* 2010 is dedicated to the resilient Oscar Lopez Rivera *
The year was 1999 and my world as I knew it was coming to an end in more ways than I was aware of.
Y2K paranoia had the most productive century in history pending on a universal blackout *AND* PRINCE returned to have us rejoice with his centennial throwback, at a time in which it is reported he had been studying to become Jehovas Witness under the tutelage of legendary bassist Larry Graham.
Sure signs of the end-times, for sure signs, for sure…
1999 was my Senior year in High School. My final semester went out with a painfully empty gaze, out the window on a bus ride back from an elimination game at John Adams. That year we beat them in the preseason, as did we Port Richmond HS; Some weeks after that long ride home John Adams defeated Port Richmond in the City Championship at Yankee Stadium. I didn’t care.. I had seen the last of my Baseball days, and every dragging motion I made on the field that day was fresh in my memory. Senior prom came around and that night set low on the ash as my life had till that point; with my sisters’ best friend’s big sister hinting at a condom in her purse. I wonder if she ever did use that.
I entered Freshman year of college a virgin and by December, that hadn’t changed. Neither had my academic status of: undecided. So there I was, trailing America’s fateful hour into an uncertain millennium, by indication of all primal standards for a 17 year male: a failure! Alpha potential amongst the male species, Zero :: Reproductive potential, Zero :: Survival aptitude (undecided), Zero…
It was actually a good time for times, as I knew them, to come to an end.
As the story goes, 2000 would be my first and final, full year at St. John’s University. Spring of ’01 would mark my completion as a Sophomore, and a string of events which I shan’t give too much detail to at this juncture (don’t worry, you’ll get to pay for it all some day), offered my intuition a window of absence to explore. In the void of those few years-off I gained the legs to begin to walk in my own presence. 2004 is when the late blooming Puerto Rican drifting out of Brooklyn, registered into the Puerto Rican Studies Department at Hunter College… a little bit of Journalism under my belt.
I don’t have too much time on my hands at the moment, my daughter (see, that happened in ’07 haha) is with me for a short vacation, and so I won’t go full on into everything I’ve gotten into over the past 10 years. After all, in the span of those days I must have held and let go of 15 jobs, and lived at something like 7 or 8 places. Met any and everybody I will ever need to know…
But I will offer that it wasn’t until this year, 2010, that I came to completion with what necessary in order to venture on my next phase of life. I was published for the first time, by Lisa Marie Basile’s Caper Journal, when she selected my poem: “Wept In The Tears” for their anthology of poems produced to raise money for the Earthquake devastated Haiti.
And I went ahead and gave myself the green-light to put out 75 poems I had accumulated around the themes of Love, Patriarchy and Fatherhood. She is my first publication, my second baby, NAIMA:
On the social side of life, I have met a few people I’m excited to know, but more significantly, I’ve moved forward a bit in solidifying better relationships with folks who’ve kind of floated in and out of my life already. We still float, but with the maturing insight I’ve gained into humanity, I feel blessed to be accessing and exchanging the energy our purer Ancestors had. Landmark Education and a Healing Circle organized by the Brothers Rafael, Javi, and Rafael opened me up to knowing myself to the capacity in which I am as in tune with my nature as ever. Family i’ve distanced myself from for years, I no longer give off or let in tension for; If I want to be real with a Brother I can look him in the eye and touch him on the chest or shoulder and give him to my concern; When I wish to share sensual, friendly, or Revolutionary energy with a Sister, I can do that… For the first half of the year I slept and woke up in Crystal House, living and growing in the communal experience, with Brothers and Sisters firm in our identities as Black, Brown, Queer, Woman, Sovereign; Male, Straight, Sovereign; One, Sovereign. There is now a dignity in my being which I am blessed to have realized. And more than ever, I am not only willing but eager to stand for it.
There is so much more, but I have to carry the note at where I stand and what I’ve stood for in 2010.
My daughter is going on 4 in March and there is nothing I am more proud of than having done everything possible to remain a presence in her life. Again, I had her for a couple of weeks during Spring Break, I had her for the summer, I brought her to the Dominican Republic with me in June, and I have her as we speak. In between I’ve made my trips down South to bring her candy, and I’ve weathered the phone calls; many of which do not end in a satisfactory fashion. When I go see her she locks her arms around my neck and calls me Daddy. Boy is she starting to rebel… but put the ball in my hand in the final moments. I just will not lose in that game (!)
This year I quit two more jobs. I’m not going to whine about any of it. I will simply say that I do recognize that hearing me speak about it, you get the perception that I’ve made the workplace into the WWF. I dont give a quicky fuck! Don’t exploit my labor and don’t let me get a hint that you’ve enrolled me in some bullshit 9-5 operation by which you claim community and live by bending the curve, even when that means denying access to the very people your claim to serve. That’ll be all, on that, matter 🙂 Believe me, it’s not something I beat my chest about. I’ve been fUcKing bROke! But I will sacrifice.
…And sacrifice is the crossroads where everyone and everything that matters for anything that will matter forever, meet to plan for the virtues of humanity. One of the more heartfelt work experiences I had lasted a year and a half, ending several summers ago in East Harlem. For a little while I had the privilege of working under the guidance of Hector Luis Rivera, Hec1 of the Welfare Poets. Before making his own insubordinate exit from the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, we had a chance to share a bit. He schooled me on some things. A name I recalled him mentioning to me: Oscar Lopez Rivera. ..Well, from that point, I had to know who Oscar Lopez Rivera was!
Wasn’t long before I researched, and found out.
A Puerto Rican patriot whom has been imprisoned in maximum security concentration camps for 30 years. A man I recognize as a political prisoner, as he was never charged with killing a man, but rather, for his political beliefs and affiliations. He believed, preached, and organized his people around the cause of Puerto Rican Independence. The fascist impostures whom position themselves to claim election into the U.S. Government basically made sense of putting he, along with a select group of other educated and politically active Puerto Ricans in prison, as a strategy to suppress any unrest they might cause in their mission to encourage Puerto Ricans to stand up for our right to sovereignty.
January 2009 I received response from Oscar after I wrote him, following Batey Urbano’s staging of “Crimes Against Humanity”, a play about Puerto Rican Political Prisoners, at Hostos Community College. The production had so touched me that I had to connect with Oscar to let him know how his story had affected me. In his letter, he mentioned a walk being organized to bring attention to the imprisonment of our heroes. It would be a almost a year and a half before I heard anything else about such a walk. Early May of this year I finally got word of a walk being organized by the National Boricua Human Rights Network. A walk from Washington DC to New york City; from the Capital to the United Nation, on the 29th anniversary of Oscar’s imprisonment. I had to honor my exchange with Oscar, I had to ride for him, to bring our chance encounter to completion. To honor my heart’s stance for a dignified and sovereign Puerto Rico, with the integrity of remaining connected with Oscar any means with which I was capable.
For six years I had been attending marches, rallies, and other manifestations for everything from the end of War in Iraq, to justice for Sean Bell. Putting the mind and body through a fraction of the perseverance an Oscar Lopez Rivera has had to grasp to, physically, mentally, spiritually, was something else…
I connected with Mike Reyes and Camilo Matos, and the rest was history…
There is no end near. We look forward to 2011 being another great year, as I myself have faith that Oscar will be released from prison. My family is only going to get tighter, my social circles are only going to get tighter. And as far as my writings… there are a few surprises in the winds.
The Freedom Walk Journals
Peace, Dear Oscar;
It has been 29 years that you are in prison, having been captured and charged for helping to bring schools, community centers and programs, and clinics to the poor people of neighborhoods in Chicago which were abandoned, in an era when young visionaries like yourself and the community took up your will in your own hands…
29 years since you were captured and charged for getting young Black and Brown folks to be involved in transforming their reality, inspiring them to begin rebuilding their civilization, and in the mean time feeding their inspiration with valuable information about their history, whom they are, and how they came to assume their fate as Boricuas from La Isla, with a bond to a land that nurtured them and a sun that kept their spirits in circulation through their Latino veins…
You were captured and charged for your mission to enlighten us of not only our self value and the potential as human beings reclaiming our full humanity from the compromised disposition we submit to at the whim of colonization and the colonial mind set, but for keeping alive the message of Lolita Lebron and Pedro Albizu Campos before her and Ramon Emeterio Betances before him, that as Puerto Ricans we have a right to Self Determination over our land.. the right of our Nation to a sovereign State.
You were charged 29 years ago, for no crime at all, but for ‘conspiracy’, to rid, or over throw the U.S. government from Puerto Rico.. from your home away from home in Chicago… where U.S. colonialism and control over Puerto Rico’s economic and political destiny, coerced your fate to bring you, so that your family can earn a living once it was determined that the corporations exploiting our People had had enough workers already…
And when the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, offered a pardon under conditions which would ultimately signify you renouncing our fight.. you turned the deal down! Because it is clear to you why you are in that maximum security cell; you did nothing wrong, there never was a ‘conspiracy’ and neither were you responsible for killing an innocent soul, didn’t have to, would never wish to, that is not your fight. But you were and till this day are clear about what you are fighting for, it is no conspiracy, you are a prisoner of war; a resister of an occupied land, in the diaspora of a resilient people who’ve been co-opted into a barren graveyard of indigenous spirits blowing in your heart, in exchange for a land of fruitful root, which we have never agreed to give…
Your integrity is more than legendary, you are a humble man. A MAN. Man.
Your integrity is the essence of humanity. Free, grounded in the balance between mortality and the infinite potential of our existence.. the dynamic of family and nation, the legacy of ancestral continuity. Imperfect, but real, truthful, simple; all of the triumphs and failures of Love.
A quality of human kind to be preserved. Our kind.
My journey over the next 11 days began before i was born; it began when yours began.
You did a good job in carrying forth a foundation for me to step forth into as a Boricua learning to walk at infancy. Revolutionary minded people understand one another.
But it is my hope that it will crystallize for you as it has for me, when i inquire from your memory whether you recall that i wrote to you about a year and a half ago.
I had just gotten home from seeing the play “Crime Against Humanity”, the National Boricua Human Rights Network’s production about our political prisoners. And in the letter i expressed my gratitude to you and recognition for your commitment and contribution to the struggle, and i threw in a little bit about how i came to reclaim my heritage, and how i struggle to remain in struggle with the struggle, to be all giving and guiding, to be guided; although, i was much less abstract in my wording 🙂
And it was to my surprise that weeks later i would receive a response; your voice connecting with a sort of peace and sincerity one gets from a Grandfather.
It was in that letter, that you proclaimed to be on a mission to run a thousand miles to spark awareness of Political Prisoners, and that some folks outside in the world were organizing to be in solidarity with you.
After a euphoric couple of days i felt a sense of doubt. I remember telling some folks about the letter and getting for example a skeptical response: “Walk 1000 miles in a cell?” My friend was right i thought, whom was writing me i wondered; the State has access to his communication.. it probably isn’t even Oscar…
Two weeks ago Oscar, and more than a year since the letter, i came upon word that Michael Reyes and Camilo Matos of the NBHRN were bound for DC to walk 238 miles in your honor. “Freedom Walk” it is called, an 11 day mission to get from the Capital to the United Nations by the 29th of May, on the 29th year of your incarceration!
This was exciting news to me. This was no coincidence. It is one of the thousands of walks i was set out to take before i was born.
Interesting thing is i worked with Mike contributing a day as a volunteer during the NBHRN’s 30 day public prison cell instillation. They needed a guard so hey, i was a guard (you dont know how i neeeeeded to redeem myself*). It was the day before i took a job, which i recently resigned. After leaving the job, i am presented with the opportunity to rejoin in NBHRN’s campaign.
I contacted Mike right away and expressed my willingness to join with any resources which may aid the trip, and with my feet! I told him about the letter you had written me and how this has come full circle. And alas i got the response inviting me to join.
Over the next 11 days i will be walking, over 20 miles a day, for 8 hours a day. And every night i will be writing you, in this open letter to share with friends and family whom will in essence be walking with me 🙂
It is the least i could do to honor the struggle of those whom came before me, and to be in solidarity with and to honor you and your legacy, to remind you that you are not alone, as there are brilliant young Boricuas (Latino’s in general: Michael is Chicano), still fighting…
Thank you Oscar,
This is for you!
