Dedicated to the people of Borinquen
One Friday afternoon this past July, as I prepared to ride my daughter back home on bike from Music Together, I stopped by Connecticut Muffin on Bartel-Pritchard Square. I recently discovered my daughter was into bagels, so I went outside with my bike to sit and feed her. There was an old man, face pale-white and wrinkled as cauliflower, listening to a transistor radio. He made room for me to enter the seating area. I thanked him in English believing him to be of the older Windsor Terrace ilk. I used to live in Windsor Terrace, and I know the type. As I fed my daughter, eavesdropping on the radio programming, I heard updates in Spanish about then Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello latest attempts to remain in power. I asked him in Spanish; “¿Que escucha?” (what are you listening to?), to which he replied “basura” (garbage). He then proceeded to say, “the whole world was garbage; none of them are any good”. Since the news was about the ongoing drama in Puerto Rico, I half-jokingly responded – well maybe Fidel Castro had the right idea. He then raised his head, his cloudy eyes peering at me through his thick bifocals and said sternly: “Fidel Castro stole my house!”
Simultaneously humorous and terrifying at the same time, I realized I was staring into the abyss of my own history and listening to the voices of my forefathers through an open sepulcher. I’ve heard this roaring voice before, and just then flashbacks to my childhood couldn’t be helped. After some debate bantering among Cubans, he turned to celebrate Trump’s handling of immigration. He said,
“Well, you see if these people don’t like what’s happening to them, they can leave”.
In a moment of clarity, I quickly retorted,
“Well it’s obvious to me, as it should be to you, why there was a revolution in Cuba – if you as a Cuban cannot recognize the hypocrisy of your words now, then how could I have confidence that the past was as good as you described it? If you cannot have compassion for those who seek asylum and freedom in a country that has given it to you, how could I trust you had compassion for the poor of our own country”.
He shrugged his shoulders and said, “to each his own”. We thanked each other for the honesty, we exchanged names, and I assured him he’d made a friend. We cordially shook hands and parted ways.
As I crossed over to the circle, reflective, I came across the black-granite WW1 monument which reads “For Valor and Sacrifice – 1965” I wondered if my new friend had arrived here when this monument was erected, and if he really knew what it meant. I pondered if there was anything he had ever sacrificed or given to deserve this “freedom” he hadn’t earned. I couldn’t help but think if the old-timers of Windsor Terrace resented him in 1965 as much as he resents immigrants seeking asylum in this country today. I was saddened of course, but then I also thought about “valor”. Times change; I ask myself how this country sees any valor or honor in its systemic assault on children separated from their families at the border. I wondered not about these men that gave their lives in WWI, but instead about the men who erected this monument after WWII. What America were they honoring?
As TPS and family parole are being eliminated, and ICE raids result in greater deportations, one must ask:
How many homes and lives will this country steal from us? How many homes and lives will have been abandoned in our home countries to seek the plenty this country has plundered from us.
For anyone that loves history as I do, you’ll recall that the United States stripped Puerto Rico and Cuba from freedom fighters winning a second war of independence from Spain. The U.S. and Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough-Riders entered OUR war after the U.S. Navy sank its own ship, The Maine, in the Harbor of La Habana; an event that initiated the Spanish American War in 1898. Fifteen years later, the U.S. entered WW1, a war that would define western colonialism and geopolitical power through the rest of the century.
As I biked back home with my daughter through Prospect Park, the hot afternoon breeze whipping in my ears, I realized maybe the roaring I heard wasn’t from the old man after all. Maybe it was from his transistor radio. Maybe what I was hearing was the “valor and sacrifice” of those millions of Puerto-Ricans that were demanding an end to colonialism after the humiliation of Maria. Perhaps the thundering I heard were the voices of mambises, being transmitted through time, rushing the battlefield, screaming at us to be brave, to fight for our own, and to fight for what is ours.
Isaiah 30 v. 20-22.