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“Down These Mean Streets” is the story of Piri Thomas' journey into adulthood. The book is set in Spanish Harlem in the 1940s. The Chapter called “If You Ain’t Got Heart, You Ain’t Got Nada” is a section of the book where Piri talks about evenings that he spent getting stoned. This part of his memoir is defining the lifestyle and attitudes of Piri and his friends during this part of his life. Much of the social drinking and drugs was done in clubs which usually ended up in fights. This is how they showed their “heart.” Piri was trying to indicate that the ideology was one of pride of heritage and fighting for what you believed in. No one would come into their place and disrespect them. If you ain’t got heart you ain’t got nada means that if you didn’t stick with your people and defend yourself, you weren’t a true man. Piri struggles through poverty, family troubles, and desperately wanting to belong. He fights with being a dark skinned Puerto Rican during a time when racism was strong, and trying to find his place as neither black nor white. Piri did some not-so-good things in his life, being in a gang, drug addiction, and armed robbery among other things, but throughout it all it is easy to tell that Piri is a good guy at heart.
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