May 18, 2010
I write you this letter as it is nearing 2am, as Camilo is out asleep, along with our driver Curtis, and Michael is preparing to put the night to rest. We ended late, finishing our first day of walking at 8pm. We had planned to begin at 9 am this morning, but got a late start and after walking a couple of misdirected lengths, had finally found our road to hit a stride on.
Right now i feel as if though i have been hit by a car. My bones feel like stakes splintering at the slightest bend, and my joints and ligaments are not loosening up between them for nothing! For awhile, i walked around like a mummy or child whom has made a booboo in the pants; every step a painful reminder of the strong 25 miles we completed today on our walk. It was an endeavor i took on rather spontaneously and unlike Camilo and Michael, hadn’t been training for.
Spirits are up as we rejoice in having exceeded our goal of a 24 mile a day pace, although, our technology had been misinforming us on the road, having led us believe that we had done 29. When we got home it was confirmed, but while im hassled by a sense of remiss over not meeting the symbolic marker, we accomplished what we had set out for.
We are at a Sister’s house on Rhode Island Avenue, where we retracted to spend the night. I smell of BenGay and am gracious to be preparing lunch for tomorrow, as im afraid with the condition i am in at this present time, i may need to rest tomorrow if even only for half/ if not most/ all of the day.
I look for ways in which to make myself useful (doesn’t help that i don’t drive).
This is unfortunate because i want to be in solidarity with my Brothers and i want this walk to reflect the utmost integrity. Still we shall see.. mind over matter, and perhaps i will wake with a bearable pain!
Approaching the capitol building was no sweat. The four of us took pictures on the way, self affirming what this trip means to us from the outset. We stretched and overstood the washington monument, which erects directly across from the capitol’s rear, reflecting for a little bit. Perhaps our minds were in different places, the four of us, or, maybe there was a synergy born out of our common purpose. Speaking for myself, i know my mind was in several places, including behind us where i felt the tall thin white man in shades and a black windbreaker jacket, typical secret service type garb, studying us. I was composed and at peace. Not like i’m naive to the fact that with technology today and how we share our beliefs and mission publicly, our presence was most probably anticipated if even by some low level staff-person designated to monitor for us. ‘Freedom’ is freedom though and we will assume every freedom we are ‘bestowed’, as we challenge them for the every additional freedom we are owed.
Taking pictures out on the front steps of the Capitol Building with Free Oscar & Carlos posters was all the matter. Suited up military apparatus in the background of our pictures, armed with the highest caliber of weaponry in history, affirmation of our undying resistance.
“Should we make a left, or a right?”
“I think if we follow the lights”
Trying to walk in conformity with driving directions proved to be a regrettable waste of time and energy. Michael and Camilo put the trip together on the fly. It was something that had been burning within them, and the timing they calculated, was ripe enough to just do it/get it done/ initiate. None of us are working at the present time, and so while a 10 day trip may not be feasible for everyone, it was something they had determined had to be done. Which Mike has expressed an awareness of Brothers and Sisters close to the campaign being in disagreement over.
In my opinion it is a tough call to make, because indeed i have seen alot of talk over the years and watched alot not get done.. I hold myself accountable to poor integrity on this matter. Sometimes, it just takes a person or two to take leadership. And developments which have followed make a case for this point. More and more voices have arisen in support of the walk, and we are even looking forward to folks joining later on, as it has sparked a fire of sorts. Who knows.. had they waited around too long to manifest this mission, it mightve died in their spirits, and there may have been nobody to pick it up…
The other side of the coin presents itself in the organizational roadblocks which have presented themself as a consequence. The map situation wound up leading us into an unexpected dilemma… after walking a couple of miles on the outset, we met a freeway with no walking path, and were forced to veer into the urban grid of streets which did not account for themselves in our instructions. We were lost without a visual.
Working on his truck was a Guatemalan Brother, whom we approached for directions back to a main road. It was determined after some inquiry, that because of the many crossings and intersections we would run into, he would give us a short lift to route 1. This was our initial encounter with what would become a most inspiring revelation on our first day of walking. Latinos have come to represent BIG along the East Coast! And in our family/communal fashion we are here for one another.
Latino/ Carribeno, Sud Americano restaurants were becoming from peppered along the route, to every several blocks, and eventually at points, every other business. And our Brown People, working along the way, landscaping, garages, etc. This has been something you expect in a place like New York for generations already.. but i remember traveling down to family in Virginia a decade and a half ago, and feeling like an alien; isolated with nary a Latino in sight. Could have been my age and at the time my lack of my identity consciousness wasn’t inspiring me to notice.. or, perhaps it is the times. It has been beautiful to witness. Eventually we would meet a Hondureno Brother whom kicked it with us for a little bit at one of our rest stops. We told him about how we are walking to New York. He offered support, gave us a little cash for our travels. Vaya!
Our first estimation of how many miles we’d traveled was discouraging. We waited outside the University of Maryland for our van, throwing guesstimates around.. “Probably around 12” we thought.
“9” We were soon corrected. But we weren’t deterred. We ate, and rehydrated. And back on the rebound we were. Next stop, verify, “18”. Small talk, exchange of ideas/dialogue, relationship building; empty lots, old churches, woods, convenience stores, public housing, woods, artist enclaves, shopping centers. Next rest, verify “22”. Woods, restaurants, gas stations, woods, bars, private residences, woods, cemeteries, hotels; silent reflection, jokes, recuerdos, open observations, cell phone texting and calls… Next rest, verify: “26.8”.
The final stretch was grueling. For me, certainly, my bones had gotten heavy, and with each rest, were demanding a halt with more and more certainty that i could not continue on. But my mind is in this! and i was choosing with every next step my body was asserting it wouldn’t take, for my mind to take precedence. The other guys were in much better shape, although even they had finally begun to break down slowly.
“Let’s do 29” Camilo encouraged, to which we all pitched our hand in support! But a few hundred yard efforts on top of that would become all the more crippling. Camilo had begun to hob gingerly, and i was darn near wavering to collapse in a pair of flat high top tennis shoes no person in their right mind would set out 20 miles with! “Well, if we stop at 28” i later rationalized “technically anytime before the 29th, he is still in his 28th year,” to which the Brothers laughed. We wanted to do it for you Oscar.
And just when we knew we had it in us to make it to what we were sure was the Arby’s the Curtis told us he’d park the van to wait for us at (presumably the 29th mile), the sign grew clear into a god damn Super 8 Motel, as we drew near. And we just knew at that point that we couldn’t continue, not collectively at least. Camilo and of course i, we were down for the count.
The guys have recovered though. Not so much I. Not much I, actually, certainly not I.
I can barely move. My skin has become a caste around my bones. I am stiff.
I just took a hot bath to no avail, it loosed me up for a little, but tightened me back to this rigid state before the water lost it’s steam.
Reflection is deep amongst us though as we are celebrating this endeavor today. Michael feels a sense of history, as do i. If nothing else, one knows on a personal level, when their action is transformative. Praxis. It means alot to me to be apart of this.
The van was stopped earlier. Curtis informed us that after running a light he was questioned by police, whom wrote down the website and took pictures of our posters.
It’s all good. I mean, of course that is more of a concerning issue than the amount of mileage we found ourselves debating over confirming, having discovered we were four miles off of our assumed finish. But in these times, it is no shock. We are in a big white van circling the city for an hour or so, we were carrying posters with the Puerto Rican flag and two Political Prisoners’ faces on it.
What IS concerning to me though, is this article i’ve just read on the internet, reporting (2 days late; it happened Monday) that in Puerto Rico a man from Rhode Island had been detained at the airport for trying to bring box cutters on the airplane. We are staying the night where our hermana Angelika lives, on “Rhode Island Avenue”
I am well researched on COINTELPRO and the manipulation of intelligence and yellow journalism.
I wonder if that incident had happened at all! Or if it was Washington waving at us.
Tomorrow we continue
The wake up call came early this morning, as Michael received a ring he had been awaiting.
It was Representative Congressman Luis Guttierez inviting us to come stop by.
Guttierez as you may have read/may know, has been advocating for Independence in reference to the recent status bill that is on the table for Puerto Rico. He is also at the forefront of the fight to repeal Arizona’s recent anti-Latino legislation.
He only had 15 minutes to meet he said.
So we hopped out of bed, put on our shoes, and without washing up, headed out, putting a rain check on breakfast and our morning preparations.
My joints weren’t much more durable than they were last night. Which isn’t very encouraging seeing how i’ve suffered with them over the years. Inflammation gave me problems conditioning and going long stretches of the season when i played baseball in high school, and my knees get inflamed regularly now. My Sister, whom is a Physicians Assistant is constantly reminding me i need to get checked, as she ties that in together with my respiratory difficulties, and even attributes my clubbed nails with what she theorizes can be some form of rheumatoid arthritis or something. I don’t know, i think my family can be neurotic about such matters of health. I don’t trust in medicine like that. I was even stagnant debating whether to take Camilo’s pain reliever pills, finally taking one, than giving in almost immediately to another when the pain got me to the point i was giddy last night. Pain and blood make me delirious.
But out of bed it was. At that point i had determined, based on the fact that it was a task just to fully erect to my feet, that i was not in any condition to walk today. And in fact, in realizing how tomorrow Michael may have to take over driving duties, with Curtis leaving, that i will probably have to walk with Camilo, i settled uncompromisingly in allowing myself a day to heal. I was able to get out and push to make it to the van, lagging as much as i had, but with the time constraints in order, i couldn’t be a burden and slow the Brothers down from meeting with Guttierez, so thus, i waived off their request that i join them up to his office. I wasn’t leaving that van.
Camilo and Mike are resilient man! They are soldiers!
Oh they were sore, especially Camilo i imagine, but they were set in their mind on what the goal was. Average 23 a day. What would set us back today though, was cutting the walk short to get Curtis to his train; making the window 6.5 hours.
They had their stretch and their water; they were dressed light and sun-screened to combat against the heat sitting on our backs like a stubborn elephant; they had their map and the addition of a flag Mike created last night sticking up in the air from Camilo’s backpack, reading: http://www.Walk-For-Oscar.com.
And they were off, scooting into the road’s narrowing.
Curtis and i headed four miles ahead to meet them at our first marker. It was a library.
A Perfect opportunity for me to settle down and complete yesterday’s letter to you. Although, any place wouldn’ve done with the urgency to get to a toilet pumping underfoot. The diet we’ve been adjusting to is high in protein and carboydrates; we are eating plenty of nuts and peanut butter, oatmeal, pasta, and bananas. Which for some reason has translated to gas and yet, difficulty getting out what has begun rumbling in there. It was the shot of coffee i had before leaving Angelica’s apartment. I knew it would do the trick!
In leaving the library i found myself entering a point of contention in my soul. I had gotten comfortable there for some 3 hours, with Curtis leaving to meet the Brothers at the first two rests. Was i falling out of integrity to our action? yes! 3 hours was over extending it. Camilo and Michael were walking in those three hours. I was navigating the internet.
Upon finally meeting back with them, i was prepared to be a productive reserve.
I was to clean up a bit and organize some of the mess; i was to prepare to bring them water and gatorade; I was making use of the bananas going bad on the dashboard, smashing them into soy milk containers and mixing in protein powder for a shake; as much as i could i helped Curtis navigate the streets with a bad map.
Observing the transition between towns from the van gave me a perspective i hadn’t gotten pacing along on foot. As we approached Baltimore it was becoming more and more apparent the boys would be trekking through a poverty we had yet seen on our route. First it was the poor white outskirts where for a couple of minutes we drove past run down housing and tattooed, pale skinned folk smoking cigarettes and straggling along. Then the poor Black streets; longer and more prevalent ahead; houses low to the ground, Brothers and Sisters squinted in the sun’s glare on their stoops. Somewhere behind us was Mike and Camilo, two strangers marching with a flag, sure to draw inquisitive eyes.
Finding our marked streets, avenues, and intersections once we got into the city was exhausting. I got an appreciation for Curtis’ role. We were no longer on route 1. From here on we were going to have to maneuver around and zigzag from destination to destination.
