domingo, 31 de mayo de 2020

En mayo






(En este mes de mayo se cumplieron cuatro años de la muerte de mami. Entonces escribí estas palabras muy sencillas, que aquí encuentran reposo.)


25 de mayo de 2016
Día del entierro de mi madre

La historia de mi madre ha sido mi acompañante desde que me trajo al mundo y a la primera luz. La historia de mi madre, Ana María Alsina Díaz, es la historia de nuestro país; una historia que trasciende la esfera privada, porque así de radiantes son las rutas de las personas que vivieron mucho, que con sus obras atravesaron épocas y experiencias familiares y colectivas. Para nosotros sus memorias son importantes. Siento que escribo para cumplir un mandato ético de ella, que fue huérfana y sufrió muchas pérdidas y con esas carencias se hizo sus casas y una vida de orden, belleza y rebeldía.

Anoche escuchamos testimonios de parientes y amigos y todos coincidieron en su manera de ser cariñosa y hospitalaria. Hay un deseo que une esas vidas a la de mami, que procuraba recuperar a sus parientes, a los miembros de una familia dispersada por la gran migración de mediados de siglo a Estados Unidos, o dentro de la isla misma, el abandono de campos y pueblos hacia urbanizaciones donde se trastocaban las relaciones de vecindad. Es importante el cuidado que puso siempre en la familia extendida de hermanos, primos y sobrinos. Recuerdo que su primera casita de urbanización, hacia 1950, se convirtió en lugar hospitalario para alguna sobrina que llegaba con intención de estudiar en San Juan, y también en lugar de paso para hermanos o primos que se enfrentaban al entonces difícil trance de la migración obligatoria a falta de empleos en el país. Siempre fue hospitalaria y generosa con sus parientes.

Con Mili y conmigo, sus hijas, fue paciente y ejemplar. Lamento no haber sido más respetuosa de su esfuerzo por sobrevivir, por mantenernos y educarnos en momentos de penuria. Me hubiera gustado preguntarle dónde aprendió a coser, quién le enseñó a llevar una casa, por qué le gustaba tanto la lectura, de qué color eran los ojos y el timbre de voz de su madre.

Después de la muerte de papi sobrevivió muchos años a la inevitable depresión a fuerza de voluntad y deseos de vivir, hasta que esa terrible enfermedad que vacía a las personas le fue quitando la alegría.
Mi madre fue una mujer ejemplar de la patria puertorriqueña. Gracias a ella aprendí a amar esta tierra en sus vidas minúsculas, silvestres, Fuerte de carácter, empeñada en mantener su independencia y su dignidad, ella misma se cultivó en la pobreza. Sus talentos son los talentos de las manos trabajadoras y pensantes, sin las cuales la vida sería posible, pero muy triste.


Su larga vida tiene ya la forma de un tejido que unió hilos dispersos, cada uno de los cuales contiene la palpitación de una existencia, de un instante que pasó a formar parte de ella, de Ana, de su libro de actos. Esas pequeñas historias son nuestros legados. Las recibimos con alegría, asombro y lealtad. Nos toca cuidarlas.

sábado, 2 de mayo de 2020

Apuntes sobre la luz

Gracias a Beta Local por invitarme a escribir y por publicar estos apuntes. A continuación  el enlace.

http://betalocal.org/notas-de-contingencia/la-luz-del-tiempo/




domingo, 12 de abril de 2020

12 de abril (el paseo)




William Morris pensó alguna vez (dicen) que las imágenes de plantas pintadas “deben aspirar hacia espacios más allá de la pintura o de la tela”. Querer ser fuera de sus bordes, más allá de sí. 

Comenta A. S. Byatt que las plantas artificiales de los tapices de Morris suman pétalos según la espiral de Fibonacci; 1,1,2,3,5…, Luis Othoniel Rosa quizás aprecie el detalle. Así que hoy salí de paseo con un juego en mente. Por ejemplo, qué ocurre entre las florecitas amarillas y el mundo del musgo en la roca; o entre las manos desaparecidas que años atrás sembraron el viejo eucalipto del camino y el perfume que llena el aire bajo su sombra. 




