Finding home in NYC

Some reflections after visiting the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.

Picture showing an indigo gradient sky along with electric cables coming from the top of a house to the right, to a tree to the left, with a waxing crescent moon visible in the middle.
Picture showing an indigo gradient sky along with electric cables coming from the top of a house to the right, to a tree to the left, with a waxing crescent moon visible in the middle.

August 4, 2022

Community and inspiration: two things that I keep craving since I moved to NYC three years ago, a few months before this pandemic started.

It is easy to find inspiration in the city, don’t get me wrong, but a community that feels close to my purpose while inspiring my work can be a little harder for me to experience, especially because most of the creative work I do is from home, and honestly many times anxiety takes over my wishes of stepping out.

Today, however, I woke up ecstatic to the memories from last night.

I live in Queens, and I don’t visit Manhattan often, but yesterday evening I was supposed to meet with my partner, who was super delayed from a previous meeting. I decided to wander a bit around Delancey/Essex Street’s station. My mind wasn’t sure of where I was, but my feet took the lead in this wandering walk, thinking where the heck am I going to pee now.

For obvious reasons, my gluttonous belly always yells PIZZA! when I’m in the city, and although there is a pizzeria in every corner, only one got my attention: I’ve been here before!

Turns out that my feet took me to the exact place where I was three years ago, when I was new in the city and craving that community and inspiration, determined to share my art, to forget about the 8–5 job, to let my voice be heard…? That’s the same pizzeria where I practiced with a friend some of the lines that I would share at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe that same night in 2019.

It all came back to my body: the excitement, the laughter, the “you only live once” sensations before performing.

But… I don’t really want to buy pizza tonight, at least not to just use the restroom.

A no-time-to-think aura had possessed me at this point already and my body was in charge, so my feet kept walking past the pizzeria, automatically taking a right turn in the road that my mind knew would take me to the Cafe.

Imagine a mind vs body game, who’s taking the lead?

I just walked, wondering if the place will be open, and as nicely dressed women passed by me towards the same way, I got the clue that it might be. I looked at old familiar apartment buildings to my left, and the more modern ones to my right, until I saw it: the enclosed awning and a line of people coming in.

Seems like they just opened doors, so I get in line and ask the couple in front of me what’s going on today. It’s women’s poetry night.

— Do you how much it is?
— It’s five dollars.

I must be dreaming.

I know I don’t have cash on me, but I am convinced that Venmo will do its magic.

— Sorry, we only take cards if you buy more than one ticket.

And I just woke up. I look around trying to spot a bathroom door while the man is waiting for me to make a decision that I know I don’t want to make; I don’t want to leave yet.

Did I ask him if I could use the restroom? Not sure, but as I overwhelmingly attempt to step back outside through the crowd, a young man extends a five-dollar bill for me to take.

— I’ll Venmo you, OK?
— It’s not a problem at all.

I feel, oh, so grateful, and after I talk to him and his partner for a minute, we concluded I’d buy them a drink after I come back from the restroom.

Ah, the restroom… Finally! I head upstairs where I was told I’d find two of them, even though there was one downstairs too. Maybe I needed the extra walk, and stepping away from the multitude even for a moment is always a good idea.

As a friendly gentleman greets me upstairs, somehow, I feel safe.

Once downstairs, I find the couple again and chat with them. I see a list in the bar. Today’s show is actually an open mic. YAY!

Wait, should I write down my name? The list was so long, though, I’m still unsure I’ll stay here for the whole thing… Plus, writing and performing in English is something still in the back of my closet. Oh, excuses.

The music volume lowered, indicating the show is about to start. We go sit down with the rest of the audience.

Destiny, a woman with a vibrant pink energy, opens the stage’s metaphorical curtains and introduces herself as the MC. She goes through the house rules and discusses the theme of the night, featuring a Beyoncé mood-board and Cardi B’s WAP song.

Even though it’s Women Orators Wednesday, there’s a few male presenters that came through and are allowed time and space to perform, “as long as their poetry is about -or for- women” is one of the rules. How wonderful is that? Each of them gets five minutes, as everybody, but they can only share one piece today.

First lady goes in and, wow. I already feel empowered. Throughout the show I am riding waves of excitement and sadness and sisterhood and release and comforting vibes from all the women around me. Sexuality, human rights, generational trauma, healing, romance, life, spirituality… We all look very different, but the words shared that night reminded me that while living different paths, we are all tapping to the same sources of life that help us grow.

I realize that I am witnessing something simply beautiful. Have you ever seen a stage taken only by women openly using words to share their truth, no one talking back to us but just listening and letting us speak?

This is a dream, I say to myself. This is a place to let go of the damn guilt. This is where we can be, unapologetically. This is how we can let go.

A place to be heard, to listen, to share experiences, to create understanding…

And I stay for the whole show, because every pore of my skin asked for that contact with others who are doing exactly the work that I feel so passionate about.

The energy exchange goes way beyond words.

I was impressed that everybody in the list, except for the few that had to leave before their turn arrived, got their time honored in the stage. The whole thing ended at around 11:30 pm. I was still energized.

People leave and a few of us stay exchanging contact information and expressing our gratitude to the performers that were still there.

When we are getting ready to leave too, I see a familiar face sitting by the end of the bar together with Destiny. It’s La Bruja, Caridad de la Luz, now executive director of the venue and whose long and amazing artistic trajectory wouldn’t fit in these lines. I get excited.

My new friends invite me to a bar in the area, and I tell them I must first use the restroom, when in reality I also needed a moment to process everything.

(I conclude that the restroom is a great place to go for transitions, a place to be with myself, as weird as it sounds.)

I come back downstairs, and Caridad and Destiny are still there. I greet them, feeling that I must be making the I’m your #1 fan face I hate, but I needed to express my admiration. As a Boricua, meeting others in the diaspora makes me feel closer to home, especially if the work they do feels close to my soul, too.

As I head out, my new friends are waiting outside, and we talk a bit more about the night, our feelings, and the things that make us us.

It feels aligned. It feels like the Universe doing her thing. I had surrendered.

Community and inspiration have a home in the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, and I look forward to returning for, and with, it.

Huge thanks to all the performers that shared their truth last Wednesday at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, and to Destiny and Caridad for making it a safe space for women, BIPOC and Queer communities!

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Natasha Lee Vega Colón

Natasha Lee Vega Colón

Tengo una mente a la que le cuesta dormir, y un alma y corazón a los que les cuesta dejarse morir. Boricua.