In ‘‘Don Arturo: A Story of Migration,’’ an essay which originally appeared in Cruz's By Lingual Wholes, Cruz tells the story of Don Arturo, the character who relates the anecdote of the street musician in "Business." A musician himself and somewhat of a Don Juan, Arturo migrated to New York City in 1926 from Cuba. Cruz relates how Arturo seduced the wife of the minister who led the Christian band for which Arturo played guitar. Arturo traveled to the United States with the minister and band and played with them until the Great Depression hit, at which point Cruz writes that Arturo quit the band and became a street musician. In this essay it is clear that the street vendor and musician Don Arturo describes in "Business" is, in fact, himself. Cruz has taken language directly from the poem and used it in his story of Arturo. Compare the following paragraph to the poem:
When the market crashed he [Arturo] became a street musician, taking a position outside Macy's and sometimes Gimbel's. He played many instruments at the same time, even putting a tambourine on his feet. He sang popular Latin-American songs and told jokes. Sometimes he got arrested and he put puppet shows on in the courtroom. The court clerks rolled on the floor.
When Cruz wrote this piece in 1981 he described Arturo as a 78-year-old bon vivant with few regrets in life....
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"Business" is a humorous anecdote in the form of a parable. Anecdotes are short stories, often conversational, told about a particular event. The reported speech in "Business" — the poet's report of Don Arturo and Arturo's of the musician and judge—also underscores that conversational quality, as does the poem's use of nonliterary language.
Parables are short narratives told to make a point or to draw an analogy. The Bible is full of parables that Christ used to illustrate his teachings. In "Business" Cruz employs Don Arturo, a person of unknown origins, but someone Cruz implies holds high status in his community.
"Business'' also employs symbolic imagery to point to a moral. Puppets are symbolic of the way the man himself is treated under the state, and highlight the idea that people who do not resist being manipulated and treated like puppets become puppets. ‘‘Monkey man’’ and ‘‘monkey business’’ are also symbolic terms, meant to suggest the mischief the man embodies in court and the notion that mischief is a form of behavior necessary to avoid becoming a puppet of the state.
Symbols can be public or private. Public symbols, like those Cruz uses, are easy to interpret because they signify an idea or thing familiar to a given culture or society. For example, in the United States the bald eagle...
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Compare and Contrast
1972: The first bilingual anthology of Puerto Rican poetry is published, The Puerto Rican Poets, beginning the second wave of Nuyorican literature. Cruz is among those included.
1989: The Nuyorican Cafe in New York City opens, giving Puerto Rican writers, poets, and performers wider exposure.
1972: Almost one-and-a-half million Puerto Ricans live in the United States, up from only 301,000 in 1950.
1989: The number of Puerto Ricans living in the U.S. has grown to 2,300,000, with most of them living in New York City and northern New Jersey.
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Topics for Further Study
Interview at least five people, asking them about laws which they believe are unfair, then research the origins of those laws. Are the governmental reasons given for the laws' existence still valid today? Why or why not? How do the reasons of those you interviewed stack up against the government' s explanation for the laws?
Research the regulations for street vending and performing in your city or town and then write an essay speculating on how you think Cruz's vendor would be treated if he were to ply his business in your neighborhood.
Interview a few recent immigrants to the United States, asking them about the role of street vending or performing in their countries. What differences do you see between their attitudes towards vending/performing and the attitudes of people in this country?
Spend a day at your local courthouse observing trials and proceedings, then write a description of your observations. Pay attention to the behavior of those being charged with crimes. Write a descriptive essay of your experience.
Compose an essay about an event in your life when you challenged institutional authority (school, the law, etc.), then craft a poem out of your essay. In what ways is the poem different from the essay?
Read Cruz's essay ‘‘Don Arturo: A Story of Migration'' included in his collections By Lingual Wholes and Red Beans. The last sentence of the essay reads, "The way he got here the story...
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What Do I Read Next?
Turner, Faythe, ed., Puerto Rican Writers at Home in the USA, published in 1991, is an anthology of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction from Puerto Rican writers in the United States. Included in the anthology are writers who gained recognition in mid-century such as Piri Thomas and Miguel Piñero, as well as later writers like Cruz.
Ray Gonzalez's anthology Currents from the Dancing River: Contemporary Latino Fiction Nonfiction and Poetry collects writing from all Spanish-speaking people of the United States, both immigrants and native-born.
Cruz's 1997 book Panoramas contains many autobiographical essays as well as a hearty dose of his poetry.
Cruz's essay on Don Arturo, the man who relates the story of the street vendor in "Business,'' was originally published in his By Lingual Wholes in 1982 and reprinted in his 1991 collection of poetry and prose, Red Beans. In "Don Arturo: A Story of Migration,’’ Cruz recounts incidents from the life of a now-elderly Cuban man who immigrated to New City in 1926. This essay is indispensable for understanding "Business."
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Babáin, Maria Teresa, and Stan Steiner, eds., Borinquen, Knopf, 1974.
Cruz, Victor Hernández, Mainland, Random House, 1973.
, Red Beans, Coffee House Press, 1991.
, Rhythm, Content & Flavor, Arte Publico Press, 1989.
Gonzalez, Ray, Currents from the Dancing River: Contemporary Latino Fiction Nonfiction and Poetry, Harcourt Brace & Co., 1994.
Marzán, Julio, Inventing a Word, Columbia University Press, 1980.
Masingale Lewis, Pamela, Dictionary of Literary Biography: Afro-American Poets since 1955, edited by Trudier Harris and Thadious M. Davis, Vol. 41, Gale, 1985, pp. 74-84.
Nyren, Dorothy, review of Mainland, in Library Journal, February, 1973, p. 549.
Turner, Faythe, ed., Puerto Rican Writers at Home in the USA, Open Hand Publishing, 1991.
Cruz, Victor Hernández, Leroy Quintana, and Virgil Suárez, eds., Paper Dance: 55 Latino Poets, Persea Books, 2000.
Presenting the work of both well-known and lesser-known Latino and Latina poets living in the United States, this anthology explores relationships between tradition and change, Spanish and English, rural and urban, private and public, female and male, and young and old.
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