Nelson Antonio Denis

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Nelson Antonio Denis
Nelson Denis.jpg
Member of the New York State Assembly from the 68th district
In office
January 1, 1997 – December 31, 2000
Preceded by Francisco Diaz Jr.
Succeeded by Adam Clayton Powell IV
Personal details
Born 1955
Manhattan, New York City, New York, United States
Political party Democratic Party
Parents Antonio Denis Jordan & Sarah Denis
Alma mater Harvard College
Yale Law School
Nelson Antonio Denis
Notable work (Film) Vote For Me! & (book) War Against All Puerto Ricans
Awards "Best Editorial Writing" award from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists

Nelson Antonio Denis is an attorney, writer, film director, and former representative to the New York State Assembly. From 1997 to 2000, Denis represented New York’s 68th Assembly district, which includes the East Harlem and Spanish Harlem neighborhoods, both highly populated by Latinos.[1][2][3][4]

As the editorial director for El Diario La Prensa, Denis published over 300 editorials and won the "Best Editorial Writing" award from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.[5][6][7]

His most recent work is War Against All Puerto Ricans, a non-fiction book, about the life of Puerto Rican independence leader Pedro Albizu Campos, and the treatment of Puerto Rican nationalists by agencies of the United States government.[8][9]

Early life[edit]

Denis was born in New York City Borough of Manhattan to Antonio Denis Jordan, a native of Cuba of French descent, and Sarah Denis, originally from Puerto Rico.[10] After his father was peremptorily deported back to his homeland, when Nelson was eight years old, he was raised by his mother and grandmother.[11]

Denis went on to graduate from Harvard College in 1977, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Government, and then a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from Yale Law School in 1980. He then went to work as an attorney with the New York law firm of Donovan, Leisure, Newton & Irvine.[12][13]

Journalism and writing[edit]

External audio
You can hear Nelson Denis on WNYC Radio here.

Denis’s screenplays have won awards from the New York State Council on the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and CineFestival.[14][15] He also wrote and directed the feature-length film Vote For Me! which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.[3]

For several years Denis was the editorial director of El Diario La Prensa, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in New York City, where he published over 300 editorials and received the "Best Editorial Writing" award from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.[5][6][7]

Denis also wrote editorials for the New York Times,[16] Harvard Political Review,[17] Daily News,[18][19] New York Newsday,[20] Orlando Sentinel[21] and The New York Sun.[22] He was also a cultural and political commentator on WNYC,[23][24] WADO, and other radio outlets.[25]

In 2015 and 2016, Denis’s journalism has focused on the economic crisis in Puerto Rico, and the historical and political underpinnings of this crisis. His editorials in this area have appeared in the New York Daily News,[26] New York Times,[27] The Nation,[28] Orlando Sentinel,[21] and Truthout.[29] Denis has also appeared on ABC TV,[30] C-SPAN,[31] New York 1,[32] MSNBC,[33]Al Jazeera TV,[34] and Democracy Now![35][36] to discuss the history and current fiscal crisis of Puerto Rico.

Denis also gave radio interviews around the US to discuss conditions on the island: including the Brian Lehrer Show in New York,[37] WBEZ Worldview in Chicago,[38] WNPR Connecticut,[39] WBAI/The Jordan Journal,[40] and WGBH/The Takeaway.[41]

Advocacy and New York State Assembly[edit]

Assemblyman Nelson Denis

Before and during his years as an assemblyman, Denis conducted a neighborhood legal clinic that provided advocacy, advice, and free legal services to the residents of East Harlem.[12][13][42][43]

Denis majored in Government at Harvard,[3] and was involved in New York State government for fourteen years.

In 1995, as deputy director of Yucahu Inc., an East Harlem community group, Denis opposed the merger of Chemical Bank and Chase Manhattan due to inadequate service to the community.[44][45]

Denis was a member of the East Harlem Community Board (C.B. 11), the Area Policy Board, and the director of strategic planning for the Harlem Community Development Corporation.[12][46][47]

In 1996 Denis won a seat in the New York State Assembly, where he served as a Democrat from 1997 to 2001, and developed a reputation as a reformer.[48] He was also a New York State Democratic District Leader from 1995 to 2001.[13]

The press noted that his mother, Sarah Denis, worked 12-hour days on the campaign trail and that Denis was himself an untiring campaigner who was "often seen throughout the neighborhood campaigning on the back of a blue bus." [12][49]

