Julia De Burgos
Trinidad Is Back!
East Harlem Alumni
A Day Of Pride And Joy
Keep Rising To The Top!
Arturo Alfonso Schomburg
Ramon Emeterio Betances
A Change In Scenery (Harlem)
Vieques: The Struggle Past, Present
Jesus Colon was born in Cayey, Puerto Rico. In 1917, he would arrive in Brooklyn, NY aboard the ship S.S. Carolina. A year later he becomes a founding member of the Puerto Rican Committee of the Socialist Party in New York. In 1923, he would be a founding member and first Secretary General of the organization Alianza Obrera Puertorriqueña in New York City. Ten years later in 1933 Colon would be an active member of the Communist Party. Through the Depression years, World War II, and the McCarthy era, he remained active, until his death in 1974. During these years he would be active in many political, civic, and cultural organizations, of which he held key positions. The main organization which he helped put together was the Sociedad Fraternal Cervanters, the Spanish-speaking section of the International Workers Order. It dedicated itself to providing workers with medical insurance and other services. In the late 40's this organization grew to almost 200,000 thousand workers. Colon was responsible of nearly thirty Spanish and Portuguese-speaking lodges affiliated to the IWO throughout the United States.
Colon was not only known as an activist but also a gifted writer. As his friend and compadre Bernardo Vega stated, "Siempre es mas interesante vivir que escibir." (It is always more interesting to live than to write."). Colon, was always a man of action. In the 1920's he was regular contributor to Justicia and Union Obrera, the socialist newspapers in Puerto Rico. He also wrote occasional poems, anecdotes, and articles for El Machete Criollo, El Nuevo Mundo, and Bernardo Vega's weekly Grafico, all published in New York City. In the late 1940's until the early 1950's he wrote prolifically for the weekly Liberacion. At that time this was the main newspaper fro progressive writers from Spain and Latin America. Other Puerto Rican journalists who contributed to the paper, were Clemente-Soto Velez, Juan Antonio Corretjer, and Cesar Andreu Iglesias.
Edna Acosta-Belen a Professor of Latin America and Caribbean Studies, and Women's Studies at the University of Albany, and Virginia Sanchez Korrol Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Puerto Rican Studies at Brooklyn College, did intensive research on Colon. They both managed to put together a booklet on Colon's writings called "The Way it Was and other writings." They both stated. "Colon had recognized the need to provide the U.S. public with a different view of how Puerto Ricans lived and what their cultural contributions were." They added, "He always intended that his writing would help counteract the prevailing misconceptions and biased views of the Puerto Rican people held by the larger U.S. society". He gives a perfect example from his book "A Puerto Rican In New York City" (a must read!). "We Puerto Ricans have been subjected to treatment in a Broadway drama and a successful musical show." (Referring to West Side Story). He adds, "This is way out of context with the real history, culture and traditions of the Puerto Rican people."
Eventually, during the McCarthy period he was called in front of the House Un-Activities Committee. Colon showed his strong character. He was not afraid of the committee, and instead outraged them. He was courageous and combative, and wasn't afraid to criticize them. In his testimony he stated, "It is high time that the people of the United States start recognizing this committee for what it is." "The so-called Un-American Committee's, invasion into Puerto Rico, subpoenas and inquisitions, which about two hundred in Puerto Rico have to go through, show the arrogance and the imperialist efforts of Wall Street and Washington D.C." "I will not cooperate with this committee in its aim to destroy the Bill of Rights and other Constitutional rights of the people."
In the later years Jesus Colon would influence many writers and poets; Piri Thomas, Nicholasa Mohr, Sandra Maria Esteves. and Pedro Pietri, to name a few. As Juan Flores, historian/professor/writer would state, "His legacy will continue to guide Puerto Ricans in what promises to be even ominous and trying times ahead. Winston James in his article for the Centro Journal Spring 1996 would add, "Colon should be recognized by all progressive people, especially those of African descent, for the enormous contribution he made trying to make a better world for all of us."
One-hundred years after his birth, Colon's legacy
and his contribution to the Latin-American community lives on through his
writings, speeches, and the work of notable people in the academic world
of Latin America Studies. Acosta-Belen and Korrol, would end, "Colon's
works and assuredly those of other yet undiscovered Puerto Rican men and
women of the early community provide a sense of historical continuity and
cultural legacy for generations to come".
