African American Studies
Patty Dukes, birth name Patricia Marte, is a woman of Dominican descent. Her parents left the Dominican Republic to move to Puerto Rico where she was born.
At five years old, she moved to the the United States, the Bronx specifically. Because her father was a member of the military, her family was given the opportunity to move to the US much more easily than other families. She lived with her parents, sister, and “brother” – who is actually her cousin, but was adopted by her family as a brother.
Rephstar, whose actual name is Almilcar Alfaro, is a man of Puerto Rican descent. He grew up in Washington Heights. His father was born in the Bronx, and his grandmother was a Russian-Polish Jew who moved to the the U.S. after the Holocaust. His grandmother was a garment worker and labor union organizer. He recalls stories about racial tensions among immigrants in the area that is now the Lincoln Center. His mother was also politically active, a member of the Puerto Rican Independence movement and the Young Lords Movement. She published the Young Lords newspaper, Alante, and later became a social worker. She founded a nonprofit called Casapa Lakes, which focuses on “holistic healing” for women, especially those living the in “the hood.” She now teaches community organizing at several colleges in New York. His father was a physician assistant who helped organize tenants and did medical work in Nicaragua.
In the mid-‘90s, the two were teenagers. During the time, Rephstar recalls skateboarding, listening to hip hop, writing graffiti, and going up to the “BX” – the Bronx. At the time, Patty – who is the darkest-skinned in her family – was a tomboy and was influenced greatly by hip hop. She endured racism, even from the Latino community, for being the darkest in her family and acting more “black” than others because of the music she listened to, and she was discouraged from hanging out with other black people. She liked acting at home and at school, and was given the nickname “Miss Hollywood.” During her senior year of high school, she joined the Urban Youth Theater on Henry Street.
Despite being discouraged, Patty continued acting and performed at several venues throughout the world. When she met Rephstar, he encouraged her to rap in a cypher – at a time when very few women would do it. She was heavily influenced by a trip to California in which she visited a youth detention center, which she describes as a prison. The youth there were surprised that she rapped, she felt empowered with her rap skills. Eventually formed a cypher. Since then, she has wanted to encourage others to become emcees and write.
When she first began to perform hip hop, she was untouched by any commercial performances. It was always the “local, grassroots, community center open mics” that “changed [her] life.” She got her name “Patty Dukes” from her friend and mentor, Leonard, who she met at the Nuyorican Poets Café. She met him after a free show, and was impressed by his performance, though she thought he “looked like a jerk.” After the show, she was offered a job in theater and had to audition with him. They got along afterwards, and he punched her, in a joking manner, so she hit him in front of her friends. He responded by yelling, “Who the hell do you think you are, you think you’re Patty Dukes or something?” The name stuck with her since.
Dukes recalls her first play, “Dear Father,” which she wrote at 13 years old, when she didn’t have a good relationship with her dad. The play was about a girl being accepted into an art school, and her alcoholic father disapproving of it. At times, students would cry because the story reflected their lives, and sometimes an actor’s father would show up to the play drunk.
Duke describes not being “fond” of her college experience, because it “wasn’t conducive to the artist.” She majored in creative writing, and saw many of her Latino/a peers drop out. She had to attend night school, because of her father’s death and her work, and she noticed that night school was mostly for students of color. Furthermore, her work was not well-accepted because it was incredibly raw and reflected life in the streets, but it was praised by students of color and artists like Reggie Gaines.
On the other hand, Rephstar had an intellectually inclined childhood, which he caught from his parents, and through his experiences among grassroots organizers. He did well in school; but, he was still rebellious and hung out a lot in the streets of Washington Heights. Under Giuliani’s term as mayor, he recalls the police becoming more aggressive and targeting petty crime. Rephstar also emphasizes that he didn’t receive formal training for arts, rather his “artistic influence is from the streets and being around other artists in the streets and drug dealers and homeless people and just people hustling.” He eventually got a scholarship to study at Syracuse, where he faced “institutionalized racism and segregation,” as well as classism. He left Syracuse and enrolled at City College to study music.
Patty and Rephstar met through an organization called Public Alliances which focuses on arts, and they eventually created an organization that focuses on supporting female emcees, the Artist Development Institute. Patty Dukes also works with Dream Yard. They both finish by saying that what they do as artists isn’t about the money, but rather about the lifestyle.
Patricia and Almilicar Alfaro Marte, December 14 200, Interview with the Bronx African American History Project, BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.
Click below to download supplemental content.Martre, Patricia and Amilcar Alfaro.mp3 (92066 kB)