Latin Kings controversy[edit]

Nelson Denis and his mother, Sarah

In 1994, Denis entered into a controversial relationship with the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation. While jogging along the FDR Drive, he ran into a group of 500 Latin Kings and recruited them into his campaign for the State Assembly.[46]

Denis and the Latin Kings cleaned up several parks in East Harlem, and attended community board meetings together.[46][49] Denis also pledged that, if he won, he would help the Latin Kings to create a community non-profit corporation, a leadership training course, and a construction apprenticeship program to rehabilitate roughly 800 abandoned buildings in East Harlem.[49]

Denis maintained that "the Kings are the product of 20 years of neglect. These are the youth that Reagan forgot." [49] However, others did not agree. His opponent, the incumbent Assemblyman Angelo Del Toro, said "they're gangsters and a threat." [49]

Another early skeptic was Denis's mother. She laid down rules that included no beepers or babies in the office, but she gradually learned to work with them.[49]

Despite this controversy, the New York Times endorsed Denis for the State Assembly that year.[50]

Works[edit]

Vote For Me![edit]

Prior to serving in the New York State Assembly, Denis directed TV commercials and several short films, and wrote eight screenplays.[51] His screenplays won awards from the New York State Council on the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and CineFestival.[14][15]

Denis also wrote and directed the feature film Vote For Me! which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. It also won the Best Picture Award at the 2009 Staten Island Film Festival, and a Feature Film Award at the 2009 Orlando Hispanic Film Festival.[52][53]

Vote For Me! (Nelson Denis movie - poster).jpg

Starring Malik Yoba (New York Undercover, Soul Food, Cool Runnings); Chi Chi Salazar (Scarface (1983 film), Carlito's Way); Ricardo Barber (The Feast of the Goat); Vote For Me! was a comedy about a 75-year-old Puerto Rican super who runs for the United States Congress.

The film was based on Denis's own experiences in East Harlem. Many East Harlem residents, musicians, and even local politicians appeared in the film, which "blurred the line between reality and fiction to capture the spectacle of New York City politics." [3][51] Vote For Me! screened in over a dozen film festivals in New York and Puerto Rico, and was well received by the press.

The New York Times declared it "reminiscent of Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, but with a lighter touch." [3][51]

The Boston Globe found it "ebullient...politically charged...mixes quirkiness and cultural poignancy." [54]

Vote For Me! also received national coverage from Fox News Channel, National Public Radio, Univision, Telemundo, WSKQ FM, MEGA FM, WADO-AM, WNYC, VIVA Magazine, El Diario La Prensa, El Nuevo Dia, Siempre, Hoy, and other news outlets.[55][56][57][58][58][59][60][61][62]

War Against All Puerto Ricans[edit]

External video
C-SPAN interview with Nelson Denis about War Against All Puerto Ricans
Denis appears on Democracy Now! to discuss War Against All Puerto Ricans
Part 2 of Democracy Now! interview
Denis appears on New York 1 to discuss War Against All Puerto Ricans

Denis is the author of War Against All Puerto Ricans, which was published on April 7, 2015. The book is based on recently declassified FBI files, congressional testimony, oral histories, personal interviews and eyewitness accounts. It covers the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party Revolts of the 1950s, a series of coordinated armed protests for the independence of Puerto Rico led by the president of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, Don Pedro Albizu Campos.[63][64]

The book also documents how the U.S. Army arrested 3,000 Puerto Ricans, deployed thousands of troops and bombarded two towns in order to stop the uprising - the only time in history that the U.S. government intentionally bombed its own citizens.[63][64]

Amongst the reviews for the book, the New York Times wrote: "Scathing insights into Washington’s response to Albizu Campos’s nationalist party and its violent revolution in 1950 that still has broad implications...his perspective of largely overlooked history could not be more timely." [8]

Assemblyman Nelson Denis leads a city hall rally in New York

The New York Daily News wrote: “The book gives a meticulous and riveting account of the decades-long clash between the Puerto Rican independence movement...prepare to be outraged...a timely, eye-opening must-read.” [9] Latino Rebels wrote “War Against All Puerto Ricans earns ‘instant classic’ status…anyone who wants to understand U.S. imperial history from the time of Manifest Destiny needs to read this book.” [65]