This past Saturday May 11th,
everybody hopefully finished their last minute shopping for that special
day for "Mother's Day." Felix "Tito" Trinidad
went out to deliver his present, to the island of Puerto Rico. As Santos
A. Perez, stated on May 10th in a column for the "The Miami Herald."
"Trinidad rarely bypasses an opportunity to refer to his beloved Puerto
Rico. That day was no exception. Trinidad, was a combination of a
fighting rooster/and M-16 rifle who wouldn't let up for a minute.
KR3T, which stands for KEEP RISING TO THE TOP is a non-profit dance organization based in East Harlem that caters to children and adults of low and middle-income families of New York City. The dance group prides itself as an alternative to the streets, allowing members of the community an opportunity to develop themselves as both dancers and individuals. The dance group has classes in Salsa, Merengue, Hip-Hop, Reggae, Jazz, Old and New School and many more. They're consistently booked for many events, allowing members to perform for a large audience.
Their resume is enough to challenge the Rockettes of Radio City Music Hall and the cheerleaders of the National Football League. Violeta, a KR3T dancer stated, "We have appeared on major commercial and television networks, appeared in several films and music videos as well." They have also been showcased at the famed Apollo Theatre, and almost every year they have participated in the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade, along with the famed "Abrazo Fraternal Del Barrio" (116th Street Festival) in East Harlem.
In addition, they have volunteered their time to help others in need and have even received notice for their work. In 1987, they supported the victims Of Hurricane Hugo in Puerto Rico, and in 1997 they performed at an AIDS Benefit Performance at the Terence Cardinal Cook Hospital. They have received awards such as the "Achievement Recognition Award" from Congressman Charles B. Rangel, a plaque from LaGuardia Corsi House for "Commitment and Dedication to Youth", as well as a trophy from Hostos Community College for "Recognition of Performance and Choreography Work."
That very Sunday, I bumped into Stanley Kaplan and Daniel Watson; both of whom are filmmakers, with cast and crew to shoot a video on KR3T. After a while there, they also participated in the dancing. For Kaplan and the crew it didn't matter, they were enjoying themselves! "Everybody here is great," Kaplan stated. "This is a family!" Watson adds. "Everyone respects each other." Violeta concludes, "Nobody here is the star. We are a team, that's what counts."
Currently, the dance group is trying to find a permanent space. "Right
now we need a building." That's the bad news. However the good news is
that from what has been observed, they will be around for many years to
come. So, before you go to Latin Quarter or the Copacabana, go to a dance
class at KR3T's. ELLOS SON BRAVISMO! Which means they're great!
Before I started to work on this article, I mentioned to my Editor in Chief that I was planning to do an article on Schomburg. She and her whole staff were shocked to find out that this individual was Puerto Rican. "After all this time, I never would have believed he was a Latin American." What's so sad is that to this day, people are not aware that the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture has the largest collection on African-American history and culture in the world.
"We hope that this collection of writings and artifacts will help make known aspects of the African-American history and culture," said Ricardo E. Alegria, a well-known cultural historian of Puerto Rico, "while at the same time achieving the purpose of letting our people become acquainted with his life and his important cultural contribution." Flor Pineiro De Rivera made a great quote from her book on Schomburg, A Puerto Rican Quest for His Black Heritage. "The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, dedicated to his memory in Harlem, honors this individual who devoted his life to the study and documentation of African History. Eventually, Rivera adds "this is a monument not only to African-Americans, but all People of Color. It is an ecumenical palace of humanistic outreach."
Arturo Schomburg was born on January 24, 1874 in Cangrejos, Puerto Rico. While attending school, he experienced the racism that effects all people of color. In one of his classes, students were assigned books on European History, Latin American History, and Caribbean. When, he asked for a book about the history of his own race, he was informed that black history did not exist. Elinor Des Verney Sinnette, writer of the book Schomburg Black, Bibliophile & Collector states "His fifth grade teacher is said to have mentioned that black people had no history, no heroes, no great moments and because of that remark, young Arturo became fired with an ambition to find the evidence of his people's past."
