Business is a commercial activity engaged in as a means of livelihood or profit, or an entity that engages in such activities. The concept mainly applies to activities that are designed to supply commodities (goods and services). The term business pertains broadly to commercial, financial, and industrial activity. Business involves managing people to organize and maintain collective productivity toward accomplishing particular creative and productive goals, usually to generate revenue and profit. The etymology of the term refers to the state of being busy, in the context of the individual as well as the community or society. In other words, to be busy is to be doing a commercially viable and profitable activity.
Business is distinguished from households and government, the remaining economic actors in any economy. Households play a pivotal role as suppliers of resources and demanders of final products. Household consumption is the total expenditure by the household sector, which is financed by the sale of resources, mainly labor, in return for income. As society is deeply concerned, on normative grounds, with the equity of income distribution as well as with efficiency of production, the role of government is indispensable to a market economy. The market system generates a range of inefficiencies as a result of market failure (failure to produce goods and services efficiently, or failure to produce goods and services demanded), so ongoing regulatory and redistributive roles are defined for government in a market-driven economy.
The term business has at least three usages, depending on the scope of analysis: the aforementioned general usage; the singular usage to refer to a particular company or corporation; and the usage to refer to a particular market sector, such as agricultural business or the business community, that is, the aggregation of suppliers of goods and services. The singular business can be a legally recognized entity within a market-based society, wherein individuals are organized based on expertise and skills to bring about social and technological progress. In this case, the term business is associated with a corporation in which a number of shares are issued, and the firm is owned by shareholders who have limited liability. These corporations are legal entities. The businesses or corporations owned by the shareholders are treated by law as an artificial person.
The corporation becomes a legal entity through registration as a company and through compliance with company law. The owners of the company are issued shares in the company entitling them to any after-tax company profits in proportion to their share ownership. A major advantage of the corporation is that many individuals can pool their resources to generate the finances needed to initiate a business. An additional advantage is limited liability, meaning shareholders’ liability for any losses is limited to the value of their shares. A final advantage of this form of organization is that the corporation has a life as a legal entity, separate and apart from those of the owners. The company continues to exist even if ownership changes hands, and it can be taxed and sued as if it were a person. A corporation’s shareholders may not know anything about the actual production of the firm’s product, whereas the managers of the firm may not be concerned about the current state of the share market.
With some exceptions, such as cooperatives, nonprofit organizations, and government institutions, in predominantly capitalist economies, privately owned businesses are formed to earn profit and grow the personal wealth of their owners. In other words, the owners and operators of a business have as one of their main objectives the receipt or generation of a financial return in exchange for their work, that is, the expenditure of time, energy, and money. Private business is the foundation of the market capitalist economies.
Private business is in contrast to government ownership of business enterprises. Since ancient times, governments have owned and conducted many businesses, such as water systems, sports, theaters, mining, and public baths. In the United States, government units own and manage the public school system, public highways and bridges, dams, land, power, and many other businesses. The importance of public utilities to the community has frequently led to municipal ownership of water, sewerage, electricity, power, gas, and transportation systems. In Europe, where public ownership is more extensive and of longer duration than in the United States, it may include railroads, telephone, radio and television, coal mining, other power resources, and banking. Since World War II, many nations in Europe and North America have practiced public ownership of business through public corporations such as Amtrak. Many developing countries also have large-scale public ownership, especially of vital industries and resources. The distinct characteristic of a government-owned business is that its goal is to serve the wider community by offering services as efficiently as possible, but at the same time as inexpensively as possible. In other words, a government-owned business has a mandate to maximize social welfare, not make a profit, which is the goal of a private business.
Frequently it is argued that government ownership is necessary when private businesses fail to work effectively and fairly. Private businesses may fail to safeguard private property and enforce contracts, or collude to avoid competition. Certain industries may be most efficiently organized as private monopolies, but the market may allow such industries to charge prices higher than are socially optimal. Private businesses may not find it profitable to produce public goods. Prices set solely by the market often fail to reflect the costs or benefits imposed by externalities. Private businesses operating in markets can lead to an extremely unequal distribution of income. Finally, private business behavior does not guarantee full employment and price stability.
When private businesses yield socially undesirable results, governments may intervene to address these market failures. Government programs are designed to (1) promote full employment, price stability, balance of trade equilibrium, and sustainable economic growth in real gross domestic product (GDP); (2) promote competition; (3) regulate natural monopolies; (4) provide public goods and externalities; (5) discourage negative externalities and encourage positive externalities; (6) provide a more equitable distribution of income; and (7) protect private property and enforce contracts.
In contrast to a private business, a nonprofit business is a business that supports private or public interests for noncommercial purposes. Nonprofit organizations may be involved in numerous areas, most commonly relating to charities, education, religion, sports, arts, and music. Another class of business is the nongovernmental organization (NGO), an organization that is not directly part of the structure of any government. Many NGOs are also nonprofit organizations and may be funded by private donations, international organizations, or the government itself, or some combination of these. Some quasi-autonomous NGOs may even perform governmental functions. Many NGOs are key sources of information for governments on issues such as human rights abuses and environmental degradation.
A cooperative is an autonomous association of people united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise. Cooperative members usually believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility, and caring for others. Cooperatives are often seen as an ideal organizational form for proponents of a number of sociopolitical philosophies. A cooperative comprises a legal entity owned and democratically controlled by its members. Under this structure, ownership and control are exercised by all members of the cooperative in the form of group property. All members of the cooperative have equal rights to participate in the decision-making process. The fundamental characteristic of a cooperative is that it is democratically administered. The decision-making process in cooperative firms is based on the democratic principle of one vote per person, rather than one vote per share. This is the standard the International Co-operative Alliance requires its members to embrace, and it is also the rule assumed in the theoretical literature.
