BkBoricuaDre

5K Run In Coney Island Dedicated To Oscar López Rivera

At 9am on June 29, i participated in the Brooklyn Cyclones Take Your Base 5K. The run, or walk, depending on how one entered the charity race, began outside the MCU Park ball field on Surf Avenue, continued on the Coney Island boardwalk down to Brighton Beach, and ended at home plate inside the ball field. Proceeds for the charity race were to go in large part to a summer youth program at the new local YMCA, nearly 7-months old now.

photo 1Deciding to enter the race as a personal fitness challenge, i made the added decision to dedicate my run to Oscar López Rivera. Having written so much on events held in New York in support of the demand for his release from prison, i thought it would be fun to do something different on my personal time. Family and friends supported me as well – one friend even helped me achieve a small goal by giving me the very shirt off his back at a recent demonstration for Oscar outside the UN so i could wear it at the race.

It all started when, upon registering, i was asked for a club name. Not having one, i thought for a moment, and almost immediately the idea of using “Free Oscar Lopez” presented itself. It was a done deal!

Race results showing my 62nd overall finish

Race results showing my 62nd overall finish

As the results show, i finished the 5K, my first ever, with a time of 22:22, which put my pace at about 7:13/Mile. This put me in 62nd place overall out of 860 finishers, and 15th place out of 107 within the Male 20-29 age group. Not being a jogger, and it being my first ever 5K race, i was absolutely ecstatic with my results. With only some treadmill training in the weeks prior, my performance was where it should have been – it was not a walk in the park. But by pacing myself, calmly focusing on each step and breath, i did it.

It meant a lot completing the race in dedication to the demand for Oscar’s release. What made it even more special was that my mother, along with her sister, also went to cheer me on. While i am grateful for the pictures they took of me, i only wish i could have photographed the look of joy and surprise they gave me later when speaking about how i ended the race, with a Puerto Rican flag i had hid in my shorts before we left the house proudly in my hand.

Crossing the finish line

Crossing the finish line

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Demonstrations Inside and Outside the United Nations for Oscar López Rivera

On June 23, as the Special Committee on Decolonization of the United Nations was holding its day of hearings on Puerto Rico, a demonstration for Oscar López Rivera was being held in Ralph Bunche Park just across the street.

Singing of La Borinqueña at end of rally

Singing of La Borinqueña at end of rally

Literature and petitions on Oscar’s case were made available beginning at 9am, and a rally was held at 1pm with a number of petitioners from the UN hearings, as well as diplomats from other Puerto Rican organizations, both island and Diaspora-based. The demonstration lasted into the evening, coinciding with the hearings taking place within the UN.

The Special Committee on Decolonization has addressed Puerto Rico’s colonial situation annually since it took up the issue in 1972, eleven years after its founding in 1961. A recognized part of this colonial issue is the political imprisonment of independence supporters like Oscar López Rivera. At this year’s hearings, a number of petitioners made statements in support of Oscar’s release, some asking for 33 seconds of silence for his now 33-year incarceration. The Special Committee itself, in a resolution, committed to seeking the General Assembly’s reiteration of its own request for his release.

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While the decision by the UN Special Committee to support the request for Oscar’s release – a decision it also made in recent years – is a considerable and important part in influencing U.S. President Barack Obama to effect such, continued protest by people all the way down to the grassroots will remain key. Unfortunately, the resolutions made by this Special Committee in recent years in support of Oscar, as well as its now thirty-three resolutions since 1972 calling for the U.S. to initiate a process of decolonization, is not enough for President Obama to set him free just yet.

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An Evening At The Nuyorican Poets Café For Oscar López Rivera

Puerto Rico nació en mi (Puerto Rico was born in me)! Set Oscar López Rivera free! Such was the call-and-response ending a night at the Nuyorican Poets Café. The event, which took place June 18, was presented by poet/ educator Mariposa Fernández, co-hosted by fellow Nuyorican poet Frank Pérez, and dedicated to Oscar López Rivera.

