I was born the son of Sophie Koltko and Odilio Rivera, at the old Manhattan General Hospital in New York City. At the time, my parents lived in the Bronx. After two years, they moved to 70 St. Marks Place, in the East Village neighborhood of the Lower East Side area of Manhattan. My parents split up when I was about four years old; I lived with my mother and sister on St. Marks Place until college, when our family moved around the corner to First Avenue.
I attended elementary school at St. Stanislaus School on St. Marks Place. (It closed many years ago.) I first learned about racial and ethnic prejudice and violence at St. Stan's.
One incident stands out particularly vividly for me. We had had a discussion of the civil rights movement in class, and I took the position that the country ought to do something to help people who had been oppressed for so many years.
That afternoon after school, one of my classmates shoved me to the sidewalk right in front of the parish church on 7th Street. He punched me repeatedly while screaming "G__-D___ N_____-loving son of a spic!"
I was the only student of Hispanic heritage in my class. On many occasions during my elementary school years, I was made to remember this.