist in town, at least in an English-language paper, when my old boss, the great Paul Sann, put him to work at the old New York Post. He would later become a commentator on television, and radio host, and in the 1980s even became the New York State Athletic Commissioner.

He was a friend to Norman Mailer, who was once brave enough to get into the ring with him, and Pete Hamill. He once said that Pete had given him his first book and how he now owned more than 800 of them, and was confident that “Pete’s responsible for six or seven hundred.” He had a good enough voice to sing a ballad one time on the Ed Sullivan Show.

“I keep telling you,” he used to say to me, “I am more a lover than a fighter.”

Jose Torres wrote books about Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson, and spent so much time trying to save Tyson from himself and what he called the “parasites” around him. And became a friend to Robert F. Kennedy when Kennedy became the U.S. senator from New York.

Kennedy wanted to learn about the city, to know the city, and not just the avenues of power in Manhattan. So Hamill and the late Jack Newfield became guides for him in those years. So did Jose Torres. They would get in the car at night and drive the neighborhoods of Brooklyn, get out and talk to the people who lived in them. A Kennedy doing this, and the kid from Puerto Rico who had won a silver medal in the ’56 Summer Olympics, won the 160-pound division of the ’58 Golden Gloves, would later end up in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y.

And Kennedy and Jose Torres would talk through the night. One of the things they talked about was what Robert Kennedy talked about in speeches in those days, about how within 40 years a man of color would be President. It was why Torres thrilled so much to the run Barack Obama made to the nomination and finally to today, even though he was back in Puerto Rico by last year, there to write and grow old as gracefully as he had fought once.

Pete Hamill said Monday that the last time he talked to Torres, his dear friend of half a century, was 10 days ago.

“It’s amazing, Pete, this country – what a place. What an amazing place,” Torres said to Hamill on the phone that day. He was talking, of course, about Obama.

Jose Torres did not make it to Obama’s inauguration. Did not make it to today. Did not live long enough to hear Obama, whom he believed was the heir to Kennedy’s ideals and compassion and spirit, give his speech today.

Jose Torres died in his sleep early Monday, at the age of 72. He suffered from diabetes and his friends believe that his body was never right after the pounding he took from Tom McNeely, a heavyweight, in Puerto Rico in 1965. It was a non-title fight and Jose ended up winning it, but McNeely brutally worked Jose’s body that night.

Jose finally lost his title to Dick Tiger, a future Hall of Famer the same as Willie Pastrano, the same as Jose. It was some amazing time in their division. Then Tiger beat him a second fight at the Garden, even though that one nearly caused a riot when it was announced that the decision had gone against Jose. He fought twice more after that and then retired.

And this wasn’t the beginning of some slow, sad ending for a retired boxer who had taken too many shots to the head. This was the beginning of a joyful, amazing life, one so well-lived and so well-enjoyed, in the city of New York.

For the next four decades he lectured and wrote his books and became Commissioner Torres finally. His last columns were for El Diario. At the boxing Hall of Fame, he is described this way: “Boxing’s renaissance man.” He was all that, a splendid ambassador for the island of his birth and the city he adopted and of his sport.

He was a lover: of his boxing career, of being a champion, of being a writer, of knowing that books he wrote, in his second language, would be on library shelves forever. More than anything he would have loved Barack Obama’s speech today, about the world Jose Torres imagined once from a fire escape on 110th Street, one where anything really is possible.

For Puerto Ricans, Sotomayor’s Success Stirs Pride

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

By DAVID GONZALEZ
New York Times (August 6, 2009)

In the summer of 1959, Edwin Torres landed a $60-a-week job and wound up on the front page of El Diario. He had just been hired as the first Puerto Rican assistant district attorney in New York – and probably, he thinks, the entire United States.

He still recalls the headline: “Exemplary Son of El Barrio Becomes Prosecutor.”

“You would’ve thought I had been named attorney general,” he said. “That’s how big it was.”

Half a century later, the long and sometimes bittersweet history of Puerto Ricans in New York is expected to add a celebratory chapter today as the Senate confirms Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Her personal journey – from a single-parent home in the South Bronx projects to the Ivy League and an impressive legal career – has provoked a fierce pride in many other Puerto Ricans who glimpse reflections of their own struggles.

“This is about the acceptance that eluded us,” said Mr. Torres, 78, who himself earned distinction as a jurist, novelist and raconteur. “It is beyond anybody’s imagination when I started that a Puerto Rican could ascend to that position, to the Supreme Court.”

