Piri Thomas, the writer and poet whose 1967 memoir, “Down These Mean Streets” chronicled his tough childhood in Spanish Harlem and the outlaw years that followed and became a classic portrait of ghetto life, died on Monday at his home in El Cerrito, Calif. He was 83.
Most people who have known me from my grammar school days are aware that my nickname as a child was “Piri”. In fact, they are the only ones who still call me that. To add to the mystery, most people know me by the first name of “Peter” but my real first name given to me at birth is “Pedro”.
How did the Anglicization saga of my real name come about? Simply put, it is no different than what has transpired in the lives of millions of migrants from Latin America who, faced with the bigotry and racism that would threaten their survival and possibly stifle their children’s advancement within the American experience, adapted in the only ways possible for them. Consequently, many from the Hispanic American and migrant communities were forced to change their way of life, their culture, their way of dressing and even their names so that they and their children could be accepted and left alone to prosper and achieve the “American Dream”.