El coraje y la cocina as perfect healing spaces 

Doña Maite, estaba hecha de 7 décadas de mujerota ponceña, el olorcito de café negro, piel colorá y “¡a mi NO!”, las palabras famosas que usaba para regañarme a mi cada vez que me puse malcriadita. ¿ Y yo? Negrita, pelúa, quinceañera hecha de “tu no sa’e na” las palabras famosas que usaba cuando me regañó la doña Maite. La doña Maite era la primera viejita que me dijo bravita rabiosa and I didn’t like it not one damn bit, but she continued and I always (ironically) proved her right everytime she said it via my reaction, my signature “tu no sae ná” pataleta.
Un sabado caloroso me senté en la cocina de doña Maite. La habia visto trabajando end su huerto y me señaló y me invitó a compartir con ella. El cielo se puso negrito and suddenly I remembered what cocinas meant. It was where the women, living in economic exile, I had been raised around could take a break. It was where Titi Griselda could mash plátanos con mantequilla to make mangú instead of mashing my self esteem with comments about mi pelo rizo y bueno, traumatized by the antiblack society she had been raised in under the Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina regime. It was where Juana María the sister of my Guela laughed so loudly that you couldn’t hear the chuletas that she slipped in the sartén. In the kitchen Titi Juana laughed instead of other places in the house where she cried so loudly for her murdered son you couldnt hear the telenovelas, the same telenovelas that when the watched she would make me sit still so as not to make noise with the barettes she decorated the trenzas she placed in my hair. La cocina also held secrets like the ones alcohol brought around but la cocina was where I learned my first feminist theories. Como Juana Maria, on the brink of my adolescenae, todas esas mujeres cocineras también me dijeron bravita rabiosa and I didn’t like it one bit and ironically proved them right with teeth sucking “tu no sae ná dejame quieta” pataletas. 

Cuando la doña Maite se atrevió a invitarme a pasar tiempo con ella aquel dia, I already in my fifteen year old mind knew that she had it out for me. She had been inquiring about my coraje every time I saw her that it became her saludo for me. Nevermind buenos dias, buenas tardes, hola mi negrita. Por ley me decía “¿y ese coraje prrrrieta?” as I would walk briskly past her house praying to the ancestors that I could be invisible until I had gotten out of her sight.

Coraje is a hot hot house but is it home? I watched doña Maite peel garlic that she had just removed from her huertito. I twirled my thumbs. Running water, Maelo’s Moti Agua, el pilón, deep breaths and then there was the question. Those were the sounds, sounds I’d probable never be able to.forget because that Saturday I learned a lesson that I’ll never forget. Agua, Moti Agua, respiración, y esa pregunta.

“¿y ese coraje? ¿de dónde viene eso?” me fijé en la lluvia y me fijé en mis manos. Me fijé en el viento y me fijé en los anillos de la doña Maite. I smiled, my eyes twinkled and my canela colored cachetes sparkled but my face never lied not to doña Maite or any of the other doñas I had ever been around.

“Yo no tengo coraje” I said it with a smile as if that could have convinced such a wise wise woman y ella empezó a reírse, una risa que empezó desde sus pies y de su boca llegó hasta la calle. I frowned and changed my mind about the smile and the twinkles and the sparkles.

“No empieces negrita, a mi no” me quedé calladita and thunder rolled right along with her giggles and rolled the pieces of garlic her caderas knocked off the kitchen table. Los perseguía y ella me perseguía con eso del dizque maldito bendito coraje. I figured she had changed the subject when she opted to ask a new question, once she had realized that we weren’t getting anywhere with her original question.

Era la pregunta más rara que me había hecho. The task was to identify the most Puerto Rican thing in her kitchen. The sky cracked again, and lightening danced only miles away and a gust of wind moved all of the supermarket cupons from the kitchen table to the living room in one big swoooosh. Even the sábila that she had situated between two Rovira galleta cans that were really full of rice in one and habichuelas in the other felt the wind gust. That gust felt good that Saturday and I prayed for another one. I fixated my eyes on the gallo (which was really a clock), then I looked to my left and stared at the bag of café yaucono. Then I immediately looked to my right and as I got up to pick up the papers sprawled about I chose the Goya spices that sat neatly and organized in a canasta on the counter.

“Explica.” She continued mashing the ajo, mixing in aceite and scooping it all into a jar once the pieces she was dealing with had been ready to move on. I watched her arms shake as the pestal came down. Right on beat with Maelos Tambores Africanos. The sky cracked again, I looked for the aguacero. Aguacero, no habia, pero lluvia-llovizna si. It danced delicately, total opposite of what we all know to be a storm.

“Es que usamos todo eso para hacer nuestra comida” there was a method to muy madness but there was clearly somethung wrong.

“Ajá po’ la comida. ¿Y por qué tu no e’cogi’te la’ yelba’ que sembré aquí?” she pointed to the plants that decorated her kitchen counter, and window sills. On a diferent Saturday afternoon she had taught me the culinary and medicinal properties for each plant.

“Cuando pequeña no usamos ninguna Goyiiiiiita. Mi abuela sembraba todo como yo. Bueno, yo siembro como ella” I smiled at the way she said “goyiiiita”. Little did I know that years later I would take after her hysterical jíbaro and colorful dimunitive speaking style in my own writing and communication. Que Goyiiiita ni Goyiiiita. She sang along to El Mantequero and I giggled at the way she imitated Maelo’s style using her barefeet and her raspy voice and her shoulders.

“Negrita, no somos de ninguna Goyiiiita, vete pa Puerto Rico pa que aprendas.” I laughed completely oblivious to the fact that she had some sort of hidden agenda. At that age, I saw practically everything that wasnt clear cut abuse as a sneaky and bound to.turn out to hurt me as well. I would tell myself “doña Maite is different but not that much different” like I said about anyone, absolutely anyone.

“Y ese coraje, mija tu no eres de ningún corajeíiiito.” we both giggled at the word corajeíiiito and the absurdly constructed sentence.

“Mira soy como tu negrita, inventando palabras” she took an easy shot at the way I invented words with ease because regardless of having been raised in an English speaking country the art, of Caribbean spanish was much easier for me to comprehend and work with.

When she told me to go to Puerto Rico, I instantly recognized that she was insinuating that coraje was much like my diaspora experience. A real part of my experiences but not exactly my essence in its completely bare form. Going to Puerto Rico with a concious that what I had known to be Puerto Rican may have only been fed to me as a means of survival would open the space for me to better understand who I was and what I hadn’t known about my real home. The diaspora, where Goya products laced our kitchen like mangos posotes laced the neighborhood taken from my crianza, a lot of what we did was based on a specific survival, a cultural survival. We used what we were handed through economic exile so much so that we began to think it was who we were down to our essence. Me decían brava, me decían rabiosa so much so that I believed that coraje was the absolute core of who I was and I owned it in the most unsettling of ways.

Doña Maite was sweet even when she wasnt, evento when ver nails dug into my forearm after having seen me somewhere not for nenas de 14 15 añitos pero vamos a ponernos claros, bien claros, muchas mujeres me rechazaron por ser niña brava, y me regañaron por ser bocona y eso me destruyó. It was a constant cycle between expressing my truth with no regard to how anyone felt, being punished and ostracized for it and then getting angrier that all of those holier than thou “hay que respetar” women ignored the overly obvious cries for help because “no nos criamos así, no se lo que pasa con los milenials malcriaos! Esa nena es bien vulgar sin morales”. Hasta hoy quieren que yo ande calladita con las pienrnotas cruzadas, pero que quede claro que esas mujeres son tan enfongonás que yo, those women who to this day scold me a lo “bajale 10” are just as damn traumatized as me, many just choose silence and polite words like we have been trained to do because when you swim upstream the rivers of trauma because thats where coraje comes from, so as to avoid eventually drowning in it all, everybody calls you crazy, judges your entire life and like me you get ostracized, especially when black. They want negritas to be mamainés, happy, pourin’ errybody café so as to keep the vaivén del ambiente and everybody in it comfortable at her own emotional and physical expense. To be very clear, I don’t condone the way I have metaphorically thrown the café caliente at innocently colonized people who demanded that I behave like mamainés, a respectable negra whether it was out of their own fear for me or fear of me, but I have recentlyrealized that el coraje mio, that has even driven me to pure frustration with my own self es un maldito regalo and such coraje is a necessary part of revolution.

El coraje es maldito y es regalo. Bendito maldito. Maldito because years later I struggle with it and find myself throwing myself into truly avoidable trouble but its a bendito, because las negritas boconas are a very loud, expressive and obvious warning that something is wrong– not with us rather than with how we are treated which 100% of the time reflects systemic issues at the core. Las negritas rabiosas make it clear for you that there is a need for collective healing which always roots itself in the need for personal healing. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times el corillo “bajale 10” has been in perfect agreement with what I said but scolded me for how I said it which removed focus from content to semantics and word choice. Perhaps they were offended by words like macharrán and fuck more than macharrania and whatever other oppressions I had weaved into the statement that had gotten me scolded. 

Diasporriqueños find an idea of home in their/our kitchens, often situated in drug ridden, economically marginalized neighborhoods, (or neighborhoods where the neoghbors make it clear we dont belong), just like doña Maite’s kitchen, and though we find something about home in those kitchens and use those kitchens to culturally survive the perils of economic exile, no matter how many gallos we decorate them with, and no matter how many Puerto Rican culinary traditions we force to.fit between those four walls, those kitchens aren’t home. The only way we will realize that our original selves planted and dug our hands in la madre tierra rather than purchase factory carcinogenic spices to season our foods is if we go home. My coraje was, is the same. Often used as a method to survive the personal and ancestral traumas of hypersexualization and racism, and regardless of how much attention (both good and bad) coraje brings it’s not necessarily original to my essence. Vuelvo al punto. Before the sazón en paquete, we mashed ajos in the pilón like doña Maite and we mashed achiote and we mashed cebollas. Before the habichuelas en pote, sembramos habichuelas. Before the justifiable coraje there was my “ser original” and the only way out is in all the way in.

I used to watch the viejitas cocineras boconas make pasteles in the coldest months of the year. Titi Carmen would roll out the hojas de guineo, and then to her left two viejitas that I believed to be twins would be dealing with the malanga and the yautia and at the stove, an additional no nonsense viejita would be sazonando la carne. In the midst of sisterhood they’d discuss the wars they were going through with humor, love and hope. I’d watch in the doorway knowing if I dared stepped foot onto the kitchen tiles that decorated Juana Maria’s kitchen floor I’d be immediately sent elsewhere in a way that was less than loving. From the doorway I witnessed, tears, laughter, hugs and resistance. I witnessed healing. In the case of my anger it has always been the ochunsitas and the yemayacitas who have dared stand in the doorway of my coraje and watch me in awe anyway, regardless of the way I’d mandarles pal carajo sin amor, if they stepped too close, in the midst of this coraje there has been personal, ancestral and there has been collective healing and a few have brought me to a current place of self reflection, introspection. While anger is a hot hot house and perhaps throughout its complicated fiery existence it is discomforting, it is also necessary. La negrita bocona enfogoná se respeta because she often makes it visual that there are very necessary changes to be made.

Doña Maite y yo terminamos esa noche en silencio. It wasn’t an awkward silence nor was it a stubborn silence. We watched the rest of the storm from the largest window in her house until the only light left to see were the flickering street lights and the occasional car lights. The thunder rolled in the distance, la brisa nos besaba y la lluvia nos acariciaba. In our culture cocinas are spaces for healing but perhap its time to respect coraje, as hot, fiery, algarete as it is, as potential spaces for healing as well.

El coraje is a hot hot house but at least it reminds you to dig through personal and ancestral traumas until you get home to healing. Anger is necessary for revolution. Anger should always be legitimatized and given the space to be worked through, not be erased or denied. We can heal ourselves, we can heal our ancestors but we must recognize that respectability has no room in ancestral, personal, and collective healing.

Thousands of Puerto Ricans Gather in D.C. to Demand The Release of Oscar Lopez Rivera and The media Ignored it

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BombaYo Cultura, the very beginning of the rally in Washington D.C. photo courtesy of: Esperanza Martell

Bravery is not a new concept for Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico or outside of Puerto Rico. The rally this past weekend was no different, but it was completely ignored by media outlets in the United States and in Puerto Rico. On Sunday, October 9 2016, thousands gathered in Lafeyette Park located across the street from the White House in Washington, D.C. to denounce the overly extensive imprisonment of nonviolent Puerto Rican freedom fighter, Oscar Lopez Rivera and to demand his release. Among these thousands were representatives from the various factions of National Boricua Human Rights Network (Cleveland Ohio), members of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center of Chicago Illinois, Comité pro derechos humanos de Puerto Rico, Mujeres por Oscar of New York City, Mujeres en el Puente (Mujeres por Oscar) of Puerto Rico, members of Partido Independentista Puertorriqueno (PIP), members of El Maestro of the Bronx New York City, members of the Socialist party in Massachusetts, representatives from the SEIU, members from the Partido Nacionalista Puertorriquenño, representatives from el Partido del Pueblo Trabajador, and other progressive groups from the United States and Puerto Rico. Among the groups were ex political prisoners Luis Rosa, Felix Rosa, Heriberto Marin Torres, Edwin Cortes, and Ricardo Jimenez. Other attendees to be recognized for their extensive contributions to Puerto Rican people in and outside of Puerto Rico were visual artist Antonio Martorell, candidate for governor of Puerto Rico, Maria de Lourdes Guzman, Archbishop of San Juan Rafael Moreno, former Hunter College professor and lifetime activist, Esperanza Martell, and last but certainly not least Clarissa Lopez, the daughter of Oscar Lopez Rivera. Many joined virtually through Facebook Live including but not limited to: Ana Irma Rivera Lassen, J.D. and ex political prisoner don Rafael Cancel Miranda and others who could not be in attendance. The activity was at best bold, brave and as most Puerto Rican activities that aren’t hurricanes, the Puerto Rican parade in New York City or the so-called economic crisis, was completely ignored by the United States media and not properly explained by Puerto Rican media outlets.

The morning of October 9th was cool but quickly warmed as we danced and sang to the Afro Puerto Rican plena music. Plena, like other afro descendant music genres of the Americas involves a call and response technique. Often the person playing the “requinto” or the drum (pandereta) that plays to a separate beat or even the “seguidor” largest of the other panderetas sings improvised lines and those gathered around respond with either the same verse or a repetitive different verse. Historically plena music was played to spread around news which precisely best explains its relevance in many Puerto Rican political movements for independence and other forms of self-determining justice. Following the improvised and unified plenazo, participants in the activities gathered around the stage to listen to the welcoming remarks of Puerto Rican actress Johanna Rosaly. A vivacious woman no less, Joahanna Rosaly kept the mission of the event clear which was a call to action to release Oscar Lopez Rivera from federal custody, however, Puerto Ricans in the crowd were clear that that freeing Oscar Lopez Rivera from prison was just one of the responsibilities that the United States government must assume in order to maintain peace, no justice, no peace. There were direct calls for independence of Puerto Rico and direct calls for Puerto Rico to not only become independent but also to become a socialist independent country.

Religious leaders of several backgrounds and walks of life individually called for the release of Oscar Lopez in their unique ways which caused many advocates, activists and protestors to raise questions about the purpose of the event, nonetheless there was an obvious level of solidarity between religious participants and non-religious participants because the common focus was Oscar Lopez Rivera’s release and to be clear much of the main organizers of the event were religious supporters via the Interfaith Freedom Convocation. However, the raising of questions about the religious participation in the event was very much appropriate for the sake of revolution. Questions continued to be raised as Johanna Rosaly mentioned support from very questionable individuals like Miguel Cidre and David Bernier who have not once made their support for Oscar Lopez Rivera relevant/largely public while running for governor of Puerto Rico or ever just as members and leaders of their respective political parties. Alongside the raising of questions young people denounced the presence and mention of Nydia Velazquez, Melissa Mark Viverito, among others for political decisions that they have made outside of the Oscar campaign including but not limited to Nydia Velazquez’s support of the establishment of La Junta de Control Fiscal which raised a bit of tension between “los envejecientes respetuosos y calladitos” and “la juventud malcria” but nonetheless was discussed and handled as best as possible in the space.

