Pietri was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico. However, his family moved to New York City in 1947, when he was only three years old. They settled on the west side (Manhattanville) section of Manhattan. Pedro was greatly influenced by his aunt, who often recited poetry and on occasions put on theatrical plays in the First Spanish Methodist church in El Barrio. Pietri himself started to write poems as a student at Haaren High School. After graduating from high school, Pietri worked in a variety of jobs until he was drafted into the Army and sent to fight in the Vietnam War. The experiences that he faced in the Army and Vietnam, plus the discrimination that he witnessed while growing up in New York, were to become the leading factors that would forge his personality and style of poetry.
Upon his discharge from the Army, Pietri affiliated himself with the Puerto Rican Civil Rights activist group The Young Lords.
Reportage on the Young Lords + NYC Palante! exhibit
“The members of the Young Lords shared a deep sense of urgency and were determined to change the status quo. Puerto Ricans lived in the poorest slums and were unemployed or in dead-end jobs. Our communities lacked health care and quality schools and suffered under institutional indifference, racism, and marginalization. By imagining what society should and could be, we were inspired to action… Women joined from the beginning and constituted one-third of the members at the highest point and helped shaped a unique politics that took into account racial, class, and gender oppressions… We understood the power of mobilization and believed it necessary for our collective survival.” (5)
-Iris Morales, “Power To The People” in Palante
Pedro Pietri: “Puerto Rican Obituary”
In 1969, he read for the first time his poem, “Puerto Rican Obituary” in one of the Young Lords’ events. The poem sketched the lives of five Puerto Ricans who came to the United States with dreams that remained unfulfilled. By turns angry, heartbreaking and hopeful, it was embraced by young Puerto Ricans who were imbued with a sense of pride and nationalism. It was a cry for social reforms.
Sources: Wikipedia & New York Times
“The Broken English Dream”
Based on the excerpts heard and read from “Puerto Rican Obituary” and “The Broken English Dream” how would you describe the living conditions of Puerto Ricans in New York during most of the second half of the Twentieth Century?
The Masses Are Asses (1984)
Keywords defined by Google and Wikipedia:
Imperialism: the policy of extending the rule or authority of an empire or nation over foreign countries, or of acquiring and holding colonies and dependencies.
Socialism: a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.
Terrorism: the use of intentional violence as a means to create terror, or fear, to achieve a financial, political, religious or ideological aim. Broad categories of political organizations have been claimed to have been involved in terrorism to further their objectives, including right-wing and left-wing political organizations, nationalist groups, religious groups, revolutionaries and ruling governments.
Armed Struggle: rebellion and insurrections; the tactic of using violence to achieve drastic political changes. The phrase tends to be associated with revolutionary groups during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Africa.
The stage directions on page 7 indirectly suggest the theme of the play. Expand.
Why do you think a phone ringing and a loud knocking on the door is heard while the couple has their first interaction? (9-11)
What type of self-image are they trying to create with all the compliments they say to each other?
If the play takes place in an enclosed space, how does Pietri introduce outside violence and social tensions? Be specific.
The title phrase, “The Masses are Asses” is presented by the gentleman, what does he mean by it? (17-18)
What opinion holds the couple about poor people? (22-23)