Having met just before the metropolis backdrop of a baseball stadium, the Brothers had checked in, refreshed, and kept it moving on looking like they were in condition to continue for another five hours. But Curtis was not as relaxed. He had committed to driving a few days but had to make a 7:55 train if he was going to make work in the morning. Bumper to bumper traffic in the blazing sun of downtown Baltimore didn’t calm his nerves. By 6:00pm we would find ourselves lost, in an unfamiliar place, unable to find cross streets, trying to imagine where Camilo and Mike were, and bickering between each other about whether we were going in the right direction.
It was all good. By 6:30 we bothered them with a call for their location and figured out a way to find them there. They were at a gas station cooling down, with 17 miles on their feet.
Seeing Curtis off set a new challenge for us.
For the next two days we will not have a driver. While Curtis is going to try returning for Monday, we will have to come up with creative alternatives for the weekend.
Some of the options include, parking the van 24 miles ahead of our starting point and taking a cab back. Or hitching a ride for a reasonable cost if that turns out to be too expensive an option.
Whatever the case, i will need to be mentally strong, because i won’t have a crutch to lean on. We will be 24 miles away from our van, without a 3rd man at our convenience. So that’s 24 miles i will HAVE to walk. And i do feel better, but hell i am still really sore.
CARLOS IS BEING RELEASED!
60 miles into our walk, we rest exuberant in spirit tonight feeling a sense of fulfillment. Although we will not feel completion until your release, the release of all our Political Prisoners, and then there is the freedom of Puerto Rico, for which you did not fight in vain! But the struggle calls for celebration today, as those of us whom will not rest until completion, committing our lives and making sacrifices can rest awake and present for a manifestation towards liberation. For some of us more than others, but certainly for ALL Boricuas, Carlos’ sacrifice and now his return signifies the utmost dignity of our grind in and against the system!
Witnessing Camilo and Michael learn the news drew my pride, knowing how for years they have put in work for the release of Carlos. Over that time, remaining consistent, searching for ways to be resourceful, wrestling with doubt during times in which it may have seemed like they were in it alone. Overcoming the chains of colonialism can be overwhelming. There are so many layers. One comes to realize that in a very deep humanistic sense they, their family, their people have been raped. That their children and their children’s children will be raped, submitting themselves to the will of a master. And that person says basta ya! I will not make myself in the mirror for you in the morning, and i will not worry whether i left everything in place for you at night. Some of us heal, cultivating a transformation which prepares us to counter the system, whether through art, or dialogue, organizing, reclaiming spaces which belong to us. Mike and Camilo are leaders in this struggle, as they are free. I am a leader in this struggle, as i have come to the place where i can command my oppression to shame itself away; i am free. And someday Oscar, like Camilo, Michael and I, like Carlos, like you are, all of our people will be leaders! We all will be free.
It was a good day today!
Mike and Camilo spent most of last night reaching out to find people to commit to assisting us with driving over the remainder of our trip. They were updating the website to let the NBHRN know where we are at and what to expect upon our return. They were between calls, getting people to walk with us into NYC on our final day, and for a meeting place on the 29th.
I was in the kitchen preparing dinner and lunch; something i’ve learned to do pretty well living in communal spaces over the past few years.
By morning we were set upon continuing with what we have, which is alot when you consider that everything in addition to the heart we bring to this, just adds on to what we’ve got to account for and carry around. Truthfully one can make this trip with a backpack and sneakers; but Mike has the van, Camilo brought alot of medical ointments and pills, I have a little extra money to spend if the budget runs. Thanks to the support of people contributing to the walk we actually have a budget. Thanks to folks like Angelica, we have places to stay throughout this journey. But we were unable to obtain a driver for today, and so we got creative.
The morning lagged as there were still calls to make to set things in order, set things in motion down the road. There was also much needed healing to do and rest to get, so accordingly, we wouldn’t leave Angelica’s apartment until the afternoon. Preparing myself mentally for the challenge of resuming after a day off my feet, i sunk into the energy around our mission and began an intimate communication between my will and my body. I soaked in cold then hot water, i applied joint soothing cream, ate and had my coffee, packed up my bags, and helped clean up for our departure. First destination was Modells for some gel insoles to place in my sneakers. I also bought wrapping to keep my feet my ankles sturdy and strong. By the time we actually began walking it was 3:30pm. We were ready to do this until midnight if it meant getting the 24 miles needed to place us back on track with the pace we projected to keep.
But it was necessary and i think fair to make some concessions towards adapting to our circumstance in lacking a driver. For the past several days we’ve had someone to depend on, whom could advance in four and five mile increments, for us to meet up with to eat and re-up on water, check in and rest a moment. With Camilo and I never having learned to drive and Michael bonded to The Freedom Walk with the objective of walking every mile of the 238 we’ve set out to complete, we came up with a plan.
Last night Camilo researched and found a motel 24 miles ahead of our last marker. We would drive back to the point Mike and Camilo ended at yesterday, mark the mileage on the barometer and drive half of the 24 miles to designate that the halfway point for our mark today. We would continue to drive to the hotel, park the van, load up our water, food, medical supplies, and begin walking backwards. Ultimately, if we made it to the 12 mile mark, then turned around and walked back to the motel, we would make it by 11pm or so, having walked 24 miles, thus keeping on track with the the millage needed as we continue on to NY in 238 miles. It would allow us all to be apart of the experience and would eliminate the hassle of Michael driving, stopping, walking back, driving, stopping, walking back.. In the same vain it essentially meant we would be doing 12 straight miles without stopping, coming to a rest, and returning 12 miles without the van at our disposal. Taking into consideration, the fact that i was just returning from a day of healing, and still yet fully healed, we agreed it best to maybe even minimize today’s goal to 20 miles; 10 going and 10 returning, with the promise to set back some miles tomorrow so that we could gain on what we owe to the total.
Whatever the case WE WILL have gotten 238 miles in from DC to NY!
This being a trailblazing year of sorts, trial and error is to be expected for the sake of what Michael is hoping will give a clearer structure for a walk next year, in which 30 people are invited to walk in solidarity with your 30th year in prison Oscar. Next year the mission will be a more solid walk, and in fact with 30 people, could very well be a straight walk, no rest stops with enough vehicles to hold folks resting and alternating turns forward. We shall see…
The relationship i’ve been building with my body is going to be key in me taking on this challenge. I am going to need to listen to it, to feel; adjust my weight on and off of different areas, back heel, side heel, big toe, pinky toe… I began to favor my right foot early on in the walk today. For the first half hour or so my knees and ankles were sore but they felt strong with the assistance of the wraps and insoles. Then came the streak of pain. It was sharp. And as i continued, it began to get more and more sensitive, ceding to a ginger limp. Once, twice, three times the fellas stopped for me as i made fixes to my wrapping. Uphill, downhill, 3 miles, 5 miles. Doubt began to set upon me as to whether i would be able to make the 10 mile mark without stopping. The brothers kept encouraging me to halt, wait for them to round about, and continue fresh back to the motel upon their return later on. But i wanted to keep going!
Soon thereafter we learned the news.
“Yo, Carlos is getting out in July”
There was victory in the air, a surge of purpose. How fitting is it that while we are on the Freedom Walk it is announced that Carlos will be released?
This made our trip!
For the next hour Mike was on the telephone ecstatic between comrades with whom he has put in years of work on the campaign. Camilo was on the phone with family and folks from NBHRN. I was grateful, and while i do not have the history they have of being prolific in organizing the movement, as a Free Boricua, love deep in the struggle, the release of one of our heroes is monumental to me.
I do not know if it was the news about Carlos, or if it was that my bones were alas coming to obedience, but the pain slowly dimmed as my breathing pattern in my ear, and the roadside ambiance captured my focus. The burden of the bruising still placed my every step, but the mental fortitude which had suddenly possessed me put me on pace and confident that i was going to make it.
Our conversation was perhaps a great factor as well. Mike had mentioned how over the years such actions as the Freedom Walk have resulted in him building lifelong relationships in the movement. I reflect on the potential to build like-bonds and how they are paramount to the greater current of nationhood.
I am learning alot from these Brothers, alot of valuable information that is helping me better internalize the particular character and evolution of the movement. Much of what we discuss i already know, i am no newbie to the struggle, my mentors have prepared me well with a foundation of dialogue and critical discourse, to be able to place myself and to read my surroundings. But in ‘building’/bonding through our dialogue, and collective work, we are solidifying groundwork for the future, personally and collectively.
The fact that our discourse is a critical one has proven over generations to be a struggle in and of itself. But i believe it is for the greater good. The particles must breakdown, build, expand, contract; that’s how energy is built. To my belief a movement for liberation is not effective towards a transformative ends if it is led by indoctrination and blind patriotism. Hopefully what We have gone through in our internal struggles are the growing pains that heal and build a tolerance necessary for the long haul!
So we discussed some of our experiences of communication breakdown, as well as productivity. Mike being from Chicago, the history of the politics between tribes in the movement and how many of our generation have chosen to transcend and leave foulness in the past in envisioning up a more unified direction.
But what i’ve most enjoyed is becoming enlightened about your story.
Legend has it, that there was an incident in Vietnam, in which your platoon escaped from being ambushed when for a moment, a suspended moment in time, you made eye contact with a Vietnamese man you had come upon. Similar in your Brown complexions and your chinito eyes relative to his, time stopped in your stares, as if though your souls conjoined. I imagine more than what it meant being enough time to avoid casualties in your platoon, was the impression you walked away with. The impression upon your spirit, the human reflection upon your relationship to that war, as a colonized citizen being sent to violently impose the imperial will of the capitalist world empire on a people like your own.
I am filled with inspiration learning about Oscar Lopez Rivera, and walking for Oscar Lopez Rivera, struggling for the freedom of our people and our homeland.
We made the 10 mile mark in 3 hours. That might have been our best timing so far, of any 3 hour stretch over the past 3 days. It was 6:30 and the sun was orange and mellow, the heat comfortable, glazing our skin with an effortless sheen. We felt great. After a 15 minute break, in which we shared reflections and re-applied creams to our joints, we headed back.
Cutting our goal down to 20 was a good call. The walk back was a test of resilience. Initiating the pace was difficult, but after 10 minutes we were back in an easy stride. However, as darkness began to fall the aching began to scream in my mind. I fell exhausted, not with my breathing or pain but the resistance of my feet, slowing down, weighing heavy, agitating my patience. More than my body it was my mind, yearning to make the hotel, looking every turn for places i can recall being close, misjudging how close we were.
“We’re about half way there”
The doubt again.
“You can do it!”
The guys supported me. I hung tough. They stopped for me when i needed it. They understood i needed this day to get back on my feet, and we were in this together.
“You see that moon. …Right now Oscar cannot see that moon.”
Michael began to recite poetry, i shared a bit.
It took our mind off of the miles.
Camilo marched with absolute conviction. Flag erecting from his back!
Finally we got back in.
It was almost 10pm.
20 miles down.
Another test of my strength, another testament to my will…
I have now proven to myself that i can do it, by the day.
I woke up this morning feeling sore, but healthy. My bones are strong, and my joints i can work with, albeit i still feel like i should be peeing blood. So once again i set out for the distance, and trailed just behind the boys from beginning to end.
When it was all said and done, we were 19 miles closer to New York.
I don’t know if it’s going to prove to be a good thing (hopefully im building stamina) or a bad thing (but do i need to lend time to recover?) but it proves i will be able to do at least two days at a time.
This Pulaski Highway seems less and less a comfortable place to walk with every pick up truck that shoots us past. Yesterdays walk began with us traveling some town which must’ve been called Gunsmoke. There was a Gunsmoke park and stores with signs reading Gunsmoke Convenient Store for example. Gun shops i concluded, equal hard-line ‘All Americana'(cough)bigoted white people. Today the transition was even more apparent (i mean we came to a traffic light and stopped to cross the street. My eyes skimmed past the heads behind the windshield of the first five or six cars, and these were like, the type of sun burnt hawkish demeanored white folk you find few and far between in the city); we weren’t in Kansas anymore, and we were headed for the mountains…
First order of business though, was making an 89 mile run to pick up Samuel, a Video Director Michael flew in, to document the walk. Plans had been arranged for Samuel to be picked up by a contact closer to Ronald Regan Airport, when at around 11am Camilo checked his phone to discover a message informing us that his contact would not be able to make it.
