Historical Context

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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:

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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. Arturo was still in New York City and full of the mischief he showed as the ‘‘Monkey man’’ in "Business." The Don Arturo of Cruz's essay offers witty observations about life and surviving under adverse circumstances just as the Don Arturo of Cruz's poems does.

Although Arturo migrated to the States in the '20s, the wave of Puerto Rican migration came much later, in the '50s and '60s. According to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the number of Puerto Ricans in the United States almost quintupled from 1950 to 1970. In 1950, 301,000 Puerto Ricans lived in the states; in 1960, 890,000; by 1970, more than 1,400,000 lived in the states, the overwhelming majority of them in New York City. Today some 1,000,000 live in New York City, and 250,000 live in northern New Jersey. Out of this tremendous influx of Puerto Ricans to the mainland came the Nuyorican literary movement, of which Cruz was a leading figure. In their foreword to The Puerto Rican Poets, a seminal bilingual anthology of Nuyorican writing published in 1971, editors Alfredo Matilla and Iván Siláen write that ‘‘Puerto Rican poetry of the twentieth century, in Puerto Rico as well as New York, with a few exceptions, is a struggle against the agony of the ghetto (in the colony and the metropolis) and against the imposition of a crushing colonial state of mind.’’ It is this drive for independence and freedom from the petty laws and crushing poverty so prevalent in city life that the musician in "Business" embodies. Cruz writes that' 'Don Arturo was an expert at survival.''

Coming from a culture which values storytelling, many Nuyorican poets such as Cruz also became known for their high-powered readings. Cruz, in fact, is helped by his theater background, having written for and performed with various groups through the years, including the East Harlem Gut Theatre, a Puerto Rican collective of actors, musicians, and writers Cruz helped to found. In 1989 Nuyorican poet Miguel Algarin founded the Nuyorican Cafe in New York City, giving Nuyorican writers and performers a venue for their art. In 1998, poets from the Nuyorican Cafe won the Annual National Slam Poetry Tournament, a competition in which poets from various cities compete against each other by performing their poems and being evaluated by a panel of judges. Cruz himself occasionally performs at these events.

Literary Style

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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 symbolizes patriotism and pride in America. Private symbols are much more difficult to interpret because poets imbue them with personal meaning sometimes not accessible to readers, especially readers unfamiliar with a writer's work or life.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 273

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.

Further Study
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.

Jones, LeRoi, and Larry Neal, eds., Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing, William Morrow, 1968.
As a poet with African as well as Spanish and Indian blood, Cruz's writing frequently appears in anthologies of African-American literature. Black Fire is one of the first such anthologies to publish Cruz and provides a strong sampling of African-American writers whose reputations would grow in the coming decades.

Matilla, Alfredo, and Iván Siláen, eds., The Puerto Rican Poets, Bantam Books, 1972.
Matilla and Siláen put together the first bilingual anthology of Puerto Rican poetry that spans the twentieth century. This anthology contains many names not included in subsequent anthologies of Puerto Rican literature.

Compare and Contrast

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 83

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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