Tag Archive for independence movement

Manuel Rafael Suárez Díaz, Martyr Of The Puerto Rican Flag

The Puerto Rican people are well known for the proud display of their national symbol, the flag adopted in 1895 in New York City. Lesser known are the acts of sacrifice in defense of its patriotic root – a yet extinguished independence sentiment.

One such act occurred 82 years ago, on April 16, 1932.

PRflagBlogThat day, the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party was holding one of its several commemorative events recognizing the life of a patriotic figure. The focus was José de Diego, the “father of the independence movement” who died supporting the goal of an Antillean Confederation that included a free Puerto Rico. Hundreds filled San Juan’s main plaza that night listening in silence to the captivating, inspiring, and informative oratory of Pedro Albizu Campos.

At the same time, however, a special meeting of the colonial legislature was being held in the nearby Capitol building. During this session, a project to convert the Puerto Rican flag into the official symbol of the colony was to be proposed for approval.

Receiving word of this toward the end of the nationalist rally, Albizu Campos took the audience’s attention and informed them of the legislator’s plans. He provoked a great commotion among them when he asked, “And what shall we do now?!” The response was, “Let’s stop it!” The crowd of hundreds voiced their agreement that attempting to convert the flag into a colonial symbol on José de Diego’s birthday was a double insult. What followed was a protest march, led by Albizu Campos, to the Capitol.

Once there, the mass of people confronted the armed police at the entrance, passing them without a single shot being fired. As people entered the building, rock throwing and stick fighting began outside, much of it including young students.

Inside the building, Albizu Campos led a group up a flight of stairs, leading to the legislators on the second floor. In a tragic turn of events, the struggle between the mass and police caused the railing and part of a balcony to collapse, throwing everyone 25-feet to the ground, injuring dozens. Once everyone had crawled off each other, one person laid dead: Manuel Rafael Suárez Díaz, a nationalist high school youth. Albizu Campos was arrested under charges of inciting a riot, but later acquitted. Suárez Díaz was buried in San Juan and raised to the status of martyr for sacrificing his life defending the honor of the Puerto Rican people’s national symbol.

Few peoples on this Earth have given as much to preserve the meaning of their flag as have Puerto Ricans. As we note the prominent display of la bandera puertorriqueña throughout the communities of the Boricua Diaspora, let us also note the history of sacrifice that made the flag the sacred symbol it is today.

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Puerto Rico’s New Immigrants Raises Questions about Race and Empire

BarrioIcon-Newsletter1x1On March 28, LatinoUSA published a story about Dominican and Haitian immigration to Puerto Rico. The report raises (but doesn’t discuss thoroughly) some interesting questions about race, the island’s colonial status, and Caribbean solidarity and xenophobia.

Disrupting Race in Puerto Rico

“In 2006, only two Haitians were apprehended by Border Patrol. Last year, the number was 600.” – LatinoUSA

Puerto Rico is considered to be the “whitest of the Caribbean” due to the amount of residents (75.8 percent) who identify with a white racial identity on the U.S. Census.

One reason, including internalized racism, is because there are few options available for other categories popularly used on the island, like mulata/o, trigueña/o, etc. Another is that there are a lot of European-descended folks. Puerto Rico received nearly half a million Europeans between 1815 and 1898 due to the Real Cédula de Gracia law, which promoted their settlement. There was also a comparatively low amount of enslaved people (unlike Cuba and Jamaica, which were island-wide factories of African genocide); but there were indeed many free folks of color and cimarrones - like my family. 

I bring up this history to help us ponder some important questions. In which ways do recent immigration from a “Blacker” Caribbean disrupt current racial categories? Are they discriminated against primarily due to their (undocumented) immigrant status, accents/ language, or their blackness – or a mix of all these characteristics? What will there influence be on Puerto Rican national culture and identity in future generations? How do Haitian and Dominican immigrants engage with each other in Puerto Rico, when the latter has a history of genocide and legal exclusion of the former – is there solidarity between them as immigrants in Borinquen? In the context of a decreasing and aging population, these questions should be more actively studied, reported on, and addressed.

