Self-Portrait as la bandera puertorriqueña

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By: Malcom Friend

Self-Portrait-medium
Photo: Isabel Rosado, Nationalist Party member, circa 1930s

I am an oddity.

¡Qué bonita bandera!
They shout
as they wave me back and forth
in joy.
What is so beautiful about me?

Is it my red hues?
Three burning stripes
so deep they run,
so bright they blaze
like a fire.
The fire of revolutionaries
both on the island and in strange lands.
When I ripple
I am like that flame
which begins as a flutter
but later engulfs the forest.
Such is my incendiary might —
just look at Lares or Utuado if you need proof.

Then again, maybe it’s my calming blue.
Just one small triangle of it,
but a color so dark you can only find it
at the depths of the Atlantic,
the same sea my people have crossed
to escape my shores in search of better ones
while always remembering where they come from.
My blue is deep like that ocean,
soothing like sun that sets over it.
Tints of purple and orange invading
as the breeze eases in
and the coquí which begins to call
In the idle night
To the moon standing guard over the Atlantic.

Or perhaps it is my white,
two bright stripes
And a single star which brands my face,
shining like a pearl
found in the Caribbean which surrounds us.
You don’t need to open up a clam
to find this gem glistening
with the hopes of people
forced onto foreign lands.

¡Qué bonita bandera –
they shout
as I pulse so proudly in the sky.
But I am an oddity.
I’d rather wrap around the dead
and provide them warmth
than float on a flagpole
and shake my flexible form for all to see.
I’d rather be buried beneath the cold dirt
than convulse in the hands of those living
in San Juan or Ponce or even New York
who do not understand.

Yes, I am red –
stained with the blood of my people
upon the fabric of my being
la tierra está ensangrentada,
Wrote Corretjer.
And so I swing in the wind with that sanguine
dried forever on my skin,
a scar to sanctify those
who have fought for my freedom.

Yes, I am blue —
I wear my melancholy on my face;
fallen heroes are embraced in my ideology,
but more so tears drop
whenever someone waves to me in the street
without demanding the same emancipation to
those heroes rot away in prison.

Yes, I am white —
white like the island
after American occupation.
No more African or Taíno roots, right?
I am white like the single star that stands alone
From the rest of the stars and stripes.
Yet until the day we are liberated
until the day we demand it
it’s nothing but a glint of hope
which grows dimmer by the day
until, like a star in the sky,
it fades into nothing.

But I won’t let that happen.
My mere existence is a testament
to our revolutionary past, present and future.
They would arrest me for sedition
if only they could.
And still you shout –
¡Qué bonita bandera!
Still you claim pride in me,
claim to be of the same stock
As those who fought
for me as well as you.
But you are unwilling to fight.
You would rather be number fifty-one
than one on your own,
¡Puñeta!
And so, like Lola, I shout. ¡Despierta, Borinqueño!
¡Lucha por tu libertad!
¡Pelea por tu patria!
Despierta, pa’ que todo el mundo sepa
la frase “una sola estrella libre.”
Awaken, borincanos,
and as you swing me from side to side,
let my three red stripes be the blood
coursing through your veins.
My blue triangle the tears
you cry for our island,
my two white stripes and single star
the hope that liberation will come;
Find the revolution in yourself that I only seem to find
while clasping our heroes’ coffins.

_____________

Malcolm Friend was born and raised in Seattle, WA, to a Puerto Rican father and an African American mother. He is currently an undergraduate at Vanderbilt University studying English and Classical Civilization and hopes to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing after graduating. His writing blends the personal with the political as he explores his identity as Puerto Rican, African American, and a Seattleite.

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