As the event continued, performers such as Chabela Rodriguez filled our hearts with pride as she sang Verde Luz, young performers who arrived to D.C. directly from Puerto Rico filled our eyes with the hope that rested in their own eyes with an incredible bilingual performance about the importance of using our voices to speak out against the injustices of the system. Adolescents from Chicago performed a poetic song about loving Puerto Rico from afar and Rene Perez of Calle 13 made a worthwhile political artistic appearance as well. One of Puerto Rico’s most renowned poets, Eric Landrón performed through song and speech. Throughout the day leaders such as Maria de Lourdes Santiago who is currently running for governor of Puerto Rico gave inspiring speeches about the necessity of Oscar Lopez Rivera in Puerto Rico and the necessity of respect.

Of all of the many acts of bravery and love that took place at yesterday’s event, I believe that one of the most revolutionary was the singing of the original lyrics of the Puerto Rican national anthem. On July 24, 1952, former governor of Puerto Rico signed “la ley #2” into law that stated that La Borinqueña was to become the anthem of Puerto Rico. The original words of Lola Rodriguez de Tió who composed the revolutionary poem were considered to be too seditious to be the anthem of a colony, so once Manuel Fernandez Juncos changed the lyrics, the colonial version of La Borinqueña was approved as the national anthem of Puerto Rico on July 27, 1977 by former governor of Puerto Rico Carlos Romero Barceló. However, in an act of resistance, Puerto Ricans along with a young and talented singer from Chicago sang the lyrics to the original anthem. The original anthem is a direct call to action for Puerto Ricans to “wake up” and obtain freedom, “nosotros queremos la libertad y nuestros machetes nos la darán” translates to, we want freedom and our machetes will give it to us. To sing La Borinqueña with the lyrics of Lola Rodriguez de Tió in the capitol of the United States the very country that once outlawed any mention of freedom for Puerto Rico via La ley de mordaza (Gag Law) must be recognized as an incredible and symbolic act of resistance, especially being that it was led by a young black Puerto Rican woman from Chicago.

I want to be clear that the base of yesterday’s rally for Oscar were the women. Men joined us as they always do however the leaders and the doers were women. I also seek to mention that the youth had an incredible presence at the rally. Chicago’s Puerto Rican Cultural Center specifically brought two large greyhound busses full of young high school and college students who knew very little about Oscar Lopez Rivera and the political plight of Puerto Rico. They were interested in the event and engaged with many elders to learn. Some had never been to a protest before. One of the other beautiful things that happened during the course of yesterday’s rally, was the incredible solidarity from non-Puerto Rican who also traveled from different regions of the United States. There were Mexicans, Salvadorans, Dominicans, Cubans, and even African Americans gathered in complete solidarity and sisterhood and brotherhood hand in hand in an effort to bring forth justice for Oscar Lopez Rivera and even Puerto Rico. Although the event was “for Oscar” it was also for Puerto Rico and a perfect time and place to denounce United States colonialism.

As previously mentioned, Puerto Rico is one of the world’s most marginalized countries hereby making the Puerto Rican people some of the most marginalized people on Earth. One of the direct effects of this marginalization better identified as United States colonialism in Puerto Rico is the disconnection between Puerto Ricans in the United States and Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico. As colonialism originally contributed to the economic exile and displacement of thousands of Puerto Rican families, identities were shifted based on new experiences outside of Puerto Rico, the Nuyorican movement, the Humboldt Park revitalization and movements etc. Because of these new shifts in identities some Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico do struggle to comprehend how someone who has had an experience outside of Puerto Rico can consider themselves to be Puerto Rico. What they don’t realize is that these “new experiences” are experiences by Puerto Ricans which all counts to the Puerto Rican narrative of trauma and resistance. There is a clear disconnection about how Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico “know” or “see” in Puerto Rico versus how Puerto Ricans outside of Puerto Rico “know” or “see” in Puerto Rico. The media is the best way to use as a factor in drawing up this conclusion.

Articles that are published about Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico don’t necessarily reach Puerto Ricans in the states so Puerto Ricans in the states are given the perspective that the United States government is provides, and for the past year of two the US has really only provided that the only thing that matters in Puerto Rico is the so called economic crisis (which, to be clear, is nothing absolutely new). Puerto Ricans see that Puerto Rico is in debt but don’t necessarily know that thousands from all over Latin America especially met in Universidad de Puerto Rico Recinto de Rio Piedras for a 5-day conference about afro descendants in the Americas as a part of the Decade of Afro descendants as declared by the United Nations. It is the reason that Puerto Ricans in the states know that there is now a fiscal control board in Puerto Rico but don’t know that just over a year ago a cultural magazine that highlights the people of the municipality of Loiza, which is always recognized for its contribution to the Afrodescendant culture throughout Puerto Rico and the Diaspora in the United States, was launched, or that there are young people working to revitalize Puerto Rico’s agricultural economy or that there’s a new and important literature movement growing, or that visual arts in Puerto Rico is facing a new revitalization. This works the same the other way around. Things like the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City receive extensive media attention (in comparison to rallies and marches for Oscar Lopez), so Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico don’t really know about the political activism of Puerto Ricans in the United States. The rally for Oscar in Washington D.C. was no different, some Puerto Ricans in the island struggled to see the relevance because of location and some had and have no clue about it because there was little to no coverage of the event outside of independentista and other political circles.

These media disconnections continue to fortify the disconnection between Puerto Ricans living in exile stateside and Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico. Considering that most Puerto Ricans live in the United States, and the number continues to grow, this is extremely problematic because often the “diasporican” narrative is erased from the Puerto Rican experience which is obviously bad news for a country working to decolonize. In other words, some Puerto Ricans born and raised in Puerto Rico will never be able to see Puerto Ricans born and/or raised in the United States as Puerto Rican which distracts everyone from the common goal of working to rebuild the home some of us struggle to remain in and the home some of us left as refugees, and the same home some of us have returned to and are trying to find the way around, and this is also the home that some have been so far removed from that when they return they have no idea that they have returned home because like spring break gringos they stay in hotels in Condado and hardly get involved with people who have really lived there. There’s a common misconception of Puerto Ricans in the United States. The United States has been painted as the land of opportunity, but really it is the land of the opportunistic. Puerto Ricans in the United States are in the United States because someone left a tropical paradise island where mangos grow wild and the people speak as you walk out of the necessity for survival, even if they may say they were looking for opportunities. The event in Washington D.C. which even included people directly from Puerto Rico was a prime example of a disconnection between Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans in the United States. It was hardly recognized in Puerto Rico.

Thousands of Puerto Ricans traveled for hours by plane, bus and car to Washington D.C. the capitol of the very nation that has held Puerto Rico has a colony for 118 years and counting and the media in the United States and in Puerto Rico completely ignored it. The reason is simple, Puerto Rico is a colony, and regardless of its racial diversity is treated like a nation of black and/or brown people. The only time Puerto Rico matters is when the United States’ exploitation of the economic system becomes challenging for their reprehensible greed and the only time Puerto Ricans matter is when they appeal to a “gringo gaze” in entertainment and sports. Yesterday, Puerto Ricans gathered to demand freedom for Oscar Lopez Rivera but this didn’t appeal to gringo gaze and for many Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico the physical distance between Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico most likely superseded the emotional closeness of the event to Puerto Rico.

(To be clear, no es cuestión de culpa sino de la manifestación perpetua del colonialismo estadounidense en Puerto Rico…y las distintas maneras que el colonialismo dicho nos toca como puertorriqueños en los Estados Unidos y puertorriqueños en Puerto Rico.)

Let it be known that La Borinqueña written by Lola Rodriguez rang through the air of the capitol of the country that has treated Puerto Ricans worse than they treat stray dogs. Let it be known that Puerto Ricans dared demand, yes demand that President Barack Obama release Oscar Lopez Rivera a man who spent and even behind bars spends his life loving his people and his patria from wrongful imprisonment of 35 years. Let it be known that Puerto Ricans even dared to demand freedom for Puerto Rico out loud in the capitol of the country that once outlawed the flag of Puerto Rico and murdered people who dared say the words so many of us said with a fervor so deep people would follow behind and repeat them as much as possible until they got recognized by the collective. Yesterday was a day of solidarity, revolution, remembrance and patria. It was ignored but that will never dilute the importance of such an act of valor. I am grateful to every organization, leader and volunteer who made it happen. I am grateful to the children who made the trip in an effort to learn and I am grateful to the elders who made the trip in an effort to share wisdom. Whether media attention gets on board with Puerto Rican resistance and intelligence, I would like to make it known that there are acts of resistance to colonialism, injustice and capitalisms that Puerto Ricans take part in each day in Puerto Rico and outside of Puerto Rico. It is up to us to recognize it and to continue to build from it.

Obama, we want Oscar Lopez FREE!

Que viva la Republica de Puerto Rico libre, soberano y socialista. Si a la nación no a la colonia.

To read more about Oscar Lopez Rivera and the campaign to free Oscar Lopez Rivera please visit boricuahumanrights.org

 

Afrolatinidad: When a movement stops moving

 

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Afromexico, credits: A Road Trip Through Mexico (blogspot)

“Yo soy negra” used to be just the words of a poem for me. I’d say these supossedly poetic words while the piraguero of paseo de diego in Río Piedras called me trigueña linda and I’d belt those same words anytime the women in the Dominican enclaves called me “india chula”. “Yo soy negra!” I’d say the words with a flirtacious smile and bat my eye lashes. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that the words, “yo soy negra”, for a black woman who carries the trauma of colonialism and antiblackness within her skin and throughout her notorious pelo grifo, were revolutionary words, some of the most revolutionary words she could say. “Yo soy negra” are three words, three basic words of self-recognition and ancestral recognition, the keys to the path of healing. In Puerto Rico, recognition is a part of daily life. While eating mantecado de maíz en la plaza de Mayagüez, someone, anyone will wish you buen provecho, because in Puerto Rico now reconocemos even when doing a task as simple as eating. For me, “yo soy negra” precisely comes from the same notion as “buen provecho”, reconocimiento. Reconocer is how we connect to ourselves and to others, but, to be clear, reconocimiento is only the beginning of revolution and healing. The Afrolatinidad movement was once a movement, and arguably still a movement but stands in what seems to be a stagnant place, of just the recognition part, just the “yo soy negra”. Once you say the words “yo soy negra”, you’ll realize that being black goes beyond skin and hair and that’s what must be worked. The Afrolatinidad movement is currently made up of many of the same conversations, centered around the same voices, concerned with the same perspectives largely influenced by an empire that has colonized and imperialized much of Latin America, the United States. This isn’t necessarily negative but I challenge those who advocate for Afrolatinidad to stretch, to do more, and to be more for the greater good of our blackness and our lives.

The Afrolatino movement has created a crucial space for individuals who identify as such to speak and to defend. In the United States, blackness is typically reserved for the African American experience which hereby causes Latinos of African descent to be erased from the way the mainstream media, academia and even the imperialistic U.S., Latino narrative portrays blackness. Because of this movement, there are now countless blogs dedicated to showcasing the blackness of primarily Spanish-speaking Latin America and the Caribbean. There’s The Latinegras Project who’s mission clearly states that they promote the narratives of “latinegras” “everywhere”. There’s the “Los Afrolatinos Blog” which “honors and celebrates the contributions of Africans, as well as their descendents who helped form and shape the culture of the Spanish and Portuguese speaking African descendants”. Besides promoting similar “entre aqui y alla” narratives, these blogs promote blackness as celebratory art form through food and music and they also occasionally deconstruct subtle and large nuances such as “pelo malo” and “pelo bueno”. While blackness is to be celebrated, we live in a society where to be black is dangerous, triggering and very political. Reclaiming our blackness is about celebrating the contributions of bkack people, but it’s also about healing undeniable traumas. Healing is more profound than mambo rhythms and the sancocho on a rainy day. Healing requires full physical, psychological, and emotional cooperation. In order to heal we must fearlessly enter processes that are beyond the “happy-go-lucky-negro” white gaze and be open to the temporary discomfort of deconstructing and healing traumas. Allnof the traumas we face must be handled with care and love individually but I argue that there are traumas more profound for afrolatinos than “being mistaken for African American” (which is only traumatic because of a level of erasure), or people refusing to refer to you as black because you are “Colombian” as the common narratives shared on said blogs.

Outside of these blogs exist several mainstream media articles which do indeed adequately deconstruct the myth that being black and Latino are mutually exclusive. They argue for the existence of Afrolatinidad and have been doing so through online media for the past several years. While it is important to deconstruct the “mutual exclusivity” of latinidad and blackness, the usage of the term latino has presented a bit of an ironic undertone. The term “Latino” has been used in the United States for decades to refer to people from the Latin American region, specifically and mostly Spanish Speaking, who immigrated to the United States. The term has been adopted by “Latinos” in an effort to maintain an identity in a country that has been largely, just black (African American) and white. The term however remains vague. Over the uears it has proven to confuse both Latinos and non-Latinos. It doesn’t recognize not the whiteness throughout Latin America, or the indigeneity throughout Latin America and certainly not the blackness throughout Latin America. Because of the aforementioned people naturally categorize “Latinos” as either Mestizos or often due to the gracious influence of the Chicano movement, as “brown” and sometimes as “other”. Even in some Pew Research studies, conducted in the United States, data is gathered from blacks, whites, and Latinos as if Latinos come from the same racial and cultural experience so therefore can be categorized as one. The term Afrolatino does the same thing except within the realms of blackness. Afrolatino categorizes afrodescendants from Latin America systemically as one.

While I advocate for unity throughout the Latin America and the Caribbean, and throughout the afrodescendant communities, Latin America and the Caribbean are so vast and densely populated that categorizing us as one would be ineffective. There are thousands of experiences even within a single country. Referring to afrodescendants in these regions as just one, is a way to perhaps unintentionally erase the narratives of so many black people based on a term that is entirely imperialistic due to its relevance in the United States. It calls for a unity amongst black people of different experiences that cause me to raise a few questions.

First and foremost I find it interesting that throughout this movement, Afro Brazilians are welcomed into the Afrolatino movement with open arms but black people from Guayana or Suriname which are also countries in South America are not readily considered Afrolatinos. I find for this reason the term to be partially vague, inconsiderate, and practically irresponsible. Another matter I mention is once again the importance of recognizing diversity.

The afrodescendant experience(s) in Guerrero, Mexico are much different than the afrodescendant experiences in Limón Costa Rica. Categorizing all of these experiences and more under one blanket term, in this case, “Afrolatinidad” could become problematic because reclamation of blackness is more than “skin deep”. Using a “should work for everyone” descriptor isn’t effective when it comes to empowering black people of so many different regions. We can stand in solidarity with one another, recognize our connections, but Latin America is not to be categorized as one thing of the same. There are so many different black histories in Latin America and the Caribbean and if we refuse to recognize that, by falling for this imperialistic latino nonsense we have “finally” called ourselves negros for no reason. In jibaro refrain this would be tanto nadar para ahogarse en la orilla. 

Much of the Afrolatino movement is curated by people who live in the United States so therefore most of this movement is centered around claiming blackness in the midst of a country that believes black to mean African American, as previously mentioned. The problem is beyond not being seen as black. The erasure began before “we arrived”. It truly began with the building or “cuerpos nacionales” through movements and revolutions that did not include black people. As a result, black people are so marginalized and oppressed that no one even knows that they’re there. The point is, living in the United States even without the latest nikes or the upgraded cell phone, even if using government assistance to make ends meet, provides the vast majority of people with some sort of an internet connection. Having an internet connection, owning a blog, having the ability to see the value in your story and obtaining the tools to share it is a level of privilege that our black relatives living in certain places in the Dominican Republic or Colombia or Ecuador or Bolivia where there isn’t even running water do not have as much as the US which leads to the next point, navigating responsibility and privilege.