Mother Jones called the book "The lost history of Puerto Rico's independence movement." [66]

VIBE Magazine wrote that "War Against All Puerto Ricans, in obvious wake of the island’s economic turmoil, is relevant in understanding, full circle, why Puerto Rico is where it is today." [67]

Kirkus Reviews described the book as "a scathing examination of American colonial policy in Puerto Rico...a pointed, relentless chronicle of a despicable part of past American foreign policy." [68] In La Respuesta, the reviewer praised “the book’s historical value...a must-read for anyone interested in learning more about Puerto Rico.” [69] Gozamos reported that “Nelson Denis doesn’t just give us history. He gives us history on fire…a thoroughly researched indictment of over a century of U.S. policy toward one small island…a full-throated eulogy of brave heroes, men and women of conviction, who devoted every drop of their blood to a people and a principle.”[70]

War Against All Puerto Ricans was featured on national and local television, including Democracy Now![35][71] and New York 1.[72] Denis also appeared in radio broadcasts around the US, including the Brian Lehrer Show in New York,[37] WBEZ Worldview in Chicago,[38] WNPR Connecticut,[39] WBAI/The Jordan Journal,[40] and WGBH/The Takeaway.[41]

Extensive author interviews were also conducted in Truthout,[73] Mother Jones,[74] and the largest newspaper in Puerto Rico, El Nuevo Dia.[75]

The New York Daily News noted that the Independence Party of Puerto Rico scheduled an eight-town tour for the book on the island of Puerto Rico.[76] The Daily News also reported that the book "has become the subject of political water-cooler talk, national TV and newspaper coverage - including a three-part series of articles in El Nuevo Dia - and a letter from Puerto Rico's governor, Alejandro Garcia Padilla, to the book's domestic distributor recognizing its significance." [77]

A year after its publication, Rain Taxi reported that "Denis's book is a work of history, essential history...an indictment and a call to action." [78]

The book has stirred some controversy. One historian questioned Denis' writing style and "resourceful imagination." [79] Another stated that it contained "extraordinary and incredible assertions" and that Chapter 14 should have "more references." [80] Denis responded to these concerns with a detailed article in the University of Puerto Rico newspaper, Dialogo UPR.[81]

In March 2016, El Nuevo Dia, the largest newspaper in Puerto Rico, reported on the 25 best-selling books in Puerto Rico over the past year (2015-2016). War Against All Puerto Ricans topped the entire list.[82]