In private business firms, management employs labor and has the ultimate decision-making power, whereas in cooperatives, labor employs management and ultimate decision-making power remains with the cooperative. In small cooperative firms the cooperative is able to carry out all managerial functions. However, as the size of the firm increases the complexity of organization also increases. Large cooperative firms need some delegation of authority; that is, the appointment of managers. Using their specialized skills, which are distinct from labor skills, managers assist in the formulation of decision-making by the collective; however, decision-making power still resides with the cooperative. Hence, managers are hired and dismissed by the cooperative. Whereas in private business firms managers are ultimately accountable to shareholders, in cooperatives managers are ultimately accountable to the collective.
The cooperative firm requires from its members loyalty, self-monitoring, solidarity, and commitment to the firm and to the ideas of cooperative management. As a result, cooperative firms do not need to dedicate so many resources to monitoring. Bowles and Gintis (1996, p. 320) and Doucouliagos (1995) argued that the proposition that cooperatives are inherently inefficient was not accurate. Participation in decision-making and productivity are positively related. Cooperatives can be as efficient as capitalist firms. Cooperatives do not suffer undue problems associated with investment, monitoring, and incentives, or face higher transaction costs, as assumed in the traditional literature. The dominance of capitalist firms in mature market economies and the relative scarcity of the cooperatives are independent of efficiency considerations. Institutional bias, credit rationing, path-dependent behavior, and the impact of the forces of conformity contribute to cooperative firms being outnumbered in mature market economies (Doucouliagos, 1995, pp. 1097–1098). In mature market economies the prevailing institutions, and not market oscillations, reinforce the duplication of capitalist firms. Therefore, cooperative firms must be considered an alternative to private property.
International business consists of business transactions (private and governmental) between parties from more than one country. (Daniels et al. 2004, p. 3). International business can differ from domestic business for a number of reasons, including the following: the countries involved may use different currencies, forcing at least one party to convert its currency into another; the legal systems of the countries may differ, forcing one or more parties to adjust their practices to comply with local laws; the cultures of the countries may differ, forcing each party to adjust its behavior to meet the expectations of the other; the availability of resources may differ among countries; and the way products are produced and the types of products produced may vary among countries.
The significance of business, and especially of international business, in the twenty-first century is largely determined by the following: globalization and economic integration; technological improvements in communications, information processing, and transportation; new organizational structures and restructuring processes adopted by companies in order to become more competitive and effective; the changing framework of international competition; and finally the deregulation of key sectors such as telecommunications, which led to the liberalization of capital flows among countries. The increase in international business was largely related to the sharp increase in investments and especially in foreign direct investments in the high-tech and telecommunication sectors in the advanced economies, and in the increase of mergers and acquisitions and cross-border transactions. In addition, developing and transition countries were increasingly liberalizing their economies, opening their borders, and abolishing barriers and obstacles in order to receive decisive foreign direct investment (FDI) flows. Increased FDI flow and international business is also supported by the abolition of monopolies, the elimination of tariffs and quotas, and by increased free-trade transactions as a complement to FDI flows (Bitzenis 2005, pp. 550–551).
E-business (electronic business) is a term used when transactions for business purposes take place online on the World Wide Web. E-business, a name derived from such terms as e-mail and e-commerce, describes the conduct of business on the Internet, not only for buying and selling, but also for servicing customers and collaborating with business partners. In addition, companies are using the Web to buy inputs from other companies, to team up on sales promotions, and to initiate joint research. Companies are exploiting the cost saving, convenience, availability, and world-wide reach of the Internet to reach customers. Companies such as Amazon.com, originally only a bookseller, are diversifying into other areas and using the Internet profitably. The term e-commerce also describes business using the Internet, but e-business generally implies a presence on the Web. An e-business site may be extremely comprehensive and offer more than just products and services: some feature general search facilities or the ability to track shipments or have threaded discussions. IBM was among the first to use the term e-business when, in 1997, it initiated a campaign around the new term.
SEE ALSO Capitalism; Consumer; Cooperatives; Corporations; Firm; Investment; Organizations; Profits; Venture Capital
Bitzenis, Aristidis P. 2005. Company Oriented Investment Interest and Cross-Border Transactions under Globalisation: Geographical Proximity Still Matters. European Business Review 17 (6): 547–565.
Bowles, Samuel, and Herbert Gintis. 1996. Efficient Redistribution: New Rules for Markets, States, and Communities. Politics & Society 24 (4): 307–342.
Daniels, John D., Lee H. Radebaugh, and Daniel P. Sullivan. 2004. International Business: Environments and Operations. 10th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Doucouliagos, Chris. 1995. Institutional Bias, Risk, and Workers’ Risk Aversion. Journal of Economic Issues 29 (4): 1097–1118.
"Business." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/business
"Business." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved September 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/business
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busi·ness / ˈbiznis/ (bus.) • n. 1. a person's regular occupation, profession, or trade: are you here on business? ∎ an activity that someone is engaged in: what is your business here? ∎ a person's concern: this is none of your business. ∎ work that has to be done or matters that have to be attended to: government business let's get down to business. 2. the practice of making one's living by engaging in commerce: the world of business. ∎ trade considered in terms of its volume or profitability: how's business? ∎ a commercial company: a catering business. 3. [in sing.] inf. an affair or series of events, typically a scandalous or discreditable one: they must be told about this blackmailing business. ∎ inf. a group of related or previously mentioned things: use carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli, and serve the whole business hot. 4. Theater actions other than dialogue performed by actors: a piece of business. 5. inf. a scolding; harsh verbal criticism: the supervisor really gave him the business. PHRASES: business as usual an unchanging state of affairs despite difficulties or disturbances: apart from being under new management, it's business as usual in the department. have no business have no right to do something or be somewhere: he had no business tampering with social services. in business operating, esp. in commerce: they will have to import from overseas to remain in business. ∎ inf. able to begin operations: if you'll contact the right people, I think we'll be in business. like nobody's business inf. to an extraordinarily high degree or standard: these weeds spread like nobody's business. mean business be in earnest. mind one's own business refrain from meddling in other people's affairs: he was yelling at her to get out and mind her own business. ORIGIN: Old English bisignis (see busy, -ness). The sense in Old English was ‘anxiety’; the sense ‘the state of being busy’ was used from Middle English down to the 18th cent., but is now differentiated as busyness. The sense ‘an appointed task’ dates from late Middle English, and from it all the other current senses have developed.