Ya fuera del terreno, en la carretera, otra flor amarilla quizás se comunique y entienda con la pequeñísima que florece brevemente junto al musgo casi eterno. 



Y luego el rincón de un solar pequeño, donde han nacido, crecido y caído árboles y arbustos. Nada se pierde. El árbol viejo se descompone entre sus sobrevivientes.



miércoles, 1 de enero de 2020

de piel y paisaje






Para romper fuentes en el 2020 me escoge este libro de Luis Ángel Curbelo, con dedicatoria fechada el 29 de diciembre de 2018. Escribo el borrador del comentario con una pluma fuente que carece de virtudes. No puedo llenarla sin mancharme los dedos, pero es inútil usarla para dar fijeza a la escritura. Con el tiempo se borra del papel. Tinta invisible, escritura fugada.

Escribo sobre de piel y paisaje (Ediciones Ricardo Garúa, Arecibo, 1987), al cuidado de Salvador Villanueva, uno de nuestros poetas de extramuros, casi legendario, considerado por no pocos lectores como el gran poeta de su generación. Escribo sobre de piel y paisaje, y percibo la ironía elegante que es el tono de no pocos poemas, “escritos desde el otro lado de la isla”. Las caras ocultas de la isla, incluso en tiempos como el presente, de una visibilidad absolutista.

El otro lado de la isla tiene correspondencias geográficas en suelos  y duelos que parecen distantes  (cuando ya nada es distante, los pueblos abandonados  se tornan recónditos). Será por eso que se desean inmunes a la corrosión del tiempo. Así mismo se escriben en memoria de su mejor tiempo la piel humana y el paisaje, la piel como paisaje, el paisaje encarnado.  Los sentidos son caminos.  Olvido y memoria del viaje del unicornio en la isla (Tomás Blanco) que Curbelo desmiembra en el poema inaugural.

Alguien vive en la hermosa casa de este libro y no cesa de caminar en sus memorias, que replican el encierro de la isla, y cuyas tramas de evasión se sostienen en la progresión infinita de correspondencias: piel, paisaje, estrellas, uveros, amarras, sueños, goteras, laureles, mapas.

Y el tiempo brevísimo de la voz: “Fue tan solo el tiempo preciso/para construir nuestro encuentro”.

Así es. 

1 de enero de 2020, 10:40 am

lunes, 23 de diciembre de 2019

An Archipelago of Letters (conclusion)


.

A worker's house in Aguirre


The second half of PR3 Aguirre is called “las islas”, the islands, in reference to the Puerto Rican archipelago, because as most island nations in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico is not a single island.  The company town left a trail of documents that are mainly stored at the Archive of the School of Architecture of the University of Puerto Rico: photographs, blueprints, letters, reports, maps.  The company town of Aguirre was built as a self-sufficient enclave segregated both from its surroundings and segregated within. The housing sectors were rigidly segregated by race and function in the sugar planting harvesting, and manufacturing process. The large cottages with their separate little houses for servants were reserved for American managers; an intermediate sector with elegant houses and dwellings for servants was reserved for the Puerto Rican middle management; a third sector of small cottages built along a rectilinear grid was destined for skilled workers. Single men laborers were housed in barracones, or large collective bunkhouses.
Most workers, specially day laborers, did not live within the closed company town, but in the surrounding barrios. The localities of Jobos and El Coquí are older than the company town, and have a rich cultural presence as locations of vibrant communities. But memory, as opposed to written history, relies on word of mouth legacies. Fortunately research into their significance is being undertaken both in Puerto Rico and by scholars from the Puerto Rican diaspora and from other nationalities. A good part from that research is associated with musical expression.