From that day until his death in 1938, he dedicated his life to uncovering and preserving the historical record and contribution of African Americans and African-descended peoples around the world. It is believed that the Schomburg collection consists of close to 10,000 books, manuscripts, newspapers, and other prints. Winston James, who teaches history at Columbia University and wrote a an article in the Centro Bulletin of Spring 1988 added, "It is believed that the value of this collection is just as the value of the New York Public Library." For close to thirty-five years this whole collection led to the making of the Arturo Schomburg Collection for Research in Black Culture, located at the corner of 135th Street and Lenox Avenue.
Besides the library, Schomburg's accomplishments are incredible. In 1892, he was a co-founder and Secretary of Las Dos Antillas, a society of Cuban and Puerto Rican revolutionary nationalists, inspired by Jose Marti. Schomburg was deeply hurt when both Marti and the bronze titan of the Cuban war for freedom Antonio Maceo were both killed in 1895 and 1896. By 1898, Spain had lost the war of 1898 to the United States. Spain would lose Guam, Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico and the major independence groups agreed to dissolve themselves. Schomburg, who was deeply hurt by the surrounding events, decided to focus his attention on the African-American community.
Schomburg became active in almost any cause having to do with African-Americans. Around the same time he was active the Dos Antillas, he joined El Sol de Cuba, a lodge made up of Cuban and Puerto Rican Freemasons in New York City. By 1911, he was Master of the lodge. That same year he changed the name to the Prince Hall of Lodge, in honor of Prince Hall Lodge, the founder of the black freemasonry in America. That same year, according to Winston James's article, Schomburg also became active in creating the Negro Society for Historical Research, in which he would serve as secretary-treasurer, while his friend and mentor John E. Bruce would serve as president.
Around this time, Harlem started to become the cultural center of the world with outstanding creation of works of art, literature, music and theatre. Langston Hughes, one of the great poets of this period, which from the 1900's to the early 1930's was called the Harlem Renaissance, described life in Harlem during that time. "Harlem, like a Picasso painting in his cubic period. Harlem, looking for the Promised Land dressed in rhythmic words." Shomburg's contributions to the Harlem Renaissance were enhanced by the vast network of friends and colleagues who helped him increase his collection and knowledge of Black history. He would also write to newspapers, journal editors, politicians and scholars in the United States. He was not afraid to pull any punches with scholars on how they portrayed blacks in their newspapers, he would also write to publishers about signs of prejudice written in their dictionaries and encyclopedias.
Schomburg's many trips to do research on Black history would take him to the Caribbean, Europe, and various parts of the United States. On one trip to Cuba, he developed a close relationship to Nicolas Guillen, the Afro-Cuban who was to become a major symbol of literature for the next forty years. While there, he met with other artists and promised to champion the island's own rich cultural and intellectual traditions in its African roots.
The second week in the month June, for many Puerto Ricans is a day-long celebration. That week, everybody waits for the big parade and before that day, we dance all day at the 116th Street Festival. About June 10, Bernardo Vega, quoted in his memoirs "That should be day of mourning for Puerto Ricans and people of color everywhere. Many people will say that he distanced himself from the Latin American community." Not true, according to Vega, "He always had a deep love for Puerto Rico."
Prof. Jose Hernandez, of the Black and Puerto Rican Studies Department of Hunter College, said it best: "We in this department owe a lot to this individual. If you had no Schomburg, you have no Dr. Henri Clarke, the first chairperson of this department, and a student of Schomburg."
Marcus Garvey, head of the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association) and a major force during the Harlem Renaissance, said it best. "He lived and his work was a living testimony to an individual who was devoted to a worthy cause." We end by saying, "GRACIAS ARTURO!"
In the words of a dancer/artist who performed with the Alvin Ailey Dance Ensemble, "When you mention the word Harlem it fascinates people." Then again, sometimes you have to wonder about people in the United States. After all, the world knows the history of this proud neighborhood.