"business." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/business-0
"business." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved September 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/business-0
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See also everybody's business is nobody's business, punctuality of Chancery.
"business." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/business
"business." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved September 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/business
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"business." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/business-1
"business." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved September 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/business-1
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of flies; flies collectively.
"Business." Dictionary of Collective Nouns and Group Terms. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/business
"Business." Dictionary of Collective Nouns and Group Terms. . Retrieved September 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/business
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Victor Hernandez Cruz 1973
“Business,” first published in the collection Mainland in 1973, is a portrait of a street performer who gets arrested for doing what he does best—selling whistles and puppets and playing guitar for eager crowds. Written by one of the leading contemporary Hispanic-American poets, this work, like many others from the same collection, chronicles the lives of everyday people in New York City, where Victor Hernandez Cruz lived for many years after moving from Puerto Rico. The poem, in its simple tone and straight-forward narrative, humorously satirizes a judicial system that would arrest a man for entertaining people with what the author calls “monkey business.” On a larger scale, perhaps this poem raises other questions of authority, such as why a person is not allowed to make an honest living doing what he or she does best, in this case, entertaining people or selling puppets and whistles on the street.
Cruz was born in Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico, February 6, 1949, to Severo and Rosa Cruz. Because of the difficult economic conditions in Puerto Rico, Cruz’s family migrated to New York City in 1955 and settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in one of the areas designated as el barrio. Following the divorce of his parents soon after the move, Cruz’s mother begain working to support the family. When he was about fourteen years old, Cruz
began to write verse, and, at seventeen, he composed his first collection of poetry, titled Papo Got His Gun! and Other Poems. Cruz’s career got an early boost when an avant-garde New York magazine, the Evergreen Review, featured several poems from the collection. Six months before he was to have graduated from high school in 1967, Cruz quit school. Cruz joined Umbra magazine in 1967 as an editor. In 1968, Cruz cofounded the East Harlem Gut Theater, a Puerto Rican collective of actors, musicians, and writers. The theater closed after a year.
Cruz moved to California in 1968, where he soon made contact with other authors. He accepted a job teaching a group of junior high school boys in a Berkeley experimental public school that same year and began his first major work, Snaps. Cruz taught a poetry workshop at the University of California at Berkeley in 1972 and served as an instructor of ethnic studies at San Francisco State College. He received a Creative Artists Program Service (CAPS) grant in 1974, which supported him while he composed his third volume of poetry. In 1975, Cruz married Elisa Ivette, and the couple had a son, Vitin Ajani, later that year. He became a contributing editor for Revista Chicano Riqueña in 1976. That same year, he began an association with the San Francisco Neighborhood Arts Program, working with schools, senior citizen centers, prisons, and city festivals. The job supported him while he completed his third book, Tropicalization. Cruz won another CAPS grant in 1978 to write fiction. Although some of his short fiction was published in avant-garde reviews, an early novel he had written had still not been published. In 1979, Cruz took part in the One World Poetry Festival in Amsterdam. Cruz’s second child, Rosa, was born in 1980, and, in 1982, he published a collection of prose and poetry entitled By Lingual Wholes. That same year, Cruz’s first novel was published. Cruz has concentrated on fiction more than poetry since the early 1980s but has remained a leader among the “Neorican” writers, a group of authors who share Puerto Rican heritage.
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
This opening line establishes that the following story was first told to the speaker by Don Arturo. This person might be a friend of the poet’s, or an authority figure in the neighborhood (“Don” is a title of respect); in either case, by mentioning the source of the anecdote, Cruz emphasizes the influence of story and urban myth on his childhood.
The story begins the way most stories do, introducing the central character, who seems like a simple man, perhaps a street vendor selling toys to kids in order to make a living. The very easy level of vocabulary is reminiscent of stories one is told as a child.
Not only does he sell puppets and whistles, he is also a musician, entertaining the crowds.
These lines give a sense of how popular the man was. According to the story, he would draw “huge crowds,” an observation which helps establish how satisfied and appreciative the people were.
Here the reader learns more specifically how successful the man was, both in his sales of puppets and whistles, and in his performances. Many street performers leave their guitar or saxophone cases open while they play so people can toss in money, usually small change, for tips. Again, this was probably the man’s only source of income, and the poet does not give any indication that the man was disturbing or bothering anyone in any way.
Contrasting the man’s popularity and success at making a living, the speaker bluntly announces that what he was doing was against the local law, which probably required that he possess a vendor’s license of some kind.
Perhaps an exaggeration, which stories are prone to, these lines seem to show the humorous side to the situation; they also show the stubborn persistence of the police in arresting him and the man’s stubborn persistence to keep doing what he does best, regardless of laws.
The man’s court date arrived.
- Lannan Literary Videos: 12 features a poetry reading and interview with Cruz recorded April 17, 1989, at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. Cruz reads from Rhythm, Content and Flavor and Red Beans. Their address is Lannan Foundation, 313 Read Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501–2628.
- Cruz is a featured speaker in the Lannan Foundation’s Where Poems Come From, released in 1991.
- The Poetry Center at San Francisco State University has a number of audiotapes of Cruz reading his poetry from the 1970s and 1980s. Tapes can be ordered from The Poetry Center and American Poetry Archives, San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94132.
In these humorous lines, the man shows no regard for court room protocol, instead putting on his performance (a puppet show) and making a circus out of the proceedings.
The surprising and extreme behavior of the detectives and court clerks indicates that they are as impressed with the man’s show as the other crowds have been.
