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Did you hear Univision congratulated Puerto Ricans on their “Independence Day” on July 25?

Yeap, INDEPENDENCIA, said the booming announcer. Ja, ja! (I’m laughing in Spanish, you know, j sounds like h, and h is silent. It’s like it’s not even there, like independence in the colony of Puerto Rico.)

See? You can’t believe what you see/hear on TV.

But dreaming is free…as they say on the island.


I have to pause today to tell you about true love: love of homeland and of my origins. But first I have to tell the Puerto Rico Tourism Chamber how it really is.

Here’s a glowing article about, well, the glowing water in the bioluminescent bay in Vieques.

And here’s a reminder of the hardships residents of Vieques and Culebra have to deal with on a daily basis – in the news lately because of protests about the abandonment of ferry service.

I’m from the “big” island of Puerto Rico, where getting to and getting around are not as difficult as in Vieques. My life in the continent is infinitely easier (not even pot holes on the road). But I remember life in paradise. It’s not all that’s cut out to be. That bitter sweetness calls to me and keeps me grounded. I love my homeland, and I cherish the lessons I (still) learn there. I think about my parents and my grandmother every single day. We share joys and struggles that bring us together across the miles.

Que Dios bendiga a mi tierrita.

Arecibo, PR

I took this photo from the Arecibo lighthouse, looking past La Poza and out to Islote. RGR. June 2011.

Lares, Puerto Rico

Catholic church in Lares, Puerto Rico; this town built on a hill was the site of El Grito de Lares in 1868. My paternal grandparents were married in that same church.

I’ve been too busy building a new business to write a weekly blog. (More on the new business later.) But the equinox and the change of season make me pause and reflect on where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. Some things should always be remembered.

Today, 23rd of September, I fly back to 1868 and a call for freedom and independence that was deferred. It was deferred, but it was not forgotten.

I take my hat off to the people who still gather in Lares, Puerto Rico, to remember el Grito de Lares, a call for independence from Spain. An independence that never came. Nevertheless, that call and that dream has transformed our identity as Puerto Ricans and endured for the last 143 years.

See article in El Nuevo Dia:

J.J. Barea returns to the island today as NBA hero.

Sandwiched between Obamamania last week, and the triumphal return of NBA (ene-be-a) basketball hero J.J. Barea, few people on the island noticed the quick and behind-closed-doors confirmation of Miguel Munoz as new president of the University of Puerto Rico. Lauded by some as an experienced administrator from the Mayaguez campus, and critiziced by others as more of the “mano dura,” the tough stance against student protests, he served as interim president for a few weeks and was quietly confirmed as president late yesterday. Today, the parade and ensuing carnival surrounding J.J. Barea will dominate the news and will eclipse our problems and our lack of participatory democracy at every level. But let the carnival go on. J.J. deserves his day in the sun. Clever government and university administrators knew how to get some net right before the buzzard. Let the good times roll…

President Barack Obama eats a "medianoche" sandwich during a surprise visit to Kasalta Bakery while in Puerto Rico, June 14, 2011. (Credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images.)

He came and went.

The one we anticipated nervously and painted lines on the road for. He ate a medianoche, had his photo taken with supporters and hosted a fundraiser at $35k per person. The entire day, down here on the island where I’m lucky to find myself on the day President Obama came back for a visit, has been filled with over-analyzing political commentators dissecting every word President Obama said and every step he took during his brief visit. It’s the classic neglected-child syndrome. Any attention is better than no attention. It doesn’t matter what he said, we would still hang by his every word, and we still spent (and will continue to spend) an inordinate amount of energy reacting to every little thing the President did and said.

Two significant things that are still being debated: 1)the President’s detour to a popular eatery to meet with the opposition candidate and 2)his intimation that the U.S. would stand by the people of Puerto Rico only after a clear majority of islanders arrive at a clear decision concerning the political status of the colony. We’re not sure what clear means.