It is our responsibility as writers, advocates, and people with tools as empowering as the internet, to recognize that the work may have begun with us “becoming black” but the true work comes into working to document the black realities in Latin America as Alicia Anabel Santos and Renzo Divio have been spending countless hours doing. Perhaps you may not have the tools necessary to shoot a series of documentaries, documentaries can be problematic anyways, but it’s time to study racism, antiblackness, marginalization, and history in whichever Latin American country and work to deconstruct it and do your best to provide spaces for your black relatives in “the third world” to heal from it. La patria es un deber. To be clear, we have the necessary tools to denounce the marginalization of our people with the same blogs that focus on music and food. The world is larger than the United States.

Every February, in honor of “Black History Month” which was originally created to showcase, celebrate and remember the achievements and grievances of African Americans in the United States, mainstream media US based latino magazines such as Remezcla, Huffington Post Latino Voices, and even Latina Magazine, publish articles about what blackness means to Afrolatinos. Additionally, afrolatinos have been advocating for quite some time to be recognized within Black History Month which is clearly space to recognize the achievements of black people in the United States. Recognition, as previously mentioned, is one of the most important steps in this process but only if executed correctly. The goal needs to be clear. Are we recognizing Afro Puerto Rican, Arturo Shomburg for his excellent contributions in the United States or are we just repeating the same “I’m black too” rhetoric for 28 sometimes 29 days? Again, the world.is larger than the United States. If the advocacy for the recognition of Afrolatinos during the month of February is about some sort of selective solidarity with African Americans I find it excruciatingly ironic that Afrolatinos will mention a connection to black people from a completely different “Latin American” country rather than with African Americans who while not “Afrolatino” are also black people from a different country (and live in that same country). An African American may not readily know that there are black people in Perú just like an Afro Puerto Rican may not realize that there are black people in Honduras. Why would so many Afrolatinos choose to extend solidarity to just the Afro Puerto Rican outsodenof February? To be clear an Afro Puerto Rican has a narrative different than the Afro Peruvian and the African American and visa versa. “I’m black too” has also been a vague part of the movement.

Besides the “I’m black too” parts of the Afrolatino movement there exist the horribly egotistical “they’re idiots for not saying that they are black just as I have finally said” rhetoric which has cost the Afrolatino movement quite a bit of validity. A prime example would be the way in which Dominicans as a whole are often vilified within the Afrolatino movement for governmental policies that are inherently anti-black and objectively anti-Haitian. While I openly advocate against xenophobia in any country, I also advocate against the trickeled down imperialism that exists within many activist/progressive spaces in the United States. It is excruciatingly ironic the way in which Haiti which shares an island with the Dominican Republic as many Afrolatino scholars will have you know, is only welcomed into the Afrolatino space when the conversations are centered around Dominican governmental policy and every now and then vudun. US American exceptionalism is filthy. Again, recognizing your privilege as a person living in the United States with an internet connection matters. Perhaps your titi calls you india when really you’re negra con pelo lacio, this doesn’t necessarily always make your Titi violent, especially if she is black, rather she is a product of the marginalized system that she was raised in. If you want to deconstruct that, all you have to do is tell her that you’re black and how proud you are to be black. A person or persons not having the knowledge that you have is not a sign of stupidity, rather ignorance which is a very different thing. To be clear, no one in this movement has any business vilifying Dominicans for policy produced anti-haitinism considering the fact that everyone in this movement comes from a country with the same amount if not more racism where black people have practically zero leverage within the government who mandates them even if it has yet to be denounced or your perspective is so clouded with US American exceptionalism that you cannot see it.

The Afrolatino movement, while it has provided space for narratives to be written about reclaiming blackness as celebratory which is crucial, it also provided space for <<anyone>> to write a narrative. To be frank, this means that the movement has allowed and continues to allow for white Latinos who all of a sudden decided to claim blackness whilst not actually living under the perils of being black to write poems about being “black”. The Afrolatino movement has yet to properly deconstruct the concept of mestizaje and  which allows for anyone to claim to be black and for white people to deny their privilege based on colorism because “we can all be black”. This does not allow space for narratives from Latin American because at this point it can be interpreted that all of Latin America is black and criollos are really just light skinned black people. Since everything and everyone is black and all of this blackness belongs to everyone because everyone is black and thats that.

Afrolatinidad has become something absolutely ancestral rather than recognized as a part of the present. It’s easy for white people to see blackness as ancestral, they adore when we speak about tradition, dance to drums, talk about yemaya as if the orishas are hipster symbols but once we make blackness about the now, we have to concern ourselves with traumas which tends to discomfort both them and the blacks who are in total denial of said traumss. Cognitave dissonance is the term. Besides white latinos in the United States referring to themselves as black now, there is also room for the exploitative non-latino scholars and bloggers, such as Henry Louis Gates who have traveled to Latin American countries to film documentaries. Gates is from the US, a well rounded scholar but he hardly provided a historical representation of the countries that he visited which invalidated much of his work. It went from educational to exploitation. Ex: in his series about the Dominican Republic he mentioned the term “indio” being used instead of “negro” with no mention of the fact that historically “los negros” in the Dominican Republic referred to black slaves of Haiti. There’s also the non Latinos who somehow learned Spanish and feel it within their purpose to enter countries to conduct doctoral research (or just write basic articles about things they can’t really understand) and write books on the lives of people they have bothered, researched, bothered as if fetishes. Besides the exploitation from non Latinos there’s the Latino scholars who are always invited to present, and since they are able to articulate a point in a brilliant way even if it is complete garbage (as they often are) they are trusted as the “pioneers” of afrolatinidad however they can barely articulate race politics outside of a US lens. They haven’t put in the work or the effort because as I have mentioned the US lens is cloudy and the term “afrolatino”/”afrolatinidad” is very confusing and they sadly believe only one lens to be necessary for liberation. The world is larger than the US. I believe that everyone deserves a position in this process, regardless of class status and word choice. The same names who bring up the same comfortable “white people will be fine with this right here” points in the movement have not proven themselves to be effective.

The Afrolatino movement has stretched, gotten up to the starting line but hasn’t bent down into “ready” position yet. Afrolatinidad is still overly poetic, kumbaya, music and food, fetishes, yemaya, drums, “mi abuela era negra”, “Im also black even though Im white” and just barely revolutionary, just barely focused on deconstructing white supremacy and patriarchy, just barely deconstructing all levels of the erasure. My words “yo soy negra” became revolutionary when I was ready to deconstruct the usage of safe words like “trigueña” and “moreno” and those three simple words have become even more revolutionary as I have worked to deconstruct the version of patriarchy I suffer because I am negra. The words “yo soy negra” became revolutionary for me when I made the decision to put in the necessary work to heal ancestral trauma and personal trauma.

I challenge everyone who considers themselves to be a part of this crucial Afrolatino movement to do more. We’re stretched out, hovering over the start line but I can guarantee you no one’s going to run this race for us. We have the resources and we have the ability. For now, it’s time to sweat, to cry, to hurt, to dig into the hurts, and relentlessly seguir plante. This is how we heal and when we choose healing we always win. We deserve this. We have to decolonize our language, provide more focus on blacks in Latin America, refuse the hierarchal structure that only allows for a select few to speak on the subject, create a stronger system of solidarity between black people regardless of language (because language in this context is a part of colonial trauma) and refuse US American exceptionalism and trickled down imperialism within the movements. The traumas we carry have to be worked and healed. To be clear, it all matters, all of the narratives matter but I call for a shift and I challenge us to collectively do more in the name of blackness black people and our survival. Que viva la negritud! Que viva la afrodescendencia!

Please, just call me Negra

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Vieques, January 2016

Please, just call me Negra.

My blackness has gifted me with a million regalos. Resiliency, bravery, strength to start and the rest of the regalitos would be the different nicknames and terms of endearment people have called me since I began to walk. Un dia llegue a casa de mi tia abuela, Tenia 7 añitos y le dije “titi soy negra bella, es que me dijo el señor”. She was negra con pelo lacio from el Cibao region of the Dominican Republic. She consoled me as if the man had offended me. I sat propped in her arms, she had the strongest arms I had ever seen, brazos lleno de la fuerza necesaria para cocinar un mangu espectacular, para meterme bofetas en mis cachetes, y para acarciar cada nene que ha llegado a su vida. I stared at the rings that decorated her fingers. They were cool against the skin of my right shoulder. Her hand was darker than my shoulder. She was the first to call me negrita and that day was just like any other day, she bent down to my height which was never really short but I was much smaller than her. With concerned eyes she said, “Negrita no eres negra, eres india con pelo malo”. She caressed my cheeks and we carried on as if she hadn’t called my “pelo” “malo”. It was normal language for us. She’d say words like grena through clenched teeth when she looked at my hair. “Negrita no eres negra, eres india”. I said ok and vowed to never call myself negra aroud her again. And besides being india, I was also morenita, prieta, mulata, café sin leche, Celia Cruz to name a few and to be honest I played with those terms for years before I knew the responsbility that I have as a negra, which was and always has been to be aware of the power of words. And because words are powerful, please, just call me negra.

I started writing when I was about the same age I had first dared call myself something so dizque “provocative” as negra, 7 years old. I’d sit hunched over in my closet way past my school-night bedtime writing stories, sometimes about girls with dizque “pelo bueno”, tiny waists, and skin the color of café bibi, an experience I never knew but had always imagined. I had always imagined what would  happen if I had been surrounded by people who loved my hair. I wasted hours with oil and a brush because I believed that it would straighten my hair. My stories were usually no longer than three to five pages long inside of a yellow diary of dreams, secrets I didn’t know how else to handle and they usually took places in countries that I had never been to but imagined, thanks to the nights that I didn’t write and instead chose to flip through National Geographic magazines on the wooden floor of my bedroom. I knew I was “negra”, a black girl with a lineage of cimarronas costeñas mayaguezanas-loiceñas and cimarronas in kiskeya, regardless of the fact that some black girls just like me would say otherwise, and often times I was categorized as “other”. Black but not black black. To be clear, I am black, I’ve always been black, and I have always been proud to be black regardless of relatives who would introduce me as “la prima dominicana” or “la sobrina dominicana” ashamed of something that I was proud of but I didn’t know how to embrace. But I have since learned to embrace that thing, and out of respect, I ask that you please just call me “negra”.

If I weren’t “black but not black black” I was categorized as “other”. The Spanish translation for “other” is “otro”. It’s one of the laziest words in the Spanish language. Theres no rumba to it, much less any saoco and it requires limited movement of the mouth to pronounce it, unlike the word “negra”. If you wanted to call me, a woman, “other” in Spanish you’d say “otra” and regardless of how “otra” and how “odd” you find my Caribe lineage which stretches as west as Santa Clara, Cuba, and as east as Loiza, Puerto Rico, I am not “other”. I am black and as Pedro Pietri says, “I come from a place where to be called black is to be called love”. I am no perfect piece of love nor perfect lover but I do ask that in honor of the love that I have for myself, you please, just call me negra.

I met a tall dark and handsome black man while walking from class back home after a long day of analyzing Lola Rodriguez de Tio poems in la facultad de humanidades de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, recinto de Rio Piedras. Humanidades was my most favorite part of campus. No air conditioning made my classes uncomfortable and I could stare at the palmas outside of the window anytime I felt compelled to (irresponsibly) tune out a lecture. He asked so politely, so kindly for a minute of my time and he told me his story. He was selling bizcocho de guayaba y queso as a means to raise funds for orphans. I immediately saw the poetry in his face as he spoke to me. His words were warm, his smile, warmer. He carried the same poetry that I have seen in so many of our men de color café who spend hours under the Puerto Rican sun with neveritas de botellas de agua a medio peso. I have a speciaI respect for our men, especially the Puerto Rican men who spend their days selling girasoles to other men, who unlike them don’t get ignored and have wives who receive those girasoles. I have a special respect for the elderly men who sit alongside la carretera selling the latest cosecha of mangos y aguacates to the passerbys. This black man with the bizcocho was no different. He was doing his best. I quickly remembered that one October afternoon I walked a mile to a grocery store and the men who sat in chairs selling water for “medio peso” gave me two for free after having told them I was a student at the university. They called me negra. And they assured me that I would change the world. I had seen so much poetry through just those men and I saw the same in the eyes of that black man, who stood years younger than the vendedores de girasoles, mangos y agua. I dug through my pockets for the rest of the change and proceeded to give it to him.

“y tu si que eres una trigueña linda” he said to me.

“gracias pero trigueña, no soy” I responded. People have called me trigueña for as long as I can remember and it has never been who I am. I have only recently begun to denounce the term with as much fervor as I do because it is an unnecessarily safe word, supposedly more polite than calling me what I actually am.

“como?” he asked. I giggled. He never once stopped smiling at me. I never once stopped smiling at him. I took two deep breaths. I’ve always been sharp tongued, my madrina nicknamed me machetera and used to say “esa prieta no tiene lengua tiene machete afilao”. She was right and in certain spaces it was ok, but this was one of my people. He was a good man. I took another two deep breaths, determined to reclamar mi negritud like I had done in the states anytime someone dared to call me other or went as far as to mention they could “tell” that I was something other than black, oddly directly after calling me beautiful.

“no soy triguena, soy negra igual que tu”. It was truth, an easy truth for me but truth has a way of often being revolutionary. He stared at my canela colored left forearm and back at his café sin leche right forearm, confused and obviously weirded out. He couldn’t believe that I dared called myself something so provocative as negra, because that’s how we have been raised (collectively speaking), to believe that to call one’s self negra is provocative, almost vulgar so we’ve always opted for safe words like india. I grew to have an issue wth india when I realized that men would use it as a way to call me beautiful. Instead of “negra pero bella” I was “india”, even in Loiza.

He held the bizcocho de guayaba y queso in his left arm and stopped smiling still in disbelief that I had dared called myself negra. I stared at the tree that gave us a break from the heat. I missed the flores de maga that would fall on my head anytime I walked past sad.

“pero tu piel no es tan negra como la mia.” I smiled and took another two deep breaths. I am not the color black, my skin is the color of canela, and after a day at the beach there’s a slight achiote colored undertone. I identify as black because I am a descendant of black people. Granted I am also the descendant of white Europeans, Meditarraneans and Arabs, and Ameri- inidigenous peoples but I am black. Society treats me as such, I walk as such, I look as such and I am proud to be such, even though being black means carrying the worst of traumas in so many parts of me.

“el trigo es amarillo. No soy amarilla.” I said to him nervously smiling. Silence hung between the two of us like a rain cloud.

I broke the silence with two more words, two words that make people stare at me more than my hair makes people stare at me. “soy negra”. I finished collecting up the pocket change. The exchange between he and I was silent at that point. I wished him well and he wished me the same. I couldn’t stop smiling that entire day, not just because he was kind to me and I had a new bizcocho de guayaba y queso, but because I had reclaimed my blackness in one of the most powerful of ways, wth a smile in the middle of the street in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, the very place that made me black.

One afternoon I walked down el paseo de la princesa in Viejo San Juan. It was a hot January domingo. A few complimented my tresses, a few stared per usual and another recited to me Majestad Negra by Luis Pales Matos while he painted a picture of don Pedro Albizu. And even after telling me “flor de tortola, rosa de Uganda”, and after telling me how beautiful I was and how African my hair was he stared at every feature and named every trace of the Iberian Peninsula he could see and every trace of indigenous heritage he could see in me.

“tú eres prieta pero muy india”. Those were his words but they sounded like “tú eres prieta pero bella gracias a las características y los rasgos de otros ancestros que tienes.” I bit the corner of my bottom lip.

He went as far as to dissect my face, “no tienes bemba, tienes labios como española y el gap es de los tainos”. I smiled with my labios supuestos españoles and my gap supuesto taino and said once again the two most revolutionary words that my mouth has ever made and continues to make.

“Soy negra!”

I am not in denial of who I am or the history that I carry, but I’m also not in denial that there are a million places in the continent of Africa that I could go and I’d blend in just like every other beautiful black woman. It doesn’t offend me that people pick out the indigenous or European features in my face, rather it saddens me that they do it right after calling me beautiful. It is never enough to be black, people like the artist in Viejo San Juan need a reason to understand why they would dare think I, a black woman am beautiful. Black isn’t enough for them but it is for me, and so I ask that you please just call me negra.

