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FREEDOM IS MY NATURE

     I had my first boyfriend at 15. Was married
by 16 and had 5 children by 22. My cash-poor
parents forced this regular guy on me. Three
years later, I left him. I met your father, Don
Pepe. He was a gypsy rogue who was always
after my cupcakes, zigzagging, and dancing
like a crab in broad daylight until he managed
to find his way to my front door.

     He was also a gambler who loved to tell
delicious jokes until early morning, laugh all
night, and after a few stiff drinks, get into an
occasional brawl, just for an appetizer.

     I had my own household by then until
your father shoved his feet into my door. I was
petrified but reserved. I swear I did not know
whether to laugh or die! Once in, that handsome
charlatan had declared his manifesto.

     He had a gift for words, but was just as
demanding. His fancy shoes were glued to my
floor. No one could dare ask him to leave. Not
my god-parents, neighbors, or muted suitors.
Not even the devil could show its face! That
lover came to visit for just a few minutes and
stayed for 35 years!

     He was perfectly shameless. And wouldn't
know what to do with shame if he had it, anyway.
!Era un atrevido! Daring! Of course, I fought him
all the way, a little afraid, but I loved that beast.
He was insatiable!

     Those first days were good and bad with
some bad bad mixed with good. Our first home
was built before an oceanfront. It was made of
wood, straw, zinc and branches with a floor
composed of sand. Well, the sea grew fierce and
stormed our house, although it did not take it
away. I was forced to return home, alone, until
a new one could be built.

     My parents never welcomed your father.

     But campesinos then, did live. And we
survived. I used to sew handkerchiefs, make
gloves, brooms, and straw hats to sell on the
sideroads and plazas. Times were, you could
make a dress for 25 cents a yard! Men wore
Pra-Pra straw hats and tip-toed like God's gift
to fainting women! The women wore anything
resembling the heavenly virgins.

     La Musica Brava was the survival of the
wretched poor. It helped to kill the terrible
times when there was no work in Puerto Rico.
No rice. Nada. Somehow, we never allowed
one another to die of hunger. Until we had to
escape the homeland to exist and scatter our
children like sandwiches to our god-parents,
aunts, or distant cousins. They were all smalltown
saints; siempre bregando con la bendicion.

     Life was that way, Mijo. We were forced
to let our tears vegetate before the harvest and
work in the fields of foreigners who gave us
empty shacks. Proud jibaros would travel ahead
from field-to-field, town to town, when the lucky
ones were called. The wives followed.

     I woke up earlier than any rooster I could
remember, put on my overalls, a brown shirt,
straw hat, and mount a truck when it was my
turn. I planted beans, grew gardenias, picked
black peppers, squash, cabbage-heads, peas and
carrots, everything! My hands were made of
sugar cane and salt! !Era cafe macho!

     I was a headstrong, wage-earning woman
who also worked much harder than any man,
including Don Pepe! I just sometimes wonder if
the soil of America still remembers me.

     But it doesn't matter. Yesterday is now.
And tomorrow is elsewhere. It will never wait,
unless you got there, first. But we survived.
And I am still side-by-side with your father, as
I am, with myself.

     Freedom is my nature.

©Jose Angel Figueroa

 

 

PUERTO RICANS For Beginners

U came from that creation once nature
     Left in isolation when your Arawak
Nation were almost exterminated when
     The Spaniards were persuaded
The New World would soon forget it
     400 hundred years U were disgraced
By this god-fearing conquering race
     Until 1898 befriended your fate
With more oppression & subtle hate
     The only glory that U ate

When an American president moved
     In as your new resident since U
Were in some confusion about this
     Spanish-Gringo revolution when
U became a nominee for his Manifest
     Destiny to be enslaved as a colony

Yet there were times U rebelled when
     Your lifestyle was instant hell
Where you had no human right &
     For this U had to fight once U knew
This racist fool made U his Bootstrap
     Tool & a joke to emigration when your
Political status became a total question

But in this good & plenty sitio U don’t
     Cry but Ay Bendito! for these mail-
Order dreams when it all seemed
     U were treated as a lower-class diet
& for this U had to riot when in 1917
     America had a new idea & invented
A game called bingo making U a Free-
     Associated 100% second-class Gringo
When things were terrific Tio Sam sent
     U to the South Pacific where U fought
The Japanese which he then won
     With ease & all U learned was Plitz

In this gateway mecca U prayed for
     fame -La Gran Manzana USAWhen
at home U were left astray
     & cause U were greatly distressed
The U.S. Navy took over Vieques
     While U worked in mucho factories where
Dying slowly was unsatisfactory
     Knowing U could go nowhere else
To make U mucho more with less
     When all U got were complications
Or six feet under from this mess
     So blame Vieques for the seeds of
WW II! It’s the real Pearl Harbor
     America never knew! Until Tio Sam
Led U to this other war where
     U fought against Germany
When genocide was the enemy
     Until 1948 U fell bait to this patriot
Poet & elected traitor who told
     The sugar cane workers the problem
Was the economy but who instead
     Sold-out our cultural history
When the hope & trauma was
     A struggle for a national identity
Minus the Bread, Land & Liberty!
     A commonwealth status as a mistress
With a mystery now ready to face
     The Red Fear so Tio Sam sent U
To fight Korea & for an encore
     The Vietnam War & a grab-bag of
Countries denuded of rain forests
     Or farmlands called Nada! Behold
Cuba! Santo Domingo! Grenada!
     Think Chile! Kosovo! Iraq! Nicaragua!
Desert Storm! Oil & world power!

Then listen now with a receptive ear
     When all U hear are the silent
Tio Sam trained to be non-violent
     & it is why U must ultimately
Decide to Puertoricanize America
     Before it’s too late: Let organic
Freedom be Borinquen’s fate.

 

©Jose Angel Figueroa

From: Hypocrisy Held Hostage (2006).

Letras Vol.01/2010

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