I often wonder if anybody ever talks about the Harlem Renaissance, which took place from the 1920's until the early 1930's. Do they even talk about the fact that Adam Clayton Powell Jr., a congressman from Harlem, passed more bills than any other congressman/woman in the history of the United States? The poet Langston Hughes said this about Harlem: "I was in love with Harlem long before I got there." Currently, there is a new renaissance taking place in Harlem. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with literature, music, and art. It's the businesses coming from downtown to uptown.
This past November 10th, 2001, on a day in which the temperature went up to sixty-degrees, I took the M101 bus up to the area between Madison and 7th Avenue on 125th Street, where many of the businesses are located. Among them are Blockbuster Video, which is located between Lenox and Fifth Avenue and Pathmark, located on the corners of Third and Lexington Avenues on 125th Street. In that same area on the corner of Lexington Avenue, across from Pathmark is a Duane Reade Pharmacy/Store.If you keep riding the bus you will see the Starbucks located near the corner of Lenox Avenue. Further up the block you'll see the megastore HMV and you won't fail to notice the Disney Store and The Magic Johnson Theater put there by former basketball star of the Los Angeles Lakers Earvin "Magic" Johnson. Now the question the community would like to know is, "Now that the businesses are coming in, Who's benefiting." Chris Bell, a resident of Harlem stated, "Okay, these companies are coming into East Harlem and Harlem, but is the money going into making more buildings available for the people of Harlem?" Then the next question is, why is there suddenly all this interest in Harlem?
Tekima Berlack, a merchant of Mart 125; Sikhulu
Shange, owner of the Record Shack and Barbara Ann Teer of the National
Black Theatre, appeared in the show, "LIKE IT IS" to discuss this concern.
They all stated, "What is going on here is pure racism. These big
companies are coming with big money. They see the property around the
Apollo Theatre and they see green. They don't want to talk to anyone,
all they want is for us to leave 125th Street." Winston Sweetie, a
resident of Harlem, adds, "What is the purpose of the
Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone! Empowerment for who?"
For one to understand what is going on in Vieques, one should turn the clock back to understand the position of Puerto Ricans on the island fighting for the United States military to leave and for freedom for the island. One should look back at the history of the United States from the days when George Washington was President until now, with George Bush.
Before Washington resigned from the presidency, he stated in his farewell address, "We should stay away from Europe, not concentrate on their wars. We should concentrate on our borders." One hundred years later, other notable individuals were saying very similar things. Years later, around the period of the early 1800's to the 1820's, several countries around the Caribbean and Latin America were winning their independence from countries in Europe (notably France and Spain). In Haiti, Toussaint L 'Ouverture, an escaped Black slave, led an army of slaves against France. The revolt was a success; they would win their independence and most importantly slavery was abolished. In Mexico, Miguel Hidalgo, a radical priest, led close to 80,000 individuals against the Spanish Inquisition in the year 1810 and distributed land to the peasants, and demanded freedom for all slaves. In South America, Simon Bolivar, and Jose De San Martin gathered together an army of workers and slaves to drive the Spanish from the continent of South America.
Bolivar wanted to lead an army to free both Cuba and Puerto Rico, but unfortunately the United States threatened war and Bolivar was forced to back down. Bolivar stated, "This country seems destined to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." It was around that time the United States issued a document that would manifest U.S. imperialism in the years to come. In 1823, the fifth President of the United States James Monroe declared Latin America a United States territory. The Monroe Doctrine was put together right around the time countries in Latin America and the Caribbean were winning their freedom from European nations, who were feeling the effects of war during the Napoleonic War period. This document declared, "Any attack in this area, is an attack on the United States." As Ana Lopez, Historian/professor from City University points out in her book The History of Puerto Rico Series In a Nutshell,"The U.S. wanted to be the only ones to exploit Latin America with no competition from the European nations." She goes on to add, "With this document the U.S. would expand its might to occupy militarily!" Here are some of the invasions the United States have performed:
1816-18, Spanish Florida: First Seminole War whose area was a resort for escaped slaves was attacked by U.S. troops under Andrew Jackson. Spanish posts were attacked, and later occupied, British citizens executed. No declaration or congressional approval was ever authorized.
1846-48, Mexico: The Mexican War, President Polk's occupation of disputed territory precipitated it. War was formally declared.
