Sunday, May 31, 2009

Then and now

The other night after finishing a large and frustrating job I decided to watch some television because I could not sleep, and there is station, HITN, which shows very interesting documentaries... and one of them was about the protests at the UPR in the late '60s. So many of us were participating in marches against the Vietnam war... although Puerto Ricans on the island are unable to vote for the president, they were drafted like everyone else, and many of them refused to go to Vietnam. September 26, 1969, the student Edwin Feliciano Grafales was sentenced to prison by the Fed. Gov't. for refusing to go to 'Nam. There was so much anger... and right on campus we had the ROTC; they marched and displayed their colors, in a campus with so much antiwar feeling. And so after Edwin was sentenced, there was a protest, a symbolic burning...
On March 4, 1970, there was a second protest. The ROTC was across from the School of Architecture, and as I recall, close to Charlie Rosario's Programa de Honor, where I took classes. My recollection is that although there were loud words and hymns and posters and thousands of students marching, there was no violence until the President, Jaime Benítez, called in the shock troops... Everyone was hit; even innocent passersby, professors, anyone who was there got a macana wherever they got you. And when they stepped out of the recinto universitario, a cop killed a young girl from the Education Department (Pedagogía) who was up on a balcony watching the events. He pointed up his gun and she was killed... a 19 year-old girl called Antonia Martínez who was said to be the first in her family to go to college.

We graduated in June of that year... and at least Humanidades was mostly outraged, so we talked about what to do when we went up for our diplomas, and decided we would not accept them, nor shake the President's hand... But one student, activist Carmen Noelia Benítez, grabbed his hand and slapped him on the face. It was rather a riot. What a way to graduate from college... and all of us on that line had torn up the little fake diplomas as a symbol of our outrage...

When we started protesting, before the satrap George W. Bush invaded Iraq, I kept thinking, we stopped that war eventually, and surely we can stop this one! But we just recently celebrated the 6th anniversary of bloodshed and mayhem...

Roy Brown was 'our' musical voice in those days... and here is a song by León Gieco, from the time of their US-sponsored dictatorship, which lasted 30 bloody years... sung by Roy and others. Sólo le pido a Dios que la guerra no me sea indiferente, es un monstruo grande y pisa fuerte, a la pobre inocencia de la gente. (I only ask of God, that I am not indifferent to war; it is a large monster that steps harshly on the poor innocence of the people).

The next one became the hymn for the protests against the ROTC... Un mister con macana...

And this one is in several of my poems! I still sing this in my sleep...

Here is one of them:

The meaning of life (for Warren)

if you think i am going to tell you anything
about the meaning of life
think again, amigo
what i really wanted to tell you
what i wanted to explain
in one or two versos claros
is why sometimes, maybe most times
there is a lack of punctuation,
puntos y comas
or capitalization,
mayúsculas y minúsculas
when i write my stuff
i gave up most of this
when i was seventeen or eighteen
i'd started college early
la universidad de puerto rico
and had a ball with juan ramón
jiménez, garcía márquez had just
published cien años de soledad
cortázar was writing about cronopios
y famas, joan manuel serrat
kept singing songs in catalán
and ray hernández, whose father
was a US militar with large pistolas
sang against the yanquis, his own
father being yanqui, with his guitar
in cheap bares where we gathered
nights and listened to the story
of profit and destrucción
in colombia, méxico, chile
"fuego fuego fuego, el mundo está en llamas
fuego fuego, los yanquis quieren fuego
fuego fuego..."
it was a simple thing
a given somehow
when the presidente called
in the policía and they killed
antonia martínez, who was just
looking from her balcón in río piedras
that puntos y comas would become
as unimportant as all the major issues
such as why we were killing children
in vietnam or why we were giving money
to the government of papadoc in haití
and pretending he wasn't a killer
or why we were friends with dictadores
and people engaged in la tortura
and were training folks with dinero
through la cia to be asesinos
and so a little punto or a coma
became so not the thing to look at
that i stopped looking, rhyming
and it wasn't eecummings 'cause i was
reading antonio machado and goytisolo
but why rhyme when reason was passé
you may have noticed that i use
the puntos suspensivos - ... -
and sometimes i don't use the I
which is the yo en español
and some of that is who i am
a sad cubana who has never learned
to love this exile who still misses
beaches with arenas blancas
and such a sea you'd cry
and sometimes there's a point
that must be made with proper
puntuación or a mayúscula
that must be used
but most times whether anyone reads this mierda
i've lost the little bastards
with my virginidad
they're gone
mi buen amigo
se fue para no volver
manicero se va...

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