These ‘Poets With a Cause’ Are Defending Social Justice in Crisis-Hit Puerto Rico

Somos Pueblo Puerto Rico

In Puerto Rico, writers, artists and musicians have united under the name “Poetas en Marcha” or “Poets with a Cause” to voice their opposition to school closures and their solidarity with the working class. 

The movement has hosted two events so far. The first was June 13 under the title “No al cierre de las escuelas: Poetas en marcha” (No to school closures: Poets with a cause), during which about 30 artists met to object to a government order to close down nearly 100 schools due to the economic crisis.

Government representatives have used the recent declining population in Puerto Rico as a basis for their decision. According to most recent official census figures from Puerto Rico in 2010, more than 600,000 Puerto Ricans have left the country. The lack of work and the slowdown in the economy in the smallest island of the Greater Antilles, for almost an entire decade, are just some of the issues that have spurred this new migratory wave.

The first “Poetas en Marcha” event took place in front of the Department of Education. We spoke with some of the organizers about the motive which ignited the movement. José Ernesto Delgado, author of “Tatuaje,” explained: “What propelled us to carry out this event is that some of us poets are products of the public system and feel that it is pertinent to defend a system that is mistreated by successive governments.”

El poeta José Ernesto Delgado.

Poet José Ernesto Delgado.

Marioantonio Rosa, a poet and literary critic, said: “We want to raise awareness about an issue that will negatively affect students in need and lead to teacher unemployment, but most importantly that our education system is lagging behind even more, which has a great deal to do with bureaucracy, politics and nepotism.”

The second event took place July 3 in front of Fortaleza (the residence of the governor of Puerto Rico) in the capital city San Juan. This time, the participants of “Poetas en Marcha,” under the slogan “Yo soy Pueblo,” (I am the People) marched in the streets of Old San Juan. This “cultural crusade for social justice” was held in support of the working class, a sector which will also be affected by the measures imposed by the government to face the fiscal and economic crisis. During this event, nearly 500 people supported the poets and leaders of certain unions.

Regarding its importance, attorney Daniel Nina, writer and founder of the online newspaper El Post Antillano –- a digital magazine which also sponsored the event — said:

Ni en los tiempos de Miguel Algarín y Miguel Piñeiro en el Nuyorican Poets Café de la ciudad de Nueva York, cuando cientos de personas se juntaban en el número 236 este de la calle 3 del bajo Manhattan, para leer poesías. Ni en los tiempos del Partido Socialista Puertorriqueño, en la década de 1970, cuando se dio un quehacer callejero y cultural al rescate de la dignidad nacional. Lo vivido anoche tampoco se asemeja a la experiencia del teatro y la cultura obrera de Puerto Rico de la década de 1920 y 1930, bajo el liderato de Luisa Capetillo o Pedro Albizu Campos y el Partido Nacionalista.

Anoche, en el Viejo San Juan de Puerto Rico, los “Poetas en Marcha” marcaron una diferencia entre el quehacer cultural del siglo 21 y del siglo 20. ¿Por qué? Porque en el junte de anoche, más allá de convocar a todos los poetas, escritores, artistas plásticos y cantautores, se convocó también al pueblo trabajador.

Not even in the days of Miguel Algarín and Miguel Piñeiro, when hundreds of people gathered at 236 E. Third St. in Lower Manhattan at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York City, to read poetry. Nor during the 1970s, when the Puerto Rican Socialist Party was in a cultural pursuit to attempt to save national dignity. Last night's developments also didn't come close to the theatrical experiences, nor the working class culture in Puerto Rico during the 20s and 30s, under the leadership of Luisa Capetillo or Pedro Albizu Campos and the Nationalist Party.

Last night, in Old San Juan Puerto Rico, the “Poetas en Marcha” marked a significant difference between the cultural pursuits of the 21st and 20th century. Why? Because during last night's event, beyond gathering all the poets, writers, creative artists and songwriters, the working class was present as well.

