Down These Mean Streets (Part 2)

As much as I find “Down These Mean Streets” to be very interesting, I also find it to be very sad. In many chapters of the book, we see how Piri gets himself in trouble through the many things that he involves himself, whether that be selling drugs or robbing businesses. It seemed to me like he was just going in circles and not learning a thing from his experiences. As the story progresses, I found myself thinking “why doesn’t he learn? He’s getting himself in trouble”. Then, I realized that it is easier said than done. First of all, he loses his mother and finds out that his Papa is with another woman, so that just makes his situation worse. His own home feels even less like a home and he almost ends up killing his dad. And then, the outside world isn’t any better either. We wonder why there are “bad people” in this world. Well maybe they were just not given the opportunity by society. Earlier in the book, we see how he wants to do things right but it’s the recurring mistreatment because of his color that keeps him hurting the society that keeps rejecting him. He keeps being downgraded because of what he looks like.

This reminds me of one instance that my older sister got into a silly fight on social media over a post about a girl being the first black lead for the Nutcracker with the New York City ballet. Charlotte Nebres’ mom has roots from Trinidad and Tobago and her dad is Filipino. This outraged my sister (and I understand where she’s coming from), because she thinks it is a misrepresentation of ethnicities. At fist glance, I can tell right off the bat that she has Filipino blood and I wouldn’t even think of her as black, but people keep insisting that she’s black. The big question is: why couldn’t the title be “the first Asian to land the lead role in the Nutcracker” or “the first Filipina…” I guess it would have had more impact to consider her “black” because of the rejection of African Americans.

I cannot imagine how tough it must have been to live a life like Piri’s. I am glad he is able to turn things around and that he was able to learn from his mistakes. This makes me realize that however many and similar faces we see every day, each face has a profound story to share.

5 thoughts on “Down These Mean Streets (Part 2)

  1. Jon

    Goodness, I seem to be repeating the same comments on everyone’s blogs tonight… well, so be it. Perhaps this helps me figure out what we should be discussing tomorrow.

    Anyhow, one of the things that interests me is the idea of learning. You say that for much of the book he doesn’t learn from his mistakes. And then you suggest that by the end he has learned. And I wonder what is the point at which he starts learning. Or has he been learning all along? And then what do *we* learn from reading him?

  2. Jon

    Oh, and I’m also interested in the idea that this is a “sad” book. I’m not sure that it is, but I think this is worth discussing, and I’d love to hear from you all. Because it can equally perhaps be read as an inspirational tale, with a stress on the positive. To put this another way: is Piri’s plight “tragic”? If so, how? If not, why not?

  3. Pamela Chavez

    Your post make me thing a lot about how difficult is for marginalized communities to stop the cycles of oppression, discrimination and poverty that usually surround them. I think Piri indeed learn from his mistakes; however I wonder how would have been the end of this story if we had a white Puerto Rican Piri? He indeed would have faced still the cruelty of being poor, not getting a good education and lacking of a strong family that would support him. Yet, the thing that makes Piri the person he is, is the insatiable seek for his identity and belonging. He feels misplaced because of the color of his skin more than anything else. And I think much of the mistakes he did, were in the path of looking the recognition he though he lacked because of his blackness.

  4. aurelien blachon

    Hi, Rachel!
    I agreed with you but my whole perception changed when I read the last page of the book. When he got out of prison, I told myself that Piri was “rehabilitated” and that considering everything he had experienced and especially felt in that hell, he had learned to resist the temptation to break the rules (selling and buying drugs, stealing, having relationships with married women…). He broke all these rules in the second he was released from prison. However, in the last chapter we know that Piri would never go back and that he learned from these past mistakes. Seeing his friend “Carlito”‘s decay, he realized that being a junkie could only lead him back to jail. Even if the book leaves us with the suspense of knowing whether Piri has finally conformed to what was expected of him, we finally know that he is definitively rehabilitated in spite of the difficulties he might experience in his future life.

  5. Craig

    Hey Rachel,
    Sad is such an interesting way of thinking about DTMS. I look at it as triumphant. We all make mistakes in life…some of us make bigger ones than others…but the point is, Piri gets there in the end. I know I’ve made huge mistakes in life, but I’ve learned from them. I find it inspiring that Piri gets up, dusts himself off and moves on…realizing that his past experiences didn’t demonstrate the heart he has, the heart he has, I think at least, comes out in the work he mentions in the afterward, where he helps youth from going down the same path he did. For me, I think the only truly sad part in the book is that he loses Moms before she ever got to see the man he became.
    Have a good day,


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