As if rolling with laughter were not enough, the detectives and court clerks want to buy the man’s goods after he’s finished. Again, the reader is left wondering how much of the story is exaggerated, but in any case the poet sets up a very unexpected courtroom scene, perhaps satirizing or mocking the stiff and highly organized proceedings most courtrooms observe.
In juxtaposition to the out of control proceedings in the court—everyone having fun—the judge is not happy, perhaps pounding his gavel over the laughter, demanding order, asking the man “what kind of business is this?”
This is the first time in the poem that the reader hears the man speak and learns his side of the story.
“Monkey man” was perhaps slang for any street performer, referring to the technique some entertainers would use of training a spider monkey to take tips and small change from the crowd after each show. Or perhaps the man was known around the neighborhood as the “monkey man.” In this courtroom farce, though, he gets the last word, turning his wit back on the angry judge. Of course, “monkey business” is also a phrase that refers to any kind of playful misbehavior and is perhaps the man’s way of pointing out to the judge how harmless the performances really are, and, further, how unreasonable it is to be arrested for making people happy and trying to earn a living.
Reality and Appearance
Human beings often behave in ways that their job or circumstances require, and this behavior frequently conflicts with who they believe themselves to “really” be. Such conflicts are not uncommon in a society that has put the needs of big business and government ahead of those of individuals. Cruz uses a confrontation between a street performer and the government to point out the hypocrisy at the root of these conflicts. He suggests that behind all of the masquerading and posing that goes on during the course of one’s work are human beings that can laugh, love, and recognize the difference between what is legal and what is right. Cruz spells this out most vividly in the responses of the court clerks and the detectives to the monkey man’s courtroom puppet show. Their ability to enjoy themselves stands in stark contrast to the judge’s inability to enjoy himself and his steadfast insistence on following the law, even if doing so proves to be sillier than the monkey man’s performance itself.
It is a truism that human beings compete with one another to survive and that the rules for competition depend on the society in which one lives. “Business” tells the story of one man’s fight to survive in an environment that both appreciates his work and disdains it. The public’s appreciation of the monkey man’s work is evident in the “huge crowds” that show up to buy his whistles and puppets and listen to his music. Government’s disdain for his work is evident by the man being arrested on a regular basis for simply trying to survive. The monkey man, then, must craft a strategy for appeasing the demands of government while continuing to do the work that he loves. He accomplishes this by being himself: a performer.
Performing in a courtroom, a place often associated with solemnity and mind-numbing bureaucratic procedures, brings life and laughter to the detective and court clerks, who “[roll] on the floor” with glee at the monkey man’s puppet show. It is significant that these two groups of people side with the monkey man, as they are also working people. They stand in contrast to the judge, symbolic of a society’s idea of justice, who remains opposed to the monkey man’s work. The end of the poem sets up a confrontation between the judge and ordinary people, represented by the monkey man, the court clerks, and the police. This David and Goliath scenario does not need to play itself out in order for readers to sympathize with the monkey man. After all, he is the underdog.
Balancing the needs of the state with the desires of the individual is a continuing struggle for modern governments. Cruz demonstrates the absurdity that results when government equally applies rules to citizens regardless of circumstance. By denying a man who is simply trying to make a living his business, the government reveals its inability to represent all the people.
An individual’s rights are codified in the first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States, and in his poem Cruz draws on the sympathy that most people have for the individual when challenging the state. The judge, in enforcing the letter of the law, misses the spirit of the law and elicits readers’ contempt.
“Business” is written in short free-verse lines and is almost completely punctuation free. Instead of following a set pattern of stresses or rhymes, as in formal verse, Cruz uses the more relaxed and varied rhythms of everyday conversation, perhaps similar to the voice of Don Arturo, from whom the speaker claims to have heard the story. By keeping his lines short—usually only three to five words— and the vocabulary simple and straightforward, Cruz succeeds in creating an easy tone. Almost every line lacks end punctuation, a technique called enjambing the line, which allows the phrase to run-over to the next line. The resulting effect is a flowing, nonstop motion throughout the work. Since this poem’s subject matter questions authority (who would judge selling whistles and puppets illegal?), Cruz’s refusal to incorporate “proper” punctuation in this poem—and many of his other works—reflects his questioning nature and a tendency to trust his own sense of voice over one determined by someone else.
Cuban Immigration and New York City
The character of Don Arturo is based on a Cuban immigrant and friend of Cruz’s who lives in New York City. Cruz wrote many of the poems in Mainland while living in New York City in the 1960s and early 1970s. Many of the Cubans who immigrated to the United States during the early 1960s were staunch anticommunists and had family ties in Florida and New York. Many were middle-class government workers, businessmen, professionals, and managers who left Cuba not only because they opposed the revolution but because they wanted to protect their financial assets.
Some of these new arrivals formed groups whose members actively worked for the overthrow of the Castro government. Such groups, including the Insurrectional Jose Marti Movement and the Cuban National Liberation Front, were based in Miami, Florida, and carried out bombings of Cuban interests and associates throughout the United States and Canada. Cubans who immigrated during the mid-1960s to mid-1980s also came for political and economic reasons but tended to be less educated and less skilled than the previous wave of Cuban immigrants. The Mariel boatlift of 1980 alone brought more than 120,000 Cubans to American shores. In the early 1970s, Cuba and the United States explored the possibility of reestablishing ties, but, in 1975, the United States suspended talks when Cuba sent a large number of troops to fight in the Angolan civil war. In 1977, the countries finally
Topics for Further Study
- Research African folk tales having to do with animals. What is the role of the monkey in such tales? Write a short essay making any connections between how the monkey appears in these tales and how it is used in Cruz’s poem.
- Interview a “wise man” in your neighborhood or family, asking him how to be successful in love and business. How do his responses compare to Don Arturo’s? What about the responses are wise? Present your findings to the class.
