This Mixtape is a Time Capsule: a book review of Francis Mateo’s El Alto

Francis Mateo’s El Alto is a mixtape of sorts, juxtaposing poetry, vignettes, photography, short stories and dialogues in Spanish, English and Spanglish. Call it prose or freeverse, Mateo’s second book captures the ever-changing neighborhoods of Washington Heights and Inwood in New York City through the voices and experiences of recently arrived Dominicans, first generations and beyond. At times, some of the dialogues feel as if you’re eavesdropping on two men in a Bodega discussing which merengue song pairs best with Brugal. Mateo shows us “new” Americans grappling with nostalgia and assimilation.

One prose piece has young men of color roaming around New Jersey looking for a house party and women and at every turn at the intersection we witness the beauty and toxicity of budding masculinity. The black and white photography, a time machine, transports us not only to the moment when the picture was taken, but what the image will mean when the effects gentrification transform the spaces photographed.

The structure of the dialogue brings up thoughts of William Carlos Williams. The sparse prose telling us an inner city narrative reminds us of Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street. The economy of language that encapsulates a local and foreign vernacular simultaneously has an impact reminiscent of Junot Diaz’ Drown. Imagine Miguel Pinero’s Bodega Dreams or Willie Perdomo’s Where a Nickel Costs a Dime, through an Afro-Dominican American lense that cuts through the bullshit in the same way.

El Alto by Francis Mateo is an archive that is a record of a particular people in a place that’s in a moment of flux– a snapshot of a neighborhood and community — that has never been fixed or still, but is always in constant change. Luckily Mateo has given us a book that helps us understand the inner-city, immigrant American reality through the New York City Afro-Dominican American experience.

Nuestro Hogar, Entre lo Local y lo Extranjero: Reseña sobre "El Alto" escrito por Francis Mateo

El Alto de Francis Mateo es una mezcla de géneros, yuxtaponiendo poesía, viñetas, fotografías, cuentos y diálogos en español, inglés y spanglish. El segundo libro de Mateo captura dos
barrios que están perpetuamente en cambio, Washington Heights e Inwood en la ciudad de Nueva York, a través de voces y experiencias de dominicanos recién llegados y criado en los
estados unidos. A veces algunos de los diálogos te hacen sentir como si estuvieras en una bodega captando una conversación entre hombres en la cual combinan unas canciones de
merengue con Brugal. Mateo pinta personajes viviendo entre la nostalgia y la asimilación.

En unos de los cuentos, se encuentran hombres jóvenes de color vagando por Nueva Jersey buscando diversion y mujeres, y cada vez que doblan en una intersección somos testigos de la
belleza y la toxicidad de la masculinidad. La fotografías en blanco y negro, funcionan como una máquina de tiempo, nos transporta no solo al momento en que se tomó la imagen, pero también al significado que lal imagen tendrá cuando la gentrificación transforme el vecindario
de El Alto.

La estructura del los diálogos en El Alto nos trae pensamientos del Boricua- Americano William Carlos Williams. Las prosa que nos cuenta una narrativa del interior de la ciudad de Nueva
York nos recuerda a La Casa en Mango Street por la Chicana Sandra Cisneros. La economía del lenguaje que encapsula un vernáculo local y extranjero simultáneamente tiene un impacto
que nos recuerda a Negocios por el Quisqueyano-Americano Junot Díaz. Imaginense la poesía “Nuyorican” en Bodega Dreams por Miguel Piñero o Where a Nickle costs a Dime por Willie
Perdomo, a través de una perspectiva de un afro-dominicano, Dominican-York.

El Alto por Francis Mateo es un archivo. Mateo se enfoca en una gente viviendo y sobreviviendo en un lugar que está en un momento de gentrificación. Afortunadamente, Mateo
ha creado un libro que captura la realidad del inmigrante estadounidense a través de la
experiencia del afro-dominicano, dominican-york

JP Infante

JP Infante

John Paul “JP” Infante is a Dominican-American teacher and writer in New York City. He teaches high school and writing workshops throughout the city. He's taught creative writing at Lehman College of CUNY and holds an MFA in fiction from the New School for General Studies. His fiction, nonfiction and poetry can be found in Kweli Journal, The Poetry Project, Uptown Collective, Hip-Not Magazine and Manhattan Times.

His short story "Without a Big One" is a nominee for the O Henry Award and The Best American Short Stories 2019.

His writing has received the following accolades: The Bernard L. Einbond Memorial Prize and The Aaron Hochberg Family Award for fiction; Winner of DTM magazine’s “Latino Identity in the U.S.” essay contest; NY State Summer Writers Institute scholarship recipient; and 2013 Northern Manhattan Artists Alliance grantee for writing.

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9 thoughts on “Book Review: El Alto”

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