#PoetsforPuertoRico : Kweli Edition
If suffering comes unabated,
if weariness weighs down your spirit,
do as the once barren tree
And like the planted seed:
- José de Diego(1866-1918)
My Cuban mother-in-law has claimed many times that of all the people she has known from across Latin America, Puerto Ricans are the sweetest. I admit that I am sharing this anecdote with a fair degree of cultural pride, but I also share it with a sense of bewilderment. I have seen that sweetness my mother-in-law speaks of in my own family, and in so many of my fellow Boricuas both on the island and the mainland. It’s true, Puerto Ricans are just all too ready to chat up strangers and dole out hugs, to cook for you and tell you a joke, to turn up the stereo and get everyone dancing. I love this about my gente. But if I am to be honest, I often find myself struggling to understand why we are this way.
See, for five hundred and twenty years our gorgeous little island has been occupied and controlled by outside invaders. In those five centuries, Puerto Rico has been autonomous for a mere three weeks. As colonized people, we have been subject to slavery and indentured servitude, imposed seizure of our lands, the forced sterilizations of women, military attacks on the island’s civilian population, the assassination and imprisonment of our leaders, and the orchestrated destruction of the island’s economy. Now…today… again… in the aftermath of Maria, we find ourselves having to deal with an occupier that has left our families to die and then lies about the impact of their own maliciousness toward us.
For Puerto Rico, these violent and insulting attacks by the U.S. regime “ain’t no new thing,” as Gil-Scott Heron used to say. Rather, these policies and exploits are just another dim-witted repetition of the same old oppressions outfitted with a new mask. In fact, the colonizers have tortured Puerto Rico and its citizens so often and for so long that it is not a stretch to categorize their abuses as a form of addiction. So if anyone has a reason to be hostile, to rebel, to exude consternation and bitterness, it is Puerto Ricans.
And yet for the most part, we aren’t bitter. We are still just as quick to offer our friendship, our talents, our caldo and pan dulce; even our acts of resistance come packaged with warmth and wit. It leaves me awestruck to witness our resilience, our capacity for joy, and the love with which we build community. Hurricane Maria has only amplified these qualities inside us. As the colonizing government has exacerbated the crisis by implementing draconian neoliberal policies (Puerto Rico was struck by two hurricanes recently- the first being the PROMESA bill) while aggressively refusing to commit to relief efforts, Puerto Ricans from all over the world have come together to provide aid. We are sending supplies, donating, organizing, and hopping on planes to personally assist in the clean up and rebuilding process. A hurricane rattles us, a regime attempts to erase us along with our three thousand dead, the “suffering comes unabated,” and our response is to “flourish,” to “rise,” with jubilance and fulgent intellect. *
I am not sure how we learned to confront oppression this way. Perhaps it is part of our inheritance from the Taínos, who were known as the most peace-loving of all tribes in the Caribbean. Maybe it is because the island has this almost mysterious way of making you feel beautiful. I think I’ll probably never know how we are able to maintain our felicity even when a boot is on our neck. But I have seen it again and again: Puerto Ricans rebel and rebuild with joy.
For evidence of this, look no further than #PoetsforPuertoRico. Very soon after Hurricane Maria struck, Boricua poets from the mainland took to organizing poetry readings to raise funds for relief efforts. Initiated by Willie Perdomo and Noel Quiñones, #PoetsforPuertoRico has already held two fundraising events, at the Poet’s House in Manhattan and at The Bronx Museum. A third #PoetsforPuertoRico reading was organized by Ana Portnoy Brimmer and Dimitri Reyes and held on September 29th at The Newark Public Library. In addition to poetry performances, these events have music, refreshments, and book sales, with all proceeds going directly to organizations doing relief work on the island. On full display at these readings is this distinctly Boricua blend of resistance with joy. The events raise money and awareness, but they also raise hope and offer light. I guess what I’ve been trying to say here is that for Puerto Ricans, joy IS resistance.
It is in this spirit that Kweli presents this feature of poets from the Puerto Rican diaspora. The poets included all prove to be adept at brandishing a picket sign with one hand while drumming a guaracha rhythm con la otra. The poets hope you enjoy reading their work, but they also hope that you will lend your support by attending these fundraisers, by donating, and by committing your own revolutionary acts of joy.
My revolution is comfortable
I can wear it in the fields
I can wear it to go dancing
do the dishes
do the laundry
see the movie
do the marching
My revolution is not cut from a pattern, I designed it.
Kweli Literary Journal
*I feel the need to add that it has been deeply moving for many of us to see so many non-Puerto Ricans generously donate time and money to help with relief efforts.
Kweli #PoetsforPuertoRico Feature
Sandra María Esteves
Jesus Papoleto Melendez
Raquel Salas Rivera
Ricardo Alberto Maldonado
Ysabel Y. Gonzalez
Ana Portnoy Brimmer
Click here for the PDF of poems.
Donations will continue to be accepted. The donation money went to two presses on the island. To donate to La Impresora email Nicole Delgado at firstname.lastname@example.org. Donors will get a "poesia" postcard.
There is also "Puerto Rico En Mi Corazon" where donors receive poetry broadsides.
Photo credit: Victor J. Blue