New film tells Luis Chaluisan’s story

Rocker Roller Rican Documentary Written up in Sentinel-Tribune
New film tells Luis Chaluisan‘s story
Written by DAVID DUPONT Sentinel Arts & Entertainment Editor
Thursday, 17 April 2014 10:50
Luis Chaluisan has become in familiar figure in downtown Bowling Green.
Not that anyone would ever think he’s from here. He was born in Puerto Rico in 1957 and raised in the North Bronx where his family moved when he was 7, and his voice has the quick, colorful clip that betrays his upbringing.
A new documentary “Rocker Roller Rican” out on DVD tells about his life and its intersection with the emerging Nuyorican culture in the 1970s and 1980s in New York.
“Rocker Roller Rican” will be screened at the Connection Center during art walk throughout the afternoon on April 26 at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. in downtown Bowling Green. It’ll also be screened by WBGU-PBS, where Chaluisan worked in the 1980s, in May.
The hour-long film traces Chaluisan’s ancestry back to the Basque region in Europe, through Haiti to Puerto Rico until he arrived at age 7 in the North Bronx in New York City.
It brings together clips both of his performances under the name El Extreme, as well as family snapshots and footage of some of his influences to paint a portrait both of Chaluisan and the vibrant culture of his time.
But it was not all poetry, song and dance.
“I survived the crack wars,” Chaluisan said. He carried a .45 revolver. Finally he was busted, and a detective who he knew from school offered him a deal: If he disappeared, the charges would disappear. At that point he went down to Puerto Rico.
Just another stop in what Chaluisan calls his own journey of self-discovery. It involves graduating from one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country, Amherst College in Massachusetts, but not after being asked to leave on a couple occasions, eventually getting his degree a dozen years after he first enrolled.
It involved a career in broadcasting where he worked with budding stars Geraldo Rivera and Bill O’Reilly.
It involved a stay in the 1980s in Bowling Green, working for WBGU-PBS, and playing rock and roll with Little Otis and The Upsetters as the house band at Milton’s.
And it involved a stay in a state mental institution in New York City.
The only person, he said, who visited him when he was there was Maria Hernandez, someone who studied and worked with him. Hernandez and producer Mike Tapp are responsible for the film.
All through that time, he struggled with mental illness. As a teenager he started hearing voices. Chaluisan sang. He painted.”You could feel a lot of what was happening to me in the paintings.” He started writing. The voices became the voices and imagery for his poems.
He danced. “Anything I could do to expend the energy,” he said.
“Rocker Roller Rican” opens with a film of him dancing while a student at Amherst College in 1975.
All of it came together in the play “Spic (for Spanish People In Charge) Chic,” which played in New York City and Germany.
It took him years before a psychiatrist in Puerto Rico finally prescribed the right medication to control his symptoms. And now, he said, three years after moving back to Northwest Ohio, he feels he’s found a home.
His most recent visit back to New York City convinced him he could never return. The pace is too frantic for him now. “I’m no longer built for that.” He considered moving back to his native Puerto Rico, but the island, he said, has become too violent.
So he’s at home in downtown Bowling Green.
Chaluisan finds support at the Connection Center, so that’s where he wanted to screen “Rocker Roller Rican.” He’s also pleased that the film will be broadcast in New York in June shown in Puerto Rico, and other places he’s called home.
El Extreme Luis Chaluisan displays the “Rocker Roller Rican” DVD inside Finder’s in downtown Bowling Green. (Photo provided)

— with El Extreme Luis Chaluisan and L.f. Chaluisan Batlle.


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