I was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY to illegal aliens. I’m what some people call an "anchor baby". But I'm an adult now, so I prefer anchorman. *silent laughter*
I have many beautiful, fond memories of my childhood, but even then I had to make conscious choices not to join gangs. Where I grew up there were issues of poverty, crime, racism and xenophobia everywhere. We faced these on a daily basis, even as little kids.
I was 9 years old when a white kid called me spic for the first time.
I was 10 when my dad’s close friend was murdered on the streets of NY. I remember him well, he tried to get my dad (who was a gas station attendant, and making minimum wage) to quit his job and work with him dealing drugs. Yes, he was the neighborhood gangster. My dad, who saw what was happening to our community, always and politely declined his offers.
I was 11 when my undocumented cousin was arrested by immigration, and I witnessed as my mom (in a panic) tried to figure out how to get him out of jail.
I was 12 when my friends and I got chased out of Ozone Park (in Queens, NYC) by white kids — as they yelled “Get the spics, get the spics!” We were just riding our bicycles through their neighborhood.
I was 14 when my buddy showed me a suitcase filled with guns. I’ll never forget it. We were playing games… like kids do…. and he suddenly said: “Let me show you something”. He pulled out a suitcase, that he had hidden under his bed, and revealed about 12 guns. I asked him: "Why do you have guns for?” He replied: "I'm selling them to make money, but don’t tell my mom“. I got quiet and I’ll never forget what he said next: "Johnny, I'm not gonna make it outta this neighborhood. But you, you got a chance with this acting thing."
All of these experiences are part of my stories. They make it into the things I create, in one way or another.
I have many more stories like the ones I shared above. Even as an adult; for instance, a cop forced me to stop in the middle of the street, pointing his gun at me and cocked it, ready to shoot me. He accused me of breaking into homes. I was simply visiting my friend, who lives in a “fancy” and “up-scale” neighborhood.
This is my real America.
Yes, I understand why the people in my community did what they did. It does not justify it, but I understand it. They felt shut out. And while I’ve felt and still feel shut out too, I was 8 years old when I first came upon storytelling… I found my “outlet”. Frankly, it’s one of the things that helped keep me off the streets. Sure, I’m still struggling and, sure, there’s still a lot for me to accomplish. But many kids within my community never found their alternative outlet. Feeling like their options were limited, they resorted for the “easy” way out.
I look forward to highlighting the stories I know, because they shine a light on the community I know and love. Many of my friends and relatives ended up in jail, or dead on the streets. But they simply wanted what I want too… a better life. I do what I do thinking of them, and of the generations to come.