The Chapter. That’s the title of my long-burning passion project. A television show– — a Latino frat comedy– — about The Chapter Among Chapters in The Latino Fraternity Among Latino Fraternities.
The way I see it? It’s kind of like Animal House meets Entourage…
Just with some rice, beans, and a haunted Latino frat house to go along with it.
But, once the show is on the air what I really want to do is write a book and produce a documentary about The Real Chapter in the late 1990s and early 2000s that inspired it.
Because: It was a beautiful time. The Brothers were everywhere.
It was before Facebook, before video cameras were watching your every move. Before New York City got gentrified, when the people coming out of it were just cut from a different cloth. It was a rough and tumble group of guys from the city, more like a Family with a rebel spirit living out in the middle of nowhere in Upstate New York and making their college experience: The Best Chapter of their lives.
But: what really made it special was The House.
Because, most of the Brothers never even lived in a house before. Most were the first in their families to go to college and some were even immigrants which made living in it together, as a Family:
A New Version of The American Dream.
I mean, three gigantic floors, plus a huge basement beneath them. Maybe 20 large bedrooms, some of which had private bathrooms. The Phiota House at 47 North Street was like a ghetto mansion off a ghetto MTV Cribs, because, even though it was over 100 years old and a dump?
It was OUR dump and we could do whatever we wanted there as it needed so many repairs that the shady Italian Landlord couldn’t even legally charge us rent. As long as we didn’t burn it down it was ours to destroy.
So, we fixed it up. Slapped new paint on the walls, stole furniture from the dorms, and illegal cable. Forget that we threw the best parties and had the hottest groupies, what we really had was freedom. There were no rules, it was a paradise, the house that everyone’s ancestors wished they’d lived in doing what we were doing with their Brothers when they were crossing borders, washing dishes, escaping from Cuba and fighting wars to liberate South America.
DISCLAIMER: I’m half Argentine, but I don’t consider myself Latino. I grew up in a building, but not in a project. And when I say “we,” sometimes I’m talking about things that happened in The Chapter before I got there…
But, when I first came across this cult-like Brotherhood in 2003? I mean, The Chapter was exclusive. Almost like a secret society, and, added to the fact that the house used to be a funeral parlor?
That everyone thought was haunted?
It made The Chapter mysterious. No one on campus really knew what went on behind closed doors, especially during their secretive pledge process, and in those last years before Facebook it operated like a military unit. Brothers were working as RA’s to get the scoop on all the incoming freshman girls, others worked in the dining halls providing the house with free food, and still, like a college mob, others organized nightclub parties to make The Chapter money while others put on workshops to educate the student body.
We were about something.
But more importantly, we were a Family. 23 Brothers strong at our peak in the Spring of 2002.
I mean, sure, we had some assholes like any other group, but, everyone just knew they were a part of something special. Side by side with individuals who were going to be Great Men one day even though we were all just kids fucking around. But while you’d hear all the time about white ‘frats’ having 70 or more active undergrads, back then, a Latino org having over 20 guys on one campus was practically unheard of and for a time we really were The Chapter Among Chapters in The Latino Fraternity Among Latino Fraternities.
Because: we had a History.
While every other Latino fraternity in the U.S. was formed in the 1970s or after ours was founded (officially) when two smaller Latino fraternities merged in 1931 and had roots going back to secret societies in Latin America.
Like a Latino Skull & Bones.
It was a source of PRIDE. We were PROUD to be walking in the shadows of the great men and military leaders who Liberated South America from her European conquerors in the 1800s.
And, in the 1940s, 1980s and 1990s, three of our Brothers who even became the Presidents of Colombia, Panama and Honduras.
We were a part of something bigger than ourselves.
But, we were also a part of a new generation of Phi Iota Alpha.
We might have been “founded” in 1931 but with the counter-cultural, anti-institutional movement of the 1960s and ’70s, after the Civil Rights Era and Vietnam, with many of the nation’s youth going off to war instead of college our undergraduate organization died out and by 1977 our fraternity went dormant…
On college campuses, at least. Alumni stayed in touch, in 1984 a new group of young men re-founded it and in 1990, Epsilon, the 5th Chapter of a new and improved Phi Iota Alpha began at Binghamton University.
