Politics and Resistance in Puerto Rican Poetry [Julia de Burgos]

Hola mi gente,
These are hard times of the people of Puerto Rican diaspora. First, a SCOTUS ruling effectively destroyed what little autonomy the island can claim. As Hiram Rivera Marcano Noted:

Yesterday President Obama signed a Republican drafted bill, known as “PROMESA” (english translation: Promise) into order. The bill is said to “help” Puerto Rico out of it’s debt crisis. What it actually does is imposes a 7 member Fiscal Board who has powers far greater than the actual government of Puerto Rico. This board can sell off all property and land (beaches, nature reserves, etc.), close schools, cut minimum wages and pensions, and subpoena and prosecute anyone (including the governor, the highest political official in the country) who fails to comply with their requests. This is colonialism. The debt is U.S. made and this bill is used to strip what’s left of PR and force the people out of their country. This level of American colonialism has not been seen since the invasion of 1898. For all intents and purposes, Puerto Rico is now in a fight for it’s life. The lives of Puerto Rican back home, and in our communities here is going to become extremely difficult.

Let the resistance to this be equally unforgiving.

Que viva Puerto Rico libre!

Today, I offer a poem from one of the great Latina poets, Julia de Burgos…

Julia de Burgos

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Julia de Burgos is one of the greatest Puerto Rican writers. In fact, she’s one of the giants of Latinx literature, period. While much of the study of de Burgos has centered on her prototypical feminism (she was ahead of her time) and her more lyrical works, she wrote political works grounded in her leftist radial leanings. She was one of the many Puerto Rican writers of her time who actively participated in the Puerto Rican liberation movement. She was a member of the Nationalist Party, which denounced U.S. political and economic control and advocated armed revolution in the name of Puerto Rican independence. Burgos’ themes of liberation, rebellion, and justice in her poetry both reflected and advocated the ideologies of the Nationalist Party, while at the same time preserving her own feminist struggle for independence.

Her best-known work, “Río Grande de Loíza,” pays tribute to the “great” river that flows through her hometown in Carolina. Critical interpretations of this piece note how the poem functions as a journey through the life cycles and also demonstrate a yearning for sexual freedom. However, it also functions as a source of cultural and historical memory. In the ninth stanza she writes:

Rio Grande de Loiza!…Blue. Brown. Red.
Blue mirror, fallen piece of blue sky;
naked white
flesh that turns black
each time the night enters your bed;
red stripe of blood, when the rain falls
in torrents and the hills vomit their mud.

Just as Puerto Ricans represent a mixture of Taino, Indian, African, and Spanish as a result of colonization, so the river combines “Blue. Brown. [and] Red,” and carries the nation’s history of conflict within it. The color red, associated with the word “blood” can be seen to allude to those who have shed blood fighting for Puerto Rico’s independence in the hillside towns of Lares and Utuado, not far from this “Great river.” When Burgos’ desires become one with the river, whom she implores, “confuse yourself in the flight of my bird fantasy,” she seeks to connect on the most intimate level possible with her fellow Puerto Ricans.

While the river serves as a source of inspiration in her early life and poetry, it becomes emblematic of the Puerto Rican people’s suffering under colonialism as she matures and as the poem progresses.

In the last stanza, the river becomes a

Great flood of tears. the greatest of all our island’s tears
save those greater that come from the eyes
of my soul for my enslaved people.

Here, Burgos physically shares in the suffering and “tears” of her fellow Puerto Ricans, and also confronts their ongoing oppression.  Thus, her poem also serves as a denunciation of the injustices the “enslaved people” of Puerto Rico endure under colonial rule…

Rio Grande de Loiza

Rio Grande de Loiza! … Undulate into my spirit
And let my soul founder in your rivulets.
To seek the fountain that stole you as a child
And in mad haste returned you to the path.

Wind into your lips and let me drink you,
To feel you mine for a brief moment,
And hide you from the world in myself
And hear voices of fear in the mouth of the wind.

Come down for an instant from the spine of the earth,
And seek the intimate secret of my longing;
Confounded in the sweep of my bird fantasies,
Drop a water rose in my dreams.

Rio Grande de Loiza! … My source, my river,
After the mother petal raised me into the world
With you went down from the rough hills
To seek new furrow, my pale desires,
And all my childhood was like a poem in the river,
And a river was the poem of my first dreams.

Then came adolescence. Life surprised me
Fastening to the broadest part of your eternal voyage;
And I was yours a thousand times, and in a beautiful romance,
You woke my soul and kissed my body.

Where did you carry the waters that bathed
My form, in a spike of the newly open sun?
Who knows in what remote Mediterranean land
Some faun on the beach will possess me!

Who knows in what rainstorms of what far lands
I will be pouring to open new furrows;
Or if, perhaps, tired of biting hearts
I will be frozen in crystals of ice!

Rio Grande de Loiza! … Blue. Dark. Red.
Blue mirror, fallen blue fragment of sky;
Nude white flesh that turns you black
Every time night goes to bed with you;
Red band of blood, when under the rain
The hills vomit torrents of mud.

Man river, but man with river purity
Because when you give your blue kiss you give your blue soul.

My fear Mister River. Man river. The only man
Who has kissed my soul when the he kissed my body.
Rio Grande de Loiza! … Great river. Great tear.

The greatest of all our island tears,
But for the tars that flow out of me
Through the eyes of my soul for my enslaved people.

– Translated by Grace Schulman

* * *

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

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