- Do an informal survey of the small businesses in your city or town. How many of these businesses are owned by immigrants or the children of immigrants? Research the relationship between various kinds of businesses, such as corner stores, quick marts, and fast food restaurants, and the people who own them and work in them. Are people of certain ethnic backgrounds over-represented in them? Account for your findings.
- Brainstorm as many ethnic and racial stereotypes related to money and work as possible, and then hold a class discussion on the danger of such stereotypes.
- With your class, make a chart listing the advantages and disadvantages of self-employment. What are some of the qualities needed to be self-employed? How many people in your class envision working for themselves in the future? Discuss possible job opportunities.
established special interest sections in their respective capitals.
During this period, John V. Lindsay was New York City’s mayor (1966–1974). A reformer, Lindsay tried to pare down government by consolidating administrative agencies and to decentralize authority by creating neighborhood councils. However, the city became a hotbed of tension and unrest as severe rioting rocked its streets in 1964 and again in 1968. The crime rate jumped by 91 percent
Compare & Contrast
- 1970s: The Cuban Communist Party approves a new socialist constitution, and Fidel Castro is elected president.
Today: The United States House of Representatives approves a measure allowing the sale of food and medicines to Cuba as American corporations prepare themselves to do business in Cuba if Castro ceases to exercise power.
- 1970s: Rudolph Giuliani becomes the assistant United States attorney in the office of the Southern District of New York where he takes on drug dealers, organized crime, and white-collar criminals.
Today: On September 11, 2001, two hijacked jetliners crash into the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, killing thousands, including hundreds of firefighters and police, and causing massive economic and emotional shock waves that reverberate throughout the country. Giuliani emerges as one of the city’s heroes, providing leadership and offering hope.
- 1970s: One-and-a-half million Puerto Ricans live in the United States.
Today: More than two-and-a-half million Puerto Ricans live in the United States, with most of them residing in New York City and northern New Jersey.
between 1965 and 1971, leading to the establishment of special homicide, robbery, and burglary squads in the Detective Bureau. In 1971, the Organized Crime Control Bureau was founded to investigate narcotics crimes.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, New York City lost more than a half million jobs, which seriously eroded its tax base. The unemployment rate skyrocketed and by 1975 the city teetered on bankruptcy, with a deficit of more than three billion dollars. The poor, as always, were disproportionately affected. Rising poverty rates, growing drug use, and protests against American involvement in the Vietnam War all contributed to the public’s increasing distrust of government. This distrust escalated in 1972 when a group of men, including former CIA agent James McCord, were arrested in the burglary of the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate apartment complex in Washington, D.C. Over the next two years this incident led to more investigations, which found many members of President Nixon’s inner circle to be involved with the break-in and ensuing attempted cover-up. Under the threat of impeachment, Nixon himself resigned in 1974.
New York City Culture: 1960s–1970s
Cruz’s poetry makes frequent reference to music in general and salsa in particular. The term “salsa” describes a type of music that originated in the late 1960s as a marketing gimmick by Fania Records to sell a product that was significantly different than the Latin big band sound of the 1950s. The new sound is derived from the Afro-Cuban religious and secular music of island slaves but incorporates genres from other Afro-Caribbean and African-American musical traditions as well. The large number of people immigrating to New York from Cuba and Puerto Rico in the 1940s and 1950s helped to fuel the popularity of salsa music, and many salsa bands include both Cuban and Puerto Rican musicians. The aggressive sound of salsa, improvisation, and combination of rhythms are also distinctly urban and reflect the music’s connection to the streets of New York City.
Though not much has been written critically about the poem “Business,” Cruz is considered by critics to be one of the leading contemporary Hispanic-American poets writing today. In his book The Nuyorican Experience: Literature of the Puerto Rican Minority, Eugene Mohr comments, “Cruz is, despite his ethnic experience, clearly at home in contemporary American poetry and has established an increasingly solid reputation for himself with critics and serious readers.” Martín Espada, a well-known Latino poet, calls Cruz “a dazzling talent considered for many years to be one of the leading Puerto Rican poets in the United States.” Some critics highlight Cruz’s musical sense of common speech and nontraditional use of punctuation; as Nicolas Kanellos has written in the introduction to Cruz’s collection Rhythm, Content & Flavor, “When Random House issued the poetic works of a New York Puerto Rican prodigy in Snaps(1968), it was fully aware of the originality, power and clarity of vision in the young poet’s snapshots of life in the urban ghetto.” According to Kanellos, Cruz’s editors, by agreeing to publish his poems, were “respectful of Cruz’s diction—which was apparently nurtured in black English and popular music—and his irreverence for some of the formalities of grammar and style.”
Semansky is an instructor of English literature and composition. In this essay, Semansky considers “Business” in relation to other Cruz poems.
One can imagine Cruz’s poem being performed as a comedy sketch on Saturday Night Live or as a scene in a Gene Wilder film. It has all of the ingredients of popular appeal: a playful and clownish everyman fighting established power; a sympathetic public; a buffoon of a judge representing institutional authority; and a punch line that turns on a pun. Underneath the comedic tone, however, lies the truth of the poem, the message Cruz wants readers to take away. This truth can be seen more clearly by examining the poems that accompany “Business” than by considering it alone.
The business of “Business” permeates the other four poems with which it is grouped. These poems, “Atmosphere,” “Memory,” “Love,” and “Music,” all function as parables describing how one should live. They are presented as nuggets of wisdom from a sage who has lived the advice he offers. The first poem, “#1 Atmosphere,” offers advice on how to make one’s own way in the world:
“The need to give love, to proactively transform one’s environment and to be accountable for one’s actions are all embodied in the parable of the ‘monkey man.’”
Don Arturo says:
You have to know
what the atmosphere
You have to know
Because if it’s good
You can go somewhere
and make your own.