The day could have been better. Imagine the uproar if the “c” word (colony) had come straight from the President’s mouth, instead of the political commentators’. But the President and his speechwriters are too smart for that. He could have made a statement about the remaining political prisoner, Oscar Lopez Rivera, jailed in the U.S. for 30 years. Again, better not go there when 2012 is around the corner. And I suppose it would have been exciting to have Marc Anthony break into song and for JLo to have made a surprise appearance…

Personally, I think the President’s visit went as good as it could have. We showed him our good and courteous side, and carefully avoided his seeing the protestors who burned an American flag, or hearing difficult questions from any “radical” leaders. Too bad there are so many things that are just unfit for the President’s eyes and ears. Then again, how would you explain in only a couple of hours that the Puerto Rican economy needs more than a stimulus package to recover from 500 years of colonialism? How would you explain the oppresive monopoly we face trying to supply our basic needs for food and fuel? How would you explain soaring unemployment, drug use and domestic violence? How would you explain police brutality against college students, a gasoducto being shoved down our throats and a political referendum stacked in favor of the ruling party (do you want blue or blue)?

It would take a few years, not a few hours for Mr. President to get the full and atrocious picture of all things unfit. Then again, his subtle nod to the opposition makes one think that not all is medianoche for Mr. President. Maybe he can see in the dark. Now, in the dark, with the coquies singing their ancestral song, I have to say we might be unfit and he might not have collected as much campaign money here as elsewhere, but he still came and he still broke medianoche with us. That’s more than other presidents have been willing to do.

Painting by Rafael Tufiño, see coffee etching via link below.

Puerto Rico’s coffee heydays date back to the 1870s, when the Pope drank Puerto Rican coffee in the Vatican. A couple of hurricanes and total neglect after the American invasion in 1898, put an end to a flourishing business in a mountainous island well suited for growing Arabic coffee in the shady hills, but not so well equipped to support large sugar plantations and other large-scale agriculture.

A new effort seeks to undo more than a century of neglect. The old Café Rico plant in Ponce, Puerto Rico has been rehabilitated with $15 million in private investment to create the largest coffee-processing plant in the Caribbean.

Puerto Rico Coffee Roasters said their new facilities will be capable of processing a maximum of 30,000 pounds (13,600 kilograms) of coffee a year. The company invested in machinery, equipment and renovations at its 120,000-sq. foot (11,000-sq. meter) plant in the southern coastal city of Ponce.

Puerto Rico Coffee Roasters produces brands including Yaucono Coffee, Cafe Rioja and Cafe Rico. The announcement comes as the U.S. Caribbean territory tries to boost its coffee production, which has fallen by half in recent years. (There remains a burgeoning organic and small-scale gourmet coffee industry.)

In addition to the facility upgrades, local government money will be used to build shelters for workers, and federal money will be used to subsidize agriculture.

As a descendant of proud coffee pickers who concocted their own homemade café puya in Lares, Puerto Rico, I have to wonder, does this mean the return of latifundios and arrimaos? I’m getting my coffee basket ready for the next trip, just in case. I’ll be like the woman in this Tufiño painting – Camino del Recogido, 1954, Rafael Tufiño:

See the Forbes report:
Reportage en El Nuevo Dia:
Video de El Nuevo Dia:

Today, I wish to yield my (cyber)space to echo a call that came from the University of Puerto Rico, loud and clear, to restore “our best collective creation.”

In 1986, I made the tough decision of leaving my family, my friends and the only home I knew.  I turned down an opportunity to attend UPR-Rio Piedras for an uncertain future in the north. It was the right decision for me. Nevertheless, my heart stayed at home, on the steps of the UPR Theatre, looking forward past the courtyard, past any distractions, to dreams and goals of varying degrees of attainability. I’ve done alright in the north, mostly propelled by that vision of my youth. Today, I respectfully say to my brothers and sisters on the island: Read (Repeating Islands’translation of) Luce López Baralt’s article, realize there are thousands of people beyond the island watching  – whether or not CNN shows up – and we know this is about much more than an $800 “stabilization” fee.

