|Born||Jesús Abraham Laviera Sánchez
May 9, 1950
Santurce, San Juan, Puerto Rico
|Died||November 1, 2013
Manhattan, New York
Abraham "Tato" Laviera (May 9, 1950 – November 1, 2013), born Jesús Laviera Sanches, was a Puerto Rican native who immigrated to the United States. Through his life he was involved in various human rights organizations but was best known as a renowned Nuyorican poet. An obituary for NBC Latino describes him as "one of the greatest representatives of the Nuyorican movement."
- 1 Early years and education
- 2 Personal life
- 3 Career
- 4 Famous works
- 4.1 La Carreta Made a U-Turn (Houston: Arte Público Press, 1979)
- 4.2 AmeRícan (Houston: Arte Público Press, 1985)
- 4.3 Enclave (Houston: Arte Público Press, 1985)
- 4.4 Mainstream Ethics-Etica Corriente (Houston: Arte Público Press, 1988)
- 4.5 Mixturao and Other Poems (Houston: Arte Público Press, 2008–09)
- 5 Honors and achievements
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Early years and education
Laviera was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico and moved to the Lower East Side of New York City in 1960 with his mother and siblings at the age of nine. He attended Catholic school in the United States where is teachers urged him to change his name to Abraham because they felt that Jesús was unfit for someone of Latino descent who did not understand English. As a result, he chose to go by the name "Tato," a nickname given by his brother. After graduating high school in 1968, he studied at Cornell University and later at Brooklyn College. However, he never received a degree from either school. Instead, he committed the majority of his time to social and community work. Laviera served as the director of University of the Streets, a nonprofit organization focused on providing educational opportunities for underprivileged individuals. Additionally, he was a director of the Hispanic Drama Workshop and a creative writing professor at Rutgers University.
While still in Puerto Rico, his mother studied under Juan Boria, an acclaimed poet and performer who was inspired by Afro-Caribbean culture. This early exposure introduced him to the world of Puerto Rican poetry that he later infiltrated. Tato initially began writing as a means of reestablishing the name that was taken from him earlier in his life.
Laviera had a daughter, Ruth Ella, and a son, Che Malik, who died in 2005. Tato suffered from diabetes, which caused a complications and interruptions in his work. In 2004, he was deemed legally blind due do complications with diabetes. He then revisited his passion for community work, working with the American Association for diabetes, where his main initiative was promoting awareness representing Latinos who suffered from the disease. He even founded the Jesús A. Laviera One-Day with Diabetes Project which allowed him to incorporate his adoration for poetry. He hosted events during which poets could speak about how diabetes has affected their lives and offer support to the Hispanic community. Following some years of financial and health problems, Laviera fell into a diabetic coma. Shortly after he died on November 1, 2013 in Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan.
Laviera attributes the start of his career in poetry to his creativity early in life. He began writing poems and jingles at a very young age. He claims this lead him to discover the "wealth of characters and attitudes" that poetry contains. Laviera's poetry, which is written sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in English, more often in Spanglish, addresses language, cultural identity, race, and memory, particularly as it affects the transculturated lives of Puerto Ricans in the United States. Laviera uses the sublets of each language to contribute to his rich symbolism and metaphor that are commonplace in his poetry. His mastery of both languages sets him apart from many Latino writers of his time. Tato claims that the most important aspect of his poems is the title, explaining that "the words of the title are the ultimate essence."  Laviera was keen on performing his works of poetry in front of audiences in a musical manner. Live recitation of poetry is an important aspect of the Nuyorican movement as it better portrays the spirit of the poems. Scholar William Luis describes Laviera's work as follows: "His poetry is full of the music of bomba and plena, and of rap and preaching. However, it is also socially minded and historical in content. Indeed, his poems are a conglomeration of voices, songs, dialects, and cultures producing a unique synthesis which is moving, instructive, and aesthetically appealing". Laviera prides himself in giving a voice to all of the people, cultures, and nations he represents through his poetry. Since he believes he belongs equally to two nations,The United States and Puerto Rico, he opted to focus on the positives of biculturalism, rather than adverse aspects like some of his counterparts. Nicolás Kanellos's Hispanic Literature of the United States: A Comprehensive Reference describes him as "the inheritor of the Spanish oral tradition, with all of its classical formulas, and the African oral tradition, with its wedding to music and spirituality."
La Carreta Made a U-Turn (Houston: Arte Público Press, 1979)
This was his first major book of poetry and was a response to René Marques' La Carreta in which he details the story of a family who ends up returning to Puerto RIco after migrating to the United States in search of more opportunities and a better life but instead is faced with a disheartening reality. Laviera disputes this view and instead "picks up where Marques left off" and portrays a more accurate story of the Puerto Rican migrant in which they do not return to their homeland, which is based on historical data. La Carreta Made a U-Turn was extremely successful and received well by its readers. In fact, shortly after its publication Laviera was invited by President Jimmy Carter to an even at the White House for distinguished American poets.
AmeRícan (Houston: Arte Público Press, 1985)
In this poem, Laviera redefines his nationality and takes pride in being both a Puerto Rican and an American living in the United States. He establishes a new identity, called AmeRícan which is the harmonious blend of the two composed of "mainland and island traditions."  Tato uses the pronoun 'we' to signify the collective experience of multiculturalism for the entire generation of Puerto Rican-Americans.
Enclave (Houston: Arte Público Press, 1985)
Mainstream Ethics-Etica Corriente (Houston: Arte Público Press, 1988)
Mixturao and Other Poems (Houston: Arte Público Press, 2008–09)
Honors and achievements
1982 American Book Awards
Honored for his book of poetry, Enclave
- Gonzalez 2013. Note that other sources give his year of birth as 1951, and occasionally his date of birth as September 5. But the NYT obituarist reports that the date, May 9, 1950, was that provided by Laviera's family.
- Remeseira 2013
- Stavans, Ilan (2011). The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. pp. 1399–1406. ISBN 978-0-393-08007-0.
- "University of the Streets". universityofthestreets.org. Retrieved 2015-12-16.
- "Heath Anthology of American Literature Tato Laviera - Author Page". college.cengage.com. Retrieved 2015-12-16.
- "Tato Laviera bio | Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños". centropr.hunter.cuny.edu. Retrieved 2015-12-16.
- Gonzalez, David (February 12, 2010). "Poet Spans Two Worlds, but Has a Home in Neither". The New York Times.
- Luis, William. “From New York to the World: An Interview with Tato Laviera”. Callaloo
- Luis 1992, p. 1022
- Kanellos, N. (2003). Hispanic Literature of the United States: A Comprehensive Reference. Greenwood Press. p. 114. ISBN 9781573565585. Retrieved 2015-04-13.
- Flores, Juan, John Attinasi, and Pedro Pedraza. “"la Carreta Made a U-turn": Puerto Rican Language and Culture in the United States”. Daedalus 110.2 (1981): 193–217. Web...
- Calderón, Héctor. Hispania 70.4 (1987): 806–807. Web...
- Gonzalez, David (November 5, 2013), "Tato Laviera, 63, Poet of Nuyorican School", New York Times.
- Luis, William (Autumn 1992), "From New York to the World: An Interview With Tato Laviera", Callaloo 15 (4): 1022–1033, doi:10.2307/2931917, JSTOR 2931917. (JSTOR subscription required to access article online.)
- Remeseira, Claudio Iván (November 2, 2013), "Remembering Tato Laviera, Nuyorican poet and author", NBC Latino.