Worth Her Weight in Gold. Her as in Boricua, Olympic Gold Medalist Monica Puig. Her as in this goddess land of Borikén. This title, an expression dating back to roman times, used for centuries by the British, known to me as the title of a song by the reggae band, Steel Pulse. Last night as I closed my eyes, head on the pillow, it all came to me, this song; this repatriation theme of mine and African peoples globally; this Olympic gold medalist with an historic win for an historic colony; this historic win for the ancestors of this land, both African and Indigenous, the latter marking their leaders with another gold medallion, the guanin. The guanin (a gold and copper alloy medallion) hung over the hearts of caciques. These caciques were not only entrusted with the leadership of their community but with the spiritual guidance of their people, as intermediaries between their communities and the cemies, their sacred spirits.
You might think, this just went from Rio to Puerto Rico to Jamaica, to England to Africa and back to the Antilles. Yes, all over the place. The whole nature of this blog is all over the place. I speak of repatriation, having moved to Borikén as a boricua born in Brooklyn. My parents were both born in Ponce. My mother’s last names, Balestier and Quirindongo, hail from the French Caribbean and Curacao. My ancestors were Indigenous, African and European. My mother was taken to East Harlem when she was just 1 year old. My father left Ponce to Brooklyn on his own when he was 16. I was born to them in Brooklyn. I identify most with boricua and African-American culture.
I write of this repatriation experience in English, the language I was educated in and socialized with since the age of 5. I write in English so that most in the Diaspora, diasporan-ricans and non-boricuas alike, may understand and connect with the experiences I share here. English is the language I was raised with in New York. English is the language imposed on Puerto Rico by its colonizer, the United States. English is the language of the conquerors that stole the Eastern seaboard from its First Nation people, y siguieron conquistando por ahi p’abajo. I may be judged for not writing in Spanish, the language of other conquerors who stole this island, Borikén, from its original people.
This story of mine, this story of my people and our homeland is not a story of my people and our homeland. It is a story of humanity and its global condition. It is a story of immortal spirit travelers who land here in different areas of the globe, in different territories, speak different tongues, carry different levels of melanin, whose hair either spirals or coils or waves or lies still. No matter our human space suit, we spirits are all entrusted with the task of bringing about peace and elevating ourselves, humanity, the world. Some of us fail in this task. Others know it to be our life’s mission and work on it deliberately, passionately incessantly, no matter where we land. So expect my Brooklyn to Borikén story to travel all over the place. It would not be authentic any other way. Here I shall connect people and places, “tings and times” to things they may never thought to connect their own selves to.
Marcus say, Sir Marcus say
Red for the blood that flowed like the river
Marcus say, Sir Marcus say
Green for the land Africa
Yellow for the gold that they stole
Sir Marcus say
Black for the people it was looted from…
Right now man say repatriate, repatriate
I and I patience has now long time gone.
-from “Worth his weight in gold” by Steel Pulse.
These words to this song, in the years leading up to my departure from NYC, were my mantra. The signaling of a call home. The call to formalize and elevate a loyal commitment to the land of my ancestors. Perhaps Monica Puig experienced a similar call in choosing the boricua flag for the Olympics. This song, its message, didn’t take me back to Africa but to the island many Africans had been forcibly taken to. The island of my ancestors. It echoed the call I had heard all of my adult years. Repatriate. My patience has long time gone. Leave this place. Go. Go home. The home you’ve never fully known.
Through reggae, through messages passed from the Rastafarian faith, through the teachings of Marcus Garvey, I was able to make connections to my own colonial condition, twice colonized, twice removed from the motherland of Africa. Twice enslaved were my ancestors, my African ancestors and my indigenous ancestors of Borikén. A man rooted in these same two Diasporas from Borikén’s sister island of Xamayca (Jamaica) further connected me and so many others to our reality.
Garvey supported the creation of a black economy to foster self-sufficiency and sustainability. These were the precursors to liberation and a repatriation to the motherland. I made the backwards swim upstream to my parent’s homeland at a time when the colonial crisis, manifesting financially sends people back to the metropolitan government to earn a living. Earning a living in the states, it is wonderful to have stability but what can be said about sustaining the colonizer’s economy while the homeland’s economy drowns in the tumultuous sea of colonial dependency?
Many boricuas living stateside are responding to a call from this land to rise in her name. To elevate Borikén to what it once was and step out of the shadow of economic ruin and dependency that we have been regulated to by the US and colonial corporate media. And so here we have Florida resident, (Bimini in the Arawak of our ancestors who hung out up there too), Monica Puig with a choice. As a Boricua she can choose to compete in the Olympics under the US flag or under Puerto Rico’s flag. This has been done before. Others have won gold medals before, for the US. Puig chose Borikén.