Aguirre company town, map of segregated sectors,  c. 1930s

I will describe my own tentative and fragile search for a sense of place related to persons who grew under the influence of the company town, A main question was: how is it that a space associated with segregation and exploitation generates a sense of belonging, a sense of place? The question is not easily answered. It poses a dilemma that goes to the relationship between sense of place and identities, in an island that has been perpetually a colony, where the modes of resistance have ranged from direct confrontation to the struggle for everyday survival and ways of challenging, transforming and interpreting traditions. Another important factor is the early appearance of the local intermediary, a man born in the island who assumed managerial and repressive functions while representing the interests of the white American owners and protecting them from direct, everyday contacts with the miserable populace.
Going back to a sense of place, and to embodied archives, evidently the form of memories is related to popular artistic expression and invention. El Coquí, a community of workers, has been the home of artists and social activists. The story of their militant struggles dates back to the 1970s, when they succeeded in removing plans to construct a nuclear power plant, denounced the local petrochemical industry, and more recently, are involved in the fight against Monsanto, a company that controls fertile lands to create their seeds and is subsidized by the government. Most important is the struggle against the deposit of toxic ashes by a private power production company: Applied Energy Services. In Aguirre itself, a community based organization is planning to organize a housing trust to develop and preserve the sector.  We interviewed doña Rosita Ramos, who is known as the local historian, and whose house was badly damaged by the storm.
Another thriving field is the study of the many expressions of the bomba. In the last decade, “escuelas de bomba” have formed. They are popular initiatives for the study and transmission of traditions.  In Guayama, a group of bomba musicians, dancers and singers called Umoja (a Swahili word for unity) have undertaken a study of musical traditions and popular artists. Members of Umoja have conducted a series of interviews with older persons in Jobos and its surroundings. These persons spoke about the memories of their ancestors.


Another researcher who does field work and presentations both in the island and in the States is Melanie Maldonado Díaz. I attended several of her conferences. The one mentioned in PR3 Aguirre centered on the tradition of women bomberas. They are dancers and singers who were celebrated in the island and in diasporic communities; matriarchs who kept a memory and created memories, women artists who decorated their dancing clothes, were singers, and claimed a dominant role in the dancing ritual.
The bomba is a cultural archive of sorts an obscure book of notes in short hand, that researchers seek to decipher.  It has also been the subject of academic works by scholars such as Emanuel Dufrasne, Angel Quintero, and recently the composer Javier Peña Aguayo.  
The living archive is proof of the strength and continuous evolution of this musical form. Information needs to be compiled, collected and made available as part of a larger archive on Puerto Rican Afro descendant culture. A culture that is not fully recognized in its richness and span, which transcends both narrow ethnic enclaves and the efforts directed at making it invisible. This knowledge should form part of a wider network of archives, but material objects should stay close to the sites where they were created. An emerging project is the Casa Comunitaria de Medios, a community-based initiative in Aguirre. 
My work is only a stitch in a large carpet of collective, scattered efforts. It would seem that the fitting together of diverse fragments of a recovered and refurbished cultural history is almost inevitable in these times when the very fragmentation of information and its wide ranging dispersion leads to inevitable connections. I intend to follow another trail in a next volume of PR 3, extending to the neighboring Caribbean islands, close to the Eastern Coast of Puerto Rico. Islands that served as a refuge for political revolutionaries, such as the Haitian Antenor Firmin and the Puerto Rican Ramón Emeterio Betances, who collaborated  to develop the concept of a Confederación Antillana or Caribbean Federation comprising Cuba, Haiti, Santo Domingo and Puerto Rico while exiled in St. Thomas. Stepping stones for migrants from more remote islands, into the cane fields and in the economies of towns and cities, where they settled and formed families. Islands with ancient ties to the islands of Vieques and Culebra, islands such as St. Croix and Tortola and St. Kitts, and Anguilla.    
In short it will be a book locating Puerto Rico in the Caribbean as PR 3 Aguirre sought to establish the Bostonian connections. By the way, writing the Bostonian connection was not a case of appropriating or daring to represent the voice of the victim, but rather the opposite. The driving force was based on the impossibility of being fairly imagined by the imperial gaze and the fact that we, the colonial subjects, are capable of seeing them. We are not invisible, mind you. We are, rather, like a misplaced book in an unknown language. We can be seen but not read, we are unreadable, and somehow impure and obscene. But we rely on our curiosity and our right to engage in more than one language. In any case, the new book should be a modest example of a tireless collective curiosity. An archipelago of letters, emerging where material islands are losing terrain. A lettered and remembered and tense and living Caribbean.
As a footnote let me add that I have also been thinking about a vast collective project:  a literary Atlas containing stories and chronicles proceeding from each one of the 78 island municipalities, written by residents or exiles, but in any case by persons closely linked to specific places. The Atlas of Puerto Rican places should be visible and forceful.  The work of a people who are not victims to be pitied or scorned.

