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)
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
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.
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.