Louis Reyes – Inside the River of Poetry

Esta Vida Boricua: A Digital Life Narrative Installation, Spoken History Archive  & Public Performance Space™

January 2014

Everybody needs a place to tell their stories and someone to listen. Call and response – as old has humankind.

Stories Inspire. Stories empower. Stories heal. Stories build, reinforce, and restore community. Stories remind us of our past and our connections to our ancestors and our history. Our past informs our present. Digital stories transported across the world may very well “unify and retribalize the human race” as 60s media critic, Marshall McLuhan once envisioned.

Indeed – imagine the possibilities of the digital stories of Puerto Rico buoyed over oceans, across rugged continents and to remote mountaintops, valleys and islands.  And so they have.  Since this site was published on 27 May 2012, there have been over 16,000 visits from every state and province and continent and almost every country. This attention proves one thing, readers from all over the world want to know more about this unique and tiny island nestled in the Caribbean and of its diverse culture and people as well as its Diaspora.

Esta Vida Boricua is a place to share stories.  Human stories. Family stories. Communal stories. Folkloric stories.

Thus, the stories herein are a journey. They offer splashes of color and texture, shades of shadow and light as well as fragments of shape and depth to the existing Puerto Rican mosaic. They unravel the stereotypes and biased images of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican culture presented in the media and beyond. They speak of a generation of young people struggling under the uncertainty of colonialism – and a backlash from the slow cultural genocide that has taken place since US occupation after the Spanish-American War and the advent of modernism. It has forced them to construct new identities from two worlds.  The stories are also the voices of everyday people expanding the ever diverse Puerto Rican master narrative. At the same time, the stories offer points of connection and commonalty to the mosaic of a much larger world canvas. We can recognize our own grandmothers in the voices of the tellers no matter where we come from.


EVB is interactive, maximizing cyberspaces’ “audili-tactile” nature, to engage the reader/viewer in an experience of resonance and connection. Think of it as a digital theater with three main stages; Stage Right, Center Stage, and Stage Left. Imagine it as an experimental/experiential space for innovative forms of personal writing coupled with technology. EVB also offers an EDUCATORS PAGE with writing activities teachers can use in the classroom as well as our WALL OF MOTHERS , open to all mothers and grandmothers regardless of origin.


EVB includes several life narrative genres with a few variations. The more traditional forms include (audio/video/pen) oral history, which has been renamed – spoken history  – to better fit its form and function, autotopography (based on ancestral photographs,) creative non-fiction, memoir and the personal essay. Variations include literary journalism (due to its autobiographical elements), multi-modal memoir (which engages the realm of technology) – and the photo-essay.

Nuyorican Poet, Louis Reyes Rivera, who died in 2012, would most certainly agree that the personal story and poetry (Inside the River of Poetry) are an integral part of our basic human existence. Thus the gallery evolved in a synchronistic balance. It includes poetry, fiction, art, film, photography and music.

If an artist/writer/musician/poet feels his/her work is ready to publish, and as long as there are volunteers to process the materials, the stage is public space.

Click Here for Submission Guidelines.


The authors are mainly of Puerto Rican descent, from both on and off the island. Other authors are members of the Puerto Rican community via immigration, migration, marriage, exile and/or expatriation. Many writers share characteristics that unite them as Puerto Ricans, whereas others veer outside them. The authors are professionals or faculty or students studying fields such as engineering, sciences, humanities, business, agriculture, English among others. Their ages range from teens to retired. The majority of the writers are writing in their second language, English – which carries its own implication of the writing of personal history in the language of the colonizer.

There are numerous works in Spanish as well. There are no translations mainly due to the fact that we work with a volunteer skeleton staff and maintain the site through donations. Volunteers are welcome.


The subjects of the ancestral stories are mainly everyday people, from cane cutters to factory workers, grandmothers to fisherman, farmers to seamstresses. The themes touch on folk-life, myths, love, loss, identity, otherness, bi-culturalism, family, traditions, food, music, culture, death, secrets, history, political oppression, migration, immigration, and change among others. The stories are ethnically rich with threads to Cuba, Dominican Republic, South America, England, Germany, Italy, France, China, United States, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Australia, etc., proving this tiny island to be the fertile ground for a world Diaspora.

Consider it not so much a canonic history – constructed by class – but a subjective personal history.


Every person who has worked on this project has been either a volunteer or an intern. So far, any resources, materials, services have been either been borrowed or donated. At this time only about a third of the manuscripts, video and audio, and photographs and other artifacts have been edited and installed. New volunteers are welcome.