May 1916-September 1924: U.S. Marines occupied the Dominican Republic to maintain order during a period of insurrection.
Eventually, the subject of Puerto Rico came up, for which the United States had on its mind for nearly thirty-years. In 1867, U.S. Secretary of State Steward stated, "The United States has consistently cherished the belief that someday she can acquire this area by just cause." Thirty-one years later, the Spanish-American War was to take place and then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, who made a name for himself (as an opportunist some might say) during the war by leading the Rough Riders stated, "Do not make peace until we have Puerto Rico." Around this period on May 24th of 1898, U.S. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge in a written memo to Roosevelt, said "Puerto Rico is not forgotten and we mean to have it." On July 25th 1898, the United States invaded Puerto Rico on the port of Guanica Bay.
General Nelson Miles, who led the invasion on the island, (who, by the way led massacre of 300 Native Americans at Wounded Knee in 1890) stated "We have not come to make war upon the people of a country that for centuries has been oppressed, but on the contrary, to bring you protection." MENTIRA! which in English means Lie.
The protection was for the interest of the United States in the area of the Caribbean and Latin America.
1898 to 1917 was a key period for the United States; Theodore Roosevelt, who was the president from 1901 to 1909 stated, "We can sit quietly on our borders." This was the era of "Walk Quietly and Carry a Big Stick" policy. Also during this time, the United States issued in Cuba the Platt Amendment, which gave the United States the right to control Cuban foreign policy and intervene militarily to regulate the activities of the Cuban government. In 1903, the construction of the Panama Canal would go along and finally on the year 1917 the Jones Act was passed, which imposed U.S. citizenship on the people of Puerto Rico. Ironically, Puerto Ricans did not take part in the passing of this bill.
Many would ask how did all of this lead to Vieques; it leads to it in many ways. As Ana Lopez states again in her book, "They considered that the Panama Canal needed to be protected from potential foreign attacks, particularly from Europe. This meant increasing the might of the U.S. Navy to set up key military bases in the Caribbean and Latin America." The key place was obviously the island of Puerto Rico and the island of Vieques.
In the book Colonial Dilemma (a must buy) edited by the brothers Edwin and Edgardo Melendez, in an article by Humberto Garcia Muniz, he stated "Vieques has played a major role in U.S. interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean." Case in point: Dominican Republic 1965, Grenada 1983; in the article by Muniz, it concludes that the rehearsal for "the invasion of Grenada, took place in Vieques (code-named Universal Trek I-83), and finally the invasion of Panama in 1989." Currently, the U.S. Navy controls between 70 to 80% of the land in Vieques, bombing practices go on almost everyday. In a video called Puerto Rico: Hidden Colony, Hidden Struggle, Carlos Taso Zenon, a resident of Vieques who has been active in the struggle for Vieques says, "This is the only place in the whole world in which WW II has never ended. The bombing goes on from 7:00 in the morning sometimes until 7:00 the next day. It's an outrage." The military presence there is not the only problem there. There's also problem of health, and then the desruction fishing industry.
In other powerful video called The Battle for Vieques, fishermen state the problems they've had with the military. "It's frightening, they do this all-year around." Other fisherman stated, "In areas where we often fish there are times we are scared to fish in that area, due to the fact that we might accidentally hit a piece of metal or sharp objects left from the bombing exercises. The Navy hardly never cleans-up after themselves."
"The are times we just have no place to fish in Vieques, the U.S. military is everywhere."
The health problems have been growing in Vieques. In a serious of articles put together by The Amsterdam News, cancer and asthma is the rise in Vieques.
In the articles by Karen Juanita Carrillo and John Price, they interviewed Dr. Rafael Castano, an epidemiologist and a retired professor from the University of Puerto Rico who stated, "The probable cause of the prevalence of asthma among children living on the island is air pollution. We don't have factories-the primary source of pollution is the U.S. Navy." Laura Carreras, supports that claim. "Right after the bombings a lot of people, especially children are wheezing and coughing from asthma. Many people also have "red-eye" after the bombing." Francisco "Pache" Pimentel has a story to tell; according to the articles, Pache has lost up to seven friends to cancer since 1996. He blames the Navy for these deaths. "Every bomb that falls on our island, the dust will come up and the winds blow them east and west across the island. It is poisoning our people." The northern town of Isabel Segunda, according to Pache is often called "Villa Cancer" (Cancer Village) due to the fact that it's so close to the Navy's Camp Garcia.
