Victor Hernandez Cruz was born in Puerto Rico and moved to New York City with his family in 1954 at the age of six. Even though he didn’t start learning English until about two years later, he soon began writing poetry and publish his first collection of poems when he was only 17 years old. Since then he has published more than a dozen books of poetry and was awarded fellowships from both the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.
His work frequently mixes English and Spanish and often reflects about the experiences of Caribbean and Puerto Rican immigrants in the US, in a particularly inclusive, almost Whitmanesque manner. As Jose Amaya wrote in the San Francisco Review of Books in 1991, “Cruz experiments with the vast linguistic and cultural possibilities of ‘indo-afro-hispano’ poetry and comes up with a strong vision of American unity.” – A unity which shines through particularly in poems like “Latin Music in New York” and “Red Beans”.
As a co-founder of both the East Harlem Gut Theatre in New York, the Before Columbus Foundation and a former editor of Umbra Magazine, it is safe to say that Cruz is one of the most important figures and driving forces of a Hispanic literary movement in the US.
This is also reflected in the comments of the judges for the International Griffin Poetry Price, which he was awarded in 2002:
“Victor Hernández Cruz has long been the defining poet of that complex bridge between the Latino and mainland cultures of the U.S. [His collection] Maraca: New and Selected Poems 1965-2000 proves the extraordinary range of this great, enduring poet, whose articulately persuasive humor and intelligence bear persistent witness to a meld of peoples.”
My response below is a reflection of my own situation in comparison with a writer from a minority background like Cruz. It considers the notion of privilege and its effect for me as a poet.
~ - ~
a jagged line runs through my life
runs through my thoughts
runs through my words
as speaker both and listener
i strip bare in front of those who doubt
the need for words that charge
and words that change
and words that
will not let you rest at night
that spark the fight -
my privilege most of all: