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Basketball: The City Game

Before i start getting into Puerto Rican history and Boricua identity, which i plan to do in the coming days, i want to talk about my first true love – basketball.

Canadian-born Dr. James Naismith created the first set of rules for basketball on December 21, 1891 while working at a YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts. Born out of a real social need, basketball was invented to provide athletes, and people in general, a form of indoor exercise and entertainment during the harsh New England winters. The game quickly spread and is now a worldwide phenomenon. It’s even improvised in homes using balled up socks and hampers, paper and trashcans.

In 1970, sportswriter Pete Axthelm published a book focusing on that year’s championship-winning New York Knicks, and NYC playground legends such as Earl ‘the Goat’ Manigault. In the introduction to his book, titled ‘The City Game’, he writes, “Basketball is more than a sport of diversion in the cities. It is a part, often a major part, of the fabric of life.”

Youth from Marlboro Projects playing at the local park

Youth from Marlboro Projects playing at the local park

It was my father who taught me basketball, himself having learned growing up in 1970s Brownsville, Brooklyn. As a youth in the projects, the game was definitely a major part of the fabric of my life, and i would say was key in my early development. We spent countless childhood days in the open sun putting up shots and playing games of ‘21’ or 3-on-3, developing relationships with each other and the social skills needed for adulthood.

Flames, a local basketball league, also played a key role for all of us in the neighborhood. Created in the early 70s, Flames was established to bring together the mostly Black and Puerto Rican residents of Marlboro Projects and Coney Island, with the mostly White/ Italian residents that also live in the neighborhood. A specifically anti-racist project, its founder, Gerard Papa, literally risked his life to make it happen. Sent death threats on numerous occasions, especially during those early years, Gerard placed greater importance on the need for the program, stood his ground, and still runs it today.

As i started to learn about my history as a Puerto Rican, and about the native element of this history (aka my “Taíno roots”), i began to see my love of basketball as part of a tradition we began by playing on ball courts. This is something i definitely plan to post more about in the future. For now, you can read more about it here. Being Puerto Rican and playing basketball is a beautiful thing, and today, the game is more popular on the island than baseball itself.

In the future i’ll share basketball stories from the local court in my hood. Until then, i thought i’d share these thoughts about my first true love. Basketball is more than a sport to me; it’s also a tool for personal and social growth/change.

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Yo! Can I Get A Shot?

Basketball is an essential part of my and my neighborhood’s life. There’s so much that can be written about playground basketball culture. Here’s one piece.

Yesterday while on my way to the store, i noticed some friends shooting around in the park. As is usually the case for me and so many people in the neighborhood, my reaction was to approach them, put my hands up, and ask, “Yo! Can I Get A Shot?!”

LocalBballCourt

In a way, this interaction is like a rite of passage for a bballer growing up in the hood. As children having fun on the court, all of us have had to “give up the rock” to an older person demanding a quick shot before going about their business. This genuinely annoying fact of life is a generally tolerated and accepted part of the local playground culture. Once we’re older, we switch place and become the person demanding a quick shot.

Of course, as a person with a highly sensitive moral consciousness, i often question the way i have seen people go about asking for a shot, obviously meaning to take the ball whether the youth cares or not. In the past i have even seen people “jokingly threaten” in a very believable manner to take the young person’s ball and walk away with it if they didn’t give it up for that moment. Also, i’ve seen people abuse their position in the arbitrary age hierarchy and “hog the ball” for periods of 10 to even 30 minutes!

C’mon my peers! We can do better!

Anyway, i asked for the shot the only way i could as the unique individual i am in these projects: politely but in an assertive tone.

The first shot, a three-pointer from the corner, was a brick—an “airball”. After i grabbed the next rebound, i took two steps forward along the baseline and drained a set shot. Getting my “respect”, that second shot awarded after making a first, i took two steps back, called it, and let a jumper rip, restricted as i was in my belted jeans, tucked in button down shirt, and North Face coat. After going in, the shot came back out, rolled on the rim, then uneventfully went down between the iron. How sweet it was! i proceeded to the store with a smile. More park stories to come.