domingo, 22 de diciembre de 2019

An Archipelago of Letters (second part)




View from la Casa Grande, Aguirre, c. 1916, Samuel Kirkland Lothrop collection, Harvard University


PR 3 Aguirre has two main sections: Boston and The islands. The first one is a sketch of the foundational core of a city. The second alludes to the dispersion and recovery of collective memories in a colonial setting. The two sections are two different archives. The book joins two different archives. Let´s look at the meaning and function of archives.
               The purpose of binding a multiple memory relates to modern archives. By preserving not only the exploits of the ruling classes but also the records of social transactions, modern archives sustain political power and the identity of a community.
               The importance of the archive in the construction
 of a national
or regional consciousness is quite evident 
 in the Puerto Rican 19th century. 
In 1876, three years after 
the abolition of slavery, the Ateneo Puertorriqueño, 
(the Puerto Rican Athenaeum) 
was founded. 
 Its first president, Manuel Elzaburu, was very aware 
of the role of
 scholarly work in the construction of archives, 
as the basis of: 
“an embryonic memory… with which to lay 
the foundations
 of the future literary
 history of the country, the basis for the solid 
construction of our provincial history”.
 (“una memoria embrionaria… con la cual echar 
los cimientos de la futura historia
 literaria del país, base para la sólida edificación 
de nuestra historia provincial”.)
The Ateneo Puertorriqueño was mainly an institution of members of the intermediary Puerto Rican professional class with artistic and intellectual inclinations. The perspectives of the majority of the population did not enter into the picture, except as pitiful, exploited, and non educated victims, prone to illness and to vice. So the vision of the working classes, peasants and ex slaves, with notable exceptions, did not include their subjective and active occupation of the public intellectual space.  Instead, they were meant to be impacted, redeemed and transformed by a civilizing culture. 

Ateneo Puertorriqueño
There is, of course, always, a force that defies such blindness. In this case, it sparked a resistance that still has global repercussions.  A black man born in Puerto Rico in 1874, attended a school called Instituto Libre de Enseñanza Popular, which had been established in 1888 for working class pupils. The young man expressed a desire to know the history of blacks. His professor told him that black people did not have any history or culture. The insult was so painful that it ignited a vocation. The young man emigrated in the 1890s to New York City and while holding the most menial jobs, began to research and collect documents and artifacts about black history and culture, an archive that in time grew to include "over 5,000 volume[s], 3,000 manuscripts, 2,000 etchings and portraits and several thousand pamphlets". The core of his collection was the basis for a research center named in his honor, the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Arturo Alfonso Schomburg

