In the course of our six trips to Puerto Rico my husband and I found great joy in the green rolling hills resplendent with flower-laden trees, mangos free for the picking, the sweet meat of coconuts, the tropical density of El Yunque, the warm waters of the Caribbean, and year-round temperatures in the 80s.
There were adventures aplenty as we camped in our Chevrolet van on friends' ranches, in the Villa Sin Miedo land rescue community, in the backyard of the Episcopal Bishop's home. But most thrilling of all was meeting with activists in the independence movement. As word got out of our friendship with the great patriot Pedro Albizu Campos, doors opened to us throughout Puerto Rico. María Teresa Babín, in giving us a copy of her anthology of Puerto Rican literature, inscribed in the book: "With friendship at first sight." This was the spirit we encountered wherever we went.
Just a few among a kaleidoscope of snapshots in our minds: vigiling with the parents of Carlos Noya for their son, a victim of the Federal Grand Jury; a jeep ride into the mountains of Adjuntas; hospitality on the ranches of Ché and Rosa Negrón and Irma and Guillermo de Jesús; the solemn procession from the Cathedral to the cemetery with floral wreaths honoring those who fell in the Ponce Massacre; shaking hands with Juan Antonio Corretjer at a vigil at the National Guard protesting their participation in U.S. military maneuvers in Honduras.
The sad words of Juan Mari Brás, "They took my son. What more can they do to me?"; the visionary and courageous leadership of Villa Sin Miedo as they strove towards economic indepen dence; quiet-spoken Carlos Zenón as he told of continuing to fish despite a Navy warning of a bombing operation; an Episcopal service in the patio of the church after Padre Pedro had been locked out; the celebration a year later in his Iglesia Episcopal del Pueblo; our ever-willing chofer, Ñin Negrón.
These were people I wanted to write about. As I interviewed independentistas I found, within a wealth of oral history, significant events in the struggle for self-determination, problems in a colonial regime, and a wide range of political views.
We met with Puerto Ricans from one end of the political spectrum to the other, from revolutionaries to advocates of nonviolence, from musicians to poets, professors, lawyers, religious workers and political leaders. We met many who had suffered years of imprisonment. We met some who had committed acts of violence. In the role of reporter, I did not pass judgement. Despite our personal commitment to nonviolence, my husband and I could not fail to understand the frustrations of a people seeking to liberate themselves from a mighty military power. We had only to look back to our own heritage of revolutionary struggle for independence. Even while disagreeing with the flag-waving militarism of our national anthem, I found myself emotionally stirred by the singing of the Borinqueña, and the display of the Puerto Rican flag. To attain independence it seems necessary to go through a stage of self-realization and national pride.
Granted, we went firmly convinced of the immorality of our holding a colony in subjugation, and in total agreement with the United Nations' declaration that all countries had a right to self- determination. We did meet with a few who advocated statehood, and some who were satisfied with the present status. We were well aware that in past plebiscites, only a small minority declared themselves for independence. But nor did our thirteen colonies have majority support for independence. We understood the deep psychological fears of a people whose country has been under a colonial regime for five hundred years. It is difficult to overcome a sense of inadequacy and self-doubt because of their dependency on United States welfare. We saw all around us the persecution, harassment, imprisonment of those who dared to join in the struggle for independence.
It is not our mission to tell Puerto Ricans what methods they should use to achieve their liberation, but rather to appeal to the world communitypeacemakers within and without the churches, all those seeking justiceto help bring about a peaceful solution lest further violence erupt.
I saw the strength of the independence movement not so much in numbers, but in the deep conviction and courage of the people I interviewed, their willingness to face hardships and speak out regardless of consequences. And there are hundreds more of their calibre.
So I present to my readers some of the courageous and dedicated people I came to know and love: voices ringing out loud and clear for independence, in the spirit of valor and sacrifice.