Historical Backdrop

Elaine Del Valle

I grew up in the welfare projects of Brownsville, Brooklyn--The murder capital of NYC-- during the height of the crime and crack epidemics. In these formative years of my youth, I developed a passion for the arts, which helped me develop the self-confidence needed to break the cycle of poverty that traps so many young people of color. But it took me many years to accept my artistry, in part because I had to move past something that had plagued, and shamed me for so long.

 

While I grew up amidst a deteriorating backdrop, inside of my 12F apartment, I  was made to feel safe, and almost special--because I had something that most people in my neighborhood did not--A FATHER.

 

My father, Angel Del Valle, was a gifted artist (musician and singer). He played many instruments by ear. He was a loving man who met my mother when he was only 19. My mother was 21, but already divorced and a mother to my three older siblings (abandoned by their biological father).

 

The two fell madly in love, and I was a product of that love. Together, we all lived happily, though our only income was government-provided food stamps, and my father’s bi-monthly paycheck working as a school janitor.

In my youth, my father would have me and my siblings form a make-shift band. We would perform music. These moments were the greatest of my childhood and made clear that I embodied the artistry that was in my father. It wasn’t until I was eleven-years-old that I would realize a terrible truth-- that my father was a heroin addict. My father’s addiction made him have to leave us to grow up amidst our deteriorating ghetto, without a patriarch to protect us.

I stifled my truth and sought desperately to never admit that I even still had a father. I wanted to be someone else--far removed from him. Someone better. Someone who would not be so desirous of artistic pursuits as those big and bold dreams seemed the route to destruction. My father would eventually die of AIDS, and I’d spend the rest of my teenage years and most of my adulthood hiding it to protect myself from judgement.

 

Still the arts could not be squelched from my soul. I found my only release derived from my pen...the stories that I would write. I came to study under the legendary theater instructor, Wynn Handman. Wynn would encourage me to continue writing a story that I presented to him...It was my true coming-of-age. “You MUST keep writing this!” he urged.

 

With those few words of encouragement, my potential was unleashed and I was finally able to speak my truth, and represent my father--a person that may seem like a waste of life to many, would be brought to life with love and finally, not just leave the world with DIGNITY, but also help me to SHINE.