Why VDJ Batibiri?
Sun 12 Jun 05 @ 2:32 am
Batíbiri, Batíbiri! Code Words for a Budding Community
FRANCISCO "PACO" ALGARÍN
Image It was '26, '27, something like that. Puerto Ricans weren't received well in New York at all. So we organized and didn't walk alone. "Batíbiri, batíbiri" emerged from that movement, because we walked in groups.
You needed help? Well, you'd call out those words: "¡Batíbiri, batíbiri!," and someone else would call out your name. Right there, right away, we knew each other. You knew you weren't alone. It was something we used to defend ourselves. I didn't have to know you. We didn't have to know each other.
Only we knew those words and what they meant. It was an association, an informal association of Puerto Ricans. And it was social. We'd have meetings to introduce new members, to tell them the word. It was a secret word among Puerto Ricans. You had to be Puerto Rican. No other Hispanics were part of that movement. There were members in Brooklyn, Long Island, Manhattan, and in Staten Island. There were members everywhere and we didn't know each other.
If I went to a neighborhood where I didn't know anyone, I'd stand on a corner and call out: '¡Batíbiri, batíbiri!' Sometimes I didn't get an answer because no one was around. I'd go to another corner, somewhere else, and call out: '¡Batíbiri, batíbiri!' Someone would answer, '¡MY-nee-MO!' and we knew we weren't alone. When we arrived somewhere with a lot of people around and we didn't know anyone, well, that was the signal, '¡Batíbiri, batíbiri!' and '¡MY-nee-MO!' We felt we weren't alone.
I used it one time in Brooklyn. I was at a little party, what they called a bayú. A bayú was like 'a thing,' where all kinds of Latinos did business. They sold pasteles, chicharrones, homemade rum, they'd sell whatever there was to sell. You'd meet and eat pasteles and drink. There were lots of other things there, too. There were pianolas, which looked like pianos and played music rolls. You worked the pedals at the bottom with your feet. There was a guy there playing it. You had to throw him a nickel or a quarter for him to play.
I didn't argue with people and I didn't get into trouble, but in this place, I had a little argument with someone and found myself alone. I'd gone there with my friend, Ismael Núñez, but Ismael disappeared on me. He'd met a girl there or something, and they took off.
So, I had a little argument with this guy. Something happened and he said, "…Only a Puerto Rican would do that." And I confronted him. That's when things heated up. He had three or four of his paisanos with him and they surrounded me.
'I'm fried,' I said to myself. Suddenly, it came into my head and I yelled: "¡Batíbiri, batíbiri!" Loud!
“¡Batíbiri, batíbiri!" was the call for help, you know, for reinforcements. "MY-nee-MO" meant, "I'm here," or, "I'm with you." That's how we understood it.
So I heard this: "MY-nee-MO… MY-nee-MO… MY-nee-MO… MY-nee-MO." And there they were. Two stood on one side of me and two on the other. They asked,"What happened?"
I said, "Nothing happened. This guy had a misunderstanding with me."
And they said, "Well, he should correct the misunderstanding if he thinks it prudent. If he doesn't think it prudent, he should make his move."
You know what that meant. When the other Puerto Ricans there saw the four approach me, more Puerto Ricans approached me.
But nothing happened. Nothing came of it. The guy I had the disagreement with shook hands with me and we became friends, close friends. It was just a little tiff because they discriminated against Puerto Ricans.
Those were golden times… different times!
Those who laid a path for the Puerto Rican community in New York City were known as los pioneros. Francisco "Paco" Algarin was among these early icebreakers. Don Paco migrated from Puerto Rico to New York in 1925 and he made his life in the city before fulfilling his dream of returning to his beloved island some 50 years later. He died on July 11th, 1997 at the age of 93.
Paco Algarín was many things during his lifetime: butcher, merchant, farmer, boxer, adventurer, storyteller and fundamentally, at heart, a poet. His friends included famed Puerto Rican artists such as composer Rafael Hernández and poet Julia de Burgos. Until his final days, he kept reciting poetry and recounting tales of his youth, and always to the admiration of his son Frank Algarín, one of the founders of the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe.
This is from part of an oral history taken by Paco's son, Frank Algarín, where he recounts one innovative way in which pioneros organized so that they could survive safely in a new land.
By Santiago Nieves