Entrance is FREE.



Contains all the relevant information about the project.


Como mi abuela decía…(as my grandmother says…) features two life narrative genres: spoken history and multi-modal memoir.

People live within the pasts they construct and, to whatever degree, within the pasts that are constructed for them.  The relationship between memory as lived and history as documented is always a complex dialogue — each informing, and disinforming, the other.-  Henry Greenspan

We cannot call the recorded stories here oral history in its purest form. Oral history is the preservation of original testimony “as told to” and without interpretation. However, even recorded oral history cannot be free of certain influences such as the setting where the testimony was gathered, the technology used to record and the agenda of the interviewer or organization gathering the history. There is no empirical truth in memory. It is completely unreliable. Something remembered one way – one day – will be remembered differently another. Besides – according to memoirist, Patricia Hampl, it’s not what we remember but why we remembered it that way. Herein lies the story – not in facts but in truth.

What we can call the stories here  are “interpreted” or “subjective” personal history. Indeed many of the writers note experiencing the process of recording the interviews  as a “setting free” of their subjects’ stories. In this sense – the way spoken word sets free the voice from canonic rules of poetic expression – spoken histories set free personal, family and communal stories from the restrictions of communal and academic expectations.

The spoken histories were gathered during National Day of Listening, Mayagüez 2011 & 2012. National Day of Listening: Mayagüez is a collaborative, annual, oral history project with Storycorps of New York.

Writers interested in finding out more about family members or members of the community gathered these interviews by asking questions such as; how did my grandmother fall in love? or what was it like in the war?, among others. The interviews occurred during Black Friday – a counter to the growing negative impact of American consumerism on Puerto Rico’s families and communities.

Writers received Storycorps Guidelines and used whatever recording equipment they could acquire which ranged from pen and paper to cellular phones to actual audio/video equipment. Subjects were interviewed in their native language, Spanish. Some interviews are missing due to equipment failure. Some pen interviews were translated into English by the writers.  All the interviews were minimally edited. Writers wrote short reflections on their experience.

Multi-modal memoirs combine text, image, technology and story to engage a variety of personal topics. Writers undertake a series of exercises to “visualize” and script their chosen personal story in terms of image frames, sequences and narrative. They use images such as ancestral photographs, original illustrations, cartoons and photography, dioramas, montages, dolls, actors, music, stock footage, images and photography to generate five-minute pieces. The technology includes a variety of free programs on the web.



No hay peor palabra que la que no se dice…(there is no worse word than that which is never spoken)

This is a collection of personal essays, memoir, and literary journalism but primarily autotopographies, a life narrative genre based on family/ancestral photographs. There are a variety of approaches to the genre, from mosaic, to reflection, to “as told to,” poetry, and even reinvented family stories. Much can be called, “subjective personal and communal history.” Each gives snapshot insights into what Puerto Rico was like a few generations ago, during its harsh and tumultuous past, as well as its “now,” in its uncertain post-colonial present. The stories not only illustrate family, tradition, community, language, and identity but also themes of migration, immigration, exile and otherness weave through the tales. The borderlands of Puerto Rico have their own world Diaspora – seeds from many lands, languages, religions, cultures reflecting through. Yet, they all share a commonalty which lends not only an ever-expanding view of what it means to be Puerto Rican but also what it means to embrace living this Puerto Rican Life.

The greater part is written in English, the language of the colonizer and a second language to the majority of writers.

There are fourteen chapters representing about a fourth of the material yet to be edited. Each contains a range of stories loosely related to the theme. Click to enlarge any of these amazing images, many rescued and preserved from the ravages of hurricanes, termites, vermin, mold and humidity, reminding us that indeed, nature is always in control on this tiny island.


Galería de Los SaucesPoetry is as old as breath itself. For when human beings across the planet simultaneously uttered that first initial sound, they gave rise to the same echo heard in the wail of every newborn child…its meaning is quite literal. ‘I am here now!’ – Louis Reyes

Personal story and poetry join the “echo” of  independent writers, poets, artists, photographers, filmmakers, and musicians…

The goal of this stage is to highlight the variety of quality art that is being generated by independent artists both on and off the island.

Enjoy this performance and leave your voice behind in the form of a comment  – where there is a story to be told, a place to tell it is required along with someone to listen – call and response – as old as humankind itself….

Click Here for Submission Guidelines.