Group picture of the performers in front of the Café (Note: Some were unavailable for the picture)

Group picture of the performers in front of the Café (Note: Some were unavailable for the picture)

More than a dozen poets recited their work, some in the spoken word style common to the Café, others in song and rap, and yet others over beats played on drums. With music courtesy of DJ MarYSOUL filling the brief gaps between performers, the program fully engaged the audience. In attendance was Café founder Miguel Algarín and Nuyorican poetry movement pioneer Jesús ‘Papoleto’ Meléndez. Many of the poems shared were specifically written as a reflection on or protest of Oscar’s political imprisonment.

As the poets took the stage in turn, artist Xen Medina sat nearby performing a live art exhibition. The finished piece, a portrait of Oscar, was then put up for silent auction, all proceeds going to the National Boricua Human Rights Network-New York Chapter. At least two other items, including a 3-dimensional Puerto Rican flag and photograph of Nuyorican movement pioneer Jorge Brandon, were also put up for silent auction as a way of raising funds for the release campaign.

Nuyorican pioneer Jesús 'Papoleto' Meléndez, with live artist Xen Medina in the background

Nuyorican pioneer Jesús ‘Papoleto’ Meléndez, with live artist Xen Medina in the background

To provide information on Oscar’s case and the campaign to secure his release, a table was also managed with a number of leaflets, in addition to copies of a petition that those in attendance were asked to sign. The petition is part of a specific initiative of the campaign seeking 100,000 signatures to be sent to the White House and President Obama so he may be influenced to use his presidential powers of pardon and immediately release Oscar.

A heartfelt night of music, poetry, national affirmation, and resistance, the event added further energy into the ongoing campaign for Oscar’s release. Bringing together community members, artists, activists, poets, Nuyorican movement pioneers, as well as members of labor unions like 1199SEIU, it was yet another manifestation of the continued diverse support Oscar has received. And by taking place in New York City’s Lower East Side neighborhood, it reaffirmed the City’s role as a site of protest in favor of the Puerto Rican patriot’s release.

For video of the event, taken by Virtual Boricua, click here.

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A Day In New York For Oscar López Rivera

On Thursday June 5, 2014, the City of New York once again saw a growth in support for the release of Chicago community organizer, Puerto Rican patriot, and U.S.-held political prisoner Oscar López Rivera.

In the morning, some 30 people attended an 11a.m. press conference in East Harlem’s Julia de Burgos Cultural Center on the National Puerto Rican Day Parade Board’s decision to officially honor Oscar López Rivera this year. Speakers included Clarisa and José López, the daughter and brother of Oscar, and NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Click here for the video we captured of Speaker Mark-Viverito’s statement.

Later in the afternoon, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, jointly with Speaker Mark-Viverito, hosted the annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade reception at Gracie Mansion. At the reception, Puerto Rico-based music group Calle 13 was awarded a proclamation by the City of New York and recognized for their activist work in addition to the social content of their music.

Calle 13 lead singer René Pérez Joglar, known as Residente, has also been officially named King of this Sunday’s parade up 5th Avenue. We were able to record his address to the audience, which included words of appreciation for the strong national identity of the Boricua Diaspora, and a call for the freedom of Oscar López Rivera.

The evening ended back in the Julia de Burgos Cultural Center with the second day of an art exhibition and fundraiser titled ‘postcards4oscar.’ Bringing together 25+ artists, the project saw the creation of original artwork on 4×6 postcards that were sold anonymously for $50 each, with the artist being revealed upon purchase. All proceeds support the campaign for Oscar’s release. We were unable to attend for photo coverage.

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The Day Pedro Albizu Campos Became Nationalist Party President

Eighty-four years ago, on May 11, 1930, the political landscape of Puerto Rico changed forever. During a general meeting of the Nationalist Party, which lasted into the early morning hours of the next day in the Ateneo Puertorriqueño of San Juan, Pedro Albizu Campos was elected the Party’s new President. This was just months into his return from Latin America, where he spent over two years organizing support for Puerto Rico’s independence movement.

