New Generation Nuyorican Poet, Activist, Author, Scholar
The Puerto Rico Sun
By Clarisel Gonzalez
Nuyorican Poetry was a catalyst for Jaime “Shaggy” Flores’ cultural awakenings when he was growing up in Massachusetts. For this Nuyorican poet with roots in Cupey, Puerto Rico, reciting about his views on Corporate America, racism, stereotypes or identity issues was and still is more than just poetry. It is a way of life.
It is a way of educating and empowering Puerto Rican young people to become future leaders and help bring change in their communities.
“The Nuyorican Poetry movement consists of the traditions of the past combined with the cultural practices of today,” said Flores, 29, who now lives in the Washington, D.C. area. “It is a worldwide poetry movement that is preserved by Boricuas who take the time to learn the history of the movement and learn the rules that govern. It’s a lot more complicated then just being Puerto Rican and reading poetry, you have to be a cultural worker and live by what you write. “Anyone can be an actor but only a few can be an actual activist,” said Flores, who first got his playful nickname of Shaggy because he used to have long hair when he was younger and used to be an underground House/Afro-Latino music dancer. But he has converted that playful nickname into something more meaningful. He is now Shaggy Flores, the poet, the activist, and the cultural worker.
“Definitely, one of the issues we cover as Nuyorican Poets is the issue of identity and who we are as a people,” he said. “What does it mean to be Puerto Rican/Latino/Black and what is your responsibility to the community you live in. We enjoy having the opportunity to spread knowledge while advocating for underrepresented communities. The true Nuyorican Poet takes his role of cultural worker very seriously and not only speaks his mind, but actually takes a role in making physical change for his barrio.”
Nuyorican Poetry, he said, is a tool he uses to express his thoughts and feelings even if they are controversial.
“Coming from a background where brilliant men who knew their culture and history surrounded me but were stifled by their drug addictions and crime life, it was powerful Latinas who introduced me early to Nuyorican poetry.” At a time when the U.S. school system wasn’t teaching cultural studies, it was these women who nurtured me instead of the missing men in my life,” he said. “Puerto Rican history or positive accomplishments weren’t being taught to us as young Boricuas, so I made it a priority to listen when the intelligent older titeres and viejitas in my block spoke on their experiences and their knowledge.”
“Nuyorican Poetry allows young people to express themselves and not be stifled by academic restrictions or pseudo intellectuals who are trying to put obstacles in Puerto Ricans asserting their voices,” he said.
“From the Tainos to salsa legend Hector Lavoe, we, as a community, will always find ways to express our views and culture,” he said. “The poet will always find a tool to express himself, and just like the Julia De Burgos, Clemente Soto Velez, Louis Reyes Rivera and Luis Pales Matos of the world, I will always strive to be a positive representation of my people.”
Nuyorican Poetry, he said, is a work in progress.
From the sounds of Cubop to Boogaloo to Salsa, the New Generation of Nuyorican Poets also uses Hip-Hop as a tool to convey their poetic message. The Nuyorican Poet, Flores said, is not stuck in one frame of thinking and will use whatever tool is available to help make that change.
“Whether it’s me using my mouth to Beat-Box or famed Nuyorican poet Caridad De La Luz playing the congas to stir up the audience, the message of Puerto Rican Unity and Awareness is still the same,” he said.
Challenges of the Movement
Staying away from drugs and learning from the mistakes of the past are the biggest challenges of today’s movement, he said.
“The New Generation of Nuyorican Poets tries to live a positive lifestyle and is very family-oriented,” he said. “Not to say that the past generation wasn’t, but surrounding our youth with positive influences is a key factor of the new generation. Many of us came from broken homes or families without fathers, so we try to raise our youth differently.”
Getting young people interested in the Nuyorican movement is easy, he said, because the messages conveyed in the poems speaks directly to them. In some ways, he said, the Nuyorican Poet can convey a message to the pueblo a lot more successfully then a politician or parent could. “Just from a single poem, we can speak on what it means to be Latino and to be frustrated at society and its many ills,” he said. “Then we drop the message on the youth and give a solution to addressing their plight.”
“In my travels and bookings throughout the U.S., I have found that once young people listen to the poetry, they want to read more…Young people want change in their lives, they just need the proper guidance to make that change and poetry does exactly that,” he said.
While Puerto Rico and the experience of being Puerto Rican/Latino/Black in the states is very much part of his poetry, Flores lamented he hasn’t been to the island in many years. But he is planning on returning one day.
“My fear of planes and a hectic schedule has restricted me from making this long overdue trip,” he said, adding that he is working on overcoming these obstacles to bring his poetry to the island.
“I promised myself a long time ago that I would return to the island when I was in a position to do something great for my people there,” he said. “Over the last four years, I have been contemplating visiting my homeland and paying respect to the ancestors there. My family is from Cupey, and I definitely want to visit some of my cultural roots, dance Bomba and Plena in Loiza, and politic with my peoples in Vieques.
“My dream is to eventually get big time funding [from private corporations, grants, foundations, unions and national leaders] to bring some of the best Nuyorican & African Diaspora Poets on the planet and do a tour of U.S. Latino-populated cities and finish with a complete tour of the island,” he said.