However, by 1996 what they tried to build died out also. There was only one man left, graduating that winter, when– — our Re-Founders came along. Six young men pledged that Fall and joined a movement spreading fast across the North East.
The way we talk about it? Compared to other Latino frats, in the late 1990s Phi Iota Alpha was the underground hip-hop to their commercial rap. Rugged, raw, and the Binghamton Chapter was established by the Brothers of the 1996 line, but primarily, by our Godfather: a fearless, 6’5″, imposing alpha male who became The Chapter President as a freshman. That same year he also enlisted in the Marine Corps, training in the summers and has gone on to become a great man himself, now a Captain in the Armed Forces.
One of our more memorable Chapter Presidents who he and his line Brothers recruited, however, and not just because he was his high school’s valedictorian, was different: A Brooklyn born, Puerto Rican socialist and campus activist who practiced Santeria, studied abroad in Cuba and later spent several years in medical school there smoking cigars with the Castros. This of course after he learned some Hebrew, lied to the Jews on campus that he was part-Israeli on his grandmother’s side and schemed his way into a free Birthright trip to Israel.
Then came The Indian Chief. Our next Chapter president thought Santeria was a hoax and didn’t speak Spanish, because? He actually was an Indian chief. A Hindu.
FUN FACT: One time when some girl got too drunk and shat all over the third floor toilet seat during a party he took it upon himself as the house’s leader to resolve the issue when no one wanted to clean it up the next morning. Grabbing a sledgehammer, he smashed the toilet to pieces and then called The Landlord and told him that it broke and he needed to fix it.
One of my favorite Brothers though was a Dominican Sasquatch. Almost 7-feet-tall, he reminded some people of Chewbacca and was scared of the mice who lived in the house. Once he also borrowed his girlfriend’s car for three years straight and drove it with his big toe.
But while most of our Brothers were from the old New York City we also had a few immigrants, like, The Guerrilla: a fearless Colombian who before he came to the U.S. in an amnesty program was a child soldier for the cartel in the jungles outside Medellín… or, at least that’s what they told me before I pledged.
Even so, he wasn’t the only Colombian immigrant in The Chapter. The second spoke better Spanish than anyone on campus, except: He was also Chinese and had a really funny accent, kind of like a ghetto Bruce Lee.
But then there was this short, classless, cock-blocking Dominican who came off the boat straight from Santo Domingo, barely spoke English and viewed life as a party. Every father’s worst nightmare, he’d go out on Tuesday nights with another Dominican just looking for naive freshmen white girls to run trains on.
But, we had all kinds of Brothers. Some were studious, others were assholes, and overall, we were developing leaders over there. We even started throwing an annual banquet, ‘The Masonic Ball,’ which was B.Y.O.B… and, people arrived loaded: Hennessy, Brugal, Nutcrackers and cheap champagne. Add that to a bunch of college kids in suits who knew how to dance and what you had was a blast.
But then after 9-11, everything changed.
We were doing workshops before that and still throwing the best parties on campus after the towers fell, but, things got real. Where we used to talk about political prisoners and ‘revolutionaries’ we now started bringing them up to speak, including, Young Lords founder Felipe Luciano (Fall, 2002) and Black Panther Dhoruba Bin Wahad (Fall, 2003).
From one workshop we did with former Black Panther Party Chairwoman Elaine Brown (Fall, 2002):
A book signed for me after we helped another organization bring up Black Panther Party founder Bobby Seale (later on in Spring, 2006):
A photo from a Spring, 2002 rap battle we organized that was hosted by a then unknown Immortal Technique:
We’d heard about him after he did a show at our Albany Chapter, brought him up for $300 on a Greyhound Bus and afterwards he even slept at our house and took part in a cypher with some of The Brothers in the ghetto recording studio we had in our attic. Produced by and starring DJ Cloak– — our Brother who was the house DJ spinning records at all our parties– — it became the song “Belly of The Beast.”
But, notice how at the end of it (3:35) Immortal Technique says, “We out here in the middle of fucking nowhere, machine gunning niggas down.”
That right there was what it was all about. What a lot of people back home could never understand, because most people you mention fraternities to? They think they’re stupid.