In June 2016, The Daily News reported that a feature film of War Against All Puerto Ricans was being planned. Several actors including Luís Guzmán were strongly interested in the project.[83]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ ¿Que Pasa?: Ex-politician takes a role at directing. Robert Dominguez. Daily News. New York. 3 April 2003. p. 1.
  2. ^ Alumni Spotlight: The Candidate. Taft Bulletin. The Taft School. Summer 2004. p.5
  3. ^ a b c d e Navarro, Mireya, (2003-5-6), Smile, You're on Candidate Camera: With an Insider's Eye, a Film Skewers Harlem Politics, The New York Times
  4. ^ For Defeated Incumbents, Shock and an Interest in Want Ads. Jonathan P. Hicks. 30 December 2000.
  5. ^ a b Nation Institute
  6. ^ a b Washington Times Book Review; Puerto Rico is a US Colony; May 10, 2015
  7. ^ a b Sofrito For Your Soul; War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson A. Denis, July 4, 2015
  8. ^ a b Sam Roberts, “The last Big Colony and the First Suburb,” New York Times, August 23, 2015
  9. ^ a b Ray Monell, "Author Nelson Denis releases new book War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony," New York Daily News, February 12, 2015
  10. ^ Mireya Navarro. Smile, You're on Candidate Camera; With an Insider's Eye, a Film Comedy Skewers Harlem Politics. The New York Times. 6 May 2003.
  11. ^ Arif Jamal, "Puerto Rico is a US Colony," Washington Book Review
  12. ^ a b c d Rising Stars Battle in East Harlem – New York Times. Nytimes.com (1996-08-19). Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  13. ^ a b c Hicks, Jonathan, (2000-8-15) Power of Incumbency Vies With a Household Name, The New York Times
  14. ^ a b W.T. Whitney, Jr., “New Book Offers No Optimism for a Free Puerto Rico,” People’s World, Nov. 12, 2015.
  15. ^ a b Visiting Author to Discuss Book on Puerto Rico, California State University Long Beach; September 15, 2015
  16. ^ Denis, Nelson, (8/6/15), Free Puerto Rico, America's Colony, New York Times
  17. ^ Harvard Political Review, Spring 1977, The Curious Constitution of Puerto Rico
  18. ^ Denis, Nelson, (9/23/99), History still roils Puerto Rico, New York Daily News
  19. ^ New York Daily News, "Puerto Rico Democracy at Risk," Nelson A. Denis, January 19, 2016
  20. ^ Denis, Nelson, (2007-1-22) Reforming Albany takes more than talk,
  21. ^ a b Denis, Nelson, (9/22/2015) Sharks Are Circling Puerto Rico's Assets, Orlando Sentinel
  22. ^ Denis, Nelson, (2006-12-21) Albany's Political Club, New York Sun
  23. ^ Brian Lehrer Show; WNYC Radio. Retrieved 09-25-2013.
  24. ^ WNYC; The Brian Lehrer Show Retrieved 5 July 2013.
  25. ^ Nelson Denis on The Perez Notes Retrieved 5 July 2013.
  26. ^ New York Daily News, "Puerto Rico Democracy at Risk," Nelson A. Denis, January 19, 2016
  27. ^ Denis, Nelson, (8/6/15), Free Puerto Rico, America's Colony, New York Times
  28. ^ Nelson Denis, "Orwell in Puerto Rico: Congress ‘Promises’ a New Dictatorship", Nation; April 15, 2016
  29. ^ Nelson Denis, "No More Colonialism Disguised as Financial Assistance: The US Must Relinquish Puerto Rico," Truthout; March 20, 2016
  30. ^ Tiempo, WABC TV; October 11, 2016
  31. ^ http://www.c-span.org/video/?325748-1/words-nelson-denis
  32. ^ http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/inside-city-hall/2015/05/15/ny1-online–former-assemblyman-discusses-book—war-against-all-puerto-ricans–revolution-and-terror-in-america-s-colony–.html
  33. ^ http://www.msnbc.com/watch/whats-going-on-with-puerto-rico-494377539660
  34. ^ https://ajam.app.boxcn.net/s/ae009vwbc57sl69nq375oq9kmbqtf31p
  35. ^ a b "War Against All Puerto Ricans: Inside the U.S. Crackdown on Pedro Albizu Campos & Nationalist Party," Democracy Now!, April 21, 2015
  36. ^ "PART 2: Nelson Denis on the U.S. Persecution of Puerto Rican Independence Leader Pedro Albizu Campos," Democracy Now!, April 21, 2015
  37. ^ a b When Puerto Rico Rebelled, WNYC, April 15, 2015
  38. ^ a b History of US Intervention in Puerto Rico, WBEZ, April 6, 2015
  39. ^ a b The Untold History Between the US and Puerto Rico, WNPR Connecticut, April 9, 2015
  40. ^ a b War Against All Puerto Ricans, The Jordan Journal, Feb. 27, 2015
  41. ^ a b The Secret War for Puerto Rico, WGBH/WNYC, April 13, 2015
  42. ^ Hicks, Jonathan P. (2005-08-16) With Incumbent Out of Race, an Unpredictable District – New York Times. Nytimes.com. Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  43. ^ Political Notes; Once More, Powell Ponders Harlem Race – New York Times. Nytimes.com (1998-04-20). Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  44. ^ Lavan, Rosemary Metzler, (1995-11-17) Chase/Chem Face Music at Hearing, New York Daily News
