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Today, the Latino Rebels are proud to present a charity event for #LatinoLit icon Miguel Algarín, the co-founder of the Nuyorican Poets Café. The event, which will feature over 30 performers, will start today July 24 at the Phoenix Bar in the East Village.

You can donate online here.

The iconic Miguel Algarín is a man deserving of various accolades, among his most noteworthy being founder of the Nuyorican Poets Café in the Lower East Side in the early 1970s—a place where marginalized voices founded a movement and created a home that Allen Ginsberg once described as “the most integrated place on the planet.” Out of the Nuyorican Poets Café were born books and legends—too many to report here.

So what’s the point?

The man responsible for carving a space for literary and counter-cultural expression in the urban war-zone of the 1970s Lower East Side/Loisaida is in need of our help. Miguel is being forced to vacate his Lower East Side apartment this summer. As a 70-year-old disabled man this is proving to be quite a challenge. So to help offset the cost of his legal fees and other expenses we are throwing a party to raise money for him.

Así mismo.

As a living icon who has given a platform to thousands of marginalized voices in his lifetime, we feel that this is the least we can do for Miguel and hope that you can join us in our celebration in honor of him. Yes, the goal is to raise money, but the way in which we’ll do that is by having fun. Come join us as we revel in the Lower East Side/East Village poetry and performance legacy he helped create.

You can donate online here.

(Note: All money raised will go to Miguel Algarín. Neither The Phoenix, Latino Rebels, nor the performers will receive any funds raised—we are all volunteering our time.)

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We all have stories, some stories more raw and brutal than others. In his new graphic novel based on his book From the Barrio to the Board Room, author Robert Rentería has a story of struggle and success that should be shared to anyone who believes in the principles of hard work, education, and determination. Mi Barrio, Rentería’s new graphic novel published by SmarterComics, achieves just that—a testament to Rentería’s life story—yet fails on its delivery to the younger readers Renetería is targeting.

Yet before Rentería’s story rambles into tedium (not the actual events, just how the story was told), the beginning of the graphic novel has promise. The first three pages set Rentería’s early childhood in East Los Angeles during the 60s. The prose and images are simple, yet powerful. The premise and scenery have been brilliantly introduced, and the reader has been prepared to dive into the rest of Rentería’s tale.

Unfortunately, the rest of the story’s arc misses the mark.

Author Robert Rentería

Almost immediately drug use tales appear and later stories of drunken behavior and sex begin to surface. The taboos are boundless, that most school districts in California—a key market for this type of book—couldn’t even stock the graphic novel in their libraries, let alone distribute to students. Rentería does have a curriculum for schools, yet we would think having a book being read in some schools would cause problems.

Telling real stories about struggle and success can be inspiring. However, the story’s impact loses it punch rather quickly with scenes that rambles, prose that tells and not shows, information that is lost in and limited the graphic novel, and black-and-white illustrations that lack edge and pizazz.

We feel that even though the graphic novel just doesn’t deliver (it feels to us like it needed about 20-30 pages edited for quicker pacing and storytelling), Rentería’s story is an amazing one. Maybe he should explore a video or performance art piece that could make his message—a rather important one—more alive.

Like a 30-second YouTube video, YA authors and graphic novelists need to grab their readers instantly. Rentería’s beginning indeed delivers, but that powerful and honest voice that starts the graphic novel gets muddled and muted throughout the rest of the story. The result is a flat didactic story that although true, will ring hollow due to lack of execution.

We hope that the schools that use this graphic novel are actually benefitting it and enjoying it. Perhaps they can tell us that we were wrong about Mi Barrio. We would be cool with that, knowing that one of the hardest things in the world to do in writing is to write for YA readers.

We wish Rentería all the luck in the world. His story is a MUST HEAR. Let’s hope his passion proves us wrong about Mi Barrio.

FTC Disclosure: We received this book free from the publisher as part of a Condor Book Tour. We were not required to write a positive review. The opinions we have expressed are our own. 

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For a full list of chapters, click here: Table of Contents

I push myself out of the bed. The magnetic sheets peel off my skin and the static from my Celtics flannel pajamas clings to my legs. I take my hands and run them through my hair, then fixate my index finger on a tiny scab on the back of my skull. I begin to rub the scab, pressing it as if it were an energy button. The scab stays flat and unreceptive. My day begins.

I already want it to end.

The scuffed hardwood floors in my bedroom are frigid on my bare feet. I walk around my bed, careful not to bump into the bedpost and disturb my wife, who still sleeps quietly. I enter the hallway and head towards my son’s room. I pause at his door to stare at the drawing he has of his family that he had completed for her first week of second grade, when the teacher asked the class to draw and write an paragraph as an introduction to other students. The four of us—me, my wife, my son, and my daughter—stand together, green-and-red stick figures holding our stick-figure hands with our stick-figure smiles. Below the drawing, his writing reads: “PAECE is HOME.” I remember when he brought that drawing from school. I had overlooked his spelling mistake then and I still do now. The first time he showed me his drawing, I had to slowly walk away and head downstairs into the cellar to weep. Minutes later, I walked back upstairs, told him how proud I was of him and hugged him.

This morning, I weep again, but not as heavy as that first time in the cellar, my sobs trapped inside my throat. I trace my hands over the stick figures and the names next to each one: PAPI, MOM, MATEO, SOFIA. An outline of a white and red little home stands in the background, with scribbles of green grass and bushy trees. I open the door to my son’s room. Spiderman stickers glow in the room’s stillness, while a Red Sox nightlight shines dimly in a corner. I head straight to his bed, nudge him a bit, and curl up next to his body. I notice the back of his head and the nape of his neck. People say that from the back, Mateo looks just like me, the same dark brown hair, the same shoulders, the same torso. I gently stroke the top of hair and squeeze his hand just enough to let him know that without him in my life right now, I would be nothing.

I close my eyes and try to doze off, but my breathing disrupts my desire to sleep for at least one hour tonight. So I stay awake, my arm around Mateo, staring out into the window next to his bed. The neighborhood stays silent, as I wish for PAECE to turn back to PEACE.

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