Puerto Ricans, collectively have a horrible habit of talking about blackness as if its historical and folkloric, as if it only exists in Loiza, only exists within the musical genres bomba and plena, as if its only relevant to slavery. Never mind that practically every cultural motif in Puerto Rico is the direct result of black resilience and strength. Nevermind that there are blacks in regions other than Loiza even where ignored and erased like Aguada and San German. Puerto Ricans throw around the words “nuestros ancestros fueron negros” as if blackness has ended on the island and there’s no more “real” blacks because blackness is some sort of ancestral phenomena. This is why when I am on the streets of Rio Piedras or el paseo de la princesa in Viejo San Juan and I dare say those two words, that make far too many people, even other blacks cringe, it is a revolutionary act. “Soy negra”. Negra only has two syllables and I exaggerate every letter as if it were a 20 letter word. Negra is the biggest word that I know, y cuan mucho me llena de amor cuando me dicen negra y cuan mucho me llena de asco cuando me dicen “negra, pero” o “negra, y”. Please, just call me negra.

I get it by the way. I get that the effort to call black, black in Puerto Rico and within Puerto Rican communities in the United States, is a part of a very long process of decolonization and empowerment. Unfortunately, ALL Puerto Ricans suffer from a level of identity issues as a result of being colonized by the United States and marginalized on every single level of existence, but in both communities I as a negra have been considered a “negra, pero…” which is one of the most oppressive thing people have done to me.

In the states for example, for some very strange reason many believe the word black to be synonymous with African American and when I hear Puerto Ricans often non-black Puerto Ricans talk about “esos negros” and “aquellos prietos”, that’s who they are referring to but they are referring to blackness as if it is exclusively African American which regardless of what the comment about “aquellos prietos” is, it is inherently antiblack because they are erasing me and often their selves from the black spectrum. Granted in the United States I am considered Boricua first. I am an independentista puertorriqueña but this is in no way means I am not a part of the black narrative. I am not “negra pero Boricua” or “negra pero dominicana” I am negra. I am dominicana. I am Boricua. None of them are exclusive. I see myself in all black people, everywhere. There’s no real need to clarify me as a specific type of black unless we are talking about a specific community, experience or a specific narrative which would make national identity relevant.

When I entered el pueblo de Lares for the first time to commemorate el Grito de Lares, a man dared tell me, “eres negra pero decente”. I wore my Lolita shirt like I always do and smiled as he stopped to ask me where I was from and why I was even in Lares, because I guess it wasn’t obvious. He proceeded to tell me how PNP Loiza was but I being negra como los loiceños, pero independentista con dizque educación made me “negra pero decente.” I said nothing to him. He didn’t deserve an explanation. I however deserved ice cream. De coco.

We’ve established that I’m not “negra, pero” but to be clear I am also not “negra y”. Some people have replaced the “pero” in “negra pero bella” with an “y” to make it “negra y bella” because it sounds less problematic. Don’t get me wrong, when las viejitas chulisimas me dicen “negrita linda” my eyes twinkle and my cheeks spark but when people dare say “negra y bella” as if they are telling me something that I don’t already know, it feels very much like “negra pero bella”. Fortunately, beauty comes with the package of being black (primero que todo jeje). No soy “negra pero” ni “negra y”, please just call me “negra” sin toda esa jodienda de adjetivos que aprendiste en el kínder. Being black is enough bella, enough educada, enough fuerte, enough inteligente, enough chula and enough decente/buena persona. Please dont specify, please just call me negra.

I like so many other black woman am in the middle of my most important journey, I am learning to love myself as I am. I’ve had numerous spiritual mentors who have taught me that returning to my original self was the best way to begin. This is what much of Ifa and Lukumi practices will teach you. I have only recently begun to see myself as a being separate from trauma whether ancestral or personal. Trauma is a part of my experience but it is not my original self. Being a black woman in the Americas is wrapped in its own trauma but if you ever want to heal from trauma, whatever it is, you’re going to have to look it in the eye. You’re going to have to call yourself what you are, negra. During this journey I will say that I have learned time and time again that my ancestors didn’t survive within my melanin and my hair that defies gravity and dances gracima, holandes, and of course el seis corrido only for me to tip toe around the patria they built calling myself “trigueña” and “indisita”. They didn’t survive even after the abolition of slavery for me to accept words as lazy as “oscura” or “mulata” when people recognize and call out the strength, beauty and resiliency these ancestors left me. Please just call me negra and out of respect and love for yourself and your ancestors, if you are black and have lived years under the labels trigueño, mulato, indio, I encourage you to call yourself negro too because being black is enough, ser negro es suficiente.

As a writer it is my responsibility to use words in an honest way and as a revolutionary it is my responsbility to understand the power behind the words that I use as a writer.

Al pan pan al vino vino y a la negra negra. Please, just call me negra.

Muchas gracias a mis mentoras: Maria Reinat Pumarejo y Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro

 

A Surrender to Healing in Santurce

santurce trastalleres

Trastalleres, Santurce, Puerto Rico (el verdadero Santurce)(source unknown)

I expected la llegada to Borinken to finish my Bachelors studies, to undo me and it did. I expected la llegada to Borinken to unravel me from all things contrary to healing and it did. She did. Borinken, the only mother to hold me tight. I cried my first night, and the second and the third and when I entered the town that held my abuela’s spirit, Mayagüez I couldn’t move or breathe because the air felt so powerful and I was vulnerable.

I had always advocated for the right to be angry, the right to hold on to the past. I still advocate for it, you don’t have to “let it go”. You don’t have to “look at the bright side” or “just be happy”. I snarled at any healer, adult, or mentor in my life who tried to tell me differently. “Tu si que eres negrita caprichosa”, my madrina would say and I’d tell her, “I can be angry all I want to. Nadie me va a parar porque no saben na’.” It was typical, usual, lazy, and immature but nonetheless, a night in Santurce knocked me straight to my knees and I had no choice but to surrender. I surrendered right beneath the stars of the Santurce sky to the act of, not letting go of anger and the past, but digging inside of el coraje and the past in order to save myself from being devoured by them.

Besides the learning, my favorite part of el area metro were the Dominican enclaves of Rio Piedras and Santurce. Dominicans of Santurce and Rio Piedras could anticipate the cibao swing on my tongue before I opened my mouth and they could see a childhood of yanikekes in my thighs.

“Tus padres son de Santo Domingo o tu eres de Santo Domingo?” they’d ask before I said a word, before I made the world aware of who I was, before I bought the Dominican candies on the front counters of the colmaditos in Santurce.

Sometimes it was instead “de que parte de Santo Domingo tu eres”. Dominicans of Santurce and Rio Piedras could see me. Well, most people can. I tower at 5’9”, soy negrita y soy pelua. But these Dominicans could really really see me. Santurce and Rio Piedras Dominicans could see me as “them”. They saw an “us” when I walked by, rather than “she’s partially us but mostly an exotic species of something that needs to explain where she is from”. They didn’t ask me to explain. They saw dominicana and went with it. Nothing else mattered. I’d explain anyways though. Boricua. Mayaguez. Loiza. Dominicana. San Pedro. El Cibao. Higuey. Those words rest at the tip of my tongue and on every part of my canela colored skin because I’ve always been a fusion linguistically and culturally. I had to explain why I’d say chinola and I wouldn’t say parcha, and then why I’d say quenepa and I wouldnt say limoncillos. Esas mujeres dominicanas, the ones who usually asked about my ties to the Dominican Republic and sold fruit and candles at plaza del mercado in Rio Piedras, tan dulces son, they’d hand me caimitos and mangos for free just because, “gracias a dios que esa negrita chula es una de nosotras”. The Dominican women who cooked chillos in Santurce would give me a discount because “que bueno que estas estudiando. Vas a cambiar el mundo negrita”. Some Santurce and Rio Piedras Dominicans would even pass me their numbers after watching me dance. “y tus familiares donde estan? Aqui tienes otra titi. Cualquiera cosa me llamas”. I’d walk away in tears because love, love undoes you too.

“It” happened in one of those chinchorros in Santurce. I say “it” because it doesnt have a name, not everything needs one, and I decided not to name the incident. Antony Santos played, men laughed, women giggled. I sang along. A man, short, blanquito, espejuelos, Boricua leaned over to me as he sipped on a drink. Me miró de cabeza a pie and licked his pitiful lips. I pretended not to notice. I was used to that behavior like any woman in this society would be, but it’s different when you’re negra and from somewhere but not anywhere obvious. Quizás Brasil y quizás Cuba y quizás Santa Cruz y quizás Venezuela. Pero sin duda y como un carro, esa negrita es algo exótico.

“pero que lindura santodominguera” he said to his friend. They both agreed and batted their eyes at me. The one who hadn’t said anything grabbed his crotch and smiled as soon as I said thanks. Im polite to men because you never know. I pretended that I didn’t see him touch himself but my heart sank anyways. Yeah, I saw.

<santodominguera>….y esa palabra…. que palabra

“tu ta trabajando esta noche?” he asked me. Others overheard him. I pointed to the clerk. She was a Dominican woman looking for a cold bottle of water for me. She wore a frowm and moved tiredly as of she had ben there all week but nonetheless very sweet. She had just refilled the freezer with presidentes, medallas, coca cola and botellas de agua. None were cold yet so I waited for her to potentially find me one.

“Yo no trabajo aqui.” I was under the impression that he wanted me to serve him a drink or perhaps hand him some of the dulce de coco dominicano that sat in front of me.

“obviamente aquí no, digo en mi carro o sea te llevo a mi apartamento chula, cuanto nos costaría esa canela tuya?”. He lickednhis lips again and stared through my clothes. I didn’t think my heart could sink any further but it did. He had assummed that because “santodominguera”, “puta”. To be clear theres nothing wrong with sex work but theres everything wrong with sexual harrassment. It turned into harrassment when I denied their advances and they remained determined to pay to share me. They became somewhat enraged when I denied their advances as if their interest in me meant they had already purchased me. They expected me to say yes. Pero la negra no se vende.

The lady handed me a bottle of water that I didn’t drink. I couldn’t drink it. And the big talker followed me outside. I forgot how to breathe and I forgot how to be the cabrona that I usually am towards satos like him. I knew that I couldn’t swallow the water or I’d have to symbolically swallow the words that man spewed at me too. I didn’t breathe, I didn’t speak. I didn’t say “igual” when the lady wished me a lovely night. I felt ashamed. I held the cold bottle to my chest, and put a “no me jodas” look on my face in case anyone else wanted to try to buy me and continued making my way to La Ciudadela, the ugliest part of Santurce. La Ciudadela is a part of Santurce that isn’t really Santurce. It’s more like a horrible replica of gentrified Brooklyn. Gentrificationnat its best, and its so out of place. Drug addicts would struggle to survive across the street from a bookstore cafe that sold ginger ale for 3 dollars a can.

It was a Thursday night and one of Puerto Rico’s most prominent writers had invited me to come sit in on one of her workshops in La ciudadela. She was by far one of the wittiest writers that I knew. When I saw her for the first time I coudn’t help but smile at the saoco in the way she walked and giggle when she complimented my hair. I was late to her workshop but nonetheless I got there, even after calling her on the phone, lost and confused by the gentrified fuckery that is la ciudadela, entirely unprepared, I had arrived and she and her students, all older than me smiled and welcomed me to magic along withher. I didn’t even have my journal nor did I have a pen. I didn’t really know what I was doing besides helping her where I could. She hadn’t exactly explained what we were doing that night, but I didn’t care, I was within a few feet of my favorite author. She handed me both a pencil and a stack of paper without even realizing that I needed them, or maybe she did and she smiled like she always does.

Poesia sexual/sensual/mas o menos erotica pero sensual. I giggled at the topic, oh si oh si, and shook my head smirking. She giggled back, and I picked up my pencil and tried to dig into “nature”, but for some reason I couldn’t think of not a damn experience or fantasy to write about. Even after all of the poems intimacy could give me a blank piece of paper was staring back at me.

I thought of Ochun. Everybody calls her sensual. She carries a sensual ashe in everything that she brings to the world. Then I thought of Oya. Oya, esa mujer anda con machete, and dances under the strength of the wind and storms. People honor her because when shifts happen, Oya is always nearby.  I wanted to write about her. How her intensity was so strong that people often overlooked how sensual she could be. The irony about Oyas ashe is that she’s so incredibly intense with more masculine energy than many men, that that makes her sensuality as a woman that much more powerful. The one word I wrote down on the paper was “choice”. I wasn’t sure why but it came to mind. I didn’t like the way it looked or the fact that it was in English. And once I realized that I had no idea why the word “choice” came to mind in an effort to write a poem about sensuality I immediately scribbled on top of it and silently cursed myself for not trying hard enough to dig into “nature”…sexual nature. I looked at each writer in the room. One had professed his love for me several times befoee but his possessiveness towards me was a turn off. Hed become dangerously offemded if I didnt hold his hand when I saw him even though he never had the cojomes to ask me on a date. And hed get jealous any time he saw a man talk to me and come interrupt. Que asco. Another girl lived nearby and had always asked me how my semester was going as the “newbie” in the are. She was always kind to me and smiled when she saw me. Another had a Dominican accent that felt like love. There were a few others I had never seen before and they were all calm and had looks on their faces like the ashe of the workshop facilitator was filling them with a nutrient so powerful they wouldn’t ever have to take another writing workshop again in life. This was it for them. The beginning and the end. Perhaps not so much but the gaze they held in their eyes when they looked at her was incredible. They began to share the things that they had written. One man wrote about el gran orgasmo. I watched my favorite author’s physical reaction to the poem so hard that I hadn’t noticed my own. I needed a distraction. It was really a beautiful poem, you know, kind of like “el gran orgasmo” is a really beautiful experience, but what happens when you’re introduced to that intensity before you even know your body has the ability to go there? It makes the poetry behind it, awkward, almost painful and certainly confusing.

Each of the participants had chosen to express themselves sensually but I had nothing written on the paper besides the word “choice” scribbled out beyond recognition. I twirled my pen, well the pen, between my fingers and played with my “go to” curl. My go to curl is the one section of my hair that I caress with my index finger and thumb anytime I feel nervous or tired. I was sure that I had chosen to be sensual before. I was sure that I had walked a certain way to get somebody’s attention or moved my hips a certain way when dancing to only some of Puerto Rico’s most finest dancers just to make him, them want more…more dancing, more hands on my skin. I was sure that I was any other normal 20 something year old, learning and discovering my sexuality and my body but I also wasn’t sure that I was a normal 20 something year old. I was sensual but without choice, had gotten to know my body at the expense of grown men and a little girl and I didn’t think that to be normal.

I remember the first time I heard the word “sensual” and I’ll never forget it. There was this viejita in el barrio,  Little Puerto Rico, Rosa, I despised the way she’d glare at me and scold me for anything I did. Rosa no era color de rosa pa na. She would routinely snatch me out of trouble that I couldn’t see me putting myself into and she’d give me a bofeta like I was her own child any time I sucked my teeth too hard or rolled my eyes. She once told me “negrita tienes energia bien sensual, ten cuidado.” I didn’t even know what “sensual” meant but I assumed it meant that I attracted men, old croaky corona holding domino throwing “I have a wife but esta nena uuuuff” men, dirty men and that I needed to not answer when they asked me “por que tu eres tan bella? Que traje tan lindo. Dame besito. Sientate en mi falda chula” I did, I certainly did “Yo quisiera una muñequita igual que tu.” and then Id smile. Those were the words of one of the viejos in the park. The men played dominos the women gossiped, the kids played and racked up “medio peso” for a piragua or a limbel. Rosa heard him nice and clearly and snatched me close to her in a possessive manner. He and his friends laughed when she stormed off with me. I was taught to be kind to all elders but Rosa snatched me up into her house so quickly after having been kind I thought I had broken some law. She nearly threw me on the couch knocking over the candle that sat in front of the picture of her mother who had died when she was a baby. She looked at me with eyes that stung and that’s when she said it “negrita tienes una energia bien sensual ten cuidado. Escuchame, ten cuidado.”. I sat in silence and took off my penny loafers and watched her water her plants and consequently somehow figured I was special because I could get a man to turn away from his wife to look at me and I was only 7 or 8. Yo me crie siendo negrita con pelo malo y flaquita asi que un hombre que me decia bella aunque tenia 7 añitos era amable para mi. Just so that we are clear tener 7 años es ser bebe.

