On July 25, 1898 the United States invaded and seized the island of Puerto Rico, ushering in an era of colonization, repression, and imperialist hegemony that has yet to end one hundred and twenty-two years later. For over a century, the United States has culturally, economically, and politically strangled Puerto Rico, an enclave of indigenous and afro-diasporic culture that has historically passed from one empire to another in a seemingly endless game of settler dominion and exploitation.
The grievances Puerto Ricans have weathered at the whims of the US government span decades, and the reality faced by Boricuas in 2020 is no different. Still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Maria three years later and plagued by an ongoing slew of earthquakes as well as a recent and alarming increase in Covid-19 cases, Puerto Ricans are no strangers to struggle, neglect, and the pervasive effects of predatory capitalism. It was with this insidious pattern of US injury and abuse on the forefront of our minds that Liberation Center volunteers and our comrades in the diaspora took to the streets in a July 25th car caravan to protest the yankee occupation of the island, and to celebrate the rich tradition of Boricua socialist resistance that such continued adversity has birthed.
The event on the 25th was organized alongside Philly Boricuas, a grassroots organization formed by Puerto Ricans living in Philadelphia amidst the Ricky Renuncia scandal and subsequent uprisings. Philly Boricua’s constituents, as well as community members who attended the action and powerful speakers who offered personal testimony at the caravan’s various stops, represent an important diasporic population of uprooted Puerto Ricans living outside of the island. Working class Boricuas in the states have long been the victims of racialized tension and socio-cultural violence stemming from a drawn-out history of xenophobic colonialism.
A number of community members spoke directly to these hostile inequities at different destinations throughout the North Philadelphia neighborhoods of Fairhill and Kensington (two majority black and brown communities that compose some of the largest enclaves of displaced Puerto Ricans in the country). Among the orators were activists and educators like Suave Gonzalez and Adrian Mercado who delivered powerful speeches on topics like incarceration in Puerto Rican communities, the island’s unwarranted debts, and political corruption both here and on the archipelago.
The fact that a number of the speakers were direct descendants of revered Puerto Rican socialist heroes like Blanca Canales and Lolita Lebron only served to make their testimonies more poignant, setting the scene for an ensuing performance of cultural celebration and camaraderie.
After hours of impassioned rallying that drew in community members and garnered proud but furious sympathy from car horns blasting along the caravan’s route, organizers and participants met up at one final stop (Las Parcelas Community Garden) for some traditional Afro-boricua bomba y plena: two musical traditions born out of slave resistance and diasporic rebellion. Local group Los Bomberos de la Calle played and spoke to this history. They offered brief historical anecdotes and taught pasos de baile while Philly Boricuas, Liberation Center volunteers, and all those in attendance danced, ate, and shared in the festivities.
Where the caravan succeeded in denouncing Puerto Rico’s exploitation at the hands of the US government, the culminating bombazo fondly commemorated Puerto Rico’s long history of anti-imperialist rebellion and defiance carved out by revolutionary predecessors like the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, the Young Lords, and countless others who have fought for the liberation of Boricuas and all oppressed peoples.
During an era of organizing work tinged by the restrictions of a global pandemic, some actions still manage to impart an overwhelming sense of community, closeness, and solidarity to all who participate. The July 25th caravan was one such event. It was a powerful day, as equally marked by the collective outrage of the Puerto Rican community and its socialist allies, as it was by joy, fellowship, and the type of relentless spirit that can only be born out of great, sustained resistance.
¡Que viva Puerto Rico libre!