|Born||September 2, 1934
East Harlem, New York, New York
|Occupation||writer, poet, translator, community activist|
|Genres||short stories, plays, and poetry|
|Children||Kadi Agüeros, Marcel Agüeros, Natalia Agüeros-Macario|
Jack Agüeros (born September 2, 1934 in East Harlem, NY) is a community activist, poet, writer, and translator, and the former director of El Museo del Barrio.
Jack Agüeros was born September 2, 1934, in New York City, and grew up in East Harlem. His parents, Carmen Diaz and Joaquin Agüeros, had immigrated separately from Puerto Rico to New York. Carmen worked for many years as a seamstress, while Joaquin was in the merchant marine and also worked in restaurants and factories. Agüeros attended Public School 72 (now the Julia de Burgos Cultural Center) and then Benjamin Franklin High School, East Harlem's first public high school, from which he graduated in June 1952.
After serving for four years in the United States Air Force as a guided missile instructor, he attended Brooklyn College on the G.I. Bill, intending to become an engineer. Inspired by Bernard Grebanier, a charismatic professor of English, and his lectures on Shakespeare, Agüeros began writing plays and poems, and instead graduated with a B.A. in English literature.
During the 1960s, Agüeros worked with a variety of community groups in New York. Starting out at the Office of Economic Opportunity, a federal agency created by President Lyndon Johnson to fight the War on Poverty, he spent time as an organizer for the Henry Street Settlement, before becoming the deputy director of the Puerto Rican Community Development Project (PRCDP), the nation's first Puerto Rican anti-poverty organization.
After resigning from the PRCDP in early 1968, Agüeros was appointed in April as deputy commissioner of New York City's Community Development Agency (CDA), created by Mayor John Lindsay. As deputy commissioner of the CDA, he was the highest ranking Puerto Rican in the City's administration, and in 1968 staged a five-day hunger strike to protest the lack of Puerto Ricans in City government.
Agüeros went on to be a member of the first cohort of National Urban Fellows, working as an advisor to the mayor of Cleveland and earning an MA in Urban Studies from Occidental College. He returned to New York and in 1970, became director of Mobilization For Youth, an organization located in the Lower East Side that provided job training and placement, social services, and special educational programming.
Jack Agüeros wrote his first poems and plays while still a student at Brooklyn College, receiving his first literary awards there. He continued to write while working as a community activist in the 1960s and early 1970s. Among the highlights from this period are the script for "They Can't Even Read Spanish," a half hour play about Puerto Rican life in New York that aired on WNBC TV Channel 4 on Saturday, May 8, 1971. The script is now preserved at the Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños at Hunter College.
Agüeros also wrote "Halfway to Dick and Jane," an essay on his childhood in East Harlem that was included in The Immigrant Experience: The Anguish of Becoming American, a collection published in 1971 by the Dial Press that also featured contributions from Czesław Miłosz and Mario Puzo. In his New York Times review of The Immigrant Experience, Gay Talese praised Agüeros's contribution, writing "In this book is the first published work of Jack Agueros [sic], impressively describing Puerto Rican homelife in East Harlem."
Agüeros maintained an active interest in theater, reviewing several plays for the Village Voice. And two of his poems were included in one of the first anthologies of Puerto Rican literature, Borinquen, edited by Maria Teresa Babin and Stan Steiner, which was published by Knopf in December 1974. The two poems, Canción del Tecato and El Apatético, are both in Spanish and appear in the section "Where am I at? The Youth," which also includes Pedro Pietri's well-known poem, Puerto Rican Obituary. Both poems had originally been published in a literary journal, The Rican (based in Chicago, Illinois) in 1971, and both were later included in Agüeros's first book, Correspondence Between the Stonehaulers.
Cayman Gallery and El Museo Del Barrio
On June 10, 1975, the Friends of Puerto Rico, a non-profit organization founded and incorporated in 1956, opened the Cayman Gallery in a SoHo loft at 381 West Broadway, with Jack Agüeros as its first director. The Cayman Gallery was one of the first galleries dedicated to Puerto Rican and Latin American art in New York City.
In July 1977, Agüeros was appointed director of El Museo del Barrio by the Museo's Board of Trustees. That fall, he negotiated with Boys Harbor, a non-profit youth services agency, to relocate El Museo from its home on Third Avenue to its present location: the main floor of the Heckscher Building, a multi-tenant, city-owned property at 1230 Fifth Avenue, between 104th and 105th Streets. In January 1978, Agüeros began El Museo's tradition of organizing a Three Kings Day Parade to celebrate the Epiphany. The Parade, held annually on January 6, includes live animals, school groups, and props and costumes (such as paper-mache figures of the Three Kings) made by artists.