I wanted to participate in the workshop. I wanted to write but I just couldn’t. Rosa’s the same woman who taught me all about the importance of Santurce and there I was in the middle of ancestral energy with the opportunity to express myself as any woman should be able to, with a lick lip here and a wink there, so freeing, so body positive but I could only think of how earlier in the chinchorro-colmadito, all I wanted was water and two sanganos decided that I was sensual. Or Perhaps, standing there fetching un peso de pesetas was “sensual” and I was to be treated as such. Like an object because “tienes una energia bien sensual” y con esa energia dizque tienes que chichar el que te mire. Then I thought about the time I was sensual at 9 years old while walking next to my mother. A man said “uuuuf regalame esa morenita” and the other licked his lips and blew me a kiss. My mother scolded me for smiling at the man prior to him saying that. At nine I hadn’t chosen to be sensual but the men decided that I was and that I was to be treated as such and I was to be scolded for being such. At 12 years old un oficial de seguridas en la famosa plaza del mercado del oeste de Cleveland, me invitó a su oficina. Me arranque y una viejita me aguantó y le dijo al oficial “es mi hija dejala quieta”. That same year I became so sensual apparently, that the comments escalated to action, “pero que piel, que mujeron. Eres toda una mujer”. It went from comments about my skin to touching my skin in places where men should only touch consenting women, not a little girl at 12 while they told me how much I was going to like it. And it escalated from caricias of men everybody trusted to “te voy a enseñar a ser una mujer de mi edad vas a desearme mas y mas y yo a ti” y “te voy a enseñar como funciona tu cuerpo”. I said no, the word no, a complete sentence, didnt matter though because I was sensual… To be clear, at 12, I wasn’t toda una mujer, I was una nena but somehow I was sensual and existed for the sexual pleasure of whatever men desired it, even if they were just watching. When “you’re” dizque sensual, that’s the response. And then I thought about how even when I denounced their behavior, I said no to their advances…pues al pan pan y al vino vino…abuso es lo que era,  even when I said no I was wrong because at 15 the words of a mother, some mother, la mia who finally found out weren’t “sangano del diablo nena dame un abrazo” they were “y esos mahones que tu llevas bien apretaos? Ay por favor los tienes que bajar tu para cualquiera persona meterse. Embustera. Sucia, salte de aqui” was code for “you’re sensual so you allowed it to happen.” I replayed it in my head over and over again while the others shared their favorite parts of sex. “salte de aquí”, “salte de aquí”, “salte de aquí”. I wanted to write about sensuality, I wanted to make my eyes dance as I read a poem about skin in front of the guy who professed his love to me just to tease him with something he couldnt touch because he was essentially trying to do the same to me with all of his many insinuations about negras, but I couldn’t because my head was filled with the words “salte de aqui” and the sound of locking doors, and the sound of me screaming, and the horrible sound of silence, all because I was sensual without ever haven chosen to be so.

I thought I was brave the day that I heard the words “salte de aqui” come from the very person who I thought would perhaps protect me. Before she said the words “salte de aqui”, she hadn’t known.Well she did but not because I told her. I was always in trouble, disrespectful to my teachers, and didn’t listen to my coaches. I was defiant and came home whenever I felt like it, your textbook malcriaaa, and angry so angry that I threw three year old pataletas anytime authority exercised power over me. I hated anyone who asked while I was angry and I was constantly questioning what was happening to my body with the men. Before the broken glass and the comments like “sucia”, I had finally worked up the courage to tell a counselor at school what was happening. It turned into the principal, a social worker, a police officer, my mom, and a detective telling me to act out everything that happened. Not write. Act out. The male cops, male mind you, were supposed to play the abusers while I played myself. “Pretend you’re with them right now. Were you on top ever? Tenias orgasmo? Te gustó?”. Protocol. That translates to “show us how sensual you were behaving for so many years and the same men”. I back peddled immediately said I was confused and never meant to say it and listened to my mother tell them how sucia I was and how sorry she was that I was a liar. So when the situation, o sea, my bravery, after weeks of “sucia tu eres” and serious “peleas”, shed throw glass and Id throw water, with who I thought was there to protect me turned into “salte de aqui, ni te puedo mirar la cara, eres una sucia” and the things which made me sucia continued, I left, far and I went to sit on a park bench. For me at that point “sucia” and “sensual” had the same meaning and were the reason a ellos les gustabs esta piel canela. I sat on a rickety park bench and counted the clouds and apparently that also made me sensual. But I didn’t realize that that action made me sensual, until after months of believing that I had a mentor who cared about my feelings, was kind to children, respectful to elders.

Doña Rosa can smell bullshit a mile away (but can’t read the newspaper up close haha). I had always secretly loved that about her, how I couldn’t lie to her. I was free with doña Rosa in a way I couldn’t be anywhere else. The kids at my school were rich and white and if they had found out my mom couldn’t afford a new pair of nikes for us every month then I was doomed so I lied and pretended to not want the shoes everybody else wanted. Rosa saw it coming and ordered me to keep away from the streets even the ones that gifted me friends who had been through worst than me. I was finishing up homework in the same park and the mentor was returning to me with a piragua. It had only been May, early for piraguas in Little Puerto Rico but nonetheless a piragua. She knew he wasn’t my father or related to me. She saw me, marched over, amd grabbed my arm so tight, the piragua flew to the ground and I came to my feet. Her nails dug into my shoulder all the way to her house. She asked if he had done anything to me. I told her no because he wasn’t like that and she proceeded to make me sit and eat the sopon de pollo she had made herself earlier that day. If a hug had a flavor that would be what all of doña Rosas food tasted like.

When she fell asleep, I arranged through text to go back to the mentor. I told him that the lady wasn’t comfortable with him around me but I was and that was all that mattered. I made my way back to her house. She sat in the front room waiting for me and laughed while I snuck in through the screendoor I had left unlocked to return. “Tu no me mandas” I said “ni mi mama me manda ni los maestros me mandan, hago lo que quiero” y esa mujer, me dio una bofeta pero una bofeta de verdad. I cried because I couldnt believe her anger towards me. She stared at me because she couldn’t believe my blatant defiance towards her. I fell asleep venting to the mentor about how evil women could be. She woke me up with polvorones and explained to me once again, “tienes una energia sensual negrita. Puede ser bien peligrosa. Portate bien oiste? You ever do that again I will tear your ass up myself before he does. Do not test me.” It was too late. I was surrounded with women who told me I thought I was better than they were because while at carnivals while at festivals even still as a young girl, flaquita,  with canillas for legs, men would stare and men would lick their lips and men would go as far as driving past and doubling back to get a better look. And I was surrounded with women who didnt protect me while men would hurt me. And I was surrounded by women who would say “you think youre allowed to be una sangana and disrespectful porque hay hombres grandes que te interesa!”

Rosa had reminded me that I was “sensual” and therefore (as I translated it to be) responsible for any action a man had towards me because those actions were reactions because again I was supposedly una nena sensual. I didn’t respect la doñas advice, because well the last thing an unmothered daughter who has a mother wants, is someone trying to mother her. I didn’t think that he was like any of the others who told me “eres toda una mujer negra” and I couldn’t understand why this viejita would want to keep me away from someone who like her, was kind to me, until he one day kissed me on the cheek, caressed my thigh and said the same. He made promises to me that you only make to women in the midst of steamy consensual one night stands. I didn’t know he was being paid to attract girls into thinking sexual pleasure with him meant freedom for them. It didnt, it meant you being an object for his jefe y sus clientes, while he had fun, in the middle of a very illegal situation. Hombres, nenas, dinero. I got away from his horrific and obviously illegal negocio with struggle one because stockholm syndrome (aunque me hacia daño, cuando me fui de casa le confiaba) and also theres no real way out even if they let you go, I was still his and he still bought me piraguas. I almost convinced myself that it was ok and he convinced me a few times that I wanted everything Id say no to or cry about because, “its me. Not the men who like to hurt you.” To be clear this mentor was one of those men who lurks in the neighborhoods of Puerto Ricans in economic exile ij the US, in search of angry fatherless girls. The only thing he mentored me on was that women existed for the pleasure of men and “heres what they need to do about it” and “heres how you help yourself” and “te toy haciendo una mujer”, but again, I wasnt a woman. Those men think las nenas enfogonas are the easiest to touch and kiss. A part of the trauma of those Puerto Rican enclaves in the states is that there exist a few angry fatherless nenas who dont need to be scolded for laughing in the middle of danger rather held away from it. Rosa tried, she tried. It all ties right back to the traumas of US colonialism. Just like some Puerto Ricans blame themselves I did the same. Just like some Puerto Ricans believe the US to be helping them, I thought the same of un hombre, grande que me compraba piraguas y me decia linda y me decia mujer y asi me trataba.

I still wanted to write, I was dying to write, but I couldn’t. I shivered from the outrageous temperature in the room and I thought about how, even walking down Paseo de Diego in search of malanga and another can of salsa de tomate for me and my friend’s dinner meant a man would stop me asking when the last time I had been intimate with someone was because he needed “some”. Granted, we’re all adults here and it is perfectly fine to be totally honest about wanting to sleep with someone. But it was objectification because no lo conozco ni me conoce. Of all the people in the area, women negotiating the the prices of pana, men selling platanos on the hot sidewalk, women my age strutting and twisting their hips as they walked, he looked to me because “eres una negra y me encantan las negras. Huelen a coco y caminan con una sensualidad…”. There I was again, being sensual with no real intention and never deciding to be so because I was an object.

I soon decided that I didn’t want to write. I wasn’t a writer and the author made a huge mistake taking any interest in me. So I left. I left the shit out of that taller leaving behind my bag and I sat on the benches outside of la ciudadela. It was late, no one was nearby, just me, the ancestors, una brisa, and the lights. I blinked and lagrimas fell to my lap. I cursed myself for being weak, for allowing some past experiences to define my sensualityand ability to write. I knew I couldnt be honest in that room about how I felt because I would have ruined the energy amd it wasnt fair nor my place. Yo estaba en una jaula. I ranted to a friend mentor a real one via text, I couldnt/wouldnt dare say the words, “I’m not even a writer. I chickened out of a workshop about sensual poetry. What the fuck is my problem? I act sensual sometimes to get free drinks and I guess sometimes I carry a natural sensuality, men and women have fallen in love with me watching me dance, and I have nothing against either of them staring while I bat my eyes to the beat of Maelo Rivera, but I couldn’t write about it hahaha fuck it I guess I’m not a writer. They stole that too. No soy nena de la iglesia but I’m not sure I have permission to acknowledge my sensuality sometimes because that means to be honest that I love to behave in a way that men believed me to be when I was younger so that they could justify their hands up my school dresses and their eyes undoing my track and field uniform and their skin undoing inocencia. I guess I’m not a writer and the author made a mistake ever thinking that I was.” She assured me that I was a writer. And “remember writing brings healing and sometimes the healing happens during the night in the middle of Santurce in front of your favorite author.” I didn’t understand how that could possibly be healing. I was angry. I was so angry. I even wanted to be angry at the author for seeing. Yo estaba mas enfogona que el diatre.

Rosa used to tell me, “negrita caprichosa (just like my madrina would say), be angry all you want to but one day youre gunna have to stop being angry for a while and feel whatever it is that you need to feel and acknowledge whatever that feeling is and why the hell you even have that feeling in the first place. Or you can wait for it to catch up to you. It will catch up.” I ignored her like I ignored most women in authority over me. But there I was 5 years after she tried to crack inside of my anger which only made me angrier to be honest, there I was 5 years later in la ciudadela, lagrimas. Lagrimas, finally. Lagrimas. I wished it had been la lluvia. It didn’t rain that night as far as I can remember.

There I was five years later feeling what I needed to feel. Nevermind the desire to write a sensual poem about skin, nevermind loving that author so much my heart would race anytime she complimented me. Nevermind she invited me to watch her magic, I was in the middle of Santurce digging into an anger so deep that I had never dealt with it, just let it out to lash at anyone in my way, especially women with authority over me because they were the first to throw the actions of men onto me as if it belonged to me.

I had despised anyone who dared try to figure out why sometimes a straight A, peluita with a smile, who was so kind and sweet, sold string bracelets she handmade to raise money for kids in the Dominican Republic when she was 13, could quote Pedro Albizu Campos since she was 12, was one of the top students in the region, felt a spiritual connection to trees and plants and could figure out their properties without reading a word about them, could play three instruments, honored her ancestors with candles and prayers, why a little girl like that had a horribly evil streak towards anyone in any sort of authority. Even when it all ended, even when I went off to college four years ago I couldn’t allow established authority nearby, professors for example. I can name two professors that I have actually trusted before the last week of classes. Oddly enough they were both from my college experience in Puerto Rico. Even more ironically one was Dominican and the other was Puerto Rican. And the most ironic characteristic of all, both professors women. I pretended I had no interest in the material they taught because I was a political science major and one course was about anthropology and the other literature. Please. I’m a writer and a social advocate against racism who is working on a memoir about cultural memory. I needed them and I needed to be open to what they had to teach. Those courses were more for me than “European politics” ever could be. Nonetheless, there’s nothing like the intelligence, wit and care of your own people to humble you right back down to being the respectful being you were raised to be and need to be if you plan to ever learn anything else from them or others. They saw me just like Rosa could see me and there I was, vulnerable after that night in Santurce. They told me I was great even though I arrived late to their classes and only engaged when they forced me, and invented reasons to think they were bad professors for me. They both had me in their offices catching up on the work and keeping myself strong for the projects, big and small.

I felt everything that I needed to feel about choice, sensuality and authority that night in Santurce. I felt the way authority had failed me and how sensual was written on my skin without my consent because of a different kind of authority, an authority I didn’t have over my body perhaps as a smiling negrita perhaps as a girl who thought all attention was good attention, and how I was struggling to choose to be sensual to complete a workshop because I “was sensual” before I even knew such choices existed. I felt why I couldn’t trust most women in direct authority over me because I saw the women I was raised with who called me “sucia” and who sometimes unintentionally, often times not, made the way men treated me, my responsibility. I was frustrated with myself for not being brave enough to stay in the workshop, I cursed myself for leaving, I hated myself for a moment because I had the once in a lifetime chance to be in awe of the passion, laugh at the jokes, learn from the wisdom of my favorite author all because she invited me to do just that but I was missing it, but cono, that same author indirectly brought me to my knees after years of unprejudiced anger because I was outside and I was having an anxiety attack and I was feeling what I needed to feel.  She didn’t teach me how to write and I didn’t get to laugh at her jokes but she helped me be brave enough to sit in the night of Santurce and feel what I needed to feel, to crack inside of anger all because while walking to my last class of the day, she saw me, told me how she had heard about me and respected my eagerness to learn from her.

Sometimes the healing happens because of a word, one word in the middle of Santurce, San Mateo de Cangrejos, tierra ancestral de cimarronaje, bajo la luna llena. Sometimes that’s exactly how it happens and you sit there, completely undone. Because that’s what healing is, becoming undone. I walked back to the workshop as it was ending. The author looked directly at me and slightly raised her eyebrow insinuating that she noticed that I had become undone, that I had healed though I doubt she was sure. Anbyody like her who knows about healing knows your eyes will look a little bit differently once a part of you heals. I learned nothing about writing sensually but I had become undone, and you must become undone in order to write. I wrote her a terrible poem about what I felt, took a breath and chose healing. She mentioned in front of the others that whatever frustration I had felt was probably a result of being between two languages. I think she knew it was deeper than that because my face has never been one to hide my feelings. Borinken has brought me to my knees a hundred times with love and I’m allowing her to bring me to my knees a hundred more times for the healing. Rio Piedras welcomed me home but Santurce welcomed me to the undoing of anger, the healing.

La ciudadela de Santurce no es el verdadero Santurce. Existe por encima del verdadero Santurce que existe por encima del San Mateo de Cangrejos, y aun así esa tierra ancestral de cimarronaje me sanó. Y pues aun así, a lo loco, con muchas cosas por encima, yo, una cimarrona, me puedo sanar también.