This poem is about the necessity of being aware of one’s surroundings. Understanding, being sensitive to one’s environment, Don Arturo claims, means that people have a better chance of creating their own atmosphere. Although the logic seems anti-materialist in that initially the atmosphere, rather than people, does the creating, it is actually circular. Notice that he does not say, “if it’s bad, you can avoid it.” Don Arturo’s advice is like a New Age affirmation for those looking for a quick fix of positive energy: it’s light and fluffy and belabors the obvious. The second poem in the suite, “Memory,” carries a warning of sorts.
Don Arturo says:
You have to know
what you once said
Because it could
travel in the air
And return in different
And then you have to
This poem underscores the importance of accountability to one’s words. Don Arturo emphasizes that people must be conscious of what they say and make sure that their words match their intentions. The future acts as a kind of glue, binding a speaker to his or her words. The message here is not to be cavalier with language but to use it appropriately. The verb “buy” to describe the act of being held accountable is significant because it highlights the similarities between responsible behavior
What Do I Read Next?
- Cruz tells the story of Don Arturo, the person behind the character, in “Don Arturo: A Story of Migration,” an essay included in his 1982 collection By Lingual Wholes.
- “Business” is also included in Cruz’s most recent collection of poems, Maraca: New and Selected Poems, 1966–2000(2001).
- In 1994, Puerto Rican poet and political activist Martín Espada edited Poetry Like Bread: Poets of the Political Imagination from Curbstone Press. The anthology collects poems by activist writers, such as El Salvador’s Roque Dalton, Nicaragua’s Tomas Borge, Puerto Rico’s Clemente Soto Velez, and Cruz.
- Puerto Rican Voices in English (1997), edited by Carmen Dolores Hernandez, collects interviews with more than a dozen Puerto Rican writers living in the United States and writing in English. These writers, including Cruz, discuss such topics as the challenge of writing for multiple audiences, cultural adaptation, and literary racism.
- In 1995, Roberto Santiago edited the collection Boricuas: Influential Puerto Rican Writings— An Anthology, which contains more than fifty selections of poetry, fiction, plays, essays, monologues, screenplays, and speeches from some of the most powerful voices in Puerto Rican literature, including poems by Cruz.
and business practices. The fourth poem in the suite, “Love,” dispenses advice indirectly, using the subjunctive, rather than the imperative, mood to get its point across:
Don Arturo says:
if you put your hands
in all the time
Some day it will fly
away with your mind.
This is a variation on the warning against falling in love. Don Arturo recommends prudence in matters of the heart, advising readers to be careful of giving themselves to others too often or without discrimination. Emotion will dominate reason, Don Arturo reminds readers, if they let it. However, his last poem in the suite, “Music,” seems to suggest just the opposite, to let oneself be carried away by emotion and to live in the moment.
Don Arturo says:
There’s supposed to
be more sauce than
It’s suppose to be
like riding on a
or stepping out
of the room
Without a single motion.
Including music in a list of subjects that one needs to know to lead a successful and happy life underscores the significance of music in Hispanic culture. The point of Don Arturo’s description is that while playing or listening to music, one needs to become one with it, to merge one’s body with the sounds and rhythms. To know how to be in relation to music means to know how to cultivate pleasure from the world.
Cruz underscores the importance of enjoying oneself in “Business.” In this poem, all of the values that Don Arturo advocates pursuing in his other poems are evident. The need to give love, to proactively transform one’s environment and to be accountable for one’s actions are all embodied in the parable of the “monkey man.” The world can be a hostile place, full of obstacles the individual must overcome in order to survive. And often, those whose job it is to protect you become your enemies. It is no surprise that the central character in “Business” is a musician who manages to make a living at what he enjoys through persistence, ingenuity, and good will. Rather than being daunted by his thrice-weekly arrests—presumably for petty vending regulations—the musician wins over the very people who hound him: the police. He does this simply by being himself, something he cannot help being, even in the face of such sour-faced authority as the judge.
It is important to note that the character of Don Arturo is based on a friend of Cruz’s, featured in his essay “Don Arturo: A Story of Migration.” The real Don Arturo, Cruz tells readers, immigrated to the United States in 1926 from Cuba. Cruz relates Arturo’s mischievous ways, including his seduction of a minister’s wife. When the Great Depression hit, Arturo quit the Christian band he was playing for and became a street musician. Cruz describes the event as follows:
When the market crashed he [Arturo] became a street musician, taking a position outside Macy’s and sometimes Gimbels. He played many instruments at the same time, even putting a tambourine on his feet. He sang popular Latin American songs and told jokes. Sometimes he got arrested and he put puppet shows on in the courtroom. The court clerks rolled on the floor.
Cruz’s admiration of Arturo is obvious, both in his poems and the essay itself, which serves as the basis for his poems. By writing from material he has already used, Cruz also emulates Arturo, who has learned to survive by his wits. Just as Arturo put on puppet shows both to make a living and, in the courtroom, to escape from the punishment of the law, so too has Cruz reshaped his own material for different audiences. Both Cruz and Arturo exhibit the kind of entrepreneurial zeal and strategic intelligence often associated with immigrants to the United States. They try, they fail, they adapt, and they overcome. In 1981, when Cruz wrote the essay about Arturo, he also wrote another poem, titled simply, “Don Arturo Says,” which appeared in his 1989 collection, Rhythm, Content and Flavor.
Like some of the other poems, this one also advocates the joys of diving into life, erasing the distinction between the person engaged in the activity and the activity itself. To “disappear” here means to lose all self-consciousness. This is also the only one of the poems in which Don Arturo talks about himself in the first person. However, unlike the other poems, this one is full of nostalgia and melancholy. There is no explicit advice being dispensed, nor warnings proffered. Instead of the folksy wisdom in the other “Don Arturo” poems, there is wistfulness. The elegiac tone also shows Don Arturo’s more vulnerable side. He is no longer the avuncular and mischievous raconteur but someone who seems to be practicing his own elegy, mourning his own passing before the fact. In his essay on Arturo, Cruz listens to him recount his life, writing:
He savors memory like espresso coffee. He calls up his beautiful moments with women like an encyclopedia, though his memory sometimes scatters. The details he gives shine like light bulbs and make bridges with each other.
