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Saturday, May 14, 2005

May 13, 2005 -- Luis Caballero, one of the funniest and sweetest Latinos I ever met, was a talented writer, playwright, stand-up comic and actor. But he left us. Se canso del triqui-traque.

Luie died of liver failure on his way to work on a film in the Dominican Republic on Sunday, May 1st, May Day. He was 56 years old.

I first met Luie in the early 1990s, during a screening of his movie, "Puerto Rican Mambo (Not A Musical)," a scathing social satire featuring Luie as a "little brown person," looking for a “little hug.” With co-stars John Leiguizamo and Carolyn McDermott, Luie and producer/director Ben Model pieced together a wonderfully hilarious journey through a day in the life of a Nuyorican, which tore deep into stereotypes of Puerto Ricans and Latinos. With music by Eddie Palmieri, this was a gem of a project, but only one of his many outstanding performances.

Although he received critical acclaim for his routines as a stand-up comic, and he was a talented writer (he wrote for Newsday), Luie enjoyed motion picture work the most. He took part in a number of films throughout his career, including
"Suspicion," with Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman, and the Benjamin Bratt film, "Piñero," the story of Miguel Piñero, another Nuyorican icon who shared the same stomping grounds of Loisaida (the "Avenues," or the gentrification-friendly "East Village").

I was a fan of Luie from the moment I met him, and we went on to do many radio, television and live gigs together, including a show with Pedro Pietri -- now that was a joint! Pedro is another fallen icon of the Nuyorican community, along with Richie Pérez. In their own ways, these were gentlemen who did not mince words or genuflect to anyone when it came to the journey and
plight of the Puerto Rican community in New York.
As mainstream media was adrift in mediocrity, sameness and fluff (some things don't change), Luie brought an oasis of piercing wit and desperately needed criticism about the world, including
our own people. Luie had irreverent, dead-on observations and commentaries on anything from La Lupe to Mayor Giuliani, which were always insightful—and hilarious!

I’ll never forget the many times we shared laughs and ideas over a million cups of café con leche, Luis’ favorite drink (along with a cigarette).

Ironically, I was going to talk to Luie about writing a column for the New York Latino Journal, when I heard of his passing.

This is a particular loss to us, as he was always a motivating force behind the Latino Journal radio show, and he will continue to inspire us through the many ventures ahead.

With his barefaced caricatures and antics, he made us laugh and smile, while reminding us all that we could one day become a nation of caricatures if we are not careful, if we are not brave and if we forget who we are as Puerto Ricans and as Latinos.

Luis Caballero was born in Barcenoleta, Puerto Rico. He is survived by his two sisters, Ana and Nydia, and a brother, Santiago "Chago." A younger brother, Fernando, passed away.

In describing Luie's life, his family wrote:

"As a young man growing up in New York, he explored the arts -- through photography, art, acting, comedy and writing. He was an advocate for Puerto Rican's equal opportunity, and for revealing the reality of Hispanic culture through the arts...He did not measure his success by the material things in life, but by the pursuance of his dreams, the love of his work and the love of life. He lived thoroughly, and through the love of travel he saw the world as an open playground."

Que Dios te bendiga…God bless you Luis. We will always love and remember you, and we vow to continue to, as you put it, "fight for our rights and beans."

Rafael Merino Cortés contributed to this story.

Photo: Luis Caballero hanging out with Sery Colón, Don Rafael Cancél Miranda and other friends at Agüeybaná Bookstore (mid 1990s). Credit: Unknown (Used in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107). Please contact New York Latino Journal if you have information at: info@nylatinojournal.com.

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