Down These Mean Streets
Down These Mean Streets is a memoir by Piri Thomas, a Latino of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent who grew up in El Barrio (aka Spanish Harlem), a section of Harlem that has a large Puerto Rican population. The book follows Piri as he goes through the first few decades of his life, lives in poverty, joins and fights with street gangs, faces racism (in both New York and the South), suffers through heroin addiction, gets involved in crime, and ends up in prison.
Down These Mean Streets reads similarly to The Autobiography of Malcolm X in that both books are vivid, brutally honest memoirs of experiences of racial prejudice and discrimination, identity formation, and youthful involvement with crime that leads to life-altering prison experiences. One of the major themes of Down These Mean Streets centers on Piri Thomas's identity as a dark-complected Afro-Latino. Although he is of Puerto Rican and Cuban heritage, the larger American society takes him for African-American and fails to recognize him as Latino. His own family rejects the African aspect of their Latin-Caribbean ancestry, causing Piri to spend much of his adolescent and early adult life contemplating his racial and ethnic identity.
The book was originally published in 1967, and later republished in a special Thirtieth Anniversary Edition in 1997, with a new afterword from the author. A sequel was made, called 7 Long Times, which gives more depth to his prison years.
- Discrimination, Evasion, and Livability in Four New York Puerto Rican Narratives (by Piri Thomas, Giannina Braschi, Edgardo Vega Yunqué, and Sofia Quintero). Marta S. Rivera Monclova, Tufts University, 2010. Chapter on Down These Mean Streets
- Colonial figures in motion: Globalization and Translocality in Contemporary Puerto Rican Literature in the United States. Arnaldo Cruz Malave. Centro Journal, 2002.
- The Role of Register in Spanish-English Code Switching in Prose. Laura Callahan. Bilingual Review, 2003.
- Puerto Rican Negro: Defining Race in Piri Thomas’s Down These Mean Streets. Marta Caminero Santagelo. Melus, JSTOR, 2004.