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The evening began with a moment of silence to the figures de Diego, Muñoz Rivera, Betances, de Hostos, Rius Rivera, and Zeno Gandía; and an additional tribute, at the motion of Albizu Campos, to “all of those who fought for the independence of Puerto Rico.” Participating in the assembly on behalf of other parties were Antonio R. Barceló, president of the Liberal Party; a Mr. Etienne Totti, representing the Constitutional Socialist Party; and a Mr. Gutiérrez Ortiz, representing the Puerto Rican Alliance.

Following the speakers representing the island’s various political parties, Albizu Campos emphasized the significance of the evening’s gathering. Almost immediately, however, in reference to the voting rights gained the year before by literate women, he went on to say*:

“I regret that this assembly has not heard the voice of a women’s opinion, now that the Puerto Rican woman holds in her hands the powers to perform a great civic duty. I raise this issue so that the women do not fall into the sin that the men have fallen into: that is, being divided on the question of the independence of their homeland when we are all united by unbreakable ties of nationalist sentiment. The woman is the creative womb of all physical and moral energies, the womb of transcendental life, and therefore the authentic mother of nationality.”

Continuing his comments on the speakers before him, Albizu Campos stated:

“We are united in fundamental questions and divided by questions of tactics of a temporary nature. Therefore, I would like to see realized the unity of all parties for the immediate recognition of the independence of Puerto Rico. But gentlemen, after thirty years of Yankee colonialism, we’ve seen that all friendly and diplomatic means to contain the dominators have been exhausted. We have fallen into servility in order to gratify the invader to see if we could get something from them, but nevertheless the invaders have not respected anything in our homeland. In the economic field they have led us into ruin with their nefarious work of penetration and economic displacement…

We cannot risk one more day tolerating this denigrating North American colonialism that kills us physically and morally. We have to face the invader in a frank manner without any bending; we must unite in order to tackle this painful economic displacement and to avoid a man from the Commission of Public Instruction demoralizing the country with a system that is a school of servility to our people. Gentlemen, there is no room to carve a politics of submission as has been prevalent in Puerto Rico. We must postulate a defined and frank nationalist ideology in front of the invaders. There is no room for a fraternal and solidary act with the enemies of the homeland.”

Albizu Campos’ speech would then move into an account of his activities and experiences while visiting the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba, making note that his time in México and Perú would have to be recounted on another occasion. The speech lasted some two and a half hours and was met with enthusiastic applause.

Upon witnessing this reception to his call to end “nationalism of paper” and inaugurate a new “nationalism of action,” the Party’s founder, José Coll Cuchí, and its most recent President Antonio Ayuso Valdivieso, left the assembly, retiring from the Party. These leaders, in fact, had attempted days before to prevent Albizu Campos’ anticipated election by sending letters to prospective voters stating, “You cannot allow a black man to preside the Party.”

What followed was the election of Pedro Albizu Campos as President of the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico. The event marked a radical change in the Party, and the beginning of a new political era in Puerto Rico, which through Albizu Campos’ leadership would have a significant international character in the form of correspondence and work with other Latin American and world leaders, governments, and organizations.

The inaugural speech of Albizu Campos, in the early hours of May 22nd, laid out the philosophy he would commit himself to putting into action. In part, he would declare:

“I’m going to require a pledge for the patriots of blood and bone, of courage and spirit that have remained in this assembly up to these late hours of the night. An optimistic philosophy must inform everything that we do. Raining on our people is a pessimistic doctrine that demoralizes and cowers and that we must tackle at all times. We must raise the public spirit of Puerto Rico and tell it that it can become whatever it wants and achieve its independence if such is desired by its will. We are in full civil bankruptcy and it is necessary that we lead a moral infusion of our people so they can return to believing in their destiny and in their possibilities. Our homeland is in full war without defending itself; only a resurgence of the moral collective can save it…

Now compañeros, I am going to require an oath of honor [author's notes: with those in attendance at their feet with one hand raised]. We hereby solemnly swear to defend the nationalist ideal and sacrifice our property and lives if necessary for the independence of our country.”

The emergence of Pedro Albizu Campos as a leader for national independence is a landmark event in the history of Puerto Rico. By 1936, just months before his arrest and ten-year exile, he would receive broad support – even from pro-statehood leader Rafael Martínez Nadal – around his initiative to hold a constituent convention to declare Puerto Rico an independent nation and begin drafting a constitution.

