Puerto Rico: Dance Under the Storm (Part 1)


“El Velorio” – ‘The Wake’ – by Puerto Rican impressionist artist Francisco Oller (1893).

Don’t anybody tell me anything bad about Puerto Rico because of its financial difficulties. I will be compelled to break out my voodoo dolls, and with my magic pins dipped in pig’s blood, condemn your life to a miserable Calvary of arthritic pain.

I have had occasion in this blog to write about my native country (Cuba) and about the land I inhabit (the Ancient Kingdom of New Mexico). What I have not done is write extensively about my real country—the place where I grew up and to which my heart—as that of all true Puerto Ricans—always returns. Cuba is a memory and a hope; Arizona is breath of life; Puerto Rico is home.

A stranger never forgets the land that sheltered him when in distress. I arrived to Puerto Rico at the age of seven with my immediate family in 1961. Three years later my father, who was director of installations for ITT Caribbean, was requested by his employers to supervise the installation of 26 telephone plants in South Vietnam for the US Navy. My mother, my sister María Elena and I remained behind on street 24 of the Santa Rosa urbanization in Bayamón.

During my father´s stay in Vietnam my mother developed back trouble, which confined her to bed at certain times. Our Puerto Rican neighbors adopted us as part of their families (if you are a neighbor in Puerto Rico, you are family) and remained ever vigilant and caring of us during my father’s absence.

Among my fondest memories: Christmas parties and street baseball games with childhood friends; learning to play guitar and sing old songs with Jorge Medina and the splendid vocalist for El Gran Combo, Pellín Rodriguez; being driven by Raúl and Cuchi, our closest neighbors, around the city, to the race track El Comandante, and to see the wondrous Roberto Clemente play for the San Juan team. To her dying day, my mother always longed not to return to Cuba (where she was born and raised), but to live again at street 24.


At El Yunque National Forest, a tropical rain forest managed by the USDA – Forest Service. View from Yokahú Tower, an observation tower built in 1963. (Credit: Harvey Barrison)

Now Puerto Rico is bankrupt, and the very same dynasty of clown politicians which invaded the island in 1898 so as to secure it as a naval base for their imperial aspirations; the same band of buffoons which poured money into Puerto Rico to exhibit it as a showcase for democracy (vs. poor, because Communist, Cuba) during the Cold War; the same gaggle of bankers which almost ruined the US economy a decade ago with their vile chicanery until the US taxpayers saved them from disaster; all of them are reluctant to grant Puerto Rico relief through bankruptcy.

Do not talk to me about laws and constitutions. The closest thing that the political relationship between the US and Puerto Rico resembles (Puerto Ricans do not like to hear this) is that of the political arrangements between the US and Indian nations. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is nothing, essentially, but another Indian reservation. Anyone who knows the history American Indians, even superficially, knows that the US government never saw a treaty it could not break, a law it could not amend or a constitution it could not dishonor for its own purposes.

Forgive me, gentle reader, the evident anger in these words—unscholarly, but heartfelt (does heartfelt count?) and sincere. On certain subjects, Puerto Ricans are prone to shift into delirium. Observe, for example, the feeling in Ausencia, by the Romantic poet José Gautier Benítez, written on the ship returning to Puerto Rico from exile in the 19th century:

Forgive the banished one

this sweet delirium!

I return to my adored world,

and I am in my love

with the land where I was born.  

Like the Vampire gang members in Capeman (by Paul Simon and Derek Walcott), we stand with the neighborhood. I stand with Puerto Rico, and will have more to say about all this presently.



Panorama of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Credit: James Willamor)


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