African American Studies
Michael’s grandmother came to New York in 1972. She was originally born in Honduras, and then moved to Belize. From there she moved to L.A and then finally settled in New York. Michael’s Grandmother is Garifuna. His mother was born in Belize and moved with his grandmother to the Bronx, where she met his father. His father was originally from Brooklyn and moved to the Bronx because of a disagreement he had with his family. When his parents met they were in their early 20’s. Growing up he barely saw his father.
He grew up on 165th and Bryant Avenue. His early memories of his neighborhood involved working class families followed by drugs. Most of the families in his neighborhood were black and only a few were Latino. He believes the reason drugs hold such a predominant place in his memory is because his mother was an addict. Because of his mother’s drug problem, she was never that involved in his caretaking. He claims his grandmother raised him, not his mother. In addition to his mother, however, he does remember his neighborhood as having a drug problem. His block had many apartment buildings, a school, and a park on it. He spent a lot of time in this park when he was growing up. He does not remember too many fathers in his neighborhood. Most of the men in the neighborhood were involved with drugs, either dealing or using. Because of this, he and the other boys in the neighborhood found this lifestyle appealing.
His mother’s drug use was very serious. When he was younger, his mother would often disappear for days and was using drugs heavily. However, she was able to do some work and when he was 10, he and his mother moved to the Castle Hill Projects. While living there, his mother would have relapses and use drugs again. Surprisingly, she was able to work at this time. When he was 12, his mother was murdered.
As he got older, he experienced more violence and more of the gang culture. Halloween became a scary time of year, not because of the costumes, but because of the violence that came along with it.
Though he had a traumatic home life, fortunately school came naturally to him. His teachers recognized his gifts from a very early age. When he was young, he really enjoyed reading. He went to St. John’s elementary school. He got into trouble there because he would try and alter his uniform. Even though he was defiant, he still did well in school. He did so well, in fact, that he received a scholarship to go to a Catholic High School. In high school dress became more important. Although they still had to wear a uniform, shoes became a way a student could add their individual style to it. He describes how many would blow their entire summer’s pay on a pay of shoes to wear to school. After high school, he attended Fordham University.
When he was younger, he listened to country music because this was the music his grandmother enjoyed. His mother, however, was more into R & B and hip-hop. One of the first hip-hop groups he liked was Wu-Tang Clan. He remembers the predominance of boom boxes and batteries. People would play their music when they were doing anything, from playing basketball to sitting on a bench. He was drawn to hip-hop because of the lyrics, which really touched him. He really enjoyed reading The Source, which he began reading in 1995. When he was in 8th grade, he saw his first emcee battle. When he was in the 7th grade, he was first exposed to mix tapes. He got them from the street and the content was mostly bootlegged.
Partis, Michael. August 21, 2007. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham.
Click below to download supplemental content.Partis, Michael.mp3 (128806 kB)