We were forced to piece our selves together as quick as possible, as Samuel’s plane had already landed. What it all meant was another late start. Getting us out from under the covers was pulling teeth so we weren’t nearly prepared for an early start as it were. But there’s a big difference between a 12:30 start and a 3:30 start.
You do what you can, and seeing how Samuel (dually designated to be our driver for now) had an early morning, boarding a 6:30 flight, we made sure to pack well, as he was going to need time to rest back at the motel. Like yesterday it might have to be another 10 miles in one shot deal, without a support vehicle we figured. Plenty of water, gatorade, and nuts/fruit would help us endure. The only thing we left behind were the joint & muscle soothing creams.
Barring my insecurity concerning rednecks observing two Arabic looking men, one with a Puerto Rican flag, walking roadside the past couple days, things began smoothly. We stretched, wrapped our feet, and eased into a good pace. Over 3 miles the first hour, second hour over three miles again, and the same in the third hour, over three miles. We were at a 3.5 mile an hour pace; perfectly willing to walk well into the night, but content to finish as soon as possible if possible.
Conversing is a great way to burn the time without realizing it. There are those moments in which any one of us might stray succinct into a silent meditative like state, one with nature, in memory, or perhaps contemplation of our mission. Then there are those fluid exchanges we have been sharing about music and cultura, or politics, or our selves and community back home. Camilo and i really built early on, discussing politics of the island and his experience working with Claridad under Dennis Rivera around the time SEIU was attempting to co-opt the Teacher’s Union in Puerto Rico. Michael flirts in and out of conversation, normally taking up the lead, setting the pace in the front, on the telephone or to himself, if he and Camilo are not together in step collaborating on plans moving forward. Every once in awhile though, and especially today with blisters on his feet and a slight pain in the knee, he falls back a bit. Later on he and I found ourselves discussing Male privilege and sharing experiences through which we accounted for breaking integrity, but also exploring some of the gray area and struggles that even us Men find ourselves faced with, learning to combat on our feet, failing and learning along the way. As Mike put it and i guess in a myriad of ways it applies to me: He was raised as a Mexican man, by a traditional Mexican woman. It was a conversation triggered mainly by the fact that there were these billboards we began noticing quite popular in this town, with young women, mostly of color, informing Sisters of their rights and reminding men of a Woman’s right to consent to sex.
At the 9 mile mark we were brought to yield, at a massive bridge with no walking lane. For awhile, Samuel wouldn’t pick up his phone either, so we veered off a bit to be with the river.
Everytime we stop my legs get heavier and it becomes more and more of a burden to resume.. in fact, i have discovered at this point that it is easier on my feet when we are at a quick pace. Some fifty yards before me the fellas stopped at the water. I remained aback, trying to stretch. Finally Samuel picked up his telephone; he had been sleeping.
Across the bridge we could see the latitude of the roads up ahead, rising, although we had already come a ways uphill from our starting point whether or not we could tell. And again, it was just the road and us; Samuel returning to the motel to get some more rest in and await the call to pick us up at around 10pm. The gas station he left us at set before us a moment of truth as to whether we could be safe wandering a place like this. Camilo has been carrying that flag unapologetically. Naturally people were going to ask. Mike and I observed as he began to close into a discussion with an easy voiced slender white man with a trucker hat.
“What were his politics”
“He wanted Puerto Rico to be free”
“Oh i can understand that. What are they, talkin bout making it a state or somthing?”
I must admit that it gets me nervous.
The guys celebrated the encounter as confirmation that in fact there are many ‘conservative’ white Americans whom might be sympathetic to the walk, if even with the cynical/ironic outlook that they do not want Puerto Rico becoming a state.
I am still leery, especially should we come upon persons with military background, whom yes, might be opposed to having a state of Puerto Rico, but totally live by the imperial model which says ‘we need Puerto Rico as a proxy’, or ‘it makes us safe to have military bases around the world’.
Just earlier a jet streaming of Harley Davidson motor engines whizzed us by; about 15 bikes. My mother lives in Staten Island, i know the politics of those people.
You really can’t tell with white people. Just two days earlier Mike had expressed a bit of tension having come upon a more urban poor white neighborhood outside of Baltimore. But i had made a statement which i feel like holds true if anything, where we are now.
“They are normally only dangerous when they are in groups. Otherwise they wont fuck with you”
Well… that was the outskirts of the Black urban soul of Baltimore, where these poor white folk are scattered. Here we are approaching the mountains of Pennsylvania, where the populous is deep enough and more inclined to tug the belt buckle up with the toothpick rolling in the mouth.
And as we got higher and higher into the more desolate provinces, where houses looked like they were turning into plantations sparse between one another, folks indeed, began hollering out of their car windows. On a couple of occasions, these seemed to be as though they may have been simple recognition that we’ve been on the road for some time, we even theorized some mightve thought the Puerto Rican flag was the Texas flag. Other times the yell was more violent, a clear threat. On one particular occasion i jumped.
The contradictions tugged my nerves between them. Twice a car full of females made passes at us. Yesterday, stopping before us with the woman in the passenger seat wondering what we were doing that she saw us walk by her house hours before, and finishing our encounter wishing us luck and recommending we continue without pants. The second car today, turning a street with a woman yelling out “You’re cute”.
And there was the man whom stopped us to offer water, stating that he’s noticed us on the road over the past two days.
Our night ended in a darker manner however. We limped it out until 10pm, settling at a gas station across the street from a sign informing us we had made it 50 miles outside of Philadelphia. Our spirits were high, although, even Mike’s body is hurt at this point.
We sat with our shoes off, crouched forward and stretched out waiting on Samuel to scoop us up.
When a truck pulled up slowly, about 40 feet away from us, with its headlights shining in our faces.
It stood there for a solid minute or two, challenging me to stare forth, warning me to turn and look somewhere else,
before pulling off.
Today we crossed into Delaware.
The bigger news; receiving a call of support from Rafael Cancel Miranda.
Signs of rain greeted us outside the shades this morning. The floor was stained from puddles and damp clouds were charging through the sky.
There was a relative silence in the air from the time we awoke till our motion to clean up and check out of the motel. It was a meditative energy, with us passing one another food, first aid supplies, and loose possessions.
Over the past couple of days we’ve been anticipating Philadelphia. Today was a day to make gains on the road signs. We didn’t start very early, but at least we were back at our 12:30 routine.
Thankfully, the morning conditioning worked. Our pace set itself to about 3.5 miles an hour.
The hills would eventually flatten and so i imagine the final stretch of the 20-24 mile goal would not have been as difficult as it was yesterday. I wouldn’t know about those final miles. While i eventually did get in stride with the Brothers; meeting Michael’s estimation that we might have to begin increasing our three hour walking lengths to four if we are to make it by Saturday, was only going to take me so far.
I was with it, i was down, i went those four straight hours, 11 miles straight no stopping. But the days have mounted their toll on me. If i have to i will continue going, i will truck on through the pain and hobble forth, come home and half heal before starting again in the morning. But do i have to? Why would i? If i don’t continue, michael and Camilo will carry the walk, and i have come to accept that this is ok.
What is more important i’ve concluded, is getting healthy to be able to go the final stretch of days. We waved Samuel further down the road every three miles he parked to offer a break. Just as we finally turned into a field to wait, the clouds began to sprinkle. For Camilo and Mike it was the halfway mark, i was passing the knee brace off for the day.
Something happens whenever we receive good news or contact concerning the prisoners. I never thought to be one to embellish on this fact, seeing myself in the light of an educated Puerto Rican whom has reclaimed his/her historical memory and the dignity of our nation, maybe participated in a few demonstrations to stand for what i believe, but all the while i’ve remained distant from any tendency to embrace the pamphletero within. Celebrate yes, of course, prisoners such as you Oscar are our visionaries and ethical conscience, and i have always embraced and loved my elders; but i’ve never been in a moment of optimism or faith as has been lent me through the word we are receiving. I do not speak for anyone else, as i recognize the sacrifice and great work of many my own age whom i see in the purist light; they in fact inspire me. I am grateful, and if only we all knew of them because all Boricuas aught to be!
Perhaps it is that, if anything, I haven’t allowed for my conviction to embrace me to a point where i am as committed as my peers. Or perhaps i am where i am supposed to be, they do what they do and i do what i do, this is my rhythm and that is good enough. Neither state can be fair to settle into though, not with what word about Carlos being released the day before yesterday, or with speaking with Don Rafa, stimulated in me. Not with the need for more participation in the movement to free Puerto Rico. I sacrifice sounding like a poser of grandiosity, but those whom know me know i wouldn’t say it if it weren’t real, i am relatively stoic in my reaction to such matters (as Camilo and Mike might have even seen in my face, noticeably less enthused *though no less grateful) but, my feet stopped hurting. On both occasions i was motivated to do more! My feet literally went light.. The first time, with finding out about Carlos
i didn’t even tell any of them, wrestling with my perception as to whether it had anything to do with word of his release. But the freshness of the air in my lungs and the light i felt my eyes and my lips giving off huddled over the phone with Don Rafael, the second wind in my step, i had to let it be known.
“I am there with you” said Don Rafael Cancel Miranda.
He asked whom i was and i told him, Tony Rivera, from Brooklyn, to which he replied in Spanish.
Camilo translated for me that he was telling me that when he took off for Congress in ’54, he had been living in South Brooklyn.
“I thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you in my heart.” i replied.
There wasn’t much that i could think to say.
I never do when i meet somebody i have great admiration for.
When i met Miguel Cotto, all i could push from my lips was: “Bro, Love”
This was Don Rafael, i’m glad he knows who i am for this time, and will always remember what i’m doing.
I am sure amongst everything on their minds, with all the thoughts a long walk raises, was the experience of receiving such a symbolic call.
We caught up, having received their request to pick them up at around 8:30pm; an 8 hour day; 23 miles.
Then the ride to Philadelphia, which has been a beacon of motivation, waning our spirits with a bit of exhaustion the longer and longer it took to make our destination. Each of us realized that while we’ve made great gain; about 100 miles: we have a lonnnng way to go; physically, psychologically..
We’ll be returning to the spot we left off back in Delaware tomorrow. For the next few nights though we will be in Philly already, at the Brother Avila’s house.
I never met Avila until now, but he is a great man. As soon as we got in he made sure we understood the entire space and all of its resources were open to us. He even mentioned having to go and make keys for us.
His home is also his gallery. He is a great artist with portraits inspired from the movement. His biggest portrait was of Don Rafa. It looked just like him. In the middle of the wall, between Filiberto and Juan Antonio Corretjer.
They were with us.
An actual bathtub, a kitchen, the smell of coffee brewing
are all anmenities one can appreciate waking up to again, after a couple of days
digging salmon out of a can in a backroads motel.
This morning the Sister Lesley came by to introduce herself, catch up with Mike, and
offer her support. Courtesy of Lesley we look forward to having an air mattress, some Philly Cheese Steaks, and the follow through on her much appreciated proposal to bring our dirty clothes with her, to wash in her home.
Another gracious host without whom this effort would become all the more difficult, and perhaps even less significant. In an ideal time we might have dozens/hundreds of offers to house us just in one city, and leave from each home with half the family to continue along with. But what is for now, will due for now. We look forward to folks joining us in New York. The more people whom are involved, the better. I even venture to say, the more people we’ve never seen at a function before, the better; although this might seem obvious, it’s worth emphasizing. The more Boricuas involved the better.
One aspect of her life right now that Lesley shared, is her daughter’s dealing with a boyfriend whom is leaving off to the airforce.
Lesley mentioned that her daughter, despite years of discouragement from anything military, by her parents, is contemplating joining the service as well. My words to Lesley seeing she’s already done all she could at this point, is to support her daughter in whatever decision she makes. Which of course is something i don’t need to tell a mother, and i didnt need to tell her, there was no question she does, though she remains none too pleased.