The history of the island society is a prolonged tale of colonialism, since Columbus wrote the fiction of discovery and redemption to justify the right of conquest.  Later, against the growing threat of the American frontier wars and penetration of Mexico and Central America, the concepts of “latinidad” and “la raza” became forms of cultural resistance. These concepts where then more related to cultural and national identities built to resist American expansionism.
The right of conquest holds together the present fabric of colonial control, as it did following the Hispanic, American, Cuban, Puerto Rican and Philippines war of 1898. The conquering army and the American ruling elites had a clear sense of their need for a global economic and military presence. They were globalists.
PR 3 Aguirre proposes that physical geography is only one dimension, a complex one to be sure, in a conceptual network of interconnected variables as important in the formation of a locality as its climate, soil, geology and zoology. Even the most isolated of communities relates and is affected by things happening in remote parts of the Planet or by events that happened long ago and far away. In the book I explained it thus: It is possible to tear the local map of the road out of its context and make it part of a set of  transparencies, including a park in Boston, or an image of Tierra del Fuego, or of the Central American Pacific coast. All these places have to do with lives that passed through a section of the PR 3 road, between Guayama and Pedro Albizu Campos Avenue, in Salinas; But that is not known by its lonely inhabitants.
Eventually, the second part of the book came to engage two locations along the road. The sector known as Aguirre and its surroundings, and the communities known as Jobos and El Coquí. Aguirre was a sugar cane plantation since at least the boom of the plantation economy in the 19th century.  Jobos and El Coquí have been settled by descendants of African slaves and non slaves.

Baile de bomba, Grupo Umoja, 
Under American rule, the sector known as Aguirre was purchased by a syndicate of four men associated with the city of Boston. To me Boston is a lettered city, “una ciudad letrada, una ciudad de letras”, related to the classics of New England literature. Two of the four capitalists were descendant of Boston blue bloods. The others were also members of a New England upper class. The internet is loaded with materials about their families and their deeds: biographies, family histories, manuscripts, travel journals, university year books, paintings, collections of memorabilia. I traveled to Boston and visited the Boston Athenaeum, a showcase of the intimate connection between literary culture, history, and economic power. Its founders were adventurers, businessmen, pirates, slave owners and merchants, collectors and patrons of the arts. One of the four Bostonians actually owned a famous painting by William Turner: Slave Ship, a depiction of the massacre of the Zong. The killing of enslaved persons to turn a profit has been the subject of literary works such as the epic poem Zong, by Marlene Nourbese Phillips. Hooper Lothrop, the owner, sold it to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and probably invested part of the revenues in the establishment of the company town of Aguirre, an enterprise that relied on a new form of labor exploitation.

Slave Shio, by Turner
In Boston, a network of archives documenting what one of their chroniclers called the “proper bostonians” was created and sealed by the first years of the twentieth century. Only recently have activists begun to crack the codes, such as those who have denounced the relationship between Harvard University and the slave economy. In all fairness it should be said that Boston was also a city of abolitionists and feminists, utopian thinkers and even anti-imperialist organizations.
There are references in my book to social and economic activities related specifically to the place of women in both social systems: that of the Bostonians and the complex local society. A case in point was the art of needlework, practiced by Puerto Rican women across social and color lines, and its commercialization under the guise of a philanthropic enterprise by Bostonian upper class women. In considering the relative agency of women in such unequal circumstances, the world of magic and dance are alluded to as sources of a mysterious balance of powers.

sábado, 21 de diciembre de 2019

An Archipelago of Letters (first part)