From Repeating Islands’ blog:

Luce López Baralt’s recent article in El Nuevo Día, “La UPR vive: un alto a la desesperanza” [roughly translated as “The University of Puerto Rico Lives: Let’s Put Despair on Hold”], brought tears to my eyes. In her quintessentially elegant fashion, Dr. López Baralt called for putting despair on hold and not adopting a defeatist attitude vis-à-vis the apparent attempt to dismantle the venerated University of Puerto Rico, brick by brick, and department by department. Here is her commentary in its entirety with a link to the original article (in Spanish) below:

The University of Puerto Rico is not dead. We will never let her die. I assume the privilege of being a spokesperson for hope, because new creative forces are gathering to avert the worst moment in our history. The UPR, which has been the great socio-economic leveler of the country, is simply our best collective creation. It has taken much wisdom and much consensus to establish what in a few months we could see turned to ashes.

The University administration, against the recommendations of the Middle States Association, has opted for a style of sparsely participatory governance, which could ruin the institution’s accreditation. I understand when students question the “stabilization” fee of $800, because my sister Mercedes and I, with our ailing father, would not have been able to study without the help of our public institution. However, I urge people to negotiate with maturity, so that we can all share the fiscal misfortune that has befallen us and so we can continue with our academic work. The tensions at the Río Piedras campus, which has been transformed into a lair for riot squads, have forced many students to flee to private institutions and many teachers to leave the classroom. The university administration, as if collaborating with this dismantling, has destroyed the prestigious [journal] Revista La Torre, whose last issue, edited by Edgardo Rodríguez Juliá, lies in the same limbo as books by the Editorial [the university press], which include an anthology of Ernesto Cardenal’s work and a tribute to Luis Rafael Sánchez. This destruction evokes the Spanish Civil War cry: “Death to intelligence!” 

In the midst of this ruinous feast, the Department of Hispanic Studies receives a few tables of numerical computations announcing that it has been put “on hold.” Nobody knows the meaning of this new electronic term—which does not exist in any university handbook—since the memo is unsigned. One thing is to reduce the size of an institution, another is to denigrate it.

It is fair to insert the UPR situation in the context of the global economic crisis that has also shaken other universities. The Humanities tend to be the first to be affected; Martha C. Nussbaum (Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities)  has reacted against this short-sighted approach that sees education as dependent on mere economic productivity. In our case, any attack on the humanistic disciplines is more serious. In the space of our Department, our destiny, our culture, and our language have been pondered. Powered by topnotch figures like Juan Ramón Jiménez, Pedro Salinas, and Jorge Guillén, whose classes were attended by the Guajana poets and El Topo, author of “Verde luz,” our Department had [the honor of having] Antonio S. Pedreira, Margot Arce, and Concha Meléndez [as professors]. Luis Rafael Sánchez, Hjalmar Flax, José Luis Vega, and Rosario Ferré passed through our classrooms. Two of our [former] faculty members have received the Nobel Prize—Juan Ramón Jiménez and Mario Vargas Llosa—and the Honoris Causa doctoral degrees for [Jorge Luis] Borges and Carlos Fuentes were initiated from [this department].

But I do not contemplate the ancient ruins of Pompeii with melancholy. Our Department is still one of the most prestigious in America, as it renews itself with writers and scholars such as Mayra Santos and Juan Gelpí. Our students offer presentations abroad in forums of undisputed soundness and publish their work in scholarly journals. Jaime Alazraki, professor at Harvard, claimed that a Hispanist was put to the maximum test when lecturing in our Department.