You might wonder why this game, this medal is such a big deal. Why is this a big deal like our flag flown on fifth for the NYC parade each June. Or why I would bring conquest, colonialism and even black nationalism into this dialogue. Puerto Rico has been competing in the Olympics since 1948. But earlier that year, la ley 53, la ley de la mordaza or the “Gag Law” was passed. With this law thousands of Boricuas were arrested for merely expressing any nationalist sentiments or patriotic pride. No one could wave the Puerto Rican flag because it was illegal. We had a national hymn, a revolutionary one, but no one could sing it. English was imposed in schools and in the courts. In essence, at a time in which the US rendered Puerto Rico paralyzed and invisible, the Olympics have been the only international arena to allow Puerto Rico any global presence.
Monica Puig, made a conscious decision to represent her birthplace of Puerto Rico. She won the gold in the name of Borikén, bringing our flag and our national hymn la Borinqueña to the world stage for the first time ever. Visions of another gold medallion-wielding woman dance in my head. Anacaona (Golden Flower), a young cacique from our neighboring Aytí (Haiti) remaining loyal to her people and refusing to give them up to the Spanish was executed for her bravery and dignity. Insisting to compete under her own flag, Puig, arrived in Rio ranking 34th in the world, slayed her way to the top, reclaiming the guanin for Anacaona, for Agueybana, for Urayoan, for all our ancestors and for Borikén, still occupied by a foreign power.
Puig has brought much inspiration and drive to her homeland, whose blatant colonial status made headlines this summer with the imposition of a financial oversight board by the US, the threat of toxic fumigation, corporate toxic ash dumping and a political prisoner held 35 years, the longest in a centuries-long trajectory of Puerto Rican political prisoners held by the US. Borikén, worth its weight in gold, has the natural right to not only compete but exist on a global scale, visible to all, eclipsed by no one’s tyrannical shadow, subjected to no foreign-imposed illegal colonial laws.
I have no idea what the political views of the Puig family are but I know this: our ancestors, their legacies, the justice and dignity of humanity are not to be made a mockery of. When they are, love and light will strike in the most unexpected places to reveal necessary truths. Within these truths there are no coincidences. It is no coincidence that the Olympic national hymns are instrumental. The world could not hear that the US and the colonial Free Associated State government of 1952 changed the words of Lola Rodriguez de Tío’s original, revolutionary anthem, La Borinqueña. No, after littering Borikén with a frighteningly large monument of Columbus, rejected by various lands before landing on this one, it is no coincidence that the globe did not get to hear the lyrics of that 1952 version singing about Columbus arriving here and what he thought. It was no coincidence that when the instrumental version began playing and I listened in, my mind sang the revolutionary Borinqueña and I just had to open my mouth and let it rip! And no, it’s no coincidence that after her win, the flag draped around her shoulders and held high into the sky, did not bear Old Glory’s Navy Blue, nor did it bear a slightly lighter royal blue most recently approved by the government. Her flag displayed a sky blue triangle. The flag carried by those who fight for her liberation. Sky blue as in our original flag, our star, our sun, sitting bright in the sky. The same vision that inspired two revolutionary flags, designed together in solidarity in New York City in the 1890s by the Cuban Revolutionary Party and the Puerto Rican wing of said party. The meeting in which a fellow transient Harlemite, like Garvey, Puerto Rico and St. Croix’s own Arturo Schomburg was present: two advocates for freedom and dignity for African and colonized peoples everywhere and two lovers of liberation. Liberation, a natural right, coming to light. After half a century of illegality, our original flag, in its original colors and our hymn were brought before the world stage. We stood as our ancestors did. Guanin on chest. Caciques. Warriors. Boricuas. Borikén (land of the brave lord). We stood as champions. We stood independently.
As most of this is dictated to me by my ancestors, last night on my pillow, I was also given the quote to end this post. So I leave you with the words of Puerto Rican Nationalist poet Julia de Burgos, in honor of her poetry and warrior legacy and in celebration of our gold medalist cacique Monica Puig:
Cuando las multitudes corran alborotadas
dejando atrás cenizas de injusticias quemadas,
y cuando con la tea de las siete virtudes,
tras los siete pecados, corran las multitudes,
contra ti, y contra todo lo injusto y lo inhumano,
Yo iré entre ellos con la tea en la mano.
(When the multitudes run rampaging
leaving behind ashes of burned injustices,
and when, with the torch of the seven virtues,
the multitudes run after the seven sins,
against you and against everything unjust and inhumane,
I will go among them, torch in hand.)