  45. ^ Harrigan, Susan (1995-11-17) Minority Lending at Issue in Chemical-Chase Merger, New York Newsday
  46. ^ a b c SPIN Media LLC (March 1995). SPIN. SPIN Media LLC. pp. 65–. ISSN 0886-3032. Retrieved 4 February 2012. 
  47. ^ State Senate District 28 – East Harlem. Gotham Gazette (2004-04-22). Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  48. ^ The Village Voice; The Prodigal Son Returns, 08-22-2000. Retrieved October 10, 2013.
  49. ^ a b c d e f THE 1994 CAMPAIGN: EAST HARLEM; Legislative Candidate Turns to Gang for Help – New York Times. Nytimes.com (1994-09-13). Retrieved on 4 February 2012.
  50. ^ New York City Primary Choices – New York Times. Nytimes.com (1994-09-13). Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  51. ^ a b c Navarro, Mireya, (2003-5-6) Smile, You're on Candidate Camera: With an Insider's Eye, a Film Skewers Harlem Politics, The New York Times
  52. ^ That's a wrap for Staten Island's SINY Film Festival. SILive.com. Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  53. ^ Orlando Hispanic Film Festival Announces 2009 Audience Award. PRLog. Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  54. ^ Tang, Jean. (2003-10-21) / News / Boston Globe / Living / Arts / Political themes abound in Latino film fest. Boston.com. Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  55. ^ Dominguez, Robert, (March 2002), Nelson Denis: Politics as Reel Life, VIVA New York/The Daily News
  56. ^ El Diario 17 April 2003
  57. ^ Comedia politica desde El Barrio. El Nuevo Dia
  58. ^ a b Waddell, Robert, (2003-04-22), Vote For Me!, Siempre, 22 April – 5 May 2003
  59. ^ Saade, Carmen Lira, (2003-04-25), Ex Politico de Nueva York Estrena Pelicula, La Jornada
  60. ^ Eric Bennett Dark Comedies Featured at Film Festival, The Spartan Daily (2004-03-10)
  61. ^ Film Festival : VOTE FOR ME!. Cinequest. Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  62. ^ Vote for me (Voto Para Mí). cinemaartscentre.org. Dec. 12
  63. ^ a b Kirkus Reviews; War Against All Puerto Ricans; 1/22/15
  64. ^ a b NY Daily News, "Author Nelson Denis releases new book War Against All Puerto Ricans," 2/12/15
  65. ^ Julio Varela, War Against All Puerto Ricans Earns "Instant Classic" Status, Latino Rebels, April 8, 2015
  66. ^ The Lost History of Puerto Rico’s Independence Movement, by AJ Vicens, Mother Jones, April 21, 2015
  67. ^ Bianca Salvant, Boricua pride shines, but "War Against All Puerto Ricans" continues, VIBE Magazine, June 17, 2016.
  68. ^ Book Review: War Against All Puerto Ricans, Kirkus Reviews, January 22, 2015
  69. ^ Andre Lee Muñiz, "The War Against All Puerto Ricans Exposed," La Respuesta, April 7, 2015
  70. ^ Hector Luis Alamo, Book Review: War Against All Puerto Ricans, Gozamos, April 10, 2015
  71. ^ "PART 2: Nelson Denis on the U.S. Persecution of Puerto Rican Independence Leader Pedro Albizu Campos," Democracy Now!, April 21, 2015
  72. ^ Former Assemblyman discusses book -- War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony, “Inside City Hall,” NY1
  73. ^ How the United States Economically and Politically Strangled Puerto Rico, by Mark Karlin, Truthout, May 24, 2015
  74. ^ The Lost History of Puerto Rico’s Independence Movement, by AJ Vicens, Mother Jones, April 21, 2015
  75. ^ Historia de Puerto Rico Desde la Perspectiva de las Carpetas del FBI, by José Delgado, El Nuevo Dia, May 17, 2015
  76. ^ War Book is Escalating, by Ray Monell, New York Daily News, June 11, 2015
  77. ^ War Book is Escalating, by Ray Monell, New York Daily News, June 11, 2015
  78. ^ Spencer Dew, War Against All Puerto Ricans: Terror in America's Colony, Rain Taxi, Spring 2016
  79. ^ Ferrao, Luis (2015-09-24). "29 Lies (and more to come) in the fictitious War Against All Puerto Ricans". Diálogo (University of Puerto Rico). Retrieved 2015-12-19. 
  80. ^ Santiago Ríos, Miguel (2015-08-19). "Nelson Denis, y el espía que surgió de…¿dónde?". Diálogo (University of Puerto Rico). Retrieved 2015-12-19. 
  81. ^ Nelson Denis, "The Many Lies of Luis Ferrao," UPR-Dialogo, October 2, 2015 Retrieved 2015-12-20.
  82. ^ Rosalina Marrero Rodríguez,"Lo que se está leyendo en Puerto Rico," El Nuevo Dia, March 2, 2016 Retrieved 2015-5-13.
  83. ^ This War is Escalating, New York Daily News, June 10, 2016

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Francisco Diaz Jr.
New York State Assembly
68th District

1997–2001
Succeeded by
Adam Clayton Powell IV