2020 is vying for position to be that year that eclipses all. To say it, 2020, is surreal in and of itself. For all who “partied like it’s 1999”, to all who stocked up like we do for hurricanes in preparation for the eve of Y2K, to all who fantasized or feared a 2001 space odyssey, the future is here and it’s fucking scary. Cataclysms abound with climate disaster, political disasters, pandemics, and an obscene number of losses across the planet. What we have lived, survived, resisted, birthed anew, seems to fade from collective memory as societies slip into survival mode. They slip and panic at the taste of life lived by the countless people society regulates to survival mode always.
On this rematriation anniversary, I assert our right to memory, to the reviving, preserving and lifting of our legacies. To not allow the reality of these times to cloud the context of all we have lived, survived. These are crucial to understanding and arriving at what we are needing to thrive. These times come as ferocious lessons, demanding a collective reset. As so many die, I can only think of why those of us who survive, survive. The impossibilities of what to tell your children. But I tell them how brave they are, how brave we must all be to have chosen to come here in these times and how we have come to contribute to a necessary shift. We are here because we have a mission left to fulfill.
This is how I have chosen to live. Flowing with guidance steering me forward in that mission.
515 was the first three digits of my brother’s telephone number. Numbers I would see everywhere in the months leading to my departure from NYC. When time came to book that one-way ticket, 515 was the number, the date that rang in my head. We booked four one-way tickets to Borikén for May 15, 2014.
A year prior, I had been walking up the shore of Sombé in Vieques, tears streaming because the pain of having to leave was manifesting physically. She would not let me leave. But I had escaped for a few days with my babies back in NYC. So, I made a pact with her sky, her sun, Caribbean crystal waters as my witness. Let me leave. Give me the strength to leave as I must, and when I return it will be with a one-way ticket.
Who did I think I was?! I had a husband and two baby boys back in Queens, New York. Had I consulted with them? Where would we live? How would we fund this? Would my Queens-born Colombian husband want this? I didn’t know. But it was what I felt.
I began the journey back home to NYC. Flew from Vieques to Isla Grande airport where artist/ musician friend Diego Romero picked me up to give me a ride to the international airport but first stopped by a poetry reading on a Santurce rooftop. There a Ponce postpartum mother professed her commitment to poetry. There, the host’s son, the same age as my own first-born, opened the show, red cape, and all, with several magic tricks.
It was a world I hadn’t known in New York, where I had spent the past three years grieving my brother and a miscarriage. Where I had ceased being fun enough for art soirees and unavailable to a movement that was not widely available to me in my grief. I had become that too intense bitch, that brought every conversation down to matters of life and of death. But Bieké for years had been the place that vibrated with the profound pain, struggle, spirit, and beauty that I was needing. And there on that Santurce rooftop, under a blanket of Borikén humidity, what reigned were mothers and their babies, art, music, and poetry. This was life! After singing a few songs with his guitar under the stars, Diego drove me to the International airport, unaware of how this stop en route to the airport helped cement the pact I made on a Vieques beach that day in early May, 2013.
Within weeks I raised the question. What if we bought a little casita in Vieques, escaped there several times a year? Then: what if we move to Isla Grande? Where would we go? Should we do this? They say if you put out your intention the universe will conspire to meet you where you’re at. Conspire it did cause shit in NY started to go to hell beyond what it already was. The NYC walls were closing in all around us, ready to squeeze us out.
So, we packed our stuff, and a year and a week after I had made my pact, we boarded a plane to Aguadilla on May 15, 2014. Aguadilla, opposite the corner that could get us to Vieques. A corner far from Ponce, birthplace of my parents. Another story for another time.
I wish I could say we moved to Puerto Rico to a life of peace, of sun and sea. Of ancestral healing, rooting, grounding, expansion, ascension. Well we did actually. But our 6 years here gave us a lot more: tornadoes, earthquakes, termite swarms, breakdowns, ruptures, losses, financial crisis, education crisis, unemployment, heart palpitations, anxiety, colonial oversight board, austerity measures, serial brown outs, national black out, droughts, another political prisoner locked up and the release of another, destructive hurricanes, 4,645 dead, the loss of thousands more to migration, 2 months without running water, 4 and a half months without electricity, six months without TV/ Internet, continued colonialism and political corruption, the summer of 2019 and an ousted governor, the return of another political prisoner, earthquakes to our northwest, earthquakes to our southeast, earthquake swarm, thousands displaced and homeless, the loss of more schools, loss of classes, the fall of a national hero, the pandemic and quarantine.
The universe conspired alright. I wanted intense, contemplating the axis of life and death. Rematriation gave me life on the edge. The edge between darkness and light. Life in the vortex of hurricane winds spiraling in then back out again. Life on the precipice of undersea trenches whose depths follow the fault lines of trembling earth. Energy rippling out in waves that pulsate beneath your feet. This land has stripped me of all, down to my essence. Provides me with just enough of what I am needing to keep me going. Has taught me self-reliance and the generosity that comes from the pure abundance of the earth. She listens to my complaints and fears then explodes a bomb of said fear in my face. She smoothly steps aside to watch me wiggle my way out, crawl my way through to see if I have successfully used her tools. When I emerge, she points to where I may harvest the medicine to handle my own healing.
I’ve long been in quarantine. She’s had me pledging. Six years of social probation, social distancing. A years-long initiation, up here on this hill, face to face with arriving rains, raging winds and rainbows. Living in isolation on a hill with valley, trees, and an occasional cow behind me. Far from the opportunities I thought I was seeking. Cycling through darkness and light. Moon and sunrise perfectly in sight. I could outstretch my arms, twist my torso to map the path the setting sun and rising full moon trace across the sky from summer to winter. Like my ancestors, I can tell the seasons by the constellations emerging at the horizon at twilight.
Here is where I needed to be in these times. Remembering. Reflecting. Not forgetting or panicking but taking in the information of all that has come and assessing within the greater context of all that our people have endured, are enduring. All that we are needing to build.
May we all remember, recover our ancestral wisdom, and reflect on theirs and our own journeys. May the study of our waters, our lands and skies only reveal more of who we are inside. May we release the need to measure ourselves by what we receive externally. May we become self-sufficient galaxies of love and nurturing before being allowed to reintegrate back into our communities for collective decolonizing and healing.
I dedicate this to Vieques and to the memory of my uncle Roberto Rivera, lost during this quarantine. He gave me an anchor in Vieques. Made sure I was ok. Got me to where I needed to go. I have not seen him or Vieques since that fateful trip in May 2013. I am forever in gratitude to them both.