The month of July flew by after opening with a new moon, a lunar eclipse and mercury going retrograde. With these arrived an upper respiratory infection that forced me to slow down and stay quiet. Silence and stillness are not situations I easily settle into, unless I determine they are necessary and choose them for myself. When forced upon me by some other circumstance, it usually reveals itself as something spiritual—something is stirring for which I must rest, prepare, focus, strategize.
Mid-month brought the death of one of our freedom fighters/ recently released political prisoner Avelino González Claudio, a full moon, a solar eclipse, a revolution.
My mother arrived in Aguadilla before the full moon, on a plane from New York, carrying Colombian food in her maleta. Chorizo, arepas, empanadas, pan de bono, love packages for her son-in-law who proclaimed his happiness while stuffing the familiar flavors into his mouth. We feasted. I added Colombian-style huevos en cacerola and a sliced, ripened papaya from our tree, like the breakfasts we had in Bogotá and Cali.
Prior to mom’s arrival I had celebrated the arrest of Keleher, frustrated by her dismantling of Puerto Rico’s education system. This woman, who descended on this land from elsewhere, wanting to impose etiquette classes on our youth, canceling Puerto Rican history classes and straight shutting down almost 500 public schools. They said the closures were necessary because of declining registration, too many families leaving. Never in their money laundering was there ever a plan devised to help retain families. Never has a government seemed so completely unfazed by a severe decline in population. Only a government in cohorts with a colonial depopulation plan to make it more desirable to the empire, only individuals joking about the future of Puerto Rico without Puerto Ricans could be so callous and self-deprecating.
There could be nothing honest about a person who plays with the lives and the future of children. Children who had relied on those schools post-hurricanes for the amenities they may have lost at home. Like a roof over their heads, warm meals or in some cases light and running water. My own children returned to school to running water, electricity and AC while their dad and I squeezed two little tables by the refrigerator at home to work on our computers off one single power strip connected to an extension that our neighbors ran to us from their generator. That generator was on just one hour during daylight. Wherever we were (usually washing clothes by hand in the rain or collecting rainwater) we had to stop all and run to work once it went on. It wouldn’t be on again until dinnertime when we were busy cooking and washing up the boys. School was a perfect opportunity to offer services, resources for working through post-hurricanes post traumatic stress. For the corrupt members of government, public school was a money-making venture with Keleher’s salary at over 10 times that of teachers, and contracts they could hustle out to their rich friends. Poor children didn’t factor in.
I didn’t have the same response when the FBI came after other corrupt politicians. Spending my adult years examining the history of Puerto Rico and US colonialism in Puerto Rico, I do not celebrate any US federal presence in Puerto Rico, especially when it is to impose some sort of “justice” as they say, justice even though colonial laws continue to be anything but just. Justice even though empires and colonialism died with the old millennium, but they insist on dragging its smelly carcass into the new millennium.
So my moms arrived by dawn and that afternoon the crowds gathered outside La Fortaleza, chanting for the governor to step down. They arrived organically the way school kids gravitate towards a fight when someone cracks a joke about somebody’s momma. The governor’s cyber chatter had broken the colonial camel’s back with his privileged, preppy schoolboy bochinche confirming all we already knew. Years of disrespect, neglect, suffering, PTSD, corruption and austerity left the people with nothing to lose.
The night ended with police throwing tear-gas and pepper spray at the people. My mom and children saw it on TV the next morning. A brother we know was beaten by the cops and arrested. A video captured it, bloodstains on the sidewalk and all. Though enraging, this is not an uncommon sight in Puerto Rico. We have been seeing this for years, at campus takeovers protesting severe budget cuts and austerity, at May Day manifestations protesting the colonial junta that prioritizes the greed of vulture bond holders over the needs of the people. We even had Nina Droz Franco added to the long list of political prisoners held by the US over the last century. She was arrested two years ago at the May Day manifestations in protest of the odious debt. She is still being held in federal prison in Tallahassee two years later, while all these corrupt fools continued in office, selling off Puerto Rico and its people. For over a century, when the people speak against government corruption, abuse from the colonizer, they are met with police repression. They are pepper sprayed, tear-gassed, beaten with batons, arrested. Our freedom fighters imprisoned, tortured assassinated, or more recently, pulled over on the side of the road by the feds for a sample of their DNA.
These protests are not merely a cheerful party. They are the beautiful spark of light that occurs when a people collectively assert their existence, their right to survival and thrival. When a people demand their right to just treatment, to dignity and integrity. This spark however is more of a supernova in the uprising of a people historically conditioned and miseducated to be docile, obedient, colonial subjects. Colonial subjects so obedient to their oppressor that they engage in horrid acts of self-loath like withholding life-saving rations from the people and disregarding and even mocking their dead while providing favors and services to the colonizer in the hopes of being admitted to their country as the 51st state. This was the governor and his entourage, but Boricuas en masse grew tired of his colonial ass-kissing and his insulting our integrity as a people.