The plan is to hold giant concert-style readings in Puerto Rican towns and do workshops with young people and adults to help promote literacy and higher education. “I would love to finish the tour in San Juan or Vieques with a giant concert that has a well-known Salsa band, backing the poets, and the profits made from that event would be made to provide inner-city youth with free books that represent Diaspora cultures.”
For now, he said, “Puerto Rico lives in my writing but as a reality and not a fantasy.”
“I don’t glamorize the island and make sure that I keep aware of the politics that are governing my people and their condition,” he said. “I have family there and they keep me up-to-date on the happenings at the island.”
“I came to a conclusion that Puerto Rico is not just a place but also a state of being,” he said. “Puerto Rico is in me and will go anywhere I’m at. Whether I am in Seattle or Austin, Texas, I always encounter Boricuas and other Latinos who remind me that our culture is not just situated in one place but spread amongst the people who treat each other like familia. They offer you food, shelter, love and more just because you are Boricua and Latino even if you are a stranger to them.”
While it has been a long time since he has stepped on the island, Flores said he has fond memories of his early years growing up there. “My experiences as a child in Puerto Rico influences my writing and my mission is to serve as a representative of my people no matter where I am at,” he said.
Nommo – Power of the Word
While Spanish was his first language, Flores said the bilingual education system put a curb to developing the full use of the language while going to U.S. schools.
Still, he said, he has preserved Spanish fluently in his life and in his poetry. While he writes some poems in Spanish, he also mixes Spanish with English in his poems to convey his message.
“This is the infamous Spanglish language that the Nuyorican Poets are famous for in their use of grammar… It’s not important how you say something but more or less what you are saying and if your community can interpret that message.
“I would say that Spanglish similarly to Jamaican Patois or Haitian Creole is a language to itself, but it shouldn’t completely take the place of Spanish,” he said. “It’s important for the Nuyorican Poet to practice his Spanish and use that language as a tool for developing his craft and spreading his ideals and convictions. This is not an easy task especially when living in two worlds.”
But, he said, being bilingual is a necessary tool when you are Puerto Rican & Latino, “surviving in sometimes hostile environments of racism and economic exploitation.”
Flores was born in New York City in 1973, spent the first six years of his life in Puerto Rico, and then spent the next 15 years growing up in Springfield, MA.
“The years growing up in a large Puerto Rican & Black communities full of poverty and crime were defining moments in my life,” he said. “From the age of seven all the way to now, I made it my business to get involved and become an advocate.”
In Massachusetts, Flores became involved in youth programs and worked with at-risk youths. He served as youth director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Springfield.
“I did some really progressive and positive work while I was in Springfield, but eventually was forced to leave in order to help people on a larger scale,” he said. So, he moved to Washington, D.C., to make a difference.
Until, we as Boricuas, elect more young folks who have a good heart and education, we will continue to deal with corrupt local and national politicos who only exploit the energies of our people.
“I’m a Nuyorican Poet because that is my culture and the movement that I belong to, but I’m also Massarican [a Puerto Rican from Massachusetts] because that is also who I am and who I also represent,” he said. “No matter where I go, I represent for the Puerto Rican, Nuyorican, Latino, Black and Massarican communities.”
Flores first arrived to Washington, D.C., two years ago. His first job was working for the National Puerto Rican Coalition under famed Puerto Rican activist David Santiago.
“It was David who schooled me on the politics in DC and the realities that was facing our community,” Flores said. “He was heavily involved in back door political deals that were beneficial to the pueblo and was someone who came from a similar background as me. In him, I discovered that we were two educated Titeres, the most dangerous kind of people to have advocating for at-risk communities. He passed away a year after I left that agency, but the lessons he taught me helped me in the long run.”
The Future of the Movement
Flores now works for the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, the official Latino constituency group of the AFL-CIO. He serves as marketing and communications director for this national organization that advocates for Latinos in the labor movement.
“It’s a great job that has allowed me to advocate for my people while also giving me time to do tours and spread the message of poetry and cultural pride across the country,” he said.
Overall, Flores said he is enjoying the D.C./Virginia/Maryland scene and would eventually like to work in an arena that allows him to use his many skills but gives me him the autonomy to make decisions that will make real change in the community.
Flores has been married for two years to community activist, La’keisha Flores. He graduated from the University of Massachusetts with a degree on the African Diaspora. This degree covers the roots, history, culture, politics, economics, and Arts of people of African descent including Puerto Ricans & Latinos.
Flores released his first book of poetry Sancocho about a year ago through his publishing company Dark Souls Press. Flores is also a co-founder of Voices for the Voiceless, an annual event in the University of Massachusetts/Five College Area, which is one of the biggest poetry concerts in the North East.
He is now touring through bookings at www.latinopromo.com. He is one of the youngest speakers on the Latino speakers’ circuit and uses the revenues from his readings to develop community-based projects like Voices for the Voiceless and Dark Souls Press.
Flores said he enjoys the role of mentor to other Nuyorican Poets. He actively responds to calls and e-mails from poets who want to take their craft to the next level or want advice on how to get their work published.
Clarisel Gonzalez interviewed Flores for this article in August 2002 for puertoricosun.com.