The military question is a tricky one for me. Our people need to each teach and learn from another about the military industrial complex, and how the system is indeed engineered to exploit our burdens as Brown People (most of which in themselves are due to the denial of opportunity and basic rights),
in order to suppress our communities from enjoying the full resources of this country, AND to sustain itself (prison system) in light of its potential to create jobs and bring money to rural and small town America. Yes our people need to know about it, and need to resist it, fight it, abolish that system…
Most Black and Brown youth Lesley’s daughter’s age, whom are coming out of an upbringing in environments which inspire little hope of a quality of life in the future, are recruited and promised stability, promised as Camilo put so timely later on, things that we aught to be getting ANYWAY! Basic human rights, like healthcare, housing, and education (see the irony in how the reality reveals itself: how we are denied these things and given roadblocks to access them, then an easy way out by joining to fight and take over more resources from another place, which a later generation will be able to work to buy, if there is work at all *or join the services, to buy).
I’m getting a bit wordy, but my point being, that we need to stand against the existence of a military controlled by a corrupt and exploitative leadership/ government!
However, the sad reality is that too many of our people DO, and WILL continue to join the military for the foreseeable future.
How do i deal with a young man or woman, whom im teaching in a classroom, whom may have written an excellent paper after watching Malcolm X, and committed to supporting Black owned businesses because she wants to empower the community.. but chooses the path of the military for whatever reason???
Do i disown this Brother/Sister?
Or is this person just as valuable as somebody whom rejects the military and everything it stands for hands down by picketing recruiting stations?
I wonder, as i don’t know that there has ever been a true Revolution/ coup of a state, that didn’t include the radicalization or at least some sort of participation even if passive, from the military apparatus!
They are The People too… If anything, whom is to say Lesley’s daughter is not MORE important to an eventual revolution?
Don Albizu was in the United States Military, You were in the military, i have a brother and some cousins in the military. Let her bring her ideals with her.
Certainly i will attempt to prepare my own daughter to take a road which travels the opposite direction, but if that is what she’s chosen to do, i am going to kiss her and ask for the millionth time if she packed her phone charger before she got on that plane.
Freedom Walk has given me alot of time to reflect. I reflect often in my own time, and i haven’t been working so i’ve had a lot of time to myself, but the flip side of being unemployed and taking to isolation is that your imagination could potentially sleep on you.
For two weeks before the walk that is exactly what began to happen to me. Such actions in the struggle recommit me to the freedom in my mind. *Pedro Pietri would have loved the way i put that*
Again i’ve chosen to take a rest. My ankles are still highly stressed, my right ankle swelling like a balloon. The plan was to take a couple of dosages of anti-inflammatory medication and continue applying creams throughout the day. Along the way i picked up some walking sneakers for $10.
Sitting in the van all day sucks, especially in such humidity. For a little while i had to take my shirt off and open the doors. Samuel finally had somebody to keep him company though, and we’ve been vibing. He is from Chicago too, and like us, out of work right now.
But he’s been showing me some of his work on the internet, some of the videos he has directed, and informing me on the business and his dreams. He has also been freestyling some pretty weak rap verses. Funny guy.
I tried to read. Michael has a box full of Juan Antonio Corretjer’s “The Struggle for the Independence of Puerto Rico” books. But i hate reading. My mind is so resistant to such a simple task as following my eyes across some words. I kept returning back to and re-reading the same paragraph, at which point i got frustrated and put the book aside. Yesterday reading came up as a topic of our conversation. My secret detesting of books was something i brought up. Camilo gets his books in, he revealed, through audio while he is in the gym exercising.
He knocks out a couple of birds with one stone. I’ve heard of people doing this before, but it is becoming more appealing as we speak. I still have alot to learn, much to fine tune.
A great concept derived from that conversation. Recording Spanish, and English translations, of some of our rare history books.
Apart from myself, each coming generation is falling out of favor with books. This is the consequence of technology, but also the unwillingness of educators to introduce newer, more relevant works of literature that will keep the youth interested.
This is something that we must keep in mind. We must always keep the youth in mind.
Another running theme in our dialogue.
A couple of days ago it reared in a conversation about the momentum growing in the movement. To his observation, for a long time entities working in the struggle have not been prolific/consistent enough; only coming together a few times a year
to manifest typical functions which fail to invigorate the masses. We need constant creative projects he theorized. To which i agree. In that vain, we must be willing as we age, and be sure to, inspire and prepare the youth to inherit our roles and responsibilities i added. A 28 year old, a 35 year old, might not have the range of time or fresh enough network to do what an 18 year old does. I may be 28 and still willing to do what i was doing when i was 24, but at some point i am going to realize that even then most of the 24 year olds i was building with back then may no longer have the same commitment, at which point i become a 28 year old trying to appeal to new 18 and 19 year olds.
Which is why i love the news i’m hearing about such young blood like Laura, whom has been carrying a big load of the recent series of actions National Boricua has been coordinating.
I was neither the case.. a loner whom ventured into knowledge of self/and my historical/cultural identity which isolated me even more from my common peers, and spent more time with elders in the movement; never had many friends or acquaintances to begin with. Or at least i don’t know that i do. That’s something i am working on; we all come with our own unique ways.
It was good to see Laura, someone i’ve never formally met, but recall by association, sitting in the back with a table of beautiful young people, her peoples, at a poetry function i attended some months back.
There is more hope…
The guys traveled a long way in their first hour. Sitting in the van you realize exactly how long three miles is on a commercial or residential street. Neighborhoods change.
“He said they’re in the hood,” Samuel relayed to me, coming off the phone with Mike. We progressed forward to seek them out and indeed, the Boricua flag might’ve saved them a couple of times haha, or
maybe just the kind warm heart of the people of the sun Black and beautiful on their Delaware settlement.
Mike caught a friendly punch to the shoulder by a tall drunken man barely balancing on his feet.
Camilo was hit in the head by a cup of fruit, by a kid on a yellow school bus. All in love.
They returned to the van, trying to recapture signal on the gps, unsure whether we were on the right road.
Later again we reconvened, troubled by the gps and awkward instruction.
Samuel and i headed forward to scout the way, affirming the direction, and the guys would follow along, strategizing and coming back with plans on how to continue.
We made it to Pennsylvania, walking along the industrial docks, and corroding homes of a depressed neighborhood, Wilmington and beyond.
Finally we stopped in the lot of a McDonalds, where the roads split just before the light generating from Philadelphia’s airport in the short distance.
And back home at Avila’s we laid before sleep, the four of us on our stomachs, with our faces forth before Camilo’s laptop, looking over the route, Laura on the other end of the line, impressed at how far along we have made it, and staring at the rest which remain.
“How old were you when you met Don Rafa,” i asked Camilo, staring up at the portrait as he reluctantly stretched awake.
“I was about this small,” he posed, spreading his hands a foot apart.
I figured he must’ve known him for a long time. Camilo’s brother is also very active in the struggle and meeting up at his house for the trip i experienced being in his home and how decorated it was
with the Lares flag, Don Albizu, and other Nationalist symbolism. He told me his mother and father met in the movement.
“He knew my grandfather,” Camilo said.
This morning was a little different than the past couple of mornings. The work on their feet, on their knees, is attempting to bring Camilo and Mike to their mercy. Nobody wanted to get out of bed, I straggled to my feet at around 7am and searched the house up and down for the bucket to soak my feet in. It wasn’t in the basement, wasn’t up on the second floor, wasn’t where i saw Mike soaking in it last. A little later on i came upon it searching for cooking oil under the kitchen sink. Samuel was the next to rise, and began preparing coffee for the two of us. Mike, as always, would be the last to get out of bed. Before we hit the road i soaked twice; ice water, then hot water. I greased up the joints and took my vitamins. I was ready to get back on my feet.
Although my perception of the walk is that of a caravan, regardless the size, with traveling 238 miles being a collective goal, i still want to match the intensity of the cadre. Don’t get me wrong, i set out to complete every last mile, but came up short on that endeavor as early as the second day. At this point it is about balancing so that i keep my body healthy, but i still want to go hard. And i’ve been eating right and caring for myself to do my best to be able to do that.
“Walking from DC to New York is so easy, even a caveman can do it!” Samuel cracked, pointing my way.
He was speaking in reference to how hairy i am.
We have a fun group. There has been much laughter, some of which i don’t know if you would relate to. Our generation can be cruel with our humor; alot of it doesn’t appeal to me. Couple of times in my life i’ve been called a throwback or, an old soul. But i don’t always take myself so serious. Often i’m the one playing the clown. Elegua is my favorite archetype in Santeria. From what i know he is the trickster. When i think of eccentric people i think Elegua.
Do you have a faith Oscar?
Me, i don’t. Not necessarily, i don’t think i do. From a historical/social lens i have admiration for Jesus, Mohammad, Moses and Abraham, Siddhartha, etc. but i do not subscribe to any religion and i don’t believe my ‘salvation’ hinges on my favor towards any of these icons. But i respect people having their beliefs and i do not pass judgment. I mean, if Paolo Freire can be a Christian i think i definitely need to process a bit before putting all Christians in one jar.
I have faith in humanity. End every prayer with ‘In the name of your children, my Brothers and Sisters, The People, ..Amen.’
On our way back to last nights ending point Michael bandaged and taped sponges between his toes. Blisters have left him raw without skin in some areas and all the rubbing between each other is preventing them from healing.
Camilo seemed tired and had expressed to me that it was the arches and top side of his feet that were bothering him. Throughout the 12 miles i walked with them, it was Camilo who struggled the most. Whats worrisome is that he’s gone hard since the first day. Unlike I, he’s taken no days off, walking every last mile that has been walked. The fact that he trained makes a difference but this is the most physically demanding challenge any of us has ever been faced with. There is no way to train for something the likes of which you’ve never experienced executing so much as half of. At some point preparation goes out the window and resilience becomes an experiential feat. Camilo’s body was wavering on its tolerance for a mental footing square between four horizons of desert sand. Four more days of this!
About 40 minutes in we heeled to go over the map, having received notice from Samuel whom recognized in overlooking the direction we were going in, that we had made a left where we were supposed to go right about a mile and a half back. Que jodienda! I had been leading the pace too, fresh off a day of rest, with a new pair of sneakers on and a whole mornings worth of rejuvenation. “Your ankle is mad swollen,” Camilo noticed from a few feet back. It definitely looked worse than it felt, but then again that could’ve been the pain killers doing their job.
About a mile and a half circumferencing back we came upon the George Platt Bridge. Closer and closer we approached trying to distinguish whether there was a shoulder to walk on. Yes, there was a narrow shoulder with railing to hold onto. I am afraid of heights, but the railing made me feel safe. Just don’t look to the right, don’t look back..
upon reaching the mid section the ground transitioned from cement to grating, shaky grating, don’t look down. Eventually i got comfortable, taking pictures with the Brothers and taking in the view of the city. It was all beautiful yet ugly. Below us were Sunoco oil refineries, smoking towers in the distance, a CAT bulldozer piling scrap metal.
I identify with Philadelphia. There really is this juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness. One of the oil refineries was ‘beautified’ with a mural. A prison we passed later on at night, as we approached Trenton, also ‘beautified’ with a mural. But there are also organic, community empowering murals. It is the city of murals. Where we are staying in Northern Philly there are even numerous Boricua murals
including one of Albizu, one with Cesar Chavez y Simon Bolivar, and of course, a Big Pun. City of murals; even the housing, how low and dense/ earthy, was mural-esque. Beauty and Ugliness; the soul of the people.
Off the bridge we entered Tinicum Township. Red brick and white awning, American flags, Italians multiplying by the block. Soon we’d find ourselves in the middle of Bensonhurst if Philly ever had one. This place was so Italian we passed an Aienellos Gas Station. My mother lives in Staten Island, i went to school in Bay Ridge.. i have never, ever, seen an Italian owned gas station. My face was fixed forward on a stiff neck, i was trying to move on as quick as possible; like, yesterday. It wasn’t that we weren’t from around there, i am sure they are used to having Mexicans, Black People, Puerto Ricans around every once in awhile. It was the Free Oscar buttons with the flag on it, the flag erecting high from Camilo’s back.
