Given all that he has accomplished, you might assume that Harold J. “Hal” Recinos came from a privileged background. He is a professor, a poet, an ordained United Methodist minister, an author, a long-distance runner, a champion martial artist, an activist and a humanitarian. But most of all, he is a man with a heart for the poor – because he was once homeless himself.
The child of destitute immigrant parents, Recinos spent four years on the streets of New York in his early teens, shooting dope and scrounging food from dumpsters. What eventually saved him was education and faith.
“The two most secure places for me were school and church,” he said. “I loved them both. Even while I was on the streets, I spent time in the library. It was warm and I could read.” Books taught him that life could get better.
At age 16, a Presbyterian minister took Recinos into his family’s home in the New York area, helping him overcome his addiction and encouraging him in his education. Eventually, Recinos went on to earn graduate degrees in theology as well as a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from American University.
While interning at a church working with the homeless in New York, Recinos discovered the Nuyorican Poets Café, a center for poetry, music, hip hop, video, visual arts, comedy and theatre on New York’s Lower East Side. (Nuyorican is a portmanteau of “New York” and “Puerto Rican.”) There, he met the late poet Miguel Piñero, who encouraged him to share some of his earliest poetry.
“I think of poetry as my way of doing graffiti on public culture and representing the edges of society – giving voice to the barrios, the communities rendered voiceless and invisible by the more established sectors,” he said.
This spring, he’ll publish his 14th book, and eighth volume of poetry, Stony the Road. It’s a collection of poetry focusing on themes such as racism, police brutality, anti-immigrant sentiment and the treatment of unaccompanied youth who cross into the U.S. at the southern border. Recinos’ previous books have been well-received; as reviewer Frederick Luis Aldama wrote, “With surgical precision, Recinos singles out just the right word and image that drop us deep into the pains, sorrows and joys of what it means to be Latinx in the United States today.” (See an example of his poetry in the sidebar.)
Recinos keeps his academic work grounded in the world through his work in Dallas-area urban communities and in El Salvador. He recently returned from an immersion trip in El Salvador, where he introduced Perkins students to Salvadoran human rights leaders.
Along with his wife, MariaJose Recinos, Recinos founded the Oscar Romero Center for Community Health & Education, a Dallas-based nonprofit with the mission “to positively impact the health, education and well-being of children and their families in the North Texas area, and in El Salvador.”
Doing this work in struggling and marginalized communities, Recinos said, “reminds me of the importance of living life by staying close to crucified people. Their lives matter to God, and they need to matter to the church.”
Book on the nightstand
The Letters That Never Came, by Mauricio Rosencof, an autobiographical novel, based on the life of Rosencof, a Uruguayan playwright, poet and journalist who was imprisoned and tortured by the government for 12 years.
Fantasy dinner party
“I’d invite Gabriel García Márquez, the Colombian novelist; Gustavo Gutiérrez, a Peruvian theologian and Dominican priest regarded as one of the founders of liberation theology; Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet; and Miguel Piñero, the Nuyorican poet. I would ask the question that Gutierrez poses to us: ‘So you say you love the poor. What are their names?’ I’d serve pupusas – it’s a Salvadoran staple, a thick corn tortilla stuffed with a savory filling like beans.”
Wife MariaJose, a therapist and SMU graduate; three grown children: Jesse, a computer analyst, Claire, a nursing student, and Samuel, a recent graduate of Emory School of Medicine in orthopedic residency; two children at home, Elijah Joshua, a sophomore at SMU, and Hannah Sophia, a fifth grader; and a dog named Zeb.
Recinos is a three-time international tournament Grand Champion martial artist (2012, 2013, 2015). He teaches at the Hebei Chinese Martial Arts Institute for his coach, and the institute’s founder, Master Wuzhong Jia, and has won numerous medals at international competitions for Kung Fu and Chinese Martial Arts. Said Recinos: “I like the discipline of martial arts. It’s a way of learning how to discipline your own soul.”
Question he’d ask at the Pearly Gates
“We lost my brother, Rudy, to drug addiction on Easter Sunday in 1985. I had struggled with him, to get him off drugs and into a drug detox program, but he went back. So my first question will be, ‘Is Rudy here?’”
Personal spiritual practice
A lifelong distance runner, Recinos runs 8-10 miles every morning. “No matter where I go, my running shoes are with me,” he said.
“None. I’m a terrible cook. It’s really problematic for my kids when Maria is traveling. The kids forbid me to cook.”
River Calling ©
Click to read “River Calling ©”, a poem by Hal Recinos from his forthcoming ninth collection of poetry, Cornered by Darkness; expected publication in late 2020.