During his tenure, Agüeros implemented a series of capital improvements and gallery expansions, and helped build El Museo's permanent collection. In 1979, he co-founded the annual Museum Mile Festival on Fifth Avenue with ten major institutions, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of the City of New York, and The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. He also articulated the evolution of El Museo to an institution with a pan-Latin American mission, telling an interviewer in 1978: "Our focus is no longer limited to Puerto Ricans. We are too culturally rich to force ourselves into ghettoes of narrow nationalism. El Museo now wants to embody the culture of all of Latin America. New York is the fourth or fifth largest Spanish speaking city in the world, with people from every Spanish speaking country, and El Museo must reflect everything that is Latino. We must look upon Latin America as our Indian ancestors did. They did not see artificial boundaries dividing nations. They saw an open world where they were free to travel from one place to another, pursuing their livelihood and mixing their culture."
Agüeros has been married three times and has three children. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease in December 2004.
Awards and Legacy
In April 2012 Agüeros was the recipient of the Asan World Prize for Poetry. In the summer of 2012, Agüeros's paper were donated to Columbia University, where they will be housed in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
- Correspondence Between Stonehaulers (Hanging Loose Press, 1991)
- Dominoes & Other Stories from the Puerto Rican (Curbstone Books, 1993)
- Lord, Is This a Psalm? (Hanging Loose Press, 2002)
- Sonnets from the Puerto Rican (Hanging Loose Press, 1996)
- Come, Come-My Boiling Blood: The Complete Poems of José Martí (unfinished and unpublished)
- Song of the Simple Truth: The Complete Poems of Julia de Burgos (Curbstone Press, 1996)
- List of Latin American writers
- List of Puerto Rican writers
- List of Famous Puerto Ricans
- Puerto Rican literature
- Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States
- Before Columbus Foundation
- Espada, Martín. "Jack Agüeros," http://martinespada.net/JACK_AGUEROS.html
- "Place Matters: A Joint Project of City Lore and the Municipal Arts Society", http://www.placematters.net/node/1033
- Kihss, Peter (1967-07-28). "Puerto Ricans Lay Inaction to Mayor; Puerto Ricans Accuse the Mayor Of Inaction on Their Proposals." The New York Times.
- Lee, Sonia and Diaz, Ande. "'I Was the One Percenter': Manny Diaz and the Beginnings of a Black-Puerto Rican Coalition." Journal of American Ethnic History, Vol. 26, No. 3 (Spring, 2007).
- Kihss, Peter (1968-01-25). "15 Top Officers Quit Puerto Rican Agency Here." The New York Times.
- (1968-04-22). "Agueros Made Aide of Poverty Agency." The New York Times.
- NYC Department of Youth & Community Development History, http://www.nyc.gov/html/dycd/html/about/history.shtml
- Bigart, Homer (1968-06-29). "High Poverty Aide Starts Fast After Dismissal; Vows to Stay in Office Until Demands Are Met -- Failed to File Tax Returns." New York Times.
- Mobilization for Youth records, -1970, http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/archival/collections/ldpd_4079120/index.html
- Berg, Beatrice (1971-04-25). "This Bodega Sells Insight." The New York Times.
- Talese, Gay (1971-08-29). "The Immigrant Experience; The Anguish of Becoming American. Edited by Thomas C. Wheeler. 212 pp. New York: The Dial Press. $6.95." The New York Times.
- Agüeros, Jack. "A moral Don Juan" (1973-01-04), "Oedipus in the ghetto? Never!" (1973-02-22), "In a very Ghetto way" (1973-04-19), "The taste of things Latin" (1973-07-05). Village Voice.
- Carlos Ortíz (1978-04). "The Arts: Museo de la Gente." Nuestro.
- Gonzalez, David (2008-03-20). "A Puerto Rican Poet's Last Fight With Alzheimer's." The New York Times, http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/03/20/a-puerto-rican-poets-last-fight-with-alzheimers/
- Unnithan, Sangeetha (2012-05-05). "Blurring boundaries, their poems lash out at injustice." The Hindu, http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Thiruvananthapuram/article3386902.ece
- Yee, Vivian (2012-08-30). "Papers of a Puerto Rican Poet Will Find a Home at Columbia." The New York Times, http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/30/papers-of-a-puerto-rican-poet-will-find-a-home-at-columbia/