African American Studies
Tony and his family immigrated to the US as refugees from Cuba in 1966. When the family moved to the Bronx, they were living in an apartment in a cardboard factory. His father was also a worker at a cardboard factory in Long Island City. Unfortunately, when he immigrated, he spoke no English and was consequently put into the special education class at PS 26. One teacher that particularly inspired him was Mr. Krinler. He was able to teach Tony and because of Mr. Krinler’s efforts, Tony was moved into the top class of his grade. When he was in the second grade he had his first experience with a gang. After that experience he was made a recruiter for the Baby Five Percenters
In 1969, the building they were living in was torched. The family had to survive the winter there and moved to the West Bronx in the spring. They moved to Davidson Avenue between Parkside and Tremont. This was an entirely Black block.
As a Cuban immigrant, he had to adjust to the different cultures in the Bronx. For example, his family practiced Santeria while he was learning about Catholicism in school and through his friends. Most of his family listened to Cuban music, which he enjoyed. He, however, did want to experience other forms of music and remembers the fights he and his sister had over the radio.
In 1976 he went to Junior High 80 and was enrolled in their SP Program. During this time he claimed he lived a dual life. At school he was academic and doing well in his classes. Outside of school however, he was involved with an older and rougher crowd. During this time, he also began listening to more R&B as opposed to Latin music.
When he attended Bronx Science High School, he became more aware of the burgeoning hip-hop scene through school dances. He learned more about the culture attached to hip-hop when he was a freshman at Fordham University through his roommate. Also while at Fordham, he got involved with community service. He was able to help students in same way he was helped as a young immigrant by Mr. Krinler. He began working with this group as soon as he graduated. One way he would try fundraising for the organization he was working for was through recruiting performers to come and do a benefit show. Some notable performers include Fat Joe and Punisher.
His neighborhood and area had many residents who were users. He had his first experience with drugs when he was 12 and lost a friend. Heroin and crack were both popular in his neighborhood, along with marijuana. He saw some kids ruin their lives because of crack and others who made a tremendous amount of money as dealers. Much of the violence related to dealing crack dealt with territory and who could sell where.
He talks about the influx of Dominican Immigrants beginning in the 1990s. This created a lot of racial tension in the Bronx. Hispanics did not like them because they spoke a different dialect of Spanish. From this discussion of race relations in the Bronx, he turns to race relations in Cuba. There, he remembers, you are told what race you are and how to act. Race is more definitive than it is in the Bronx, where it appears as though people choose what race they will be. He then discusses the racial tensions between different Hispanic groups. He then talks about an alternate youth program he has set up in the Bronx that has become wildly successful. This program sprung out of The Wild Cat program, which he also worked on. He really sees a need to reach kids in the Bronx that end up in jail when they are 14. He believes that the way to prevent kids from getting into illegal situations is through working with them in their formative years, before the age of 7. He uses his own experiences as proof that this can work.
Tony Martinez, December 14 200, Interview with the Bronx African American History Project, BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.
Click below to download supplemental content.Martinez, Tony.mp3 (115567 kB)