Political prisoners appeal to teens to continue struggle
By T Martin
Two generations of Puerto Rican political prisoners led a discussion about the Puerto Rican resistance on Tuesday night, March 16th, and their audience included a younger group than usual.
As former City Councilman Angel Ortiz pointed out, it was disappointing to see fewer of the familiar faces that have long been part of the Puerto Rican movement, but just as good to see new – and younger – faces in the Christ and St. Ambrose Church at 6th and Venango Streets at 7 PM.
Many of the youths in attendance were participants or workshop leaders from the Summer Youth Employment Program at Centro Pedro Claver and Centro Juan Antonio Corretjer, the organization that hosted the activity with former political prisoners Don Rafael Cancel Miranda and Luis Rosa.
Rosa said that he was grateful for young people coming out and taking the challenge to defend Puerto Rican resistance.
Centro Corretjer Director Luis Sanabria said that the children returned their gratitude just by virtue that they showed up to show their support to the cause that is part of their heritage.
“Being here is a sign of gratitude for what these ex-prisoners have endured for Puerto Rican rights and nationalism,” Sanabria said during his welcoming address.
Poet José Torres gave a riveting performance as “La Borinqueña” played from a small stereo behind him. Audience members cheered between stanzas for the strong message his words conveyed. Some turned and faced others in neighboring pews as they nodded in agreement – or humor – at the emphatic parts of the performance.
Following the well delivered oration, Sanabria introduced a young woman and long-time friend, Inez Ramos, whose fierce determination in the fight for Puerto Rican liberation has encouraged a number of other youths to become involved.
Reading a letter from a political prisoner to whom youths had written during the summer program she helped coordinate last summer.
“We need to decide what form of government is best suited for us. We need to break the chains of dependence,” Ramos read. “We need to control our land, water, air and space… all the other natural resources we have been blessed with. We can only do this if we are an independent and sovereign nation.”
The letter continued to educate listeners about the struggle for independence from U. S. colonialism since 1898. The struggle has been futile, not because Puerto Ricans lack the will or courage to fight, but because even the strongest fighters in the movement have not been able to transcend the obstacles and limitations faced along the way.
Making the struggle yours
“We cannot stop struggling to end colonialism in Puerto Rico,” the letter continued. “Historically, every new generation has stepped up to the challenge. Every Puerto Rican, especially the new generation, needs to get involved and be a part of the struggle, because our way of life as a nation depends on our ability to continue struggling to end the creation of a culture of struggle.”
Adding her own comments, Ramos introduced Luis Rosa as a young brother who sacrificed half his life for the cause.
“I want to take this time to introduce you all to a young man who has lived this very struggle for the great majority of his life,” she said, the passion of what Rosa stands for dripping off every word as they were uttered.
“He is a young brother who was… born and raised in Chicago… in the barrio like many of us in the City of Philadelphia. He was educated, became a student leader and community organizer, fought against police brutality, and eventually stood up for the cause to free the five Puerto Rican nationalists that were in prison from the 1950’s until the 1970’s.”
Rosa, captured in 1980, was arrested for participation in an organization that fought to end U.S. colonialism in Puerto Rico. He was only 18, and spent 19 ½ years in prison, gaining release with a clemency offer signed by President Bill Clinton in 1999.
Rosa thanked the organizers of the event, the coordinators being the two leaders described as the “controversial and daring” Sanabria and Ramos before describing his personal experience in the struggle and opening discussion on resistance to U.S. colonialism.
“I think that you have taken a challenge, and you have met that challenge,” he said, expressing his gratitude for their dauntless efforts against the forced presence of the U.S. in Puerto Rico. “It is difficult in these days, under the Patriot Act, under the oppressive arm of the government… to come out here and organize an event with two persons that might be considered controversial in this day and age. We are grateful that you have taken this challenge, and we are grateful for this presentation.”
Rosa paraphrased the main points of the poem read earlier, and coupled it with poems by other great Puerto Rican nationalists and poets, both of the past and present. He encouraged youths to heed the messages of the poems to avoid dissemination, the denial of culture and acceptance of inferiority as a nation.
Following the young brother’s words was a brief intermission with former City Councilman Ortiz, who expressed his endearment to Don Rafael Cancel Miranda, next on the bill to speak.
“[Miranda] is an example, a model, of who we are, where we have come from… and he is an example of the struggle,” he said slowly, almost as if dictating. “You have to believe and understand because none of this that we have lived is really written nor is it taught. Puerto Ricans, as such, are never taught to be free, but to fight and go to war for other people and for other countries. Puerto Ricans, as such, never internalize the abstract of nationhood until we’re given an example such as Don Rafael, who has been coming to Philadelphia.”
A hero introduced
Ortiz expressed gratitude to the students in attendance, despite his own fears that perhaps only 5 people would show up for the meeting. He was sad that the other faces, still alive and well – yet too busy – were absent to thank “two real heroes” of the Puerto Rican nation. Combined, both men have served nearly 50 years in U.S. federal prison for their participation in favor of Puerto Rican independence.
The presence of these two national heroes occurs on the advent of the 50th anniversary of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party’s protest in the House of Representatives on March 1, 1954. Puerto Rico has maintained its status as a U.S. colonial possession since July 25, 1898, with the signing of the treaty of Paris, after the Spanish-American War.
As Sanabria ended his introduction to Miranda, all in attendance stood and applauded as Miranda slowly made his way to the podium, thanking Sanabria for the introduction and the audience for their enthusiasm and support.
Following the warm welcome and grand reception, Don Miranda spoke at length on the oppression of U.S. colonialism, the struggle against it and his experience as a political prisoner that ended with a presidential pardon signed by President James Carter in 1979.
Though Rosa chose to speak in English for the younger members of the audience, perhaps too “Americanized” to understand various concepts in Spanish, Miranda jokingly opted not to “offend” ears with his English.
“I could talk English, but sometimes when I talk English I don’t understand myself!” he said.
“But for you I would speak Chinese! I understand… it’s cold outside. Sanabria was afraid people wouldn’t come out because it’s cold, but he doesn’t know his own people!”
And even continuing in Spanish he had the rapt attention of everyone from the veteran fighters for the cause nearest the front of the church to the youngest students in the room. When the adults chuckled at jokes, the students’ shoulders would also shake in humorous release.
As Sanabria and artists/activist Danny Torres shared some laughs in the front right pew, some students nearer the back also enjoyed Miranda’s experience sprinkled with some light – and some deep – humor.
But the presentations prepared for the evening didn’t target the young, old or middle aged. Everything – including the delightful tunes by Los Planeros del Batey, led by Olney High School teacher Joaquin Rivera, and José Torres – appealed to everyone attending the well organized and thoroughly implemented activity.
Centro Juan Antonio Corretjer strives to educate the Puerto Rican community on the movement to end United States colonialism and the campaign to release the remaining Puerto Rican political prisoners. Centro Corretjer is an organization that fosters community revitalization through education, hsouing, economic development and participatory democracy.