This last image is telling in that it offers a justification for Cruz’s poems about the old man. They function to continue the “bridge” of Don Arturo’s memories. Here, Cruz’s role as poet is to preserve his friend’s stories and the lessons they teach. By acting as cultural historian for the immigrant experience, Cruz keeps alive the lessons of the past. This is the poet’s true business.
“To survive, newcomers may sometimes break the letter of the law, but perhaps they are showing drive and determination to earn a living in a difficult world.”
Source: Chris Semansky, Critical Essay on “Business,” in Poetry for Students, The Gale Group, 2002.
Prebilic is an independent author who writes and analyzes children’s literature. She holds degrees in psychology and business. In this essay, Prebilic discusses how Victor Hernandez Cruz strives to reconcile the worlds of Puerto Rico and mainland United States in the life of an immigrant or street vendor.
The poem “Business” (Mainland), by Victor Hernandez Cruz, exposes the mediocre side of mainland United States. “Business,” the third title of a group of five in Cruz’s 1973 poetry collection, also includes poems called: “Atmosphere,” “Memory,” “Love,” and “Music.” All the poems communicate the sayings of Don Arturo; they all portray universal themes. “Business” portrays the difficulties of an immigrant making a living as a street vendor in a metropolitan city. Cruz, a Puerto Rican, relays the complexities of this business through the trials of a wise, risk-taking businessman.
To fully appreciate Cruz’s poem, readers should consider several ideas: Cruz’s use of Don Arturo to define setting; the events in Puerto Rican history that brought immigrants, including Cruz, to mainland United States; the audience that Cruz’s poetry inspires; the business of street vending; and the symbolism of the monkey man.
Cruz defines the setting of the poem in his introductory line “Don Arturo says.” This identification to Arturo lets readers know that the poem refers to a cohesive community with a strong ethnic affiliation. Arturo symbolizes an explicit cultural up-bringing, and “Don” means sir, a title formerly attached to the last name of a high-ranking Spaniard. Cruz uses a man he respects and likes to share his ideas through a poem. This act in itself shows the importance of Cruz’s topic. During this thirty-four-line free verse poem, readers immediately learn that the speaker is of Spanish birthright.
Consider the events that brought immigrants to mainland United States. In 1951, Puerto Ricans voted to start their own government and to remain a commonwealth of the United States. Puerto Ricans adopted their new constitution in 1952.
Together, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Congress devised an economic-stimulus plan, Operation Bootstrap, to deal with the trade and industry woes of the island. The plan called for U.S. companies to build factories on the island to employ Puerto Rican workers. In return, businesses avoided paying taxes for seventeen years. From 1947 to 1960, the number of factories increased from one hundred to six hundred. By 1955, manufacturing exceeded farming as a contributor to the island’s economy. Yet, Operation Bootstrap could not guarantee employment for all Puerto Ricans. Large Puerto Rican communities formed in metropolitan cities like New York and Chicago.
In looking at a snapshot of history, it is imperative that readers understand the influence Puerto Rico had on Cruz’s childhood, his proclivity towards writing, and the development of his writing style. In Contemporary Poets, Cruz reflects on the journey of his family to the mainland. He explains that his grandfather rolled cigars in Puerto Rico, thus making a living as a tobacconist. When the agricultural system of the island failed due to bad management, it displaced an enormous segment of the interior population. Cruz’s family became part of the massive mandatory migration to mainland United States.
Cruz, as quoted in Contemporary Poets, remembers staring out a window at the lower east side of Manhattan at the age of five. By age 15 he began to write, feeling a deep impulse to do so. He felt he had to “balance a lot of worlds together... feeling and looking at the culture of my parents and the new and modern culture of New York, its architecture, its art, and its fervent intellectual thought.” Cruz continues, stating that he believes a poet “deciphers his psychological, emotional, and historical position... within the rhythms of his culture, the culture he was born into and the culture which he continuously acquires.”
Cruz learned first hand the challenges of migration. Like many other writers, Cruz seems to have captured the spirit of the dislocation that Puerto Rican immigrants felt in the mid-twentieth century. It seems as if Cruz’s monkey man deals with dislocation by becoming a street vendor. He sells whistles and puppets, and plays a guitar. People in the crowded shopping areas toss money into his guitar. This somehow breaks the law, so law enforcement repeatedly arrests him. Readers must assume that he either does not have the proper license or does not meet the peddling requirements such as operating within legal hours, paying taxes, or selling at officially authorized locations. Yet, the monkey man continues to do what he knows to earn his living. Establishing this background immediately allows for the readers to settle into the atmosphere typical of immigrant Puerto Ricans as they become a part of mainland United States.
In addition, these historical experiences and beliefs shaped Cruz’s writing style significantly as seen in the presentation of “Business.” This metropolitan setting validates the experiences of more than two million Puerto Ricans traveling to mainland United States, not to mention the numerous other cultures who can identify with this scenario. The poem offers a simple yet effective insight into the complexities of cultural changes—both in the world of one’s birth and the way of life that one continuously acquires. In the poem, an immigrant struggles with both worlds. Born into a society of extreme poverty, this man perhaps developed the persistence to sell his wares against all odds. He survived extreme poverty. Perhaps forced to immigrate to the mainland, he continues to use the same skills, only to be arrested and prosecuted by his new world. This cultural dichotomy may perplex him; however, the character in the poem seems adeptly comfortable with his street vending business.
Next, take into account the popularity of Cruz’s poems, his audience. As Pamela Masingale Lewis notes, Cruz’s literature “reaches a diverse and large audience. His poems have been translated into five languages.” Cruz leads a movement of “Neorican” writers, that is, Puerto Rican writers who have spent “their formative years on the United States mainland... write in an idiomatic English influenced by Spanish and Black English and. derive mainly from the working class.” Their literature examines the reality of life of Puerto Ricans on the mainland and their traditions.