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Thoughts on Puerto Rico’s Million-Dollar Construction Projects

According to this news source, “Puerto Rico is planning a $26.5 million ‘revitalization’ plan for the island’s waterfront areas”

The construction projects will include nine municipalities and apparently produce 300 temporary and 145 permanent jobs to spruce up the look of these locations.

When I first read this I thought – ‘where is the money coming from and to whose benefit?’ Maybe for the North American millionaires the island wants to attract (and maybe as replacement for the poor and middle-class islanders escaping on la guagua aérea)?

In a country in near bankruptcy (but can’t officially file for one), under billions of dollars in debt, a multi-million dollar project is a drop in the bucket. But still, why spend it on fixing playgrounds and touching-up boulevards? Is it because Puerto Rico’s political currency is gained by building something – anything?

This reminds me when former Governor Pedro “El Mesías” Rosselló flirted with a return to politics (he eventually ran again for governor in 2004 and lost – thank God! Unfortunately his son might run for office.). Family, who were thankful he was gone were praising his return. “There was massive corruption in his administration, but at least he did something,!” they cried. What he did was build stuff – coliseums, trains, highways, etc. All construction projects that look nice, gets votes and some low-paying and mostly temporary jobs, and remain as monuments to fantasies of modernity in an island loosing nearly 50,000 people a year. We also can’t forget that construction contracts are generally tied to political connections.

The question also arises who – if anyone – is engaging the surrounding communities of these proposed seafront projects? Will residents be able to have or maintain kiosks to sell merchandise? Are government officials asking them how they think these project could be better designed or executed to more precisely fit the needs of their communities? Or are they just getting notices of construction and jobs and that’s it?

I don’t know for this exact case but I do know how governments generally work. I assume one or two meetings were or will be held to get feedback that someone will take notes on and put in a remote folder as proof that the public was “heard.”

Well, at least, architectural students from the Catholic University of Puerto Rico allegedly produced the project’s conceptual framework – at least!

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Thoughts on Calle 13′s ‘Adentro’ and Boricua Homicides

In ‘Adentro,’ the new single by Calle 13, frontrunner Rene Pérez Joglar raps with visceral fury the famous quote by pro-independence icon Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos: “Cuando la tiranía es ley, la revolución es orden” – “when tyranny is law, revolution is order.”

Is revolution the answer to the social ills Puerto Rico faces (which are not unique to those on the island but also experienced by Boricuas in the Diaspora)?

One ill is that of murder. Nearly a thousand Puerto Ricans die at the hands of their own every year on the “Island of Enchantment.” I never thought having an AK-47 pointed at one’s head (which Calle 13 references in the lyric below) as enchanting.

Qué vas a hacer cuando a tu hijo
lo pillen en la disco
y sin delicadeza con una ak
le exploten la cabeza
o que le borren la cara a tu hermano
de forma violenta
o que limpien a tu mai
con la corta y la cuarenta

When I first heard this song a rush of sadness immersed my body. The images of young, trigueño and negrito men with guns and gold chains reflect in much of our communities both a reality and a fantasy of a hyper-masculine grandeur. This is reproduced by icons consumed by our youth, which Calle 13 directly scolds. The fact that most of these young men – not all – are obviously descendants of those brought by the trans-atlantic slave trade reveals a racial angle to this quagmire of violence.

I reflect on all this as to not perpetuate the popular and contradictory cynicism our usually prideful people vomit in conversations amongst our own. I do it to encourage discussion as to how to increase respect, acceptance, and love among our people on a macro-level.

So, is statehood and therefore more federal funding the answer to the island’s woes? If that was the answer they’d be no Boricua ghettos in the U.S…. Is further isolating and decreasing resources to the historically marginalized the answer? Building more comunidades cerradas? Censoring violent lyrics and marketing images? A school curriculum that teaches acceptance of diversity and embraces its surrounding communities? Full, guaranteed employment or a living wage? An attitude of ‘lets get political sovereignty first and we’ll figure it out from there?’