Rematriating and connecting to this land, I learned that exerting force is how humans unleash our insecurity onto the world, wanting to control all to appease our fears. The chaos of nature on the other hand is the triumph of pulsing to the rhythm of the universe. What we call chaos, is divinely orchestrated, intricate, complex. It is the perfection that unfolds when we relinquish control and trust that something greater than what we imagine will manifest. It is the fearlessness that takes hold when refuse to remain obedient to oppressive forces, choosing instead to love ourselves and each other fiercely.
We had agreed as a family that mom would stay with the boys one day so we two could have a date in celebration of our wedding anniversary. We hadn’t planned it, but on Colombian Independence Day, July 20th, we decided to have our date at la Fortaleza. We arrived wielding weapons, the same cacerolita where we make our Colombian-style eggs, la tapita and two cucharas tucked into my bag. He grabbed a rattling weaved mochila before we left the house. “What do you have in there?” I asked.
We arrived at el cacerolazo. People independently banged all sorts of beats on their pots. Some used large spoons, others had metal spatulas. One man had a metal ice scream scoop which added a nice steel drum pitch to his sound. Others just clanked away furiously in colonial catharsis. There was no organization or form to the gathering. Just a bunch of molecules all on the same decolonial vibration having gravitated towards one another. There was an unmistakable beauty to the scene. The ocean breeze blowing through the streets. The sun, sinking lower in the sky, shot golden rays that lit up our flags. A little boy was standing on the police barricade, back to the cops, banging his pot with a spoon over the crowd. Two sisters were standing there too offering each chanted consignas in sign language. This was the infamous corner of colonial streets, “La Calle de los Corruptos” the street sign now read, where the police hurled canisters of tear gas over the barricades and fearless protesters picked them up, still smoking, and hurled them back. You wonder how you arrived there after all you saw, all that happened, then throw your head back, smile to the sun, chant to the sky, bang on a pan.
I needed to be there, feel the energy of what was happening penetrate my skin, reverberate off my bones. Perhaps it happened briefly, see, my spirit mostly hovered above my body, watching all from above. There was something in the moment that split me, disjointed me. This wasn’t just a clash between the people and the colonial government and its puppet police. This was some universal pulse, some cosmic current in the space between two eclipses. I ascended in some sun ray. From there I watched as he banged his little Colombian cacerola that we purchased in Jackson Heights, Queens, against the centuries-old brick of a colonial wall erected by another empire. I watched that Viejo San Juan blue cobblestone corner pulsate, radiate, reveal itself not as a clash of government/police/ people but as the cosmic clash of two empires collapsing. One had already collapsed, the other was on its way. From that misty, ephemeral place, I watched him put down the cacerola and bust out the big guns, two huge totumas/ Colombian gourd maracas. Their loud sound reverberating through time and space inserting the liberationist legacy of Bolívar into this gathering. I watched as pleneros and a trumpeter took hold of the crowd turning the cosmic cacerolazo into a comparsa. The sun beam told me there was nothing I could do or had to do. It would go down whether I was or wasn’t there, whether you were or weren’t there, whether people wanted or didn’t want it. This was bigger than us. Bigger than the leaders who cursed the world for not being able to take credit for this. This was moving and nothing could or would stop it.
Every. Empire. Must. Fall.
Ricky had us glued to the television since early morning for an announcement he said he would make that seemed to never come. As the evening approached, I felt enslaved by the media. El perreo combativo was about to begin. The most militant Riot Squad marched in line formation into the yard of La Fortaleza. I feared for the protesters. I thought it would be a retaliation, a trap set to a Boricua trap soundtrack.
My stomach turned. I became nauseous. Something terrible was sure to happen. I thought back to my 7-year old earlier that afternoon. Watching the scene on TV, he asked if that corner with the colonial buildings on La Fortaleza y la calle de “los corruptos” was the same scene depicted in my painting of The Ponce Massacre. I did not want to admit that I had thought the same thing when I stood at that very corner. But an innocent confusion of two sites, two moments in Puerto Rican history resonated. What if he had seen something that would soon take place, this little rainbow baby, crystal child? What if the scene of the Ponce Massacre of 1937 where 21 had died, 200 had been wounded would soon repeat itself? I wanted to throw up. Held hostage by a day of sitting in front of news reports, feeling overlooked and disregarded together with the press, waiting hours for Ricky to appear. I tried to unplug but couldn’t. It would soon be 11PM. The wannabe fascist paramilitary pigs would soon announce the suspension of the colonial constitution before launching Safariland tear gas canisters at the protesters like colonial hunters.
Somehow I fell asleep. Ten minutes later I woke up from a cough fit that attacked my still-healing throat. I was coughing and coughing, half asleep, trying to breathe in between, when the bedroom door flew open. “Do you hear the fireworks?” he asked. I managed to stop coughing enough to listen. Fireworks, just like New Year’s Eve in Moca.