Arguably the highest rung that any Puerto Rican has yet reached in this country, the nomination of Judge Sotomayor is a watershed event for Puerto Rican New York. It builds on the achievements that others of her generation have made in business, politics, the arts and pop culture. It extends the legacy of an earlier, lesser-known generation who created social service and educational institutions that persist today, helping newcomers from Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

Yet the city has also been a place of heartbreak. Though Puerto Ricans were granted citizenship in 1917 and large numbers of them arrived in New York in the 1950s, poverty and lack of opportunity still pockmark some of their neighborhoods. A 2004 report by a Hispanic advocacy group showed that compared with other Latino groups nationwide, Puerto Ricans had the highest poverty rate, the lowest average family income and the highest unemployment rate for men.

In politics, the trailblazer Herman Badillo saw his career go from a series of heady firsts in the 1960s to frustration in the 1980s when his dreams of becoming the city’s first Puerto Rican mayor were foiled by Harlem’s political bosses. Just four years ago, Fernando Ferrer was trounced in his bid against Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

All those setbacks lose their sting, if only for a moment, in the glow of Judge Sotomayor’s achievement, which many of her fellow Puerto Ricans say is as monumental for them as President Obama’s victory was for African-Americans. It has affirmed a sense of Puerto Rican identity at a moment when that distinction is often obscured by catch-all labels like Latino and Hispanic – and even as it is subjected to negative comparisons.

“Many elite Latin Americans have implied that Puerto Ricans blew it, because we had citizenship and did nothing,” said Lillian Jimenez, a documentary filmmaker who co-produced a series of television ads in support of Judge Sotomayor’s nomination. “But we were the biggest Spanish-speaking group in New York for decades, and bore the brunt of discrimination, especially in the 1950s. We struggled for our rights. We have people everywhere doing all kinds of things. But that history has not been known.”

That history is in danger of disappearing in East Harlem, long the cradle of Puerto Rican New York. After waves of gentrification and development, parts of the area are now being advertised as Upper Yorkville, a new annex to the predominantly white Upper East Side. While the poor have stayed behind, many of East Harlem’s successful sons and daughters have scattered to the suburbs.

“We have a whole intellectual and professional class that is invisible – people who came up though the neighborhood, with a working-class background, who really excelled,” said Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy.

“But it’s so dispersed, people don’t see it. They do not make up a real, physical community, but they have the identity.”

For those who paved the way for Judge Sotomayor, embracing that identity was the first step in charting their personal and professional paths out of hardship. Manuel del Valle, 60, an overachiever from the housing projects on Amsterdam Avenue, made the same leaps as the judge – to Princeton University and Yale Law School – but preceded her by five years.

Taking a cue from the black students at Princeton, he and the handful of working-class Puerto Ricans from New York pressured university officials to offer a course on Puerto Rican history and to admit more minority students. They saw their goal as creating a class of lawyers, doctors, writers and activists who would use their expertise to lift up their old neighborhoods.

“Talk about arrogance,” said Mr. del Valle, who now teaches law in Puerto Rico. “We actually believed we would have a dynamic impact on all the institutions American society had to offer.”

Judge Sotomayor’s nomination, he said, is a vindication of those efforts.

“We were invisible,” he said. “She made us visible.”

In New York, many have welcomed the judge’s visibility during a summer when the most celebrated – and reviled – local politicians were two Puerto Rican state senators who brought the state government to a standstill by mounting an abortive coup against their fellow Democrats.

“She really came at a moment when there is a public reassessment of the value of identity politics through this brouhaha in the Senate,” said Ms. Davila, a professor of anthropology at New York University who has written extensively on Puerto Rican and Latino identity. “Here came this woman who reinvigorated us with the idea that a Latina can have a lot to contribute, not just to their own group, but to the entire American society.”

But it is among her own – in the South Bronx, East Harlem or the Los Sures neighborhood of Brooklyn – where Judge Sotomayor’s success resonates loudest, for the simple reason that many people understand the level of perseverance she needed to achieve it.

Orlando Plaza, 41, who took time off from his doctoral studies in history about five years ago to open Camaradas, a popular bar in East Harlem, sees her appeal as a sort of ethnic Rorschach test.