 

Where the Puerto Rican Jíbaro Meets Antiblackness

Source: elpuntoes.com

Puerto Ricans of all colors and socioeconomic backgrounds have called themselves “jíbaros” with fervor and a pride so deep that they smile and giggle as they say it. “Yo soy jíbaro de Jayuya!” “Y yo soy jíbara de Orocovis!”. And even if one is not from Puerto Rico’s central mountainous municipalities like Jayuya or Orocovis, there are Puerto Ricans who will still refer to themselves as jíbaros for the tradition and heritage that “el jíbaro” (supposedly) represents. The indigenous taínos of Puerto Rico first used the word “jíbaro” to refer to people of the forest. Like many indigenous words, the word “jíbaro” has survived and is a part of daily Puerto Rican dialect. Besides being, el campesino de las montañas, and a highly recognizable Puerto Rican symbol of heritage and culture, beneath the surface, el jíbaro also represents structural antiblackness so deep within Puerto Rican society that it is practically unrecognizable to most Puerto Ricans who use the word “jibaro” (1).

El jíbaro is a cultural symbol, an identity belonging to Puerto Rico that didn’t exist until the 19th century emergence of the criollos. The criollos were the descendants of Spanish settlers and conquistadores born in the various then Spanish colonies such as Puerto Rico. During this time in Puerto Rico criollos were classified into mainly two socioeconomic classes: the urban elite criollos and the criollos campesinos (2). The urban elite criollos came from well to do families who often had black slaves working on their property and had access to education. They often received scholarships to travel to Europe to study in the universities. The criollos campesinos however weren’t landowners, didn’t have slaves and had far less access to education. Criollos campesinos however hardly had any education and practically no access to European institutions of learning. From 1849-1873 many criollos campesinos were contracted under the system of regimen de la libreta. They worked in central haciendas from sun up to sun down and were required to be under almost 24/7 surveillance of the hacendados (3). The criollos as a whole were a new society in Puerto Rico, newer than blacks who had existed in Puerto Rico for centuries prior to the existence of these new criollos.

Besides working as mere servants, criollos campesinos were isolated within the mountainous terrain and thick forests of the center of Puerto Rico, which therein contributed to a level of isolation-marginalization. It is important to recognize that during this time Puerto Rico was a colony of Spain therefore, criollos whether campesinos or hacendados were not permitted to participate in many of the political affairs concerning Puerto Rico considering its colonial status. One could say that there were two different types of political friction in Puerto Rico (that did not directly involve blacks); 1. The criollos as a whole versus Spanish crown and 2. The criollo elite versus the criollos campesinos. In the 1840s criollo students (obviously from elite families) from Puerto Rico introduced the jíbaro figure in Spain, in an effort to bring attention to a “new” and “emerging” society in Puerto Rico. The “jibaro” was a campesino, poor, and had little access to education. The symbol was an effort to establish national identity in Puerto Rico. In 1849, Manuel Alonso Pacheco wrote his book of poetry, prose, and short stories, El Gibaro in which he describes the everyday interactions and lifestyle of the white Puerto Rican in el campo. El Gibaro was the first acclaimed literary work that truly worked in the area of <<a>> Puerto Rican identity (4). For this reason, the jibaro symbol is considered to be the backbone of Puerto Rican identity and culture, but the truth is, it is neither because jibaro culture, customs and traditions are mostly not originally created by them nor are they carried out by them at all.

During the 19th century Puerto Rico went through a series of political and economic changes. Prompted by independence revolutions in other Spanish colonies such as Caracas (Venezuela) and the black led Haitian revolution, Felipe VII, published the Real Cédula de Gracias (Royal Decree of Graces) of 1815 (5). The goal of this decree was to promote criollo patronage to Spain and to avoid more black slave rebellions. This decree provided white European Catholics land and black slaves as incentives to immigrate to the then Spanish colony of Puerto Rico. The Real Cédula de Gracia whitened Puerto Rican society but it didn’t successfully promote a collective patronage to Spain. On September 23rd 1868 Ramon Emeterio Betances, an abolitionist and elite criollo, organized Puerto Rico’s first and only uprising against the Spanish colonialism in the mountain town of Lares. This uprising was known as El Grito de Lares (6). It was unsuccessful but respected and honored by Pueto Ricans as a symbol of resistance and bravery.

Because of EL Grito de Lares and other smaller revolts led by the white workers, jibaros in Puerto Rico, the symbol of the campesino criollo, or a mostly white man, dressed in a pava, slacks, basic white shirt, and often barefoot from the mountains emerged and continues to remain as a nationalist symbol against colonialism in Puerto Rico. Nowadays that colonialism being from the United States. People believe the jíbaros to be the first Puerto Ricans and the base of a collective Puerto Rican identity. But, the campesinos criollos every one refers to as “jíbaros” were not the first to do “jíbaro” things, nor is most of anything that is referred to as “jíbaro” originally created by “jíbaros”.

In his work, El pais de cuatro pisos, acclaimed Puerto Rican essayist and historian, Jose Luis González, explains that what Puerto Ricans call jíbaro is actually originally black/afro descendant. González presents an enticing argument that “jíbaros” weren’t the first to establish an identity in Puerto Rico but are continuously represented as being the pillars of “puertorriquenidad”. Puerto Rico has a significant history of cimarronaje, black slave rebellions against Spanish colonialism well before criollos even lived in the mountains of Puerto Rico. There were slave rebellions in present day Ponce, Guayama, Mayaguez, Vega Baja, San Juan/Santurce, Loíza, Carolina, Patillas, Arroyo and many other municipalities especially on the coast as documented by historians and Esclavos, Profugas, Cimarrones since the beginning of black slavery in Puerto Rico up until the abolition of slavery on March 22, 1873. This means that black people were the first to fight against colonial powers, not white men from the beloved mountains of Puerto Rico.

Afro descendants of Puerto Rico were also the originators of “comida jíbara”. Platanos, arroz con gandules, mollega, funche, are often referred to as “comida jíbara” and almost always “comida criolla”. They’re neither. Dishes that are actually criollo in Puerto Rico are few like paella, or flan and jibaro food like most of Puerto Rican cuisine is rooted in Puerto Rico’s deep connection to Western African regions (7). The aforementioned dishes were originally used in Puerto Rico by blacks during the times of slavery because of lack of resources and arroz con gandules among other dishes as we all know, can effortlessly feed and fill many. Even pana/panapén is original to Puerto Rico’s black population. In order to adapt to their less than adept economic situations, jíbaros adopted what their black neighbors on the coast were doing in order to survive. In the story “Un casamiento jibaro”, of El Gibaro, Alonso Pacheco describes a wedding in the mountains of Puerto Rico. One of the dishes the guests of the wedding enjoyed were buñuelos de ñame. Ñame, the vianda just like the word, was brought to Puerto Rico by Africans. This is afrodescendant food not jibaro food.

Afro descendants are also the originators of various elements of “el accento jíbaro”. Granted, every region and municipality in Puerto Rico has their own regionalisms and pronunciations, but a lot of said characteristics of “el accento jíbaro” are really from an Africanized Spanish. Dizque “jíbaros” are often linguistically characterized for the way the double “r” is pronounced towards the back of the throat rather than the typical usage of the tongue. This way of pronouncing the “rr” was original to black slaves brought to Puerto Rico. People who speak only languages that do not require a rolled r, such as English for example, more than likely cannot roll an “r” like someone who speaks Spanish as a native language because they simply never learned it because it wasn’t necessary for them to learn in their native languages. This is what happened to Africans who began to speak Spanish. Forced by Spanish colonizers to speak Spanish which wasn’t their native language, they formulated their own pronunciations and Africanized ways of communicating. The “r” sound is overwhelmingly different in languages in West African countries. Instead of rolling the “r”, blacks in Puerto Rico would pronounce the “r” with a heavy sound coming from the back of the throat. Ex: instead of “arroz”, “ahjoz” (10).

On the other hand, la musica jíbara is a real thing. Mostly known for Aguinaldo, Christmas music and the cuatro guitar, jíbaro music is incredibly beautiful and certainly a part of collective Puerto Rican tradition but to call the cuatro the national instrument of Puerto Rico is a bit far-fetched simply because it wasn’t the first instrument to be a part of the Puerto Rican nation (post columbian era). Barriles de bomba, which were created by enslaved Africans in Puerto Rico were played in Puerto Rico much earlier than the cuatro guitar as were panderos de plena, also created and developed by afro descendants of Puerto Rico (11). Sidenote: Not sure why some Puerto Ricans dress in “jibaro” attire (conduct a google image search to see) to dance plena when people who dressed like that didn’t create plena whatsoever at all para nada, unlike afro descendants but that’s a discussion for another article. 😉

In the beginning of the 20th century, the image of the jíbaro became further solidified. Being that it represented resistance to Spanish colonialism, it then transformed to represent resistance to the new United States colonialism. For this reason, and also the erasure of blacks from the Puerto Rican spectrum, Puerto Ricans believe that to be jíbaro is to be as Puerto Rican as it can get. Through the eyes of many who hold el jíbaro with high esteem, Puerto Rico was a nation of jíbaros. Most Puerto Ricans at least acknowledge the existence of blacks in historical Puerto Rico but there are cases where blacks are not considered a true part of the historical Puerto Rican nation. Blacks in Puerto Rico understood themselves to be Puerto Rican at the time but were well aware of blanqueamiento and how even though not stripped of their Puerto Rican identity, they were not necessarily included in a national identity that they were the true creators of. Fortunato Vizcarrondo, most known for his poema negrista “Y tu agüela a’onde ‘ta” argued this precisely when he wrote “el jíbaro e prieto de veldad” meaning what Puerto Ricans refer to as jibaro is truly black. To hide black-Puerto Ricans from the spectrum of Puerto Rico, and instead recreate the image of Puerto Rico as a nation of white men living in mountains, would be to show that Puerto Rico was truly a nation based on a criollo (white) experience rather than a black one. For many, even today blacks of Puerto Rico are nothing more than folklorized bomba dancing alcapurria eating descendants of slaves living in Loiza (which is untrue just in case you were not aware).

The way in which the jíbaro narrative has emerged as a symbol of Puerto Rican identity erases the importance and dilutes the relevance of blackness in Puerto Rico as a symbol of resistance and Puerto Rican identity. Many Puerto Ricans will continue to refer to themselves as jíbaros with no real intention of marginalizing Afro Puerto Ricans but the point here is that the narrative does erase Afro Puerto Ricans. Even after clearly displaying years of resistance to slavery and colonialism, Puerto Ricans of African descent are often still considered to be a different kind of isolated Puerto Rican by their white or whiter compañeros.

Those (white) Puerto Rican men you see in the paintings, barefoot, dressed with pavas on their heads, rolled up pants, white shirt, and machete en la mano, represent one…ONE cultural identity of Puerto Rico that has been used to recreate Puerto Rico’s history as a nation of whiteness. It should be noted that there were moments where indigenous people of Boriken did indeed attempt to fight against Spanish conquistadores, but once Spanish colonialism was established in the archipelago, those who originally fought against Spanish colonialism weren’t criollos, they were enslaved black people, cimarrones. Jibaro food doesn’t really exist. It’s food of afrodescendants borrowed by campesinos criollos to survive.

Identity is personal. This article is not written with the intention of condemning those who identify themselves as jíbaros. This article is to condemn the erasure of blackness from the “national Puerto Rican family”. Blacks in Puerto Rico are in many of the marginalized positions that they are in for the level of erasure that the jíbaro symbol caused throughout Puerto Rico. The jíbaro narrative could not and would not exist without the fierce presence of blackness and black people in Puerto Rico. We must take the responsibility to understand history, and shed light on things like the jíbaro narrative that allow for subsequently antiblack symbolism to exist in order to rid our society of racism and marginalization. Puerto Rico is indeed made up of three MAIN groups (West African, Taíno/indigenous, and Spanish/European) but this “mestizaje” should not be used to dilute the fact that Puerto Rico is a nation, politically and culturally of blackness.

El jibaro es una falsedad, un simbolo medio imaginario. Que ironico que los populares los que creen en el coloniaje del ELA lo usan como simbolo….”Pan tierra y libertad”.

 

Sources and References

A combination of books, university studies, articles, and historical poetry was used in the formation of this analysis

  1. Article: “What is a Jíbaro” ElBoricua.com
  2. Article: “Que significa lo criollo” Mario R. Cancel puertoricoentresiglos.wordpress.com
  3. Book: El regimen de la libreta– Carlos Erazo
  4. Book: El Gibaro, Manuel Alonso Pacheco
  5. Encyclopedia: Real Cedula de Gracia de 1815- Enciclopedia de Puerto Rico
  6. Encyclopedia: Grito de Lares- Enciclopedia de Puerto Rico
  7. Book: Esclavos, Profugas, Cimarrones: Puerto Rico 1770-1870, Benjamin Nistal Moret
  8. Encyclopedia: Cimarronaje- Enciclopedia de Puerto Rico
  9. Book: El país de los cuatro pisos, Jose Luis Gonzalez
  10. Research Study: From Bozal to Boricua: Implications of Afro Puerto Rican Langauge in Literature, John M. Lipski
  11. Article: A Short History of Puerto Rico and Its Cuatro, Willliam Cupiano
  12. Book: Blackness in Latin America and the Caribbean, Arlene Torres

Note: there have been discrepancies about the origin of the word “jíbaro”. Some historians claim it came from castellano but it is widely recognized for being a word that has survived “taíno” language.

Note: it is important to recognize that there is a level of mestizo (indigenous and european) identity within the criollos campesinos but the vast majority of “jíbaros” were white people and descendants of Europeans.

 

How “Mestizaje” in Puerto Rico Makes Room for Racism to Flourish

"Three Puerto Rican Girls"

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“Somos de tres razas! La blanca, la india, y la negra!” is a cliched response you can almost always count on hearing anytime you bring up race or racism in Puerto Rico or Puerto Rican Diaspora communities. It’s cute, easy to remember, and also a lie.

Ironically the European root, which is most often mistaken as the backbone of Puerto Rican culture, is mentioned first. The indigenous, Taíno root, which is often recognized strategically (yes, strategically) in front of blackness is named second. Oh, and the third? African or Black! Last but not least, right? I’d like to think so, but I know better.

The blending of these three races or roots in Puerto Rico are what we refer to as “mestizaje”, or mixture (1). This “mestizaje” is what causes Puerto Ricans to believe that we all are racially mixed the exact same way therefore there can be no “true” difference. While mestizaje is a part of Puerto Rican society and even exists in the heritage of many Puerto Ricans, the way in which mestizaje is recognized in Puerto Rico makes room for racism and white supremacy to flourish because it gives us a false historical analysis on race.

Where does this mestizaje narrative come from? We are all taught, whether in school or through conversation with our elders that Spaniards came to Puerto Rico, encountered Taínos, killed most of them off with diseases and weapons, subsequently brought slaves from Africa (or more accurately, African peoples who were then later enslaved), and eventually everyone got married and generations later we have what is now referred to as the Puerto Rican racial admixture of African, Taíno, and Spanish. That’s the irresponsible and also inaccurate way to tell our history. Let’s discuss what is wrong with it because our history is, of course, the foundation for our present state.

The first African encounter with Puerto Rico had nothing to do with slavery. Africans travelled to the Americas including Boriké (present-day Puerto Rico), long before Christopher Columbus and “friends.” In fact, it has been documented that many traditions, which are today considered to be that of Taíno culture can be found throughout ancient civilizations in Africa (2). Secondly, it is documented that Africans traveled with the Spanish conquistadores as free men to Boriké. One of the most recognized examples of this was a Black man by the name of Pedro Mejias who reportedly married the Taína Cacica, Yuisa (3). Thirdly, there existed African heritage among the Spanish conquistadores. While carrying with them white supremacist/ white saviour ideals, many conquistadores in fact had African heritage directly from North African countries as a result of both African immigration to Spain and the occupation of southern Spain by the Moors beginning in 711 AD (4).

The first people to become enslaved under Spanish colonialism and rule, were the Taínos. It soon proved unsuccessful as the Taínos, being indigenous to the land, were able to escape from captivity. It has also been documented that the Taínos resisted colonialism easier and arguably stronger than the Blacks who were brought years after Taíno enslavement. The Africans brought to Puerto Rico were much more easily christianized and colonized because they weren’t in a land they knew and were convinced they would be able to soon return home to their West African communities (possibly) upon “good behavior” (5).