I put on the news on my phone to see celebrating protesters. It was after 11pm and the gum ball machine constitution that could be packaged into a plastic bubble, tucked away or vended, chewed up and spit out had somehow not been arbitrarily suspended. No tear gas was flying. Just fireworks and people cheering.
Humility is seeing the beauty in being proved wrong. No gasses. No massacre. The people’s demand was met. He announced his resignation, albeit just as crass as all that led up to this mess. But it happened. And Moca, the most conservative of towns, hometown of the family of the dethroned governor’s wife, town where only US flags used to wave, blasted fireworks like a New Year, “a new dawn, a new day.”
I texted mami across the hall. She came into the bedroom where we both lamented having sat before the TV almost 12 hours waiting for a moment that came only when we both went to our rooms. Mami wishfully pronounced, “but there should be reruns of it tomorrow!”
No! I screamed.
Gil Scot Heron said: “The revolution will be no re-run brothers, the revolution will be live.”
But the whole damn thing had been televised and nothing was recognizable anymore. Nothing made sense and everything made perfect sense at the same time.
The next morning I woke up to images of someone in a bikini with a Puerto Rican flag wedgie perreando on the steps of the cathedral and an article about how Warren Safariland Kanders had resigned from the board of the Whitney Museum. How many times do Whitney Biennial artists get tear gassed by chemicals weapons created by companies of museum board members? Ok, maybe just this one time. But it happened. And Nibia Pastrana Santiago lived to tell and she told. This is the kind of epic shit that only eclipses and cosmic currents bring.
The revolution went down and is going down. The best part (or worst for some) is that none of us who dreamed about it or worked towards it for decades can take credit. That’s the beauty. Liberation is a practice and a praxis. You don’t vote for it. No empire can grant it. There is no trophy or prize that you get to cash in on in the end. There’s not even an end. Just a beginning and the process. Many don’t even know it’s just begun. No one instigated it, no one planned it. No leaders rose to make this happen. But many had long been cosmically in place to help steer it, while others were not-so-randomly placed there last minute. All, however, are integral parts to its whole.
It organically manifested from decades, centuries even, of injustice gone rancid. This kind of corruption stems from a deep-rooted pathology of insecurity and self-loathe. One that can only be bred by the inferiority complex genetically passed down generations of the colonized. A self-loathe that would have you hating, ridiculing and chastising your own people while simultaneously emulating and appeasing your oppressor that you long to be a part of. These individuals have somehow functioned all these years on elite privilege alone. They continue their ridiculous disregard for the people because they have never had to be accountable to anything or anyone and do not even know what that is. They attempt to substitute the corrupt governor, with a politician of similar corrupt pedigree, who has direct ties to the colonial junta. Is this their version of going down swinging? They know their days are numbered. It’s why they needed troll accounts to boost their ratings, to hack and hashtag their way to credibility.
It is a thing of eclipses, bringing your shadow side to light to fix it, heal it. It all went down in this place of giants gaps between the tiny elite and the countless poor. Where homophobia, transphobia run rampant. And the resounding images of the mass mobilizations were of thousands of urban young people straddling their motorcycles, parading from one project housing complex to another before riding to the governor’s mansion; a pop star atop a truck, waving a giant rainbow flag; and an obscenely popular trap artist who paints his long nails bright yellow and wears bunny costumes. Not even Bad Bunny’s third Ojo could have predicted the fabulousness of all of this.
As for the young people who returned each night and stayed to face the police, they have long been in training. The state trained them each time it launched tear gas and pepper spray into the campus protests, into May Day mobilizations. They came armed with Seattle solution which they used to wash the chemicals off their faces and off the faces of their compatriotas who came to mobilize. They lost fear of smoking canisters and hurled them back at the riot squad. They banged pots in their militarized faces hidden behind shields and gas masks. They patiently, compassionately faced the police and spoke to them of all the ways austerity threatened them too, their salaries, their unsecured pensions. They arrived home with bleeding skin ulcers from rubber bullets then returned the next day to do it all again. And the media describes it as one big party. Maybe lives weren’t lost in these weeks, but not because it was a fucking party. Perhaps cosmically our lives were spared this time because we had lost enough lives post hurricanes, not from a climate disaster but from the ineptitude of a colonial government and an oppressive empire never designed to extend compassion and real relief.
The people have seen their capacity to survive, their capacity for resilience. They have seen the power that resides within and the potential of combining this power with that of others. They are the fireflies lighting up the black night of political apagones. They radiate their own light. They generate their own source of power. As corrupt governments and empires fall, a *CucubaNación rises.
*Cucubanos are a species of click-beetles, fireflies, native to Borikén. They, and the more common luciernagas/ cucuyos are the inspiration behind my post-2017 hurricanes project CucubaNación.
–Yasmin Hernández is a Brooklyn born and raised artist and writer who rematriated to her parents birthplace of Borikén in 2014, where she has been ever since. Her art is centered on love and liberation practices, especially those concerning Puerto Rico. She shares her art at www.yasminhernandezart.com and her rematriation chronicles at rematriatingboriken.com .