“They are very patriotic Americans” i told Mike, “It’s strange because they are working class, and historically have been neighbors of Blacks and Latinos, but to my experience they can be very racist.” Just don’t take our presence as a baiting i prayed. “I love me a baseball bat, unless it’s in an Italian’s hands”
We passed Broad Street and slowly zigzagged our way closer towards the sky scrapers, eventually getting down to the city bay. Before fazing out we were visited by ‘ol time America.
“It’s in their own neighborhood though”
“Oh, come.onnn, they walk in off the street”
One old man trying to hush another down. If they weren’t talking about us, they were talking about a young Black couple getting out of a car behind us.
Then, Pat’s, which some of the guys had already tipped me off was a racist, yet famous cheese steak place. And across the street, Geno’s Steaks, which posts a plaque for officer Danial Faulkner reading “murdered by Mumia Abu Jamal; we honor your memory”
The weather was beautiful, the balance of a large easy sun and a light sea breeze.
These are walks you have been deprived, so part of me feels irresponsible painting such the picture, however you are walking with us Oscar, so i wish you will find it a safe and real space to travel with us.
It just came to my consciousness. Interesting, as through the stress we think you up in the cell and it is motivating. Through the pleasantries i will remember to think you up as well.
We continued along Philly’s Malecon, viewing Jersey across the water, passing around the mammoth steel trapping people in the heat of hell. We saw children singing on a school bus and lovers holding hands.
It had been some hours already since the pain relievers wore off, at around the bridge we walked way back. And the adrenalin from marching on through my insecurity two or three miles back had worn down by the time we reached Samuel at our midway destination point. So the bruising had begun to squeeze on my feet again as i went taking to a limp. But more than the joints was the burning on the skin, as all of the IcyHot Cream seemed to have scorched in the sun.
I was ready to continue all day though, i felt a bit of discomfort yes, but i also happened to be feeling better than i had most other days. In those 12 miles, i led the pace.
As we sat eating, drinking, medicating though, Samuel caught a glimpse at how swollen my ankle had gotten and recommended in all seriousness that i consider stopping for the day, to give some time to ice it down.
I had done 12 more miles on the Freedom Walk, there are four more days to go i thought; indeed i’d better put more effort into putting my feet into good standing for the final couple of days.
Curtis had returned. From our resting point we went to pick him up at the train station. That adds another driver, and maybe now gives Samuel more flexibility in documenting the walk.
For today he filled in where i left. He continued the walk, all 12 additional miles of it. By 11:30 at night we had gotten in 24 miles of walking. Moving us just about 15 miles out of New Jersey.
Before heading home we stopped to experience some of Philly’s legendary cheese steaks. Celebration was in the air. Basically we had walked through Philadelphia in a day.
Our work is simple in means, but big in love and discipline. Preparation must begin the night before. It was 1 in the morning, but i had to cook up pasta for tomorrow; fuel.
I swiped two boxes from the van and limped back to get it to the boiling pot.
The coffee was brewing for the remaining hour of my night as one by one we checked out to our rest; the final remaining, Samuel and I, whom would chat and contribute to consuming some of the boxes upon boxes of cake Avila had in his fridge.
Before the boys left though i caught up with Camilo, inspired once again within the ambiance of Avila’s paintings.
“Camilo,” i called across the room from the stove, before following my voice over with my hands drying on my shirt.
“Say the movement for Independence within the next five years, suddenly, blew up and expanded to become a threat to the powers.. Who would you be more afraid
would attempt to sabotage, or assassinate us? The direct orders of the United States Government, or elements of the colonial government of Puerto Rico looking to maintain influence?”
“The United States government would eliminate anyone threatening to take the territory from it’s control” he responded.
Later on he put me on to a very revealing fact.
“Filiberto’s funeral was the biggest in the history of the island,” he proclaimed, backing his point that even Puerto Rican statehooders on the island are sympathetic to Puerto Rico’s expression of self.
“They don’t understand us.”
Morning time is when i try to get most of my writing in.
It would be ideal to come home at night and sit to flesh everything out while it’s fresh, but we’ve been getting back between 11pm and midnight.
I’m normally awake a full hour or so before everyone else, so morning would be the next best slot.
Still, i haven’t been able to complete these thoughts in a timely manner. Eventually the bodies roll and the voices rise, and we’re on the move to get ourselves out the door. On top of the fact that i’m a slow writer, Samuel doesn’t waste time boarding my ears up with his weak rapping skills, rendering me stagnant even as i attempt to write in the car. Because i’ve been posting these letters on my website to serve as a journal for anyone following the walk, it has been an exercise in time management.
There’s always time to put whatever i’m doing aside to re-engage an artist in reflection of their process though.
“What was your first really good piece, that was important to you, do you remember it?”
“Oh, yea, i’ll never forget it,” Avila responded, pausing before completing his thought. “I have a son who is 30 years old now. When he was about six or seven, i painted him a picture of Pinocchio.”
It was contemplating on that portrait that would inspire Avila to continue painting. A man whose majority of portraits are of his Revolutionary icons, and of Puerto Rico’s natural scenery. Many a time, it’s not your mission that propels you.. but the solace, in just applying your expressions of love, through
whatever impresses upon you an appreciation for how capable the universe has created you to feed that energy back to it.
Which reminds me! When i met up with the Brothers to begin the trip last week, we unloaded the van to begin stocking it for the trip. In the process I wound up handling some of your paintings, carefully. I was very impressed! The portrait of Manny Pacquiao, WOW! Excellent excellent work. GREAT work!
I know that you can relate.
After much effort we got going. Our issue with tardiness has become routine. We are finishing late and beginning late. Today it was 1:30pm when the Brothers hit the road.
I’ve done a day, taken a day off, two full days, taken a half day followed by a full day off, and completed half of yesterday .. today it was best for me to continue resting. My ankle is like something i haven’t seen. It is swollen like a softball on both the inner and outer side, but it has no discoloration and i can rotate it relatively well. If anything the pain has shifted to my other ankle.
But despite having iced it for five hours yesterday,and icing this morning, i am still having difficulty tying my sneaker on.
With all the time in the world granted me, sitting in a van all day, i still, was unable to get around to finishing my letter. And being stuck alone with Samuel buzzing to the left of me, didn’t mix well with the 95 degree heat baking us moist. It was an agitating heat, borderline oppressive trapped in a car
with it. A humid heat, which made me regret not joining the Brothers.
Digression from thinking in the suns omnipresence, squinting out to nod and smile along, to ceding my train of thought to chat, all together, frustrated me to a point of silence.
I didn’t want to avoid Samuel, not ideally; he is a cool dude, i like talking to him. But damn, i needed to get this letter out. So a moratorium length period of silence worked itself out resultant of my passive strategy, and set a buffer for me to be able to sneak to the back so that i could be alone with the page.
I don’t know that that was a good idea. Samuel is the driver and as the most instrumental to the sake of our objective in supporting the walkers: he had the power. Finishing my letter/journal meant
i needed to get within range of a wireless signal to access the internet, so that i may post it. In days passed our progress markers have been McDonalds locations. There we’ve waited for the Brothers,
and by the by, traded the laptop between us to share time on the internet. Seemed to me Samuel was avoiding McDonalds, stopping at all the picnic bench rest stops, although, i am sure it was just my own paranoiac cynicism wondering whether he was doing it purposely.
Either We had gotten off on the wrong foot, or all of the physical energy and discipline ive been building over the walk was internalizing itself in the form of passive aggression now that i was inactive, and i needed to let it go.
I cast no stone, all communication breakdowns concerning me are my own responsibility. This was the Brother who pulled me out of the walk after 12 miles yesterday, iced my foot, accommodated me in the fashion of a true camarada. I will have plenty of time to write, why stress.
Before the air was cleared though, the fog set in. When Michael, Camilo, and Curtis caught up the tension played itself out. We all settled in the grass to eat. The guys looked great, although the heat was showing to be a burden on them already, it was apparent that they were working their way up to exhaustion. Standing over them, i was arcing glances over at the soccer field to the right of me, and returning my eyes to perimeters covering everybody but Samuel, whom had reignited a campaign we buried the previous morning, to clown me with jokes, or as we say, to ‘rank/cut on me’. I’d counter with my own attempt at humiliating him and check back out, come back with one and check half way out, until i found myself committed with a vengeance, full throttle.
The guys were cracking up, rolling around laughing and even serving their own disses into the cipher from time to time. But all i noticed was Sam’s jabs.
The smoke hadn’t cleared seeing the fellas off. For all i know Samuel wasn’t taking it how i was, maybe it was his cool to create nicknames for people (stamped me Cave Man), perhaps his lead into a cordial friendship with a Brother is some good ol’ friendly fire. But when i get involved in such horseplay, i need to get the best of you.
My defenses were up as he commenced in cleaning the van. Sam has picked up a valuable role in the group, with staying on top of such tasks. In the morning he is the motivator, clapping it up to get us rolling, he is the driver and keeper of the vehicle, and he has also done well helping us navigate our walk with a back up map. He is a great support guy. Any other time i’d be right there helping him. But cooler heads had to prevail, so i stepped aside, waiting for him to finish with lallygagging 100 years to get it together; i still had an entry to write, and he had slowed me up enough, i thought.
On the road things settled back into a peaceful place.
Down yonder we noticed the Brothers had set out for the interstate highway. We saw no walking passage for them. Cutting corners to meet our eventual Saturday deadline looked to be getting dangerous. Soon we’d receive an excited call with the boys explaining the thrill of jumping into a metal alcove to avoid being hit by a truck; Camilo had the scrapes to prove it.
Before we knew it we were at a bridge entering Jersey through Trenton.
Only an hour or so, some four miles ahead of them we waited. There, Sam prepared me to film their crossing.
Rippling below was a placid river. I took it in with the clear air, as it seemed the heat had gone somewhere else in the ruffling sounds rushing through; over, between, around rock. Interesting how you can pinpoint different currents meeting from their own angles, yet headed down the same bank. Some little waves came in from the left, some from the right, some whirled around. The things i noticed, the small details.
They arrived and the reel was rolling. The cities trailed us by the day, and in Pennsylvania we had taken another state.
By the time Mike, Camilo, and Curtis had gotten their second break in, ejecting up for the final stretch, the sky had already begun dimming from pink. To our surprise, Samuel, whom is the eldest of us all, and though strikingly handsome*, a bit by bit heavier than any of us, decided he’d join in to finish with the Brothers, trading place with Curtis. I worried, especially in seeing how they were choosing to continue walking on the interstate. The walk had taken on a new freedom. Their breaking from the map forced Curtis and I to drive around a bit and find our way to their next destination.
Maybe it was a good thing they stood on the highway. The streets of Trenton, just off the bridge, were dilapidated, depressed, run down to boarded windows and garbage on the sidewalks. It had a Detroit, so called Third World in America type of feel. But the highway looked super dangerous. It was already pitch black in the night, the cars were swishing by, and there again, was little room to walk roadside. They could be clipped, a car could panic and swerve into them. God forbid, you never know.
Curtis was nervous steering a blind fate. Following the route was useless, who knows where these guys were going to be. We weren’t from Jersey, didn’t know the streets. But eventually everything turned out alright. The night was muggy and quiet. When they returned, Camilo and Mike were primed to continue on. Samuel had done his deed though, he was tired haha. His skin was slick with the heat and his breath was relatively calm but alive and open. It means alot to have him join. These kinds of all around efforts; cooking, driving, cleaning, planning, walking, make the mission what it is; an expression of gratitude, determination, militancy, love, support, etc. A walk for freedom is not a marathon.
Alas we packed it up, with the Brothers looking into another intersection.
It would be wisest to stop on the commercial road and resume back in the morning.
Taking on another highway at that time of night, with little room to walk they determined, would be too much of a risk.
Dinner was waiting when we got back.
Arroz con gandules with ham based in pineapple. Thank you Lesley!
People love you Oscar, and we are getting that solidarity/love, for giving their love.
There are places i’ll remember in my life, for some of which recollection once in a blue will bring my eyes above me. The past eight days have introduced some of these places to my memory.
Then there are the places which evoke nostalgia, and for Philadelphia, a memory may never satisfy the calling.
