Puerto Rican Community Mourns

Loss of Literary Icon

Centro Loses a Great Friend

By Clarisel Gonzales

Centro mourns the loss of Tato Laviera, the beloved “chronicler of life in El Barrio,” one of the most notable figures in the Nuyorican poetry movement, and a longtime friend of Centro.

We are grateful to him for his contributions as a writer, poet, playwright and humanitarian as well as for a lifetime of dedication to the Puerto Rican community. He will be remembered and his work will be studied for generations to come.

As a supporter of Centro, Laviera, with the help of his sister, Ruth Laviera Sanchéz, recently donated his papers to the Centro Archives as a way of preserving and sharing his remarkable writings with future generations.

Laviera, whose full name was Jesús Abraham Laviera Sánchez, died November 1 at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan after a long battle with diabetes.

“Laviera’s sister, Ruth, has been working with Centro on the transfer of Tato’s papers to the Archives,” said Edwin Meléndez, Centro director. “This will ensure that the work of this great literary figure always will be available to scholars, educators, researchers and the community.”

Centro is collaborating with the family on a memorial ceremony Friday, November 8, from 6 to 10 pm, at St. Peter’s Church, 619 Lexington Avenue at 54th Street in Manhattan. The public is invited to attend. Because Laviera loved to wear his Panama hat, guests are encouraged to wear Panama hats in his honor.

Elba Cabrera, Centro advisory board member and Laviera’s longtime friend, said the memorial service will be a “celebration of his life.” She noted,“Tato was such a vibrant person and we want to reflect on that and be happy that we knew him,” Cabrera said. “There’s so many people that were touched by him.”

“Tato’s legacy is his writing, his humanity, his political activism. He was so proud of being Afro Puerto Rican,” Cabrera said.  He was also proud of his languages: English, Spanish and Spanglish.

Reflecting on Laviera’s commitment to Centro, Cabrera recalled that they used to belong to a volunteer group called the Friends of El Centro and how he was instrumental in getting the support of former Hunter College President Donna Shalala in the 1980s to have a series of cultural posters displayed on the walls of Hunter College.

She remembered that he was the one that dubbed her “la madrina de las artes (the godmother of the arts) and how involved he was with the Association of Hispanic Arts. He was always committed to sharing his craft, such as when he taught kids in the Bronx poetry as part of an arts-in-education program. “He was loved.”

Laviera’s work, has been described as a linguistic and artistic celebration of Puerto Rican culture, African Caribbean traditions, life in New York City and life in general.

Laviera was born in Puerto Rico in 1950 and lived in New York City since 1960.  He devoted his life to the socio-economic and cultural development of Puerto Ricans in New York. A virtuoso of the English and Spanish languages, he writes in Spanglish, addressing all types of race, language and historic issues in his musical theatre and poetry.

Laviera is the author of several collections of poetry, including La Carreta Made a U-Turn (1979), AmeRícan (1985), Mainstream Ethics (Etica corriente) (1988), and Mixturao and Other Poems (2008). He has also written more than a dozen plays, including his most recent production King of Cans, which premiered in 2012.

Laviera, the consummate New Yorker, was raised on the Loisaida and most recently lived in East Harlem.

Besides his sister, he is survived by his daughter Ella Laviera and two grandchildren, Kayden and Skye; niece Noelia Quiñones and her son, Simeon; niece Cynthia Mercado and her children, Melissa and Ralphie; nephew, David Sánchez and his son, Graysen; and nephew Alexi Quiñones. Laviera had a son named Che Malik who passed away in 2005.

For more information, about the Tato Laviera memorial event, contact Elba Cabrera at (718) 671- 9427 or (646) 236-7705 or reach Laviera’s family members Cynthia Mercado, (201) 290-9377 and Noelia Quiñones, (646) 879-9019.