I look forward to writing more about that significant, yet underwritten moment in Puerto Rican history. For now, i felt it important to write about the day Albizu Campos was elected leader of the Nationalist Party.

*The translations of his speeches on that important night from Spanish to English are my own.

References:
Torres, J. Benjamín. Pedro Albizu Campos, Obras Escogidas, Tomo 1.
Rosado, Marisa. Pedro Albizu Campos- Las llamas de la Aurora: acercamiento a su biografía.

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33 Men March For Oscar López Through Lower Manhattan

On Saturday May 3, 2014, a group of male activists gathered outside Pace University across the street from New York’s City Hall to demand the release of Oscar López Rivera, a Puerto Rican patriot and U.S.-held political prisoner. The group marched through the busy Wall Street sector to a local Vietnam Veteran’s memorial.

33MenMarchFlyer

Present in support of the group of men were members of 33 Mujeres NYC x Oscar. Having completed two protests as part of their monthly commitment to demand Oscar’s release, the women lent their experience by helping maintain the energy and spirit of the activity.

Once everyone was gathered at the meet-up location, the contingent remained there for some 30 minutes attracting the attention of countless tourists passing by on foot and on sightseeing buses. Arguably the most successful aspect of the demonstration, however, began next: the actual march through Lower Manhattan.

Passing through several busy streets over the course of another 30 or more minutes, hundreds of people became witness to the determined support for Oscar’s release, dozens more briefly joining the march and/ or being handed informational leaflets on his case. The occupants of countless cars, buses, and other vehicles of transportation also witnessed the unified effort — passing by the entrance to the South Ferry gained the attention of many.

33MenMarch1

The weather being a warm 70 degrees, with a light breeze and mostly sunny skies, Lower Manhattan was sprawling with people. There could have been no better conditions for the march, which went down Broadway, past Bowling Green and Battery Parks. The action ended with a singing of the revolutionary anthem La Borinqueña and participants raising their fists towards Puerto Rico.

New York City continues to be a hotbed of activity around the demand for Oscar López Rivera’s release. Recently, the reorganized National Puerto Rican Day Parade announced it would be naming its 2014 parade in honor of Oscar López Rivera.

NYC “LaRes” staff also participated in the May 3rd demonstration, which was documented by Bronx Assemblyman José Rivera, and will continue to cover events and activities related to the campaign for Oscar’s release.

You can read more of our coverage on the campaign to free Oscar López Rivera, here

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33 Mujeres NYC x Oscar In The Bronx

On Sunday, April 27, the group 33 Mujeres NYC x Oscar staged their second demonstration in support of the release of Puerto Rican patriot and U.S.-held political prisoner Oscar López Rivera. Taking place on Fordham Road in the Bronx, the event was well attended by upwards of 50 people and was also live streamed by supporters.

The effort by the group of women activists is proving to be a significant development in New York’s support of the campaign for Oscar’s release. Informational leaflets were handed out diligently to countless people passing through the busy Fordham Plaza. The colorful display of pink t-shirts and light blue bandanas wore by the women, together with their consistent chants, also gained the attention of many.

33 Mujeres NYC x Oscar in Fordham Plaza (BX)

33 Mujeres NYC x Oscar in Fordham Plaza (BX)

La Respuesta has committed to covering each demonstration in some fashion as a way of supporting the 33 Mujeres NYC x Oscar initiative, as well as the campaign to free Oscar.

The next demonstration is scheduled to take place on May 25 in the Lower East Side at the usual 4 o’clock p.m. Visit their Facebook page for location details as it becomes available, and look out for more original photo and video coverage by us at La Respuesta.

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Café con Teatro Colao Presents ‘Baquiné Remix’

Described as “coffee with a little theatre thrown in” during an introduction by its founders Nancy Nevarez and Samuel Sánchez, the Café con Teatro Colao holds cultural events in Brooklyn, NY every year. On Saturday April 26, the Café brought together another program of singing, poetry, and drama. The closing act was a remarkable performance of one scene from a play written by Nancy Nevarez - a long-time playwright and member of the Dramatists Guild - titled “Baquiné Remix.”