Let me know what you think. 

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Diaspora as a New Zion?

The Paseo Boricua flag monuments on Division Street in Humboldt Park, Chicago. I took it many years ago.

We left our “home” to only create a new homeland. But we didn’t replace one country for another, shedding our jíbara/o skins, but carried in our souls a nation unforgotten. And in all of our expressions is where you can find it – not hidden, but exploding in its incredible beauty, tragedy, hope, and complexity. And even more marvelous are the ways we are re-making a nation within a nation, a diaspora homeland thinking of our island Zion but creating a new North Star.

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Marlboro Projects. Part of Coney Island?

Marlboro Projects, a public housing community part of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), has been my home for more than 20 years now. Technically located in the Brooklyn neighborhood known as Gravesend, bordering another known as Bensonhurst, we are so close to Coney Island—only a 15 minute walk from the world famous Nathan’s, Cyclone, and Wonder Wheel—that many of us living here often reply ‘Coney Island’ when asked where we live.

But is Marlboro part of Coney Island? It’s complicated…

WelcomeToMarlboroHouses

One of the most concentrated areas of public housing in the city happens to be in Coney Island. Because of this, a unique neighborhood identity and culture has developed in the projects there, not only because of the social relationships created, but also due to the unique consequences of such an environment. One of these, which is well known, is the unfortunate cycle of violence born out of a frustrated life in economic poverty, and the experience with neglect by the very housing authority that raises our rent and decreases our services.

This is something every NYCHA resident is affected by, particularly those in Coney Island, who in addition are still dealing with the results of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy.

In Coney Island, there are several distinct projects, known as housing developments. Marlboro, on the other hand, is an isolated housing development surrounded mainly by private housing units. Although there does exist an association with the particular project one resides within in Coney Island, in Marlboro it is more pronounced.

Thus, even though people from Marlboro may identify with Coney Island, people from the projects of Coney Island may not view Marlboro as part of that community, which is complex in its own right. This is the historic “beef” going back to the early 90s if not earlier, of course it is much more complicated than that.

What is my take on it? Is Marlboro part of Coney Island? First of all, we have too much in common as public housing residents to beef over the things that we have. Personally, i see nothing wrong with Marlboro, while keeping its own identity, also associating with Coney Island. Not the theme park, Astroland Coney Island that many of us spent birthdays and summers in, but the real Coney Island. The Coney Island i’ve been talking about—the one with residents, who are likely to live in any of several NYCHA developments just like us.

Besides, anyone that knows about the neighborhood beef by this very fact knows there exists a real relationship between the two neighborhoods. The nature of this relationship, and whether it will be defined by our inward violence or our outward struggle to affect change and social justice inside and outside “the system”, depends on us.

Much more on my hood to come, including how i see myself within it as a Boricua.

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Welcome to Marlboro Projects

My name is Andre Lee Muñiz and i am a 27-year-old Boricua with an historical consciousness living in the projects.

Yes, in this often-neglected corner of Brooklyn i am proud to state my age, for i am of those fortunate enough to have lived so long despite the specter of violence.

Yes, i keep my i’s lower case, in honor of black liberation fighter Assata Shakur, who taught me how to think of ‘We’ more than me.

BkBoricuaDre_FrontOfBuilding

This is my blog. You’ll see me share thoughts on the projects i live in, Brooklyn, and my experiences in this city as a Diasporican. You’ll also see me touch on Puerto Rican history and the things i have learned about the proud and resilient Boricua people i come from, as well as how we relate to other peoples. Finally, as a music lover i can’t help but share some of my favorite sounds with you every now and then too.

My hope is that you will enjoy what the blog offers, and that you will interact with me. Send me questions, feedback, criticism, encouragement! Peace!

E-mail: andre@larespuestamedia.com

Twitter: @BkBoricuaDre

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