Puerto Rico on Our Mind

“Protests Shook the Halls of Power in Puerto Rico,” a very worthwhile article published in July 25th’s New York Times, notes its organizers’ belief that these historical demonstrations are not “spontaneous.” The article shows the high degrees of organization underlying these determined and successful mass demonstration. It quotes Shariana Ferrer, a leader of Puerto Rico’s women’s organizations: “This is an organic movement… but it is not a spontaneous movement.”

Significantly, women’s and gay/lesbian organizations are playing major roles in these activities. This development underscores that so-called “identity politics” has the potential of translating into coalition politics.

These mass demonstrations specifically called for Governor Ricardo Rosselló’s resignation. More importantly, the evidence reveals that while Puerto Rico is officially a territory of the United States, Puerto Rico has the attributes of a nation.

While calling for Rosselló’s resignation, the symbol of this movement is not the placards calling for Rosselló to step down. It is, and will continue to be, the flag of Puerto Rico (for many years displaying this flag was a criminal offense). Protesters waved countless Puerto Rican flags. Not one American flag was flown. No less significant, not one word of English was spoken from the platforms, nor was it used in any of the slogans. While one reggaton piece was composed overnight to be performed at the demonstration, the musical background for these manifestations have been classical ballads expressing love for Puerto Rico and “plenas,” a folk genre traditionally sang at political demonstrations. A long-time favorite plena at manifestations of all kind goes: “Que bonita bandera; Que bonita bandera; Que bonita bandera, es la bandera puertorriqueña.” In short, the style/rhythm of these rallies was distinctly Puerto Rican.

As Congressman representing East Harlem for seven terms, Vito Marcantonio (1902-1954) submitted five bills demanding Puerto Rico’s independence, “with indemnification for the damage the United States had imposed on the Island.” While maintaining Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States, it is time to reconsider this proposal.

Gerald Meyer, Co-Chair Vito Marcantonio Forum