A Department like this does not deserve an anonymous set of tables ordering its possible extinction. That is why we have joined forces to enhance and promote our curricular offerings in an affirmative mode. The University of Puerto Rico is not dead. Nor has the most prestigious of its departments died. Together we sing the hymn of life. We await our students with open arms. We are not “on hold.” We have put the “hold” on hold. We have put despair “on hold.”

For original article (in Spanish), see

Tengo un par de amigas que practican una religión alternativa llamada Eckankar (significa “colaborador con Dios”).  Uno de los principios de Eckankar es que la gente no muere, sino que se traduce. La muerte es vista como una transformación de energía tal, que se puede explicar en términos de una traducción lingüística. Es lo mismo, pero diferente, transformado.

Esta semana un pensador caribeño muy importante se tradujo. Monsieur Edouard Glissant, nacido en Martinica en 1928, murió en París el 3 de febrero a los 82 años. Pocos fuera de círculos literarios, y bien solamente en los idiomas francés e inglés, conocen  su obra.

Yo he querido traducir la obra de Glissant en el sentido lingüístico. Creo que hay muchos de habla hispana que se pueden beneficiar de sus ideas sobre un criollismo verdadero y una identidad rizomática. El Caribe hispanoparlante necesita alguien que conecte las relaciones subterráneas que existen entre las islas. Desafortunadamente el archipiélago de Glissant hasta ahora lo conocen sólo los francophones y los que leen traducciones al inglés de Betsy Wing (como yo). Estas traducciones han sido impulsadas por académicos como Michael Dash (Univ. West Indies)  y como Celia Britton (Oxford University).

Hace cinco años, al terminar mi maestría en literatura, basada en gran parte en la obra de Glissant, me interesé por encontrar trabajos y monografías basadas en la obra de Glissant en Puerto Rico. Pasé dos días en la biblioteca de la UPR en Río Piedras y un día adicional en la biblioteca del Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y en Caribe, en el Viejo San Juan. Saben que encontré? Nada. Por lo menos nada publicado en español ni en inglés. Tal vez algún estudiante de francés haya tropezado con Glissant en la UPR, pero no había nada publicado que se basara en Glissant. Creo que esta falta de interés representa la falta de conexión que sufrimos los puertorriqueños en relación al resto del Caribe. Estamos agarrados al mundo por un cable que sólo conecta a Estados Unidos, y esa relación colonial no nos permite apreciar otras relaciones.

Glissant estudió en La Sorbona, París, algunos años después de que el poeta puertorriqueño Francisco Matos Paoli hubiera pasado por allí. Escribió Sol de la Conciencia mientras Matos Paoli y Pedro Albizu Campos estaban en prisión en los 1950. El propio Glissant formó un partido político separatista en Martinica y fue exiliado. Se le prohibió salir de París por varios años, y al fin pudo regresar a su patria en 1965. Cabe decir que la relación ambigua entre Martinica y Francia se parece mucho a la de Puerto Rico y Estados Unidos.  

La editorial Casa de Américas, La Habana, publicó lo siguente en una nota sobre la partida de Glissant:

“Su militancia artística dio lugar a reflexiones que apuntaban que “el Caribe es una realidad cultural” abierta “siempre a otras culturas” y que reforzaban la idea de que “un negro de Cuba, un blanco de Guadalupe y un indio de Haití participan de la misma identidad”, según escribió el propio Glissant.”

Casa de las Américas informa que ha publicado tres obras de Glissant en español: “su novela El Lagarto (Arte y Literatura, 1980) y el volumen de poesía Fastos y otros poemas (Casa de las Américas, 2002)… el pasado 30 de octubre de 2010 fue presentado en La Habana El discurso antillano (Fondo Editorial Casa, 2010), por primera vez la traducción íntegramente al español de la monumental obra de Édouard Glissant.”

Tal vez luego de su traducción fisica a otra vida veamos más traducciones de la importante obra poética y política de Edouard Glissant.