A Colony With No Control Over Its Borders | Nationalism Can = Solidarity

“My dream isn’t to go back to the Dominican Republic. It’s to pledge allegiance to this flag, to the United States,” she says. “Truthfully, Puerto Rico, I love you.” - LatinoUSA

According to scholar Juan Manuel Carrión, some academics claim that “What a Puerto Rican nationalist really wants, deep down, is to kill a Dominican.” He refers to an imagined perception of nationalism being acquainted with xenophobic hatred and genocide (and not the anti-colonial, liberatory form I’d argue Puerto Rican nationalism often takes). But, this past month Claridad, Puerto Rico’s oldest pro-independence newspaper, dedicated its huge annual festival to the island’s Dominican community. As a part Dominican, Boricua independentista, this makes me proud. To me, there is no disconnect between affirming one’s national identity and standing in solidarity with other oppressed people. Plus, when was the last time pro-statehood folks were called racist; wasn’t it Santini’s penepé administration that denied a permit for a Dominican festivity in San Juan? No hay peor ciego que el que no quiere ver.

However, I do understand where some of the anger – from folks of all ideologies - towards island immigrants may come from (besides issues of language and race). Borinquen is a colony and therefore with no control over its own borders. The current economic collapse only heightens such discontent. Also, there are those who are infuriated by some immigrant’s sworn fidelity to the U.S. imperial project.

There were once a Cuban family who rented an apartment from my cousins in Juncos. Although they only had been on the island for two weeks, they were more pro-statehood than Barbosa or Ferré!

Still, I’d never advocate for them to leave or take an anti-immigrant stance. My nationalism is based on solidarity, as it has been between Puerto Rican independentistas and Mexican communities in Chicago or Blacks in New York, for example. It is my belief that the island’s liberation can happen when – among many other things – new immigrants are engaged and embraced, not ignored or discarded. Thankfully, the island’s independence movement has begun to do this while the Diaspora’s movement continues this long trajectory.

Below is a video (in Spanish) on an “Antillian Solidarity” mural production in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico.

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Pedro Albizu Campos: The Teacher

Pedro Albizu Campos (1893-1965) is at the same time one of Puerto Rico’s most accomplished individuals, and its foremost nationalist leader of the 20th Century. Starting school at the late age of 12, he distinguished himself at Ponce High School with his intelligence, as well as public speaking and debating skills. All of this while being taught in the U.S.-mandated English. Albizu Campos would go on to the University of Vermont and Harvard University on scholarships, becoming licensed in Chemistry, Philosophy and Letters, and Military Science, and earning a degree in Law. In addition, he was fluent in English and his native Spanish, more than proficient in French, Portuguese, Italian, and German, and also comfortable with Greek and Latin.

An exceptional student, he became an exceptional teacher. The following video, from the upcoming documentary Who is Albizu?, gives one interpretation of how Albizu Campos came to be called ‘El Maestro’, or ‘the Teacher’.

On a personal level, i have been greatly influenced by what i have learned about the legacy of Albizu Campos. The more that i learn, the more he seems to offer me. And the more that i seek out information about his life and legacy, the more i appreciate how misunderstood and misrepresented he is by mainstream society. Over the past number of years learning about Albizu Campos, as a native of the Boricua Diaspora, i’ve also come to appreciate the need there is for comprehensive information about him in English. In my opinion, most of these resources usually either contain historical errors, or focus on his politics, both painting him as an extremist and neglecting the deeper content of his character and message, or both. My hope is to one day write a book that can fill this gap.

But for sure, Pedro Albizu Campos is still my teacher. And i mean this in a very real way. After going through much of the English-language resources on Albizu Campos, it got to a point where i had to look at Spanish-language sources if i wanted to learn more. So i did exactly that. Now, as i increase my knowledge of Spanish by reading about el Maestro, i can say that he still teaches me today.

More on Albizu Campos to come.

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