Aside from parts of the Bronx, i really can’t think of a place in New York where there is such a concentration of Puerto Ricans as we saw in North Philly, i mean represented everywhere! Just the dense architectural structure lays landscape that would embolden the presence of any group settled there, tenfold. But you got some Boricuas in the house and man, the natural vibrancy neednt a flag nor bodega, nor salsa track, although there was plenty of all of that, 100 fold. It’s what i imagine Bushwick might’ve felt like when my mother lived there in the late 60’s, or what i felt to a solid degree my years raised in Sunset Park in the 90’s. Stronger perhaps, according to Mike, than Humboldt Park today.
Philly also happens to be the place my father strayed to, with my half sister and brothers, whom i haven’t seen since i was 13 years old. I can’t say he wasn’t on my mind but. My mother is my rock and while my father was present enough in my life that i love him, and enjoyed spending time with him, i haven’t felt a deep longing to seek him out.
Someday i may move to Philly, and that’s a consideration that was as far from my mind as Philadelphia is far from Brooklyn.. until i got here. I love my people!
Mind over matter…
My uncle Joey always said one can get over injury if they believe they will. We have today, and tomorrow before we close in on the United Nations on Saturday. I look to complete the Freedom Walk strong, full speed ahead in these final three days.
This morning i soaked my feet again, and again; twice. My diet, i’ve chosen not to go hard on. Too many goodies in Avila’s fridge, and i know he will not be able to eat it all by himself. So Sam and I have been helping him get rid of some of those Cinnamon rolls, that chocolate devil cake, and those donuts he so freely invited us to.
He sent us off with such supportive energy, Avila did.
Before saying goodbye he offered us each prints, of his paintings, to choose from.
I chose his portrait of Don Rafael Cancel Miranda.
A few pain relievers, and some tape to wrap the foot, and the knee, and i was good. I felt great, and was ready to set the pace.
Freeways don’t make it easy; after walking eight days, twenty miles a day, it might get difficult to keep from becoming careless as the walking ‘shoulders’ blend into exit turns and force you to make a run before oncoming traffic. They are a time saver though, so far as they lead you on a straight continuous road. Our directions instructed us it wouldn’t need to instruct us much today; we were headed forward on the route until we decide to stop, at least 20 miles.
Michael and i carried on into a discussion about his work with Batey Urbana. He also put me on to alot of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center’s history over the past 30 years. As you know, Chicago has a powerful organizing history in the Puerto Rican community, and even today a very organic, grass roots foundation. Michael’s work is a testament to that. As is the case in New York though, gentrification has had it’s affect on the community, even forcing the center to move. There was a time, i learned, that the Boricua community was so strong in Chicago, it is said the car Lolita Lebron was riding in following her release from prison, was practically moving off the ground on the strength of the thousands of hands reaching towards it. That on two occasions there were riots specific to the Puerto Rican community, in response to police brutality.
He is faced with questions as to where to take his mission from here, mentioning several possibilities, including walking the Mexican border for Immigrant Rights. Alot is in order for Mike this summer and beyond. In your letter to me you mention having met one of the young men from the ‘Crime Against Humanity’ production, and predicting his promise. I would bet it was Michael you were speaking of. One aspect of being an artist, that the person inside of the artist often struggles with is the choice between freedom and commitment. In many cases they are one in the same (on a relative scale i point to Che, whom was offered a cabinet position in the Cuban Revolution, yet decided his mission was to seed many rather than to cultivate one) but even in knowing this, the artist may feel a sense of guilt in moving forward onto future projects, especially as an Artist/Organizer, whose work is a coalescence grounded in community. Mike is a Mexican doing intensive work on the issue of Puerto Rican Independence and the struggle to free our Political Prisoners. What if he wants his focus to shift to more work within his Mexican community? He is a young educator and organizer, but he is also a poet; he may feel like his spirit is directing him to weigh his concentration more heavily towards his writing. He takes it all very very serious. But his art is his vehicle.
I left him with an assurance that came out sounding good when i said it:
“You got to document the struggle, so it don’t die in the rubble.”
We need our writers too.
From the traffic of tires, the revving of engines snagged our attention to a line of a dozen or so motorcycles, each propping la bandera Puerto Riquena off its rear. We raised our fists.
Maybe it’s me, but the days seem to be getting longer. Looking back on it, i am left with the impression that todays walk seemed to have happened in three distinct sections. Could be me processing the psychological effect of rain, because as it happened, there was the period before the storm, there was ‘the hour of’ the storm, then there was the period following the storm. And sitting in the van on the way to our motel rest, the weight of my jacket, the wet particles of gravel and dirt on my ankles, the breath of moist grass in the air, all made it difficult to conceive that we were still in the same day born glaring my eye off the asphalt.
Before the storm hit we got in a good twelve miles. I had already been zoning out to the rhythm of our pace, but hampering with my mood over the final quarter of that time was the friendly adversary awaiting me at the break. Again, during one of our quick rest stops, Samuel and I went at each other. This time the energy had reached a boiling point, with him at one point revealing to me that i had brought a dead relative into bad humor. Indeed the filter was off, the boundaries eroded; we discredited one another’s careers, we attempted to expose one anothers failure to establish a stable residence, and at that point i realized family had been pulled in, and he was signaling that perhaps we were taking it too far. I am not in Samuel’s head, so i don’t know where he was with it, he may very well have been ready to punch me in the head. Or it could have still been all in fun. All of these implications were coded in abstract forms of humor, we were witty, the other Brothers were enjoying the hell out of it, i venture to say even, instigating to a degree; sarcastically about how much we ‘missed each other’, and rehashing things that were mentioned prior. It was all in good fun, this type of camaraderie has become commonplace in our generation’s culture. But i need to admit that i began to get a bit tired of it. I might be uptight, call me a hypocrite for as much energy i myself put into it.. i will call myself uptight.. Yes, at this point i will say i am a hypocrite for the way i feel.. But continuing from that point, there was no question in my mind we needed to have a real talk to capitulate what we were taking beyond buffoonery, and maybe to a manifestation of internal oppression?
As historically oppressed peoples we create mechanisms to help us accept our reality, in a manner which we think will allow us to preserve a basic dignity in the face of denigration. Alot of denial goes into building this false sense of resistance; it is a deep seeded avoidance, of confrontation. By laughing about the problem, we avoid confronting the root of the problem. So it becomes that the worst thing to be called in a US school is ‘poor’, and a thousand ugly cracks and euphemisms spawn from that. We make each other feel guilty about being overweight, and continue giving our money to fast food restaurants that sell us our genocide.
We were just showing love, in one of the ways we’ve learned how, if anything one of the ways we’re good at. But the layers began to reflect upon the layers. At the end of the day it was about what i knew my intentions were, and my intentions were to defend my ability to hurt my brother. It’s the game to say it didn’t hurt, but if some of the things he said offended me, hurt me, why wouldn’t some of the things i said have hurt him. I do not want to hurt my Brother.
I also couldn’t help but rationalize, that out of principal, we must be very careful in how we communicate. Might such character in the movement bare a potential to create a comfortable space for divisiveness, isolationism, and other foul intentions? It might. We need to have fun, there is a place for it to a degree, but we must be careful. And as leaders, our character must be exemplary to those coming into the movement. Just a humble assertion; i speak from my own energy.
“Sam,” i called him over “I’m done with you. Be done with me.” i gestured with a nod, fronting peace at my lips. I could have initiated more of a thorough dialogue, but it was where i was at that moment. A man, hesitant to express exactly what he feels. A man amongst men. We have a ways to go. It wasn’t like Samuel hadn’t already offered me an embrace and verbal assurance that his words were in fun. This time though, our whole flow needed to transition to a place i felt safe. Later on before he dropped us off at the motel, i approached him again.
We weren’t half hour into the second stretch before what we suspected from the dark clouds forming over during break began to pour down. We threw our jackets on, flipped our hoods up, and put plastic bags over our feet. The lightening was serious, the rain was coming down hard.
By the time it stopped, we were walking along side trucks on the backroads towards New Brunswick, and bordering in on prostitutes roaming the avenue. When homes and eventually the shopping center Samuel parked to await us at had appeared, the bags were half torn off my feet, our clothing swished in the friction of our motion, and we were too tired to continue on; probably another effect of the rain.
In the van there was laughter, chatter, silence as Camilo called local motels to get rates for the night, more chatter and laughter. Celebration was in the air again. Every so often i caught a whim that caused me to smile, but most of it flushed through me unintelligible. I was back to walking and feeling strong, well worked, warm on the ears. My Sister Kana from back home gave me a ring to check up on me, sending love from the rest of my house mates in Brooklyn, and reminding me to take care of myself.
Samuel hit my phone up early this morning. Last night he dropped us off and headed to his uncles house to pay him a visit while in town. His call was first to recognize me for these letters, having taken the time out to read over some of them before sleep, and second to inquire whether we were ok with him sitting it out today so that he may spend a little more time with family before heading back to Chicago. Of course! We had Curtis, and even if we hadn’t had an extra man to drive, we would’ve made do. We’d be sad to lose him, but it wasn’t like he wasn’t returning. By tomorrow, he promised, he’d be back; in time for our final push to the United Nations.
To our surprise it was Sam’s knock at the door that gave us all an initial heave out from under the covers. Actually it shouldn’t have been of surprise to any of us. We’ve dubbed him Coach for his hand spanking and shouting. Before heading off to continue on our pilgrimage he wanted to leave us with a few words of support.
“I was telling my uncle what it is you guys were doing. And i put it in the terms of like a player practicing hard on a team that doesn’t want him. And he was like: yea man, this is fucked up, yeaa, we’ve got to do something. …he was really like, wow, you guys are walking from DC to NY.”
That is what it’s all about! Opening the dialogue. As congress drafts another bill which holds the fate of the island in it’s hands, the people need to be made aware of the decisions being made in their name, we need to be informed from all angles. Independence has become a taboo as you know, consequent of historical repression, whether it have been the colonial governments disproportionate force in quelling revolts at Lares, or later Jayuya.. or their massacre of civilians in Ponce, entrapment and murder in Cerro Marrevilla, and even today with assaults on students and journalists organizing at rallies.. La Ley de la Murdasa (the gag law) which made it illegal to so much as wave the Puerto Rican flag, much less to be identified as a sympathizer of independence! It is the fear of the colonized mind; they’ve got the dogs on us… Some do not identify the fear, they only know a super U.S. patriotism, unaware that it is not pride, but a sense of protectionism they’ve been sold to, by parents or grandparents whom feared, tightening their boot straps to tread through the social engineering the island would undergo in the interest of tailoring a people to the service of the U.S.’ economic will, designating an unincorporated territory as a satellite and possible springboard into future relations throughout the greater Latino America. Our people need to know that you are in prison, not for plotting ‘terror’, but for taking up the battle to liberate Puerto Rico. You can not be rationalized as anymore of a ‘terrorist’ than George Washington was.. heck, you cannot be judged within three centuries of the basis on which we can identify that African Slave owning, American Indian Genocide mongering aristocrat, a terrorist!
Check out time was 11am. We couldn’t move. 11:09, 11:18, 11:30…
We were showered, packed, and dressed to go, but with our destination coming closer within reach, every day, walking becomes more of a chore.
Funds have been running low, but support has continued to promise us from all sectors of the people, our motel being covered by a local boxing trainer. Every now and again we’ve gone into our own savings. Boosting up on a full diner breakfast would be worth the expense.
Investing more than $10 on a decent pair of walking shoes, i am learning the hard way, wouldve been worth the expense too. The pair i am wearing have already begun to burst and tear. They are a size larger than my normal sneaker size, at size 11, yet haven’t provided comfort around my swollen feet. Last night i removed my socks to find the nail on my big toe, was a light blue. ‘Turf toe’. I do not remember jamming it, but just the pressure of stubbing forward with no space for the foot’s letting is enough to clot.
“I’m going to tell people i walked home from Rutgers,” i proclaimed, walking along the New Brunswick campus. “Matter of fact, from now on i’m going to tell people i walked from the University of Maryland, to Rutgers, home.”
