Victor Hernández Cruz: 1949—: Poet, Essayist
Poetry Influenced By Early Life
In many ways, as it was for most Puerto Rican migrants, the move to New York City came as a shock. During the family's first winter in New York, Cruz was quoted as saying in Contemporary Poets that he was locked in the house "until my mother made certain that it was okay to go out while white coconut meat fell frozen from the sky." Cruz later wrote in the poem "Home Is Where the Music Is" that he too wondered whether someone had " poured cement on the mountains." But the young Cruz reacted inquisitively to the incredible variety of cultures that surrounded him—the Lower East Side was home not only to Puerto Ricans, but to Jews, African Americans, and immigrants from many foreign countries. So Cruz in a sense learned not one English language but many, and he remained permanently sensitive to the ways in which displaced peoples make sense of their world through language.
Attending high school in New York, Cruz began to write poetry. He was quoted on the Academy of American Poets website as saying that he did it in order "to balance a lot of worlds together … the culture of my parents and the new and modern culture of New York, its architecture, its art, and its fervent intellectual thought." The late 1960s were a fervent time indeed in New York, with an awakening of U.S. Latino culture running parallel to the cultural and political flowering of African-American life in the city. Writers such as Piri Thomas illuminated urban Latino life for American readers of all backgrounds, and Cruz's poetry found a ready audience. He completed a book of poems, Papo Got His Gun, in 1966, and from 1967 to 1969 the teenaged Cruz edited a literary magazine, Umbra. His second book, Snaps, was published by Random House in 1969.
In the 1970s Cruz taught at the University of California at Berkeley and at San Francisco State College (now University), worked for the San Francisco Arts Commission, and produced two more volumes of poetry: Mainland and Tropicalization. He taught for some years at San Francisco State, but in some respects life in California never really agreed with Cruz. In the poem "If You See Me in L.A. It's Because I'm Looking for the Airport," he wrote: "The relationship of people to/Their TV is a perversion/In the pocket of some/Beverly Hills psychiatrist—/Lap cats forced to sit with/Owners dizzied from remote control."
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