In his 17 years, Bryant Amastha has survived 56 major surgeries as a result of a rare muscular disorder. So when he began rapping, he felt like he'd earned his nickname: El Valien-T.
In March, the budding reggaeton artist was looking forward to his biggest concert yet: a Coca-Cola sponsored stage at the Calle Ocho festival.
But when he arrived at the stage, organizers wouldn't let him go on. Although they knew he relied on a wheelchair, Amastha says, their stage didn't have a ramp. When he offered to use his own portable ramp, organizers said it was a "fire hazard" and canceled his set.
disabled reggaeton star
Last week, Amastha and his mother, Martha de Norfolk, filed a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. They're not asking for money — just a handicapped-accessible stage at next year's Calle Ocho.
"It was really disappointing, emotionally and financially," says Amastha, a junior at Miami Sunset Senior High. "All my friends at school thought I was lying about performing. It crushed a lot of my plans."
Amastha was born with arthrogryposis, a relatively rare disorder that inhibits muscle growth and keeps him in a wheelchair.
His musical career was born in 2001, when his mother took him to see Daddy Yankee. In the middle of the set, the reggaeton star noticed Amastha couldn't see the stage. So he gave him a shout-out and cleared a spot for him in the front row.
Amastha began rapping soon after. Today he has a mini-studio set up in his house. He has limited use of his arms, so he uses a special computer attachment hooked to his baseball cap to make his beats.
He says he has performed dozens of times in the past few years — at Bayfront Park for a Fourth of July festival, at a few coffee shops, and at the 2007 Calle Ocho. Health issues kept him away from the Little Havana street festival last year.
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But Amastha thought he was back on for 2009. The cancellation struck a blow to his budding career, de Norfolk says.
"He just wants the same chance of exposure as every able-bodied artist at Calle Ocho," she says. "He wants people to hear his music — not to look at him because he's in a wheelchair, but because he's got a lot of talent."
The lawsuit names two Calle Ocho organizers: Coca-Cola and Kiwanis Club of Little Havana. Neither returned calls for comment about Amastha's complaints.
The young rapper says he's applying to college music programs and hopes to make a career out of producing and performing. He also plans to be back at Calle Ocho in 2010.