Poetas durante el evento "Poetas en Marcha" en el Viejo San Juan.

Artists at the “Poetas en Marcha” event in Old San Juan.

Nina, who is a professor as well, called the event “glorious”:

Lo que pasó anoche en Puerto Rico, no había sucedido desde los tiempos que el líder obrero histórico, Bernardo Vega, organizó en Cayey a los obreros del tabaco. No pasaba, desde que Juan Mari Brás y César Andreu Iglesias, a fines de la década de 1970, salían en un viejo Volkswagen a organizar grupos de trabajo del Movimiento Pro-Independencia, luego Partido Socialista Puertorriqueño. Anoche se trató de un momento glorioso.

What happened last night in Puerto Rico had not occurred since the times when Bernardo Vega, a historical leader of workers, organized the tobacco workers in Cayey. It hadn't happened the late 70s when Juan Mari Brás and César Andreu Iglesias drove around in an old Volkswagen to organize working groups for the pro-independence movement, which later was the Puerto Rican Socialist Party. Last night was a glorious moment.

Perhaps it is the words from poet William Perez Vega, referring to the future of poetry using verses from the Spanish poet Gabriel Celaya, which best describe the atmosphere of these events:

Todo depende de si sabemos o no utilizar esa arma (la poesía) y al servicio de quien o quienes la utilizamos. Es bonito hablar de una rosa, del paisaje o del amor. Pero es necesario ser militantes a favor de las condiciones que permiten que esa flor siga naciendo, que podamos seguir disfrutando de ese paisaje y que podamos conservar el país, la gente y el planeta como escenario donde hacemos ese amor. Si no lo hacemos, convertiremos la poesía en una simple pieza de museo, en un fósil, en otra indiferencia más. Eso nos acabaría de matar.

It all depends on whether or not we know how to use this weapon (poetry) and who it will serve. It's pleasant to speak of a rose, the landscape or about love. However, one must support the conditions that allow the flower to bud, that enable us to take in the landscape and that help us conserve our country, the people and the planet as a platform for our love. And if we don't, we will turn poetry into something of the past, a fossil, something indifferent. That would be the end of us.

In the most recent press release published July 4, the collective pointed out in a defining statement:

Nosotros, buscamos y amamos el discurso de la inclusión, del amor al País sin banderitas, o trasnochados bostezos en las ventanas del pasado. Somos pueblo y el pueblo es poesía, renovación… esperanza… Poetas en Marcha nunca será William Pérez Vega, José Ernesto Delgado, o Marta Emmanuelli y Marioantonio Rosa. Poetas en Marcha es aquel empleado de mantenimiento llamado Felipe, aquella secretaria cargada de trabajo y mal pagada llamada Sofía, esos jóvenes que ríen mientras toman una cerveza después del examen final, esa mujer noble que vende frituras para echar adelante una familia, ese profesor dedicado y sencillo que imparte la enseñanza día a día en el salón de clases, ya sea en la escuela o una universidad. Poetas en Marcha no busca apellidos ni títulos, busca pueblo, unión, renovación cultural, y siempre esa pluralidad es la mejor semilla que podemos dejar. Somos Pueblo.

We seek and love to talk about inclusion, love of our country without the flags or boring and antiquated talk of the past. We are the people and we are poetry, restoration… hope… Poetas en Marcha will never be William Pérez Vega, José Ernesto Delgado, or Marta Emmanuelli and Marioantonio Rosa. Poetas en Marcha is Felipe the janitor, Sofia the overworked and underpaid secretary, the young adults laughing while having a beer after their final exams, the noble lady selling fruit to get her family ahead, the dedicated and uncomplicated professor in his classroom day in and day out..whether it be in a school or university. Poetas en Marcha doesn't look for fancy names or titles, it looks for the people, connection, cultural restoration, and that plurality will always be the best seed we can leave behind. We are the People.

The next “Poetas en Marcha” event is scheduled for August 30, 2014, in the sector known as La Perla, Old San Juan.

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