Which they are. When I got to Binghamton I had no desire to join one, but then in my second semester I met a group of guys, and when I did, it was just different. This wasn’t a frat but instead a mysterious Family away from home out in the middle of fucking nowhere making their college experience:
The Best Chapter of Their Lives.
But, some of The Brothers also experienced one of the creepiest times of their lives.
So, forget the workshops. The parties. The barbecues. The royal rumbles and the random shit like when someone would start a paintball war in the hallways or wake you up by shooting a bottle rocket at your bedroom door.
Out of all the Brothers who lived in the house, there was one recluse– — one creepy outsider, a Puerto Rican that practiced Santeria who was so different than everyone else– — but, not because he was gay. In a house full of machismo– — well, he hated almost everyone in it, and, became more a part of “The Other Chapter.” The clique of gay Brothers from all over who formed their own secret Chapter, with their own secret rituals… While at the same time, he started getting heavy into Black Magic and was supposedly trying to place spells on the Brothers in the house he didn’t like during the ‘sessions’ he was conducting in his room at night.
Right up until one time in the Fall of 2001, when one of them went wrong.
The way I heard it? It was a quiet weekday night, all was well, and on the first floor some Brothers were drinking Phiota Punch and playing Twister with some girls, when…
One Brother came flying down the stairs scared out of his mind and ran out of the house.
No one paid any attention, though, until… A few minutes later another Brother came flying down the stairs and ran out of the house. Hearing the commotion, the Brothers went up to the third floor to see what was going on, and, all they found was:
THE SANTERO– — Sitting in his throne-like chair, in silence, in front of the altar in his smokey, candle-lit bedroom, and as they looked at him? They said he stared back with the eyes of a demon. He even told our Chapter President, a charismatic hood from Spanish Harlem: “You… you’re evil.”
They and the twenty-something other witnesses at the house that night said he was possessed.
They said he started going nuts, threw The Dominican Sasquatch through a wall– — not like it was that hard, the sheet rock was pretty thin– — and The Santero tried to jump out a window as four guys tried to get him under control (because most of the others ran out of the house like girls).
However, two others? They were tripping on shrooms and watching all of this go down in amazement, because finally, it was confirmed:
The House was Haunted.
Eventually they were able to get the Santero under control, but, that night the remaining Brothers, about ten of them all slept in the same room. Scared, yes, but also telling ghost stories and laughing at how crazy it was. A bunch of kids from the city (and the Colombian from the jungles outside Medellín)– — many of whom were the first in their families to go to college, the first to ever live in a house, making each and every one of their ancestors PROUD as they fulfilled THE AMERICAN DREAM– — out here in the middle of fucking nowhere dealing with Demons.
And, as for the Santero’s demon?
When he came to, he said he had no idea what happened. That he blacked out, and for months the story of what occurred in the house that night grew in legend, getting passed around from Chapter to Chapter and across the campus as the girls who were there couldn’t help but spread it, telling everyone the place was haunted… until, after a student died at one of our parties in 2002? The Santero had a premonition. He said he knew what happened: that his “session was interrupted” by the spirit of a man who was murdered in the house in the 1920s.
But, that’s just one of the many stories I’d like to tell in a book and documentary, especially since the good times didn’t last forever. Eventually we lost our house and the rival Latino frat on campus, theirs even got burned down and we were accused of it. A lot of drama happened, and, truth be told? Things got cut short. Our empire ended too early. It fell apart. The times changed, and where we once walked that campus like kings, nowadays our Chapter up there is dormant.
Yet, even so?
It was beautiful while it lasted, and after we graduated– —
As a Family, some of us even bought property and started businesses together, really fulfilling A New Version of The American Dream.
We get together all the time for weddings, barbecues, ballgames, baptisms, etc., and we talk about the old days. We tell each other’s kids about them. About our legendary band of Brothers, that could never be replicated, because? It was just a time and a place that no longer exists…
But, one that I’ll be writing more about, or at least a story inspired by it, in:
An Original Series about The Chapter Among Chapters
in The Latino Fraternity Among Latino Fraternities
Please support The Chapter by purchasing the short story prequel on Amazon.