The structure of this manifesto will consist of identifying and categorizing Puerto Rican Futuring in the context of social, political, and/or religious events within the country’s history and present day status. From New World Spanish colonial rule to American territorial status, the Puerto Rican community have used a variety of artistic methods of expression in order to celebrate, communicate, comment, or reject their social condition throughout history and presently.
Puerto Rico…an island in the Caribbean discovered by Christopher Columbus on November 19, 1493. These Spanish conquistadors that appeared on the island were revered as Gods by the indigenous people of the island, the Taínos. Artistic representations of the “Gods” were done by the Taínos, who followed their newly settled Gods, until the deity fallacy was uncovered. History states that chief Urayoán commanded two members of his tribe to drown one of the Spanish conquistadors named Diego de Salcedo. After he was drowned, his body was dragged back to the tribe, where the Taínos awaited his godly resurrection, but this did not occur. And so began the Taínos rebellion, which almost exterminated all Taínos, as the mighty Spanish utilized their powerful technologies against the Taínos’ mundane and earthly weapons.
“You will kill the God of Terror,
and only then shall you be free.”
After the rebellion, the island was ruled by three figures that arrived from Spain. The Spanish viewed the island as an economic and trading utopia, where the mining of gold would create a superfluous stream of wealth. However, after gold was exhausted, a new kind of golden product arose: sugar cane. Sugar cane production created a new social addition to the Puerto Rican identity: the African population. This combination of cultures and events created a rich history from which many artists have developed their own visions of Puerto Rican futures.
The beloved and most famous painter José Campeche, depicts in his painting titled “Las hijas del gobernador D. Ramón de Castro” (“The Daughters of the Governor D. Ramón de Castro” 1797) a subtle commentary on the social separations of this Spanish aristocracy implanted to rule the island. Campeche, a son of a freed slave, usually utilized oblique techniques in order to paint his vision of Puerto Rican humility in contrast to the Spanish aristocracy. However, Campeche was known on the island as a religious painter, and although this was true, he utilized his painting as a blank canvas to convey the future of the island under Spanish rule.
As stated before, the rich historical background has made Puerto Rico an interesting land for futuring for many individuals. A group referred to as the “Generation of the 50’s” found this histories of the island and the present occurrences artistically provoking. The “Generation of the 50’s” was an artistic and literary group of Puerto Rican intellectuals that formed a movement with a populist agenda of creating images that affirmed Puerto Rican national identity. They established the Puerto Rican Art Center, where they argued against the present struggle of the North American emergence on the island, and promoted a pro independence future. They mostly used graphic mediums to celebrate the strength of the people or condemn the economic and colonial exploitation in Puerto Rico during the beginning of the twentieth century.
This work in particular by “Generation of the 50’s” member Carlos Raquel Rivera, titles “Huracán del Norte” (“The Northern Hurricane”) is an allegory to the negative impact of the North American presence on the island. While North American forces benefitted from the island’s riches, the “jíbaro” (worker of the mountain) suffered and barely had enough to survive.
Another one of his works titles “Elecciones Coloniales” (“Colonial Elections”) was an interesting depiction of another US/PR struggle but the particular story of the piece served as much as a commentary as the piece itself. The original image shows the symbol for the United State of America as a large, magnanimous, hatted eagle looking over the Puerto Rican populace. After this piece was finished, Rivera decided to cut it up. He thought that the eagle had too much of a presence, and that he did not owe that to the US powers. Therefore, the final piece resulted in a figurative expression of sections of the eagle, and the crowd of people following a procession which ended in a deep plunge into a precipice.
Although this particular symbol is set deep in the background of Rivera’s piece, we are able to spot the iconic Puerto Rican sentry tower. These sentry towers were used by the Spanish in the fort called El Morro which surrounded the capital city of San Juan to protect it from enemy ships. However, throughout history, they have also been viewed as symbols for futures that exist past the horizon, as portals for legends and stories, and as hope for the small island in the Caribbean. Nowadays, these sentry towers are popular tourist spots.
As always, monuments such as this not only suffer the decay of time, but they also suffer the effects of vandalism. However, the topic of vandalism, in specific the transformation of graffiti as vandalism to urban art, has served as a rich ground for present day Puerto Rican futuring.
There has even emerged an activity held by the sector of Santurce in San Juan, called “Santurce es ley” (“Santurce is law”), where graffiti artists are invited to share political, social, historical, or purely creative urban art for all to see. This image showcases a politically charged piece depicting a combination of important American figure and characters fighting each other in a rather grotesque manner. On the other hand, you can also view depictions purely creative pieces of science fiction characters such as this “sea transformer.”
Puerto Rican depictions of Sci Fi, and the Sci Fi obsession really does not end with graffiti. One of the most famous Puerto Rican sci fi writers, James Stevens-Arce is one of the first Puerto Ricans to publish sci fi. One of his most popular novels titled “Soulsaver,” is the story of a “futuristic Christian theocracy in a USA where San Juan has become the center of the nation.” The main character, Juan Bautista is a “faithful and obedient servant of the Church” who policies and rescues those who commit suicide. In a dystopia where suicide is a crime, Juan Bautista would resuscitate them, then try the individuals for their own murders. The novel is a “clear critique of the strength of religion in mass media in the US.”
Additionally in this Puerto Rican fascination with Science Fiction, Puerto Rico actually hosts the largest Comic Con convention in the Caribbean. The Sci Fi movie genre and the comic book industry, although not as large as in the US, has been very popular on the island. Now, more than ever, there has been a lot of conversation about the new superhero that is in town. Her name is “La Borinqueña” and she is on a mission to help the Puerto Rican community unite and fight for social justice. The Afro-Boricua superhero was created by Brooklyn based artist and writer Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez “in response to the island’s current financial crisis and is intended to be a symbol of hope and solidarity.” In an interview with Huffington Post, Miranda-Rodriguez explained:
“People are so enamoured by superhero culture
that it occurred to me that if we’re going to raise
awareness of what’s going on in Puerto Rico,
we need a superhero to do that.”
Unlike most superheroes with supernatural powers to fight off villains, the character Marisol Rios de la Cruz or “La Borinqueña” uses her powers as a symbol of hope in order for Puerto Ricans to realize that the power of change is within themselves. The debut of “La Borinqueña” is on June 12, 2016.
Puerto Rico’s current economic crisis has been an issue that has evolved a large conversation about the future political status of the island, future relationships with the United States, and the future identity of what it means to be Puerto Rican. I am sure that we will see many depictions of Puerto Rican futuring through many more artists and I hope that these are a helpful force that takes my beloved country out of the shadows and into the beautiful Caribbean sun.
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