Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Definition of a Puerto Rican Revolution: Then and Now

Oscar Lopez Rivera

By Raymond Delgado

I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about this year’s Puerto Rican Day parade. Year after year, Puerto Ricans of all ages have taken part in the celebration. As our nation became larger in population, on and outside of the island, political ideology not only began to impact the parade, it created controversy. Sadly, the things that have been the central focus of the parade for so many years are now secondary: culture, music and pride.

The parade originated in New York City, but now you have Puerto Rican Day parades all over the continental United States. As was the case in the earlier days, there were non-supporters and supports. There were those who wanted the island to become the 51st state of the United States of America, while others wanted complete independence. This led to a bitter divide in the Puerto Rican community, as many debated whether the island could survive and thrive, economically and politically, without U.S. involvement. The controversy surrounding this year’s parade is a clear indication that the division still exists. 

Raymond Delgado, 1970

In the 1970s, a group of young Puerto Rican activists called the Young Lords, who addressed economic and social injustice in the community, created dissention by requesting to march alongside the police car that led the parade. This ushered in a wave of protests, such as the U.S. Navy presence on the Island of Vieques, and arguments about who should and shouldn’t march or be included in the festivities. In the end, we forget that the parade was created for all Puerto Ricans, not just a select few.   

There have been many problems associated with the parade, which is to be expected when you consider the scope and size of the event and that the viewpoints of those who attend are diverse. The strange thing is that even though the event continues to bring millions of Puerto Ricans together, there’s been a lack of unity when addressing the economic crisis that’s devastating our homeland. Protests have been sparse and it’s impossible to get people to agree on this important issue. I suspect this is a major reason why many are debating the merits of this year’s parade. 

When examining the controversy surrounding the parade, it’s clear the tables have turned. Instead of people and the organizers of this parade boycotting the sponsors, it’s the other way around. Arguments for and against the parade have rocked social media, and we forget that we live in a very different world from the one Oscar Lopez Rivera inhabited prior to his incarceration. Many Puerto Rican-Americans have been living and growing up in a technological subculture created here in the good old USA, and they have no knowledge of Puerto Rican history or what a true revolution looks like. The fact that most have no idea what the Gag Law of 1943 was serves as confirmation. The law prohibited Puerto Ricans from associating with the independence movement or displaying the Puerto Rican flag in their home, let alone Fifth Avenue.  

It’s a new era, and men like Oscar Lopez Rivera are being attacked and mischaracterized. Nowadays, revolution is synonymous with Senator Bernie Sanders, not Pedro Albizú Campos. This being the case, we need to take a step back and understand that someone who’s viewed as a humanitarian may be viewed as controversial to others. I’ve listened to many points of view about Mr. Rivera and his participation in this year’s parade. After carefully assessing all positions, I’ve come to the conclusion that pardoning him was the right thing to do.

Another conclusion I’ve reached is that “the revolution” that’s underway is not the revolution I supported as a Young Lords sympathizer. No. This is not the revolution that was spearheaded by Oscar Lopez Rivera or the dreams of Don Pedro. The backlash against Oscar Lopez Rivera, and the so-called revolution leaders that support it, is not a revolution in the traditional sense. Moreover, it’s led by Puerto Ricans who are bought and paid for by corporate America, law enforcement agencies, politicians and the far-right. The leftists are few in number, and many of them are hypocrites that are beholden to the politicians and powerbrokers of New York City and other sections of the country.  

Raymond Delgado worked in the substance abuse and human services field for many years. He also  served as shop steward in the National Organization of Industrial Trades Union-IUJAT. Currently, he is the leader of “The Ray Delgado Project”, a band that performs and works with local Salsa groups.

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