In 1570 the Puerto Rican gold mines were depleted and the criollos, who were European, primarily Spanish descendants born and living in Latin America (in this case, Puerto Rico) relocated to other Spanish colonies like México and Perú. This hereby left Puerto Rico as a Spanish garrison and the population was mostly Black/ afro-descendant and Mulatto (6). It wasn’t until 1815, just a few years after the Haitian Revolution, that the population of Puerto Rico began to whiten, or increase in number of Europeans. That year the Spanish Crown under King Ferdinand III passed the Royal Decree of Graces, which encouraged Spaniards and Europeans from other countries to populate Puerto Rico as well as Cuba so as not to have a “Black colony” like Haiti that defeated their French colonizers. This is referred to in Spanish and by many Puerto Rican scholars and historians as “blanqueamiento” or “whitening” (7). These white settlers were provided free land, and even monetary incentives to populate Puerto Rico. This allowed for the creation and resurgence of cañaverales, and other plant producing plantations based on African slave labor, especially in coastal regions like Mayagüez, Ponce, Guayama, Loíza, Arroyo, Patillas, Salinas etc.(8)

On March 22, 1873 slavery was abolished in Puerto Rico but this didn’t necessarily “free” Blacks in Puerto Rico and make them equal to their white (or whiter) counterparts. Once freed, Blacks were forced to work under contracts (most likely doing the same work that they did as slaves) for a minimum of three years and were denied political rights for five years (9). Each municipality has it’s own history with how afro-descendants in respective regions economically developed (if at all) post slavery but over all, the post-abolition laws allowed for very little upward economic mobility, the effects of which can still be seen today. A large majority of marginalized communities in Puerto Rico are primarily of afro-descent.

Puerto Rican schoolchildren are taught that regardless of physical appearance they all individually derive from the same aforementioned roots. Regardless of whether this is true or not hasn’t eradicated in Puerto Rico structural or personal racism. Belief in mestizaje silences conversations about white supremacy and doesn’t force those with privilege to take responsibility for it. This allows white Puerto Ricans to appropriate, steal, and taint Afro-Puerto Rican traditions and exploit afro-descendant communities with no repercussions or consequences because “we are all Puerto Rican so all parts of Puerto Rican culture belong to all of us.” Not acknowledging the fact that a racial construct exists in Puerto Rico allows white privilege, white saviourism, and finally racism to flourish.

The PNP (Partido Nuevo Progresista), for example, a corrupt, pro-statehood political party with mostly white leadership, never acknowledges race or their privilege. They go into municipalities like Carolina, Loíza, and Canóvanas, with large, historically Black communities, bribing people for votes in exchange for a household appliance they may need. This behavior is “accepted” because in Puerto Rico, such privileged people are allowed to say “my ancestors were Black” or “but we are all Puerto Rican” and allow them to claim to want to eradicate marginalization and invisibility. There’s no limit to what white privilege in Puerto Rico can do when no one acknowledges that it exists. But again “if we’re all Puerto Rican, why does color matter?”

Colorblindness is convenient for people when it comes to remembering that we are one and can unite over traditions, but it’s the easy way out of the “race talk”, especially when you factor in the fact that some of us have hermanos or primos or even parents and grandparents that are totally different “races” (for lack of better terms we can say color here) than ourselves. It seems easy. A Puerto Rican is a Puerto Rican (yes) but colorblindness doesn’t resolve anything. It simply suggests that Puerto Ricans as a whole live in a magical utopia (colony, mind you) of fairness, equality, and justice. Poverty in Puerto Rico isn’t colorblind, invisibility in Puerto Rico isn’t colorblind, and racial discrimination in Puerto Rico isn’t colorblind, so if you choose to not see color you are responsible for not acknowledging the marginalization and struggle of others, possibly your own struggles. I wouldn’t blame any single Puerto Rican or single out a group of Puerto Ricans for the existence of white supremacy because it began during the times of Spanish colonialism but I do dare say that anyone who uses the mestizaje “somos de tres razas, somos iguales” narrative as a way to silence conversations on deconstructing white supremacy and racism in Puerto Rico, is an avid supporter and fan of it, regardless of color. They may even have an obsession with white supremacy.

Acknowledging that white supremacy is deeply ingrained in Puerto Rican society is not to say that we shouldn’t strive for equality, but equality is deeper than how you personally see others. There is a difference between your indiscriminate kindness (bless your heart), and the system’s “kindness”. Al pan pan y al vino vino, we must call the problems in Puerto Rican society what they are. A large amount of socioeconomic inequality is a result of white supremacy that has existed in Puerto Rico since before Puerto Rico became a United States colony. This inequality throughout Puerto Rico is an intersection between both race and class, with race unfortunately being the largest determining factor. Colorblindness may be the way in which you prefer to see things in Puerto Rico, and again I say, colorblind folks are avid supporters of white supremacy, but it doesn’t recognize intermittent problems that exist within Puerto Rican society, those problems being racially charged. If true colorblindness existed, race would not exist. Well, it does.

To be clear, race is a social construct that originates in the Columbian era in the Americas. Race separates people based on physical appearance (keyword physical), mostly by skin color. Unfortunately due to the way that our societies have developed and white supremacy has controlled most of the world, race matters and we are forced to deal with it whether we admit to it or not, whether it is convenient or not. But just to be clear, your race doesn’t necessarily define what roots you carry (though it may), rather your race defines how the white supremacist system treats you, how the system sees you. Some Puerto Ricans are racially identified as Black and some are not identified as Black, regardless of what one may mark when it comes to the census. This does not mean you cannot have blonde hair, green eyes, and white skin and have African ancestry and it certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t have kinky curly hair and darker skin and have white ancestry. You can but regardless of what roots you truly have, society treats you according to what they see. You can identify as you please but society will treat you according to what you look like. Racial identification is difficult to understand in a country with mestizaje so deeply entrenched and when you add in mulatto representation, it becomes even more confusing and we therefore have to factor in the “tragic mulatto syndrome”, but it matters. The tragic mulatto syndrome refer to when people really don’t know what to call themselves or understand how the white supremacist society will treat them. Even if I am half white or even 75% white, I am physically an afro-descendant with kinky curly hair and piel de canela, and will be treated (or mistreated) as such regardless of what I decide to call myself or mark on a census survey.

If the advocation for “mestizaje” throughout Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican communities was successful in its effort to make it seem as though racism in Puerto Rico does not exist, I am sure there wouldn’t be terms in everyday vocabulary like “pelo malo”. I am sure travel agencies wouldn’t tell African Americans who want to see and tour historically Black communities in Puerto Rico like Loíza to stay away because of violence, and I am absolutely sure Blacks and other historically Black communities would be more proportionally represented in the Puerto Rican senate and other governmental organizations, but it’s not like that and that is an uncomfortable truth that we must understand.

Being intentionally conscious about race in Puerto Rico, and denying the mestizaje “somos de tres razas…” nonsense isn’t about having a US American separatist mentality. It is about recognizing the ills which exist in our society and using our own effort to get rid of them. Talks about racism and articles like this one may seem inconvenient, even uncomfortable, but imagine how inconvenient racism is especially for Black people living in Puerto Rico. One cannot pretend that there is enough water and life is great because they are not thirsty and can happily ignore the fact that there is a group of people who are dehydrated and also trying to fix the leak because it doesn’t affect them. One also can’t believe that those of us working to fix the leak have to listen to anyone who refuses to even look at the leak because they are drinking perfectly fine.

Vamos a ponernos claros, El boricua es boricua hasta el más blanco y el más negro but to ignore the implications and effects of white supremacy in Puerto Rican society especially through concepts like colorblindness would be inconsiderate and irresponsible of any Puerto Rican who wishes for Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican communities to thrive to be the very best that they can be. The mestizaje “somos de tres razas” silences work to deconstruct racism in Puerto Rico, pretends that white privilege does not exist in Puerto Rico, pretends that everyone is visible, it interrupts movements against anti-Blackness, silences conversations about racial discrimination, removes acknowledgement of white privilege in Puerto Rico hereby allowing for racism, the main component of white supremacy, to flourish.

If you want to understand why advocates for racial equality, like myself, seemingly single out specific groups as Black ask not us but the marginalization via white supremacy that has done so.

References include articles, books, and university studies:

1. University of Puerto Rico- Mayaguez: Analisis del mestizaje en Puerto Rico

2. African Intellectual Heritage: A Book of Sources

3. “The Last Taino Queen” – elyunque.com

4. “The Moorish Invasion of Spain and the Christian Reconquest”

5. “Liberties Lost: Caribbean Indigenous Societies and Slave Systems”

6.  Puerto Rico Encyclopedia: The Real Cedula de Gracia 1815

7. “A Brief History of the Afro-Borincano

8. Silencing Race: Disentangling Blackness, Colonialism, and National Identities in Puerto Rico” Identities in Puerto Rico

9. Puerto Rico Encyclopedia: The Abolition of Slavery (1873)

Note: articles are available online via google search and book titles are italicized and available

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED FOR LA RESPUESTA MEDIA MAGAZINE

You Ain’t Gotta Hug “That Uncle”: Consent

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Its Christmas and I’ve decided to make a public statement, not out of anger but out of care for other women who were raised just like me, without knowing that their bodies were (are) their bodies.

I was raised by a hardworking devout Christian woman right outside of Cleveland, Ohio. If we werent in Sunday misa we were in bible study on Tuesday nights and if we weren’t in bible study we were at dance practice and guess where that was? Church. I never liked church but I didn’t like to be punished so I didn’t argue with my mom about how it didn’t feel right until I was 16 but that’s a story for another day. Before leaving Church, I was overly mannerable, sweet, and was raised to be una niña respetuosa.

Respect for us meant, waiting until elders ate at family gatherings before getting our food, not speaking when elders were talking unless asked a question and the answer had better be short but not too short, and respect also meant hugging and acknowledging everyone in the room. I was actually nicknamed the “huggy baby” because as soon as I could walk, I also hugged everyone. But there were a few individuals that even as the “huggy baby” I didn’t want to hug.

For starters there were three uncles. Two of which were really cousins if I figured out my confusing family tree correctly. One was known for creating “joke porn”. He would take the pictures of women and photoshop them into pornographic scenes to be funny. I didn’t realize he was who he was/is, a pervert, until I turned 11 and his hand “slipped” while the other uncle non uncle perhaps cousin said “eye candy” just as soon as he did it. I looked at my mom and she looked the other way. Yep. When it was time to leave the gathering, or in this situation when people had gotten so drunk it was time for them to stick their fingers down their throat my mom told me to say goodbye to everyone. I did as told

“Goodbye! Adios a todos!” I said as instructed.

She nudged me as a reminder to hug them. I did as told and the uncle who made the “eye candy” comment kissed me…pues en el cuello. I told my mom immediately that I wasnt comfortable with either of them and she responded as many parents who just don’t get it do,

“Its family.” (no the eff it is not)

10 years later I still get chills when I smell Heineken because that’s what laced his breath the instance I learned that my body wasn’t mine no matter how much it was, it belonged to those I had to respect. Less than a year later my entire world was temporarily destroyed as yet another family members (grown ass mans) hands slipped. Only this time I was isolated. He licked his lips as he did it and had the cojones to thank me after. I guess that’s more than slipping then. Yes that’s more than slipping. It was much longer than a slip.

For three and a half horrible years of men having consistent ownership of my body I didn’t know how to say stop or no. Well I did and I did use those words but once I realized my words meant nothing, and by nothing I mean, no didn’t end the torture/abuse and “perdon pero eso me ta pasando” was asking for your entire support system to say “tu tienes la culpa”, I stopped wasting my breath and instead held my breath, begging any spirit who had been watching the nonsense to make it (them) stop. Every time. But this statement right here, this right here is breathing. I have to for the sake of women who were raised just like me. I didn’t stop hugging these men or acknowledging these men until I was 20 and finally decided it was my time to lash out, (the right way this time.) And I did. And I’m not sorry. Because this body is my body. En mi cuerpo me mando yo. My understanding and ownership of consent started with the other actual uncle a little over a year ago.

He never greeted me with hello just called me dumb and went on his merry, mujeriego way. He may have been joking, I’m not really sure to be honest but I never liked him for that attitude he had towards me. It wasnt positive, and it wasnt funny. Anyways, as a child I was deathly afraid of feathers. I didn’t like feathers one bit. I hated they way they looked, felt on my skin and if they were around I’d throw a tantrum until it was removed. It was strange indeed but my mom did her best to keep all things “down” out of the house.

One day we were at this uncles house and a bird had lost its feather outside. This uncle knew I didn’t like feathers as everybody did but he picked up the feather and chased me with it around his yard for 10 minutes. I was screaming and in tears, so hysterical that even the neighbors across the street shouted over asking if everything was ok. My mom said everything was fine. My five year old screams for help were not fine. I had finally gotten inside of the house, he continued to chase me. I remembered that the bathroom upstairs had a lock on the door and that’s where I went. He followed. I shut the door screaming no. And also screaming for my mom to make him stop. She didn’t come. He laughed. He popped the lock open as he was pushing on the door. I pushed my weight into the door screaming. A five year old versus a 48 year old man? It didn’t work. He got in and began to touch me with the feather. I stopped screaming and just cried. When he was done terrorizing me I went and sat in my moms car for two hours in the scorching hot July sun until my mom decided it was time for us to leave. No one ever apologized and at that point I knew nothing could protect me and no one would.

Years later, last thanksgiving, to be exact, this same uncle in his drunken stooper hugged me just like those other uncles. Slippy hands, holding me too close. I backed away. His ex wife rose from her seat and reached towards him and slightly pushed him and told him I was “his neice coñaso”. I looked at my mom who had just then instructed me to hug my uncle and she still ignored. That’s when I lashed. I let my mom know that no hug on a holiday was going to erase what anyone she oddly loved had done to me and I wasnt going to be silent about it just because it was some sort of family secret. By the way these secrets are much worse than some jackass chasing me with feathers, thats for sure. And I left. Both the gathering and the twisted idea that sometimes “family means automatic forgive AND forget or pretend it didn’t happen”. And I haven’t looked back since.

Two days ago I saw him in the parking lot. I remembered who I was. My mom and I had been out that day last minute Christmas shopping. He hadn’t seen us yet and I told her I wasn’t saying hi. She assured me that I was…

“There’s nothing wrong with your uncle”
Oh but there is. And I finally stood my ground and refused his hug. I saw him look at me as if he were undressing me with his reddish eyes as he has been doing for a few years now and laughed kind of enjoying the fact that I had some of my power back. My mom scolded me for being dizque “malcriá”. I smiled at her too. I celebrated me because that was another step towards owning my physical self. Owning ones physical self is what matters. And that is perhaps the most difficult part of healing for people, especially women, who have survived heinous crimes that have involved physical contact, sexual abuse and blatant disregard for boundaries and personal space, and have also received no real justice. This, being forced to live where there are no real physical and/or sexual boundaries is a form of oppression.

I compare this sort of oppression and its affect on women like myself, to colonial conditioning. Essentially this means that in situations where girls are not “allowed” to say no to unwanted touching even if it is not sexual or deny their participation in uncomfortable situations, they may internalize the aforementioned and believe themselves powerless/unable to say no. Escalate these occurences to situations where older men whom they are taught to respect are being extremely inappropriate and sexually abusive and you have a recipe for a traumatic disaster. Trust me, I know.

Even in those “true love waits” anti sex conferences my mother forced me to go to, I was conditioned to believe that I had no rights to my body. They probably meant well as far as we can call indoctrination “well” anyway but I was required to sign a paper promising the men in my life that I would not have sex until I was with a man that they had approved of and was married to him. That was yet another “I must not have any power over my body” factor. I was 12 years old, and wouldn’t sign the paperwork. Part of it was anger. The other part was frustration. After two hours of adults convincing me, they let me go home with the unsigned paper and to “take it up with God”. They were disappointed. I knew not to listen to those people, they were simple minded enough to think the infinite was a man (first of all lol) and concerned with my sexuality? Please. To this day the word “purity” haunts me and gives me a slight headache.