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The baquiné is an old tradition in Puerto Rico in which a child who died very young was honored. Believing that children at such a young and innocent age were without sin and went directly to heaven, the baquiné took on a celebratory mood among family and friends.

In November 2009 i had the pleasure of participating in bringing together the Café con Teatro Colao’s first event. Focusing on “the wisdom of elders,” it featured photography, art, drumming, poetry, another of Nancy Nevarez’ plays (Doña Concepción’s Pearls of Wisdom), and was the first of a number of themed engagements to take place over the next few years. Each event will feature a new scene from a different play written by Nevarez, with themes of racial identity and culture (La Negra Más Bella, November 2010); education (The Chalkboard Trilogy, May 2011), and domestic violence (Llamada/ Rally Cry, November 2011).

Receiving the welcome of Rev. Daniel Rivera of the Memorial Presbyterian Church on 186 Saint Johns Place, the Café’s event was as uplifting as those in the past. What makes the Café con Teatro Colao special is its authentic focus on youth, families, and community building through dialogue as a means of healing and inspiration. During the event, Café co-founder Samuel Sánchez took the opportunity to give heartfelt acknowledgements to the work and talent of the event’s host and church youth circle member Dalila Santiago, who also sang for the audience.

Samuel Sanchez and his wife Nancy Nevarez introducing the Café con Teatro Colao

Samuel Sanchez and his wife Nancy Nevarez introducing the Café con Teatro Colao

The play performance of the night, a modern take on the meaning and emotional significance of the baquiné, had the audience spellbound by the acting of Genny Padilla, who performed with the first national tour of In the Heights, and Taina Santiago, a gifted Julliard School hopeful. Before the show began, playwright Nancy Nevarez explained that the play was intended to highlight gun violence in an artistic way that allows us to reflect on, while at the same time cope with, the issue as it exists in our communities.

In one of the scenes, a young girl is depicted having fun on her block riding her bike and in a twist of fate she ignores the demands of her mother to ride back and forth where she can be seen and decides to turn around the block. Then suddenly, a loud pop is heard followed by screams and the young girl is taken to heaven.

The Café con Teatro Colao, as a social-educational project, has engaged a number of young and emerging artists, and has featured new and original artistic work. The environment it nurtures during its engagements has been welcoming, engaging, educational, and ultimately inspiring. The project, in fact, is a continuation of the community work around youth incarceration, the spreading of AIDS, school force-outs, young parenthood, and more, that Samuel Sanchez and Nancy Nevarez began in 1989 with a project named Puerto Rican Equation.

In January 2013, the Café con Teatro Colao presented a series of seven shows over a 10-day period. As a direct supporter, and at times participant, of the Café since its founding, and as a witness to its events, the initiative’s future shows are sure to please. We are all looking forward to more Café con Teatro Colao, not only because of the wonderful time it offers, but also because it provides a space of community building and social change.

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More Photos From Coney Island’s Boricua Community

Recently, i wrote an article on gun violence in Coney Island that was inspired by the following mural:

AntiGunMuralCI

The South Brooklyn neighborhood is home to a number of community murals and spaces featuring the Puerto Rican flag. Another article i wrote highlighted a garden destroyed by 2012 Hurricane Sandy. It dealt with my own personal feelings – inspired by a deep sense of nationalism – about seeing the flag next to that of its colonizer, the United States:

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On another of my recent walks through Coney Island, this time down Mermaid Avenue as opposed to Surf, i was able to photograph two more sites of Puerto Rican affirmation:

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Santos Community Garden

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Mural honoring community resident

The Santos Community Garden, another site where an image of the Puerto Rican flag is seen alongside the United States’, has been there, as far as i know, at least 20 years. Littered with all kinds of quaint items, the garden also holds chickens and roosters.

The mural honoring a community resident, Jose Manuel Chin Rivera, who passed at age 22, has been kept for two years as of April 21. A sober reminder of the loss of young life Coney Island tends to face, it is a beautiful example of the neighborhood’s artistic and community integrity.

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