“Whether it’s growing up in the Bronx, going to Catholic school or being from a single-parent household, there are so many tropes in her own story that we feel pride that someone from a background like ours achieved something so enormous,” he said. “This is the real Jenny from the block.”

And it is on the block, among the men and women who left Puerto Rico decades ago so their children might one day become professionals, where her story is most sweetly savored. The faces of the men and women playing dominoes or shooting pool at the Betances Senior Center in the Bronx attest to decades of hard work.

Many of them came to New York as teenagers more out of despair than dreams. Lucy Medina, who arrived in the 1950s, worked as a keypunch operator and in other jobs as she singlehandedly raised two children. Today, her son is a captain in the city’s Department of Correction and her daughter is a real estate executive.

Impressive as the judge’s accomplishments are, Ms. Medina is more impressed with the judge’s mother, Celina Sotomayor, who did what she had to do in order to raise two successful children in the projects.

“Her mother and I are very similar,” said Ms. Medina, 77. “I know what she went through. We sacrificed ourselves so our children would get an education and get ahead. A lot of women here have done that. We stayed on top of our children and made sure they didn’t get sidetracked.”

MNN is officially out of PRdream’s new media loft

Friday, December 15th, 2006

PRdream/MediaNoche, the first new media gallery and digital studio of Upper Manhattan, and Manhattan Neighborhood Network, the community access organization for Manhattan, opened a satellite public access, cable television facility in PRdream’s loft on East 106th Street in 2004. This past Friday, December 1, they met to finalize the terms of MNN’s departure which was set for Wednesday, December 13. According to Judith Escalona, Director of PRdream.com and MediaNoche, “the split was long in the making.” The two organizations, one small and the other large, are remarkably different in their uses of media and their ultimate aims.

PRdream/MediaNoche seeks to utilize digital technology and the internet to advance an agenda that opens a dialogue among artists and filmmakers worldwide while maintaining a strong community base. That agenda involves the production, exhibition and distribution of digital artwork and films. It also involves an ongoing theorizing and critique of media practices.

Manhattan Neighborhood Network is mandated by the franchise agreement between the city of New York and Time-Warner, to provide free training in video production and programming time to the residents of Manhattan over the designated public access channels in Manhattan. They also have a website at http://www.mnn.org. Public Access television came into being in the seventies, as an enticement created by the cable companies who wanted to install coaxial cable in city streets.

Neither organization plans to leave Spanish Harlem aka El Barrio. PRdream first came to El Barrio in 1999 to showcase an unique film festival called Nuyorican Cinema at the Julia de Burgos Cultural Center and later opened its new media loft on East 106th Street in order to collect the oral histories of the Puerto Rican diaspora. This work continues unabated and can be seen online at http://www.prdream.com.

They later expanded their activities by creating the first new media gallery and digital film studio of Upper Manhattan, MediaNoche, and The Handball Court Summer Film Festival, screening international films at sunset by projecting them on the handball court wall on East 106th Street. This past summer, they launched MediaNoche_wifi, offering free wireless internet access on East 106th Street and White Park.

PRdream/MediaNoche will continue its activities from its new media loft. Check out http://www.prdream.com and http://www.medianoche.us.

In a move that involves temporarily downsizing, MNN will occupy a smaller space on Lexington Avenue, according to Dan Coughlin, the Executive Director of Manhattan Neighborhood Network, while they prepare for a permanent residence on East 104th Street, where they are in the process of purchasing the delapidated firehouse located there. The sale of the firehouse by El Museo del Barrio was surrounded by controversy by community residents who saw the loss of a cultural asset. The building has been closed for two decades and shows the wear of disuse and neglect.

For Escalona, it’s all part of a process of cleaning house and streamlining activities at PRdream/MediaNoche. “We’ve reached a point of growth that necessitates refocusing and assessment in order to continue to deliver smart, good quality work.” 2006 was apparently a great year for the organization which hosted the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition “In the Making.” They also completed a webcast that featured an international dialogue of the work of Diogenes Ballester with El Museo de la Historia de Ponce, and The Caribbean University of Puerto Rico, this past September.

PRdream/MediaNoche has also collaborated with the Center of Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, El Museo del Barrio, the Museum of the City of New York, and El Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. PRdream.com and MediaNoche have been featured on WABC-TV, WCBS-TV, NY1, The New York Times, NY Daily News, NY Post, El Diario, Hoy, El Mercurio (Chile), Siempre, Tiempo, and After Image, as well as international publications and web sites.