Mientras, aquí puedes ver una traducción al inglés (doblada rudimentariamente) de una entrevista reciente en Francia.

Every time it seems like The Island cannot take any more abuse and it’s about to flounder in a sea of crime and corruption, the chupacabra makes an alleged appearance.  I don’t know if the mythical creature reads El Nuevo Dia and decides when it’s time to give us Puerto Ricans (there and abroad) a little comic relief, but it always surfaces when the economy collapses and the Dept. of Families is buried under abuse cases. It never competes with Maripily and it doesn’t appear when we’re mourning a national hero or welcoming a beauty queen or an athlete at the San Juan airport. It waits its turn.

This year, it intuitively knew we needed a boost before the holidays. A college professor and a town mayor (the usual suspects) led the carnival parade to an old sugar mill in Guanica. Yes, that’s the site of the previous colonizer’s means of exploitation AND the same town where our current colonizers first set foot on The Island during the Spanish American War.  (Do you see a connection between the left-wing independentistas and the chupacabra?)

The carnival parade received the Standard Puertorrican Reception (SPR): joketelling, beerdrinking and stonethrowing. No surprises there. There were more journalists than bona fide chupacabra experts. And here I put together “bona fide” and “experts” in the same sense I would put together “tranquil” and “three-year-old birthday party.” Or maybe “healthy” and “cuchifrito.” (And let’s not mention the fried-food-road-stand, err, restaurant that burned down recently. That was truly sad news from The Island.) At any rate, the chupacabra has its mythology and its place in the hierarchical imaginary of boricua symbolism – and it’s not to be confused with “the gargoyle,” which according to one female bystander might be ensconced in a certain part of her anatomy. (You have to read the story. I don’t make this stuff up.)    

So, what’s the deal with the chupacabra coming to the rescue of the remains of our pinch of faith and our shred of hope(or is it shreded demure)?  I’m starting to think this chupacabra fetish is more than a gimmick. It has played the part, effectively for some time, of a thinly veiled collective coping mechanism in times of despair.

I hope this means The Island can only go up from (t)here.

Read the whole story in Spanish:

I wrote this on 10/27/10, a couple of days after I returned from visiting my blood sister, Becky, and my adopted Jamaican sister, Marcia, in North Carolina. They are both beautiful, nurturing and tough as nails. My Jamaican sister doesn’t have much in terms of material things, but she always finds ways to give. She indeed has a treasure trove of kindness, wisdom and good cuisine. And she doesn’t mind sharing. We often talk about our respective islands and the trees we used to climb when we were growing up. Often, she’ll talk to me longingly about a particular fruit, like a gnep(sp?), and I’ll say “I know what you’re talking about, it’s called quenepa!” I couldn’t be luckier than to have run into Marcia during my adventures in North Carolina.

This small poem to our friendship and Caribbean kinship is my humble attempt to reciprocate her many gifts.

A mi hermana jamaiquina, on occasion of having found another tropical fruit we both like to eat.

 You breathe out coriander and Thyme

                Which, in your mouth, is the endless Time we wish we had.

Your essence turns noses and eyes –  

a trail of sweet pheromones is your blessed footprint.

Love, kindness and forgiveness march in your army.

Lightheartedness is your shield.

You, ephemeral songbird rising up.

You, bright star in the darkest wood.  

Your table is always set

                and welcomes all.

I bring the chicken, you rub the curry.

I bring the breadfruit, you show me how to bake it.

I bring the climbing gear


 until you show me how to climb our mountain.

We’ll build a bonfire at the summit

and look upon our children

hundreds of them

shining like bright stars in the dark Caribbean night.

(For now, we’re just an archipelago of two small islands.)

My knowing sister.

gnep, quenepas, mamoncillo

Quenepas I photographed (and promptly ate) in Puerto Rico.

My Jamaican sister.

You see all, what could I add?

Here are some quenepas

                they’re all I have.

Reclama tu territorio en cualquier idioma

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