This leads us to examine street vending or peddling. As an established street vendor, the man in the poem finds himself caught between two desires: earning a living and abiding by the law. Cruz establishes this man’s resolve—his many arrests do not cause him to stop peddling. Secondly, the court appearance shows this man’s plight. As he breaks the law in front of the judge who scorns him, the detectives and court clerks roll on the floor in laughter, indicating that they enjoy his business. Subsequently, they buy his whistles and puppets.
Street vendors continue to meet with this type of complexity today, as Regina Austin presents in Yale Law Journal: “the line between the legal and the illegal in the area of economic activity is ephemeral.” Laws in the United States largely do not encourage street vending. If a city’s regulations do not explicitly ban it, they hamper it by limiting vending licenses, increasing fees, restricting locations, or stipulating business hours, table proportions, or cart design. Why do vendors continue to violate these prescribed regulations? Perhaps those that do it are like “some poor blacks, [for whom] breaking the law is not only a way of life; it is the only way to survive.” Austin’s article speaks specifically about blacks; however, a poor immigrant of any nationality can certainly use street vending to survive. As Cruz points out in this man’s case, the judge, a law-enforcing entity, exclaims “What kind of business is this,” to which the man replies that the monkey man sells monkey business.
Why does this man say he is a monkey man? The last matter to bear in mind in analyzing Cruz’s symbolic poem is the correlation between the monkey man and the monkey. In literature, the monkey symbolizes play, zaniness, and intelligence. It’s the most similar of all mammals to humans. Monkey’s love to play, and intelligence is an integral part of play. In fact, monkey behavioral patterns that seem irrational have a reason and a purpose. When monkeys “monkey around,” they are learning important survival skills: how to control movements, judge the strength of branches, and fall correctly as they travel. Watching monkeys in their native environments can be amusing, as they seem utterly carefree and zany. They love to play so much that female monkeys can overlook the fact that they have children to nurture. Perhaps Cruz uses the analogy of a monkey to draw on these traits.
In addition, the term “monkey business” means mischief, shenanigans, trouble, and pranks. Therefore, monkey man as an entrepreneur is a fittingly symbolic one. The monkey man appears as if he’s playing when he strums his guitar and sells puppets or whistles; yet, like nature’s monkey, he’s engaging in survival skills. He’s doing what it takes to ensure he gets food on the table, just as a monkey learns how to fall from a tree. He uses his play intelligently to fetch an income; like that monkey that looks silly, but who is actually testing the strength of a tree branch. In fact, the monkey man does his business so well that he sells whistles and puppets in any environment, even in the court. By this, Cruz implies that through being mischievous, causing trouble, and pulling pranks, the monkey man learns how to survive. The monkey man knows that his business is not selling things, but it is about being who he is, just like the monkey.
Although the United States offers many benefits, it challenges newcomers more than readers may realize. Earning a living may not be easy. Language barriers, immigration status, disparities in income, and multicultural misunderstandings may be but a few things that make the transition to a metropolitan area a difficult one. To survive, newcomers may sometimes break the letter of the law, but perhaps they are showing drive and determination to earn a living in a difficult world. Therefore, through Cruz’s monkey man and his business, readers learn to appreciate the complexity of immigration.
Source: Michelle Prebilic, Critical Essay on “Business,” in Poetry for Students, The Gale Group, 2002.
Austin, Regina, “An Honest Living: Street Vendors, Municipal Regulation, and the Black Public Sphere,” in Yale Law Journal, Vol. 103, No. 8, June 1994, pp. 2119–31.
Cruz, Victor Hernández, By Lingual Wholes, Momos Press, 1982.
_______, Mainland, Random House, 1973.
_______, Red Beans, Coffee House Press, 1991.
_______, Rhythm, Content and Flavor, Arte Publico Press, 1989.
Espada, Martín, and Juan Flores, “Introduction,” in Callaloo, Vol. 15, No. 4, 1992, pp. 941–42.
Kanellos, Nicolas, “Introduction,” in Ryhthm, Content and Flavor, by Victor Hernández Cruz, Arte Publico Press, 1989, pp. 10–11.
Lewis, Pamela Masingale, “Victor Hernández Cruz,” in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 41: Afro-American Poets Since 1955, Gale Research, 1985, pp. 74–84.
Meltzer, Bruce, “Cruz, Victor Hernández,” in Contemporary Poets, 6th ed., St. James Press, 1996.
Mohr, Eugene V., “Nuyorican Poets,” in The Nuyorican Experience: Literature of the Puerto Rican Minority, Greenwood Press, 1982, pp. 91–108.
Cruz, Victor Hernandez, Leroy Quintana, and Virgil Suarez, eds., Paper Dance: 55 Latino Poets, Persea Books, 2000.
This anthology of Latino and Latina poets includes work that addresses topics such as cultural displacement, English as a second language, and the relationship between Spanish and English literary traditions.
Gonzalez, Ray, Currents from the Dancing River: Contemporary Latino Fiction, Nonfiction and Poetry, Harcourt Brace, 1994.
This anthology includes excerpts from poems, novels, and memoirs from both well-known and lesser-known Latino works. It features such writers as Cruz, Rafael Campo, and Juan Felipe Herrera.
Jones, Leroi, and Larry Neal, eds., Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing, William Morrow, 1968.
This is one of the first anthologies to publish work written by Cruz, who has African as well as Spanish and Indian heritage. It provides a healthy sampling of African-American writing from the 1960s.
Stavans, Ilan, The Hispanic Condition: The Power of a People, RAYO, 2001.
Stavans explores the history and psychology of Hispanic society in the United States, interweaving literary and political references with his personal experience.
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"Business." Poetry for Students. . Retrieved September 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/business