The Vieques movement has gotten a lot of support. Puerto Rican baseball stars Juan Gonzalez of the Cleveland Indians, Ivan Rodriguez of the Texas Rangers, Singer Marc Anthony, and boxer Felix "Tito" Trinidad, have supported the Vieques movement and demanded that the bombing be stopped. Currently you have to ask yourself, does the United States have any respect for territory? What's going on here is without question is a form of terrorism. Then again when this country does it, it's democracy! If groups like the Young Lords or the Macheteros fight back, they are terrorist.
Hey, compare these two with what the U.S. has in Puerto
Rico; the world knows who's the bad guy.
PIRI THOMAS, PEDRO PIETRI, AND SANDRA MARIA ESTEVES, what do they have in common besides being Latin American, being poets and activists. They were all inspired by one person her name was JULIA DE BURGOS. There's not a poet or writer in the New York City scene that's never heard of Julia De Burgos.
While at the university, she joined the
Puerto Rican Nationalist Party in their fight for freedom and political
independence for the island. It was here where she would express herself
politically through her poetry. At the same time she was able to graduate,
with a teaching degree from the university. In 1937, she published her
first verse entitled "Poemas Exactos a mi Misma" (Poems Exactly True to
Myself). The following year she published "Poemas en Veinte Surcos" (Poems
in Twenty Furrows). Then in the year 1939, The institute of Puerto Rican
Literature honored her with an award for her third book, titled "Canciones de
la Verdad Sencilla" (Songs of the Simple Truth). Her poem "Rio Grande de
Loiza" is identified with the River of Puerto Rico. Like her poetry,
aggressive and virile. It was stated "In times of unrest, her poetry would
be the poetry of the people."
Ramon Emeterio Betances was born in the town of Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico in
April 8, 1827 the sixth son of a well to do couple. Whom themselves owned
slaves. From the he began to walk he was consumed with books at the same
time he would join the Freemasons. Betances would study in France, and
like another famed Latin liberator Simon Bolivar, he became inspired by
the ideals of the French Revolution. It was there that he would write
theatrical pieces, poems, novels, and articles, all in French, which
earned him a great deal of respect in the literature and scientific
community. Betances would return to Puerto Rico in the year 1855, as a
doctor would establish himself as a person for the poor. It was around
this time he would met Segundo Ruiz Belvis, a lawyer who along with his
help, they were able to buy the freedom of slaver children. At the same
time Puerto Rico would be hit by a cholera epidemic that would take the
lives of nearly 30,000 people. Betances who was a man of action, would
take immediate action, he would work day and night taking care of the
poor. He developed an usual way of using new hygienic, prophylactic, and
therapeutic methods with which he would save many lives. He would win the
respect of the people, and the laborers and peasants started calling him
“Father of the poor.” The Spanish government wanted to honor him for his
outstanding service, but he refused the honors that were to be given to
him. He stated, “I will not accept honor, from those who are oppressing
In exile Betances and the patriots decided on September 29, 1868 the Feast
Day of Saint Michael. Eventually, they were forced to act. One of the
leaders, Manuel Gonzales was arrested on a tip by a police informer. The
police then searched Gonzales’s house and found the plans for the revolt.
The message was then send to the Spanish authorities to stop the crew that
Betances had organized in the Dominican Republic was stopped in the
harbor, and the Betances crew was held prisoner. So on September 23, 1868
the revolt (El Grito De
Lares) started, but was put down in less than five days. Many leaders
were executed, and some were put in prison. Betances was deeply saddened
by the military defeat at Lares. He would later return to France where he
was treated with royalty, and in 1887 he was awarded the Legion of Honor
by the President of the Republic. Despite the fact he was the Minister
Plenipotentiary in France for the Dominican Republic, a country of which
he was made a citizen. At one point he was asked to run for president of
the Dominican Republic. Betances turned it down. Despite the offers he
turned down he continued to work as a doctor.