I didn’t “take it up with God” or “pray on it”. I cried. I cried because no one had given me a choice in any way and this was my body being mandated again; mandated by abusers, people who wanted to hide (or perpetuate abuse— we may never really know which) and people who wanted to control my sexuality in every possible way. I didn’t know who was right but I knew I had to live inside of me therefore it wasn’t fair that anyone had any right to do anything to me at all. I was just barely a woman and clearly a child and at this point had zero right to my body, what happened to it, and who did what to it. I was to be known as una niña traviesa for years to come and once stories of people toying with me surfaced I was “sucia” oh and also “thought [I] was better than others because men were interested in me at a young age”. I felt “sucia” but I didn’t feel like controlling at least one aspect of my sexuality made me “traviesa”. I was never sorry for feeling either emotion. I’m still not.

Heres why I’m not sorry: If I had been raised to say no, if I had been raised to know that my body was mine and no man (or woman) had the right to do anything against my will perhaps the aforementioned and non mentioned (for now) sexual twistedness/abuse would have never happened. Or perhaps I wouldn’t be searching deeply for justice in my own words. Pero aqui no hay.

I am currently 21 years old and have chosen the path of healing surrounded with love and people who support me but even on the streets of mi querida patria borinqueña, when I am cornered by a man who tries to lick me, I still sometimes can only wonder if I really have the right to say no. I do, yes but I’ve been conditioned to believe that my “no” doesn’t matter and that is terrifying. It does matter though and yes I’m 21 years old therefore a grown women but believe it or not women who are legal adults can still be exploited by patriarchy and still be affected and also exploited by non conventional aka abusive childhoods. Colonial conditioning doesn’t just go away because you had a few more birthdays. Its an intimate and brutal process that requires a special level of professional counseling and support from loved ones who were not involved in the nonsense.

I write all of this not out of anger but for women like me, the women who were conditioned to believe they had no rights to the very bodies they lived in. I could go on for days about how our society has never allowed women to truly own our bodies or our sexuality, –(and by sexuality I mean more than sexual partner preferences)– and perpetuates that colonial conditioning, I could also include what this means for afrolatinas or black women, but then this personal essay/statement would never end.

I write this just to remind women like me that you ain’t gotta hug that tío with a corona in one hand and a tooth pick in his mouth who’s been looking at you and winking his crusty eyes at you since you were like 12 if you do not want to. He’s not family. I suggest parents and adults who care about the emotional well being of others educate themselves further on consent.

A Brief Introduction to the Coffee Crisis in Puerto Rico

Photo: USDA.gov

To understand what is happening to our nation’s coffee industry we first have to investigate the history of one of the most popular brands: Café Rico. Café Rico is more than a brand of the café so many of us drink in the morning. Café Rico is a Puerto Rican cooperative effort established in Barrio San Anton, Ponce, Puerto Rico in the 1930s. Originally founded under the name of Cooperativa de Cafeteros it was administered by Ramiro L. Colon. La Cooperativa de Cafeteros was the first agricultural cooperative in Puerto Rico, which simply means it was the first coalition to standardize the harvesting and manufacturing of a crop in Puerto Rico.

What is happening now and why does it matter?

Although the coastal municipality of Yauco, also known as a coffee town, Puerto Rico’s coffee is primarily harvested in the mountainous center of the island along la Cordillera Central where the majority of coffee farms are still located. The news media consistently reminds us of the ongoing economic disaster in Puerto Rico where many Puerto Ricans from all over the archipelago are migrating especially to the United States. Subsequently, many of Puerto Rico’s most famous coffee farms are being abandoned for lack of workers. Workers? So that means there are available jobs that people just aren’t doing, right?

Wrong.

An ever increasing number of Puerto Ricans are obtaining their education in institutions of higher learning and many have abandoned Puerto Rican traditional agricultural society. As the eagle’s talons of colonialism dig deeper and deeper into the heart of paradise, Puerto Ricans are consistently being stripped of traditional values especially land cultivation and preservation. Puerto Ricans have always been an educated lot as Puerto Rico is one of the regions in Latin America with the most prestigious institutions of higher education. However, by U.S. standards, agriculture isn’t for the “educated” person. I guess many of us have forgotten about the prestigious agricultural program at Universidad de Puerto Rico Recinto de Mayaguez where every year enrollment gets lower and lower. Besides the increased population of “educated” people living in Puerto Rico, like our population, our farmers are getting older. When there’s no one to take over the farms once farmers are too aged or have become ancestors, these farms are left abandoned. Because of this pattern, much of the coffee crisis is a result of a lack of workers to pick the crop as Danica Coto, Puerto Rican journalist, reports earlier this year. This is to no fault of Puerto Ricans but completely a direct result of U.S. colonialism.

How?

The problem is Puerto Ricans are losing physical and economic control of the coffee cultivation in Puerto Rico. Surprise? Not really. We can refer to the Foraker Act enacted in 1900, an act which stripped Puerto Rico of any autonomy there was left following the United States invasion at Guanica in 1898. The Foraker Act, which was later replaced by the Jones Act, directly stripped Puerto Ricans of land ownership thereby destroying the Puerto Rican agricultural industry for decades to come. Under the current “Constitucion del Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico”, even now though Puerto Ricans own land, because Puerto Rico is a colony, the United States can take the land and do as it pleases at any given point. Examples of this expropriación include but are not limited to the construction of naval bases in la isla de Vieques, construction of the San Juan Luis Munóz Marin International Airport, both historical instances which displaced thousands of families. Most corporate investments in Puerto Rico forced Puerto Ricans living on the island into a position where they are at the mercy of these corporations and the decisions they decide to make regarding the Puerto Rican economy and system. In regards to the current coffee crisis, Puerto Rican Coffee Roasters does just that.

Puerto Rico Coffee Roasters (PRCR) is a foreign investment in Puerto Rico which has monopolized Puerto Rican coffee although president, German Negron, maintains that it isn’t a monopoly at all (even though they now own 85% of Puerto Rican coffee production). PRCR isn’t Puerto Rican at all actually, although it misleadingly contains “Puerto Rico” in its LLC name. PRCR is actually a subsidiary of Coca Cola Bottling Company which means Coca Cola (the parent company) owns 85% of Puerto Rican coffee, not Puerto Ricans at all in fact. This places the majority of Puerto Rican coffee cultivation at the mercy of this investment.

Over the past two years, as writer Danica Coto reports, there has also been a seed shortage. Under the constitution of Puerto Rico farmers are required to buy their seeds from greenhouses which are contracted by the government. The seed shortage continues to be unexplained.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hours Division, as of the first week of November, Puerto Rico Coffee Roasters, LLC., owes $68k in back wages to over 119 Puerto Rican farmers and workers. The U.S. Department of Labor also reports that PRCR is in violation of a law which states work recruiters must be contracted by the government and a payroll must be fulfilled. Also, worker contracts have to be legally binding and they haven’t been.

Recently, executive directors of PRCR mention that out of the coffee brands which they operate via Coca Cola which include but are not limited to Alto Grande, Café Crema, Café Yaucono, Yauco Selecto, Encantos, Café Rioja, La Tahona, Café Lareño, and most recently Café Rico, that due to the harvest shortage they are mixing Puerto Rican coffee beans, which even by the Vatican are considered first class beans, with 3rd class beans from Mexico, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and other coffee producing countries.

Why should you care?

For the same reason we buy from our local artesanos and not from the United States owned and operated shops in the tourist districts in Puerto Rico: supporting the true economy (el pueblo) of Puerto Rico is what supports Puerto Ricans. For example, if what we know as tourism truly helped the economy of especially the Caribbean islands, the Caribbean would be one of the most economically advanced regions in the world, but it’s not. In an effort to resist colonialism which hurts Puerto Ricans from education to culture to economics, we must do our best to not spend money on things that are owned and operated by corporations like Coca Cola which consequently and actively destroy Puerto Rico’s economy. Corporations like Coca Cola have done nothing but suck Puerto Rico into economic instability and a severe and unpayable, seemingly unfixable debt crisis.

What can you do?

Purchase coffee with the “Hecho en Puerto Rico” certified sticker and nothing else. The brand Café Real cultivated and produced in Maricao/Jayuya is making an effort to remain 100% Puerto Rican owned and operated, and by the way, it is delicious. As far as the clear “falta de respeto” created by PRCR when it comes to the mixing of coffee beans and still selling it as the original brand, there’s no real way to fix that situation unless Puerto Ricans buy their brands back, but a boycott might force them to treat our coffee, a national patrimony, with the respect that it deserves.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED FOR LA RESPUESTA MEDIA MAGAZINE

Why We Must Let Our Elders Guide Us

Photo: wikihow

 

For young Puerto Rican independentistas, this moment in time is crucial. Although the Puerto Rican independence movement has always been important, this period is especially imperative for “millennial” anti-US colonialism activists because there is an increase of our participation within the movement following headlines about the debt crisis and the raising of the IVU tax in Puerto Rico. Like most, I didn’t randomly become an independentista or anti-U.S. colonialism activist. It has taken work, lots of reading, dedication, but most importantly, has required me to spend quality time with my elders as they guide me and the rest of my generation forward.

Like most children, I was raised to respect my elders, but it doesn’t mean that I always did. I did the obvious – I used “usted” like I had some sense when conversing with elders. I made sure elders ate before I did at events and get-togethers. I offered to help the elderly ladies around the neighborhood with their groceries and spoke to the elders first when I entered any given room. I was fond of elders. I celebrated elders and they were who I turned to when I needed emotional or spiritual support, but I wasn’t always respectful of their involvement when it came to “the revolution.”

I was uneasy about letting elders affect my revolutionary persona mostly for two reasons. One, I viewed much of their philosophies about revolution and methods towards progression as outdated and, two, I was unfortunately enamored by the delusion that I was able to work towards my independentista-revolucionaria identity as an adolescent, on my own. I wasn’t. None of us are and to believe that you can is to be foolish and a danger to the movement. The irony was that I didn’t even become an independentista until after listening to the stories of elders who so desperately missed our isla. I listened to their stories about our once booming agricultural system. I let them share with me the philosophies of Don Pedro Albizu Campos, and I let them tell me their memories of having to leave Puerto Rico for the purpose of survival.

Like many people in my generation, (I was born in ’94), I somehow figured that I knew everything. A couple of years ago a neighborhood abuelita (who I playfully call the elderly ladies who took the time to make sure kids around the neighborhood were taken care of) sat me down to tell me a story about La Operacion in Puerto Rico. I had previously heard of La Operacion before she and I spoke but I didn’t know the details that this lady knew. She had been one of the victims of the sterilization process. She continued to tell me how Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans have been a playground for other dangerous experiments. I smiled at her, I listened to her story but I listened to her incorrectly. As she told me the details of her narrative, instead of responding with concern, I would repeatedly say “yeah, yeah I know, I know”. Well perhaps I did know some but I didn’t know the story like she knew the story and if it had not been for her stern red painted nail finger waving in my face I probably would have missed the entire story that really set the stage for my journey as an independentista.

She stopped telling her story after I said “yeah, yeah, I know, I know” for the third time and politely, but very sternly with her finger in my face, told me to keep my mouth shut until she finished. At first I thought she was too harsh. ‘Ay, old people think they know everything just because they’re old!’ I thought to myself, but I did as I was told – mostly with an attitude – and I listened, and this time correctly. Since then, the story about La Operacion has become my signature “go-to” when I need to defend my stance against United States colonialism in Puerto Rico. When anyone asked me why I was an independentista I found myself repeating the story of that specific elder who took the time to speak to me. I didn’t really notice the impact that this situation had over me and my growth until several years later. The most important lesson didn’t really have much to do with La Operacion at all.

On May 29th, while traveling to New York City to march in support of Oscar Lopez Rivera, I finally learned the lesson. The younger people of our group, myself included, sat ironically in front of the elders on our tour bus. The elders were well versed on Puerto Rican history, and dedicated to holding us, and the entire Puerto Rican community throughout northeast Ohio, accountable. Even though they had far more authority to speak on the subjects we were passionately discussing they quietly let us talk about what we thought we knew.

I began to talk about the history of Guayama, confusing facts and dates but successfully getting the main points across. I mentioned that I could just look-up what I was trying to get to, completely disregarding that our history isn’t just something to nonchalantly look-up. The elder sitting directly behind me cut-in and reminded me that he once lived in Guayama, it was where his entire lineage was from and he knew the history himself. He politely corrected every mistake that I had made. After correcting my inaccurate analysis he asked me how I felt. He was invested in me knowing the history properly but he also encouraged me to think. I didn’t feel ashamed like I had in the past when corrected by elders. I felt relieved by the fact that I didn’t need to look up information because I had someone who was a part of the history of Guayama sitting directly behind me. It was around two in the morning. He could have chosen sleep but instead he took the time to invest in my thought process and knowledge.

The lesson is that books are nice, studies are nice, of course we should read them but for the purpose of learning about ourselves and dedicating our lives as millennials to support Puerto Rico, our elders are probably the better resource for us and we should actively listen, always. Fortunately in the Puerto Rican community we have many elders who were “there when it happened” and are more than willing to spend a day talking about their experiences. It is our responsibility to ask, listen, and learn regardless of what we think we know or think we can find out with a basic google web search.

Taking responsibility for our development as an up-and-coming generation is crucial to the progress of our people. This is a lesson that the elder who I consult the most about a variety of different subjects has taught me. This specific elder graciously invests much of her time and energy into my growth as both an independentista and a better person. She and I often discuss the unique dynamic of our relationship and she many times describes to me the negative effect that the society of the United States has on my generation in some of the worst of ways, especially in regards to our elders. Usually this conversation comes up when she is rightfully scolding me for not respecting the sacredness of “eldership”, specifically in regards to our relationship, but it is always a relevant conversation that we, as a colonized people should have while working towards a better future for Borinken and her children.

Much of the dilemma between elders and youth lies within technological advancements and their potent effect on society. We live in a culture where the belief is that “new is better” and “old” is essentially trash. In many cases new is better. Newer cell phones are faster, newer computers are more efficient, but this isn’t the case for people or tradition – tradition must remain sacred. The tradition in the Puerto Rican community is to embrace and spend quality time with one another, especially with our elders. The United States generates more trash than any other nation per capita, which could leave anyone to believe that those of us living here have an obsession with throwing things out. Fortunately, however, elders are people. Not worn shoes or rotten fruit. As the younger generation we must remember to remain humble enough to realize that we are not “the advancement,” and we certainly don’t automatically make life easier. We are simply a new generation and it is important that we maintain that elders are never disposable and should not be treated as such. It is our responsibility to refuse the obsession with efficiency and instead take the time to patiently visit our elders with the purpose to at least expand our consciousness.

If our elders can have the patience to grow old in a world where their/our nation is on the verge of extinction, we can have the patience to sit down, listen to them, let them guide us, and allow for them to embrace us the best way that they can. Sometimes their way of embracing us is scolding. Sometimes their way of embracing us is through slowly showing us items that they have collected over the years. Sometimes their way of embracing us is teaching us to do something that we have no interest in doing. Sometimes their way of embracing is unintentionally repeating a story. Regardless of how the elders may embrace us the healing is there. It is our responsibility as serious agents of change to be open to the healing that they carry.

Our elders are the closest portals that we have to our ancestors. They’re tangible pieces of history, and evidence that our people are strong and beautiful. Elders carry a special energy that only wisdom that has been brewing for over half a century could ever contain and there’s nothing that exists better to guide us.

Times may have changed but the need for interaction between the young and the old to keep a community strong and fiery has not. The difference between looking up an arroz con habichuelas recipes online and asking your abuelita to teach you is integrity and esteem (and of course el sabor!). Our island and our people are struggling deeply right now which makes it all the more important that we embrace each other. In order for us as an up-and-coming generation to grow, we must build better and stronger relationships with our elders. The best way to do this is to confidently allow them to embrace us the best way that they know how. They don’t expect us to know everything so allowing them to teach us gives them the confidence that once they’re no longer physically available to us, our community will still be growing and their lives which they have chosen to live will still be relevant to “the struggle.”

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED FOR LA RESPUESTA MEDIA MAGAZINE