Puerto Rican Identity

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Black and Puerto Rican: Developing Piri’s Double-Sided Identity For centuries, American citizens have possessed a tendency to view ethnicity in black and white. A person without pale skin and smooth hair is characterized as black without regard to his or her self-identification. Given the racism prevalent in society, this black-white paradigm causes difficulty for people who are not comfortable in one or either category. Piri Thomas was one of these children, and his memoir recounts his struggle to understand himself. In Down These Mean Streets, Thomas demonstrates how the protagonist Piri’s confusion with his skin color and Puerto Rican heritage lead him to eventually acknowledge and appreciate his identity as an Afro-Latino man in America. The first struggle that causes Piri to question his identity is the issue of skin color. Piri’s family, excluding his father, is significantly lighter skinned, and he feels like an outcast in his home and predominantly Italian neighborhood. On his way home from school one day, a gang of Italian children accost Piri for being black, telling him that the hospital where he was born was “where all the black bastards get born.” Piri responds that “all kinds of people” are born there, insisting that he is Puerto Rican and not actually black (Thomas 25). Piri protests his skin color instead of the racism towards people with dark skin, not comprehending that his Puerto Rican heritage does not dictate or overrule his pigmentation. He refuses

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