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Down These Mean Streets - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Down These Mean Streets

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Down These Mean Streets is the autobiography of Piri Thomas, a Latino of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent who grew up in El Barrio (aka Spanish Harlem), a section of Harlem that has a large Puerto Rican population. In the book, we watch Piri as he goes through the first few decades of his life, lives in poverty, joins and fights with street gangs, faces racism (in both New York and the South), suffers through heroin addiction, gets involved in crime, and ends up in prison.

Down These Mean Streets reads similarly to The Autobiography of Malcolm X in that both books are vivid, brutally honest memoirs of experiences of racial prejudice and discrimination, identity formation, and youthful involvement with crime that leads to life-altering prison experiences. One of the major themes of Down These Mean Streets centers on Piri Thomas's identity as a dark-complected Afro-Latino. Although he is of Puerto Rican and Cuban heritage, the larger American society takes him for African-American and fails to recognize him as Latino. His own family rejects the African aspect of their Latin-Caribbean ancestry, causing Piri to spend much of his adolescent and early adult life contemplating his racial and ethnic identity.

Down These Mean Streets has either been banned or has risked banning attempts in Salinas, CA; Teaneck, NJ; Darien, CT; District 25 in Queens, NYC, NY; and in Long Island, NY.

The book was originally published in 1967, and later republished in a special Thirtieth Anniversary Edition in 1997, with a new afterword from the author. A sequel was made, called 7 Long Times, which gives more depth to his prison years.

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