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