A published book is always a mystery. How did it come to be? It is nearly impossible to retrace the steps of its production, much less to predict its destiny. An author needs readers to interpret what her work means, that is, what it means to them. Readers use different methods, but the writer can only try to remember how her book came to be. Like most memories that of the origin of a book is fuzzy. I remember standing before a road sign, at a crossroad of route PR 3, in the South of Puerto Rico, between the towns of Guayama and Salinas. I remember that later that day I wrote in my facebook page more or less the following words: “This is where my next book begins. I will write a book about my travels along this road.”
I spent three years writing PR 3 Aguirre. Then the catastrophic hurricane happened and the writing was cut short. I have not written much about the hurricane, although it is mentioned in some chapters of the book. I have not written much about the hurricane, perhaps because to me writing about pain, emptiness, and helplessness requires a certain distance. Moreover there have been almost forty books and anthologies published, and a number of film documentaries and academic conferences about the storm. There was little I could add to those writings of the disaster. In my estimation writing, more than reading, has become a passion in Puerto Rico. There seem to be more ardent writers than disciplined and devoted readers. There is also an impressive number of small presses founded in the last decade. The awesome, overflowing production must be, in part, a natural reaction to a sense of loss and fear, and the hurricane coupled with the debt and the collapse of the colonial model of governance is still an invitation to write your way out of a chaotic and depressing reality. The world of the most vulnerable persons, fragile as it has always been, suddenly fell entirely, and the urban and rural landscapes, with their almost miraculous little houses, were laid bare. Increasingly, economic activity depends on the informal sector, on government transfers, and a consolidated narco-economy.
In contrast with material losses, writing has multiplied and exceeded the boundaries of the academic sector, where writers traditionally made their living as university professors. The act of writing and publishing literary works has been, over the last decade, an open space, notably in the context of workshops and creative writing programs. Before, canonical authors were those included in the reading lists of university courses. However, the present openness has not turned its back on history. On the contrary, it has welcomed translations of classic, forgotten authors. Poems by José de Diego and José Gautier Benítez have been translated into English. Also remarkable is the interest in formidable women writers such as Marigloria Palma, translated by Carina del Valle Schorske.  The recovery projects, the current interest in tradition, are, perhaps, also related to catastrophic events.
Maybe writing has become a means of getting over the death of a lost world, a grieving ritual. Moreover, it is also a way of acknowledging the sustained effects of environmental disaster in the Caribbean region. Creating a literary archive seeks to fill the immense gap left by material loss and the destruction of physical references that sustain the memories of a community, while pointing out, in some cases, methods of response and survival. It is a key to remembering the thousands of persons left to die by negligence of the State and the colonial power. Writers have undertaken this task before. We may never recover the names and histories of the dead, but an obituary is always possible. Let´s remember The Puerto Rican Obituary written by Pedro Pietri. However it may be, I propose that, grief should not give way to the apathy of victimization and impotence, but to a strong sense of self worth and independence.
My book, PR 3 Aguirre did not turn out to be a travel journal or a chronicle. Instead, I found myself attracted to one of the road’s landmarks: a company town and sugar cane refinery called Aguirre. The reception of the published book was unexpected. In all of its presentations there were full houses, and people sharing their own personal memories of the sector. Evidently Aguirre is one of those sites that generate a sense of place and a flow of memories. Perhaps it could be described as a contact zone, as defined by Mary Louise Pratt, “a place of colonial encounters, the space in which peoples geographically and historically separated come into contact with each other and establish ongoing relations, usually involving conditions of coercion, radical inequality, and intractable conflict.” (Clifford, Routes, 192)


Aguirre was a sugar production company town during most of the 20th century. Even before the hurricane of 2017, a good part of its housing stock and industrial buildings were fragile, or in ruins. The partly abandoned company town is a source of local legends and ghost stories, and it lures a number of visitors attracted by the macabre charms of what has been called “ruin pornography” or fascination with decay. To my mind the ruins are a record of the collapse of the colonial arrangement, whereby the territory is judicially defined as “foreign in a domestic sense, and belonging to, but not part of the United States.” Such nonsensical language sought to define a relationship at odds with the values of a democratic state. The theater of the absurd includes characters, among them a Puerto Rican intermediary class of managers and politicians. This is the way we are supposed to end, as a picturesque, closed, silenced, former company town in the process of becoming a ghost town. But in spite of its decay, Aguirre and its periphery are the home of communities where people live and dream about present duties and possible futures. (To be continued.)