Intuition that our work together is nearing completion, that we’d soon be detaching, might be bringing us closer together in camaraderie. Swift down a pleasant boulevard we engaged in the ol’ Revolutionary pas’time: politicking! Building on/discussing the effectiveness of the community to organize a support which has freed numerous Puerto Rican Political prisoners over the years led me to share an anecdote on where this fact came to imprint itself in my psychology for all time…
Last year i traveled to Cuba with the Venceremes Brigade. Over the course of my week long stay, i had the pleasure of sitting in on various lectures discussing everything from race to economics in Cuba today. It was during a panel on the Cuban 5 that an elder, short and round man with silver hair and mustache, cigar in his hand, introduced/glorified what he interpreted as the influence of Castro in bargaining for the release of our heroes Lolita Lebron, Irving Flores and Rafael Cancel Miranda in 1979. In response, my mentor Esperanza Martell stepped up the the microphone, bag of seeds in her hand, and begun dispelling the notion that Castro’s influence was the sum of the work that went into freeing the three. “It was the people” she explained, detailing the effort of time, energy, and resources expended of the people’s support over the course of years.. I watched from aback, her form, her delivery, the truth taking a mantel in my memory…
I knew to expect that Jersey would be a big state to cross. Whenever taking the ride to visit my daughter in Virginia, it takes something like two hours to pass through. We walked into and out of Edison twice, passing a sign which read “You are entering Edison Township” then “You are leaving Edison”; crossing over railroad tracks and again reading with a disparaged eye “You are entering Edison Township” on the other side. At that point i became jaded with signs, i wouldn’t care any longer. If i was going to try accounting for every town we made, it was going to be a long walk! Good thing is we were by the New Jersey Transit.
“These tracks take you straight into the city” Curtis affirmed.
We considered just getting on the tracks and walking for a slight moment, but whether it was the danger, or the hurting we imagined our feet would take on the rocks, we turned off of that idea quick, preferring to remain parallel until our directions instructed us otherwise.
Boy were we trekking some painful grounds! There was no shoulder what-so-ever, we were basically walking abound a yellow line separating the street from a narrow space of grass; across the street: the railroads periphery. Every step took to a shard of stick or stone, forcing my stride to gear into a hobble.
What was there to give us strength but the beautiful observation of culture around us.
In our ten days of walking we’ve passed all different kinds of neighborhoods. The majority of towns we passed today comprised of Indian People. People in traditional Indian dress, Indian book stores, Indian restaurants and supermarkets, traditional Indian religious places of worship… Growing up in the city, i remember assuming that outside of the concrete and brick, the rest of America was filled with white folk. Of course i’ve learned over the years how ignorant an assertion that was, now understanding that in fact outside of the pastures of Puerto Rico and New York, there are even Puerto Ricans. Now Indians… and a whole lot of everywhere else, a whole lot of Mexicans. Mi Gente.
Other than the visual aesthetics which have attached themselves to the walk, we have been able to seek strength in being mindful of our mission to free you. We’ve found strength in the overall subject of our history and struggle. More discussions on liberation and self determination took shape, and this has been significant for me. A central point came today, as, given the moment to have reflected, i accept to have stood humbly corrected by the response from Camilo to an assertion i made concerning our struggle.
“You ever see the movie ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee’?”
Neither Mike nor Camilo had.
It is a brilliant movie i explained, which begins with the U.S. government chasing the Natives from the gold rich Black Hills of South Dakota. It is the first of a series of displacements initiated by the government, for reasons stretching from resources to the appropriation of land to build rail upon. By the end of the movie the Sioux People have been pushed to Canada and back. With each confrontation they are bamboozled by representatives of the Lincoln government, whom seek to convince them that at the next place they’d have the opportunity to each settle their own plot of land. Much of these proposals it is revealed to us through the interaction, make no sense to a people whom are not even accustomed to claiming land for personal ownership
“You know there is no word for that in my language, sir? to own the land?” the main character is brought to respond at one point. During another scene the people cry out, refusing to sign any binding agreement for land only good for grazing; -the Natives needed fertile land to grow foods, not for animal grazing-. The succession of treaties given in to by such entrusted leaders as Red Cloud and Sitting Bull, sparks an internal take over of leadership by the youth of the tribe, whom reclaim the will of their people and prepare to revolt. Red Cloud and Sitting Bull do not reject them, but eventually support their resistance, and sadly it culminates in a rebellion which is overpowered by the advanced weaponry and genocidal itch the white man had been subverting till that point. Women, children, men, elders, are all massacred after having been coerced to the point of accepting rations on barren land.
The role Charles has been cultivated to play is that of the liaison between the government and his native Sioux people. His fate has been no less tragic, as he was converted to christianity by his father, whom assumed he was saving his son from a certain destruction. We watch as from childhood he is subjected to a stripping of his cultural dignity, and manipulation to lead him towards acculturation. He is groomed to convince his people to agree upon the co-opting of their land and the institutionalization of their isolation.
It was in explaining this film that i expressed a painful perspective we are confronted with. That in coming into knowledge of self and our historical fate at the barrel of our oppressor’s gun (with for example it being on record that Puerto Ricans were sent to undergo the same brainwashery forced upon Charles, at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School), we learn that at the height of battle to protect what is ours, many of our ancestors faced the decision to continue fighting, ((or to survive)). And that we are here still today in part due to that painful decision. It was an assertion made in observance of the dialectical evolution of our struggle to where it is today, recognition that while today we utilize art and education as weapons of resistance, at one point we were fighting. I meant not to underscore in any capacity that we are a weak people in that perspective.. still i gave my ear and senses to Camilo’s rebuke, and before responding in some kind of defense of my rational, allowed it to sit on my mind.
“In my opinion, how i see it: IN SPITE of the oppression, we have survived!”
He was right. I was not going to pull him into a whirlwind of rhetoric and mental masturbation.. at the basis of the question is the truth.
There is a part in the movie in which Charles is still a child in school, when his white Teacher tries to convince him that a past Chief of his tribe, Black Kettle, was offered peace, but chose war.
“He did not choose war” Charles grits his teeth, welling up in tears.
We did not choose war!
Camilo brought me, in a moment of commitment towards your freedom and our liberation, to realize that even the dead, whom put it all on the line during their moment of commitment, lay in their graves resting eternal on their choice for us to LIVE! Because it was their deep and eternal belief that a life subservient to another people, is no life at all… We alive today, continuing to hold onto our self determination live through the Nation!
Most of the break i spent trying to adjust in my sneakers. My toes were beginning to suffer something serious. I took the insoles of my other sneakers and planted them inside of the ones i was wearing, which didn’t do much. There was no more tape, there was barely any cream left to salvage. It was difficult to stretch my feet, they were too rigid and sensitive. I walked on to continue plenty hydrated, with my faith and my mind over the matter!
Reflection upon the journey we were bound to complete began to possess us. It was only a week ago that we were on the steps of the capital. We recounted the cities, the quotes we left with one another, strange/scary/and funny instances, struggles and triumphs; Carlos was released, Don Rafael Cancel Miranda spoke with us, word had gotten around at the University of Puerto Rico’s valiant student take over of the campus, it all seemed so long ago.. it was all within the last 10 days, over the last 215 miles or so. We turned corners with a sharp conviction, we strode in full steam, feeling our ends becoming.
Zigzagging through residential blocks, and once again pacing alongside industrial factories and plants; aircraft’s lifting off from Newark Airport roaring directly above us.
Curtis pulled up as we neared our final hour.
“The streets ahead are really confusing,” he stated, helping Camilo overview the directions, with recommendations as to short cuts we could take in order to avoid getting lost.
“Relax, hey, i’ve been scouting this out. Just, listen,” he rebuked as Camilo voiced an unwillingness to break from the map. Not Curtis raising his voice, and training his eyes forward! I think Camilo appreciated his taking such leadership, agreeing to trust in Curtis’ direction.
He even went so far as driving down to our next destination point from there, and walking back to find us and lead us through the confusion.
We had become a tight team.
At 9:30 we had reached our 20th mile, with the choice to leave 14 for tomorrow, which wouldve been a breeze compared to what weve been doing. But 9:30 was early. We never finished before 10, and rarely before 10:30. We decided to go another hour, the aim being to cut down as much miles as we possible could for tomorrow, so that we would have plenty of time to make our expected 5:30pm arrival time at the United Nations.
“Oscar is a great artist, great writer, great thinker,” Mike contributed, in a discussion we began having on the relationship between artists and organizers in the movement.
The night was trully peaceful; one of those nights when the sky becomes the sea that has become the sky. And the ground and the horizon have joined in tune.
As we passed an avenue accurately likened by Camilo, to Fordham Road, by big box commercial retail stores and food chains gated shut, i imagined how packed with people such a ghostly place would be tomorrow afternoon; a Saturday.
Before long we had caught up with the van, done with the additional hour we quested to notch under our belt for the night. But the fellas were flirting with the idea of continuing on.. My energy was good and on that account i was prepared to continue on. But there comes a point when all the pride and courage in the world will not suffice to save you from making a poor decision. We were just outside of Newark, a place which over the past decade has grown notorious for it’s violence.
Samuel had called to ask that we wait for him to re-join us. It was understandable; the guys didn’t want to wait in a van for however long it would take him to arrive, when we could be putting more miles behind us. But they agreed. We came to the compromise that we would walk a little longer, and stop as soon as it seemed to be bringing us into dangerous terrain. Ten minutes into our walk the streets in the distance looked to be getting dimmer, and the buildings rising to the height of projects.
No biggie! We will walk it tomorrow. We will take Newark, then, we will take New York!
29 years ago today the state trapped you with the walls which have crumbled around the legacy of countless Revolutionaries.
They are the same walls that confined Nelson Mandela, they are the same walls that confined Mahatma Gandhi. The walls that imprisoned las Mirabal Sisters, and Lolita Lebron. Walls built to keep free people, from the rest of us.
29 years can’t keep you from being free.. 29 eternities won’t keep the people from freedom.
Jailing you they are still trying to jail Don Pedro, they are still trying to jail Betances, still, they are trying to break our historical memory and inherent will.
Betances is history and the Spanish crown is gone from Puerto Rico; Don Pedro has passed and look, his fight outlasted the models of colonization the U.S. government imposed upon us in his time.
They will come with more walls, we will be here con un abrazo; you inspire me to believe!
We were welcomed by many of the same faces. The typical crowd you’d find in Roberto Mercado’s photo gallery; perennial Guerreros.
Some met us at our arrival into the city, joining in to walk the final mile. Others waited out front the United Nations on 1st avenue.
Laura and Camilo’s father, Mr. Graciano Matos started the day with us in Newark, to get a little bit of an idea of what we’ve made it through over the past week and a half/ contribute what they could to the resistance on this day.
Heads rotated and shoulders swayed, backsides switched and knees flicked between us, nestling through the swarm of pedestrians across 42nd street. We navigated through the universe in a formation of cameras and Free Oscar posters, arriving to applause, hugs, and kind words of gratitude
and encouragement. They wanted to know how we felt, challenges and triumphs, people we had met along the way, logistics, future plans…
It was pretty simple, to Camilo and Mike, Samuel, Curtis and I: ..we walked. Mike and Camilo, everyday they went out walking, and the rest of us, we walked with them.
We walked with you,
in your cell. You were walking with us, in the world.
I was content to compliment the questions with answers. But i wasn’t fully present. My responses were more a reaction to the stimuli in the moment.
Part of me was going to need time to catch up. We left it all out there today. Only a dozen miles, and the consensus between us was that it was undoubtedly the most difficult stretch of the entire walk! We would’ve walked another eleven days if it were our objective, the heart was there. But
our bones were gradually putting this epic to rest. There was trauma to heal, on our knees, on our ankles and feet.
It was the spirit teaching our bodies to be free, disciplining the mind.
Spending a week with Oscar Lopez Rivera is an exhausting experience. A liberating experience!
We hope it will not be long, before we get to welcome You…
We will continue to struggle to bring you home!
More will come along, more will find their way here as i have found my way.
The Boricua people will reclaim our humanity and take title over our law and land.
I know you will continue to be strong. You have the love of a nation with you.
En Resistencia y Lucha,
– Tony Rivera