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Bittman John "Bimbo" Rivas (November 11, 1939 – May 21, 1992) was a Puerto Rican actor, community activist, director, playwright, poet, and teacher who lived in the Lower East Side of New York City. He also served in the U.S. Air Force. He was one of the pioneers of the Nuyorican Movement and was involved in the Nuyorican Poets Café.
Bittman (Bimbo) Rivas got his nickname from a cartoon he saw of an elephant named "Bimbo". The name lasted, as he was from that point on known to everyone as Bimbo Rivas. But that is where the similarities to a flying elephant stop, because Bimbo Rivas was much more down to Earth and his journey led him to NYC's Lower East Side where he spent the rest of his life.
In the Lower East Side, Bimbo found affordable housing, in one of the top locations in New York and in the 1970s moved there with his family. He soon noticed the place was in a continual stage of deterioration, not just because of the crumbling and empty buildings around him, but also due to the declining morale of its people. Some faced horrible living conditions, with people squatting buildings and others warming up by 55 gallons on the sidewalk or empty lots. Yet others were being swept into or by the crime wave prevalent in most of New York in those days.
From his experiences, Bimbo was moved to write the "Loisaida" poem that today gives the Lower East Side its nickname. Bimbo also recognized an opportunity to turn things around and improve quality of life for Loisaida's residents, whom he considered his family whether by blood or association. Bimbo leveraged his position as a teacher to reach more people personally in the community. He tackled the quality of life issue by reconciling the needs of the residents with available government programs to improve communities.
He helped people that had lived in buildings for years finally get a title to their property, and guided others to work with authorities to force landlords to maintain their properties and make them livable so they could collect their rents and the residents had better apartments they could feel proud of. These and other activities helped give momentum to a tremendous transformation of the Lower East Side that by the turn of the 20th century, had turned "Loisaida", into the tree-lined, bohemian, and ultra-chic East Village.
On May 21, 1992, while teaching bilingual lessons, he suffered a heart attack in the classroom and soon after died. He was 52 years old, and left behind his 6 children.
Bimbo Rivas was a community activist, who gave the Lower East Side the name "Loisaida" in a 1974 poem. He was a committed artist, whose talent enriched not only the Puerto Rican culture, but other cultures as well. Bimbo's spirit and influence lives on in Loisaida today.
Among his students was the actor Luis Guzmán, who was trained at Charas in New York City.
On May 27, 1992, Avenue C became known as Loisaida Avenue. It was a token of appreciation for his contributions to the Lower East Side, his home, and for his people.
"Loisaida" (By Bimbo Rivas; Written in 1974)
Lower East Side
I love you.
You'er my lady fair.
No matter where I am,
I think of you!
The mountains and the
valleys cannot compare,
my love to you
Loisaida, I love you.
I dig the way you talk,
I dig the way you look.
Me vacila tu cantar
y yo me las juego
fria pa' que vivas
En mi mente, mi amada,
yo te llamo Loisaida
una mezcla, la perfecta
una gente bien decente
de to 'as rasas
que te adoran
que no saben explicar
lo que le pasa
cuando ausente de
tus calles peligrosas
si te aman
A ti, mi hermosa Loisaida
O what a town.....
even with your drug-infested
pocket parks, playgrounds
where our young bloods
waiting, hoping that
one day when they too
get well and smile again
your love is all
they need to come around.
Loisaida, I love you.
Your buildings are
that we got to stop.
Loisaida, my love,
- The Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre Co., Inc. New York, NY.
- The Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union, Loisaida, NYC, NY.
- Adopt-A-Building Inc, Loisaida, NYC, NY.
- El Bohio Cultural & Community Center, Loisaida, NYC, NY.
- The Public Theater, New York, NY US.
- El Teatro Ambulante—El Coco que Habla, Loisaida, NYC, NY.
- Nuyorican Poets Café, Loisaida, NYC, NY.
- Council on Museums and Education in the Visual Arts. "Community-Based Museums and Umbrella Agencies." The Art Museum as Educator: A Collection of Studies as Guides to Practice. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.
- Hernández, Carmen Dolores. "Pedro Pietri." Puerto Rican Voices in English: Interviews with Writers. Westport: Praeger, 1997. ISBN 0-275-95809-4
- Sevcenko, Liz. "Making Loisaida: Placing Puertorriqueñidad in Lower Manhattan." In Agustín Laó-Montes and Arlene M. Dávila, eds. Mambo Montage: The Latinization of New York. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-231-11274-2