ORGULLO PATRIO –
I push a chair towards the window, trying to catch a few rays of sun from a beautiful morning. The living room still holds that cozy feeling I miss so much since I have been away at college. A rustic coffee table stands in the corner holding the cat figurine I bought on a random trip to the market one afternoon a long time ago. There is a bookstand which, curiously enough, serves more as a photo display than a book holder. The smiling faces of the many members of our family adorn the walls. My mother’s rocking chair, a gift from my brother, overlooks the living room from another corner. It was there that my mother used to sit every night after supper, casting her protective gaze over me and my brothers as we talked or watched television.
I only come home now on holidays.
My mother walks out of the kitchen wearing her distinctive apron of sunflower patterns. In her hands, she holds a small black box covered in faux velvet. She sits in her rocker, opens the box and withdraws some old pictures. A glint of melancholy flashes through her eyes as she shuffles slowly through them. Though most are black and white, the one she chooses is colored. Before she hands it to me, she holds it in her hand for a moment. A smile slowly finds its way to her lips creating an expression in her face I cannot decipher. Whatever pleasant memory has been triggered, I know it lies deep beneath those of a life of many hardships.
In the photograph, a young woman stands shyly. She wears a dress of red and white stripes topped by a bodice of light blue with a large white star across her chest. It looks like it was made to represent the original Puerto Rican flag. It was a flag that had once represented the fight for independence from the Spaniards. My grandmother had sewn it for my mother as a special symbol of pride. It was a symbol that marked the birth of a new generation of revolutionaries.
“It was the morning of September 23, 1969. Your grandfather took me to El Grito de Lares festivities for the first time,” my mother began.
“Up to that point I had no interest in politics, as any other fourteen-year-old. But that day, as I walked around a crowd of people singing the protest version of the national anthem, I felt something I had never felt before. That was the day that I first felt pride for being Puerto Rican, and for wanting us to have our independence. As they related how our people took the streets of Lares many years ago and pushed the Spaniards away, I watched some of the participants of the event reenact the battle between the townspeople and Spanish soldiers. I saw how, against all odds, the local revolutionaries won the battle, taking control of the city that then started a revolution across the island. Although it was short-lived, it left a mark in Puerto Rican history. My father‘s eyes shone with pride as I shouted, ‘¡Viva Puerto Rico Libre!’ with the rest of the crowd. Maybe at that moment I did not completely understand what the concept of freeing Puerto Rico meant, but it felt right.
As I grew up, I acquired a better grasp of the situation of Puerto Rico and the United States. I believed that the island deserved to be free and to have independence, for we should have the opportunity to stop living under the complete control of the United States. I protested against the local government and I became involved with the separatist political party for many years, always with the memory of the pride that I felt that day,” she concluded.
I handed the photograph back to her and, after taking one last look at it, she placed it back on the box. She stood up from her chair and, after giving me a hug, left the living room.
Ever since I can remember, I have never had any doubts about my mother’s beliefs regarding the independence of Puerto Rico. Yet, I had never realized where such beliefs had found their roots. I stood at the window, and gazed across that same valley in the photograph. Golden rays of sun bathed the green countryside. Not much had changed since the photograph had been taken. The mountaintops still marked an irregular line along the horizon. The valley was alive with the orange-red flowers of the flamboyán and miles of wild foliage. Observing such beauty was breathtaking and, for the first time, I felt such a magnificent land should not be held in chains. “Vámonos, borinqueños, vámonos ya, que nos espera ansiosa, ansiosa la libertad…” I sang to myself.