by: Wilfredo Santiago
Valiente, P.h. D.
Remembrance of Times Past:
Christmas in Cabo Rojo, P. R. During the World War II Years
and Recollections of a Society in Transition
December 2006 - Cabo Rojo, with its beaches, excellent seafood outlets,
camping sites and picturesque hotels, is to Puerto Ricans all over the
island a kind of summer escape wonderland. In-between the Memorial and
Labor Day festivities family vacationers flock the area to unwind tensions
and preoccupations. This, however, was not so as early as 50 or 60 years
ago. Located in the extreme south-western region of the Island, Cabo Rojo
was at the time an almost isolated and highly traditional town community
of sugar growers, cattlemen and small manufacturers which produced during
the 19th century the legendary pirate Roberto Cofresí; political
figures such as Dr. Ramón E. Betances and Dr. Salvador Carbonell
and the writer and historian Salvador Brau y Asencio, in addition to a
host of educators, musicians and military men, General Salvador Padilla,
Founded in 1771 by Governor Miguel de Muesas with a flury of towns (Aguadilla;
Cayey de Muesas; Caguas; Fajardo, for examples) after the occupation of
La Habana by England in 1763, Cabo Rojo used to be an almost self-contained
municipality where, for generations, families used to know each other
and intermarry. In 1805 Puerto Real, the small fishing village five miles
west of town, was opened to foreign trade and merchant ships from England,
France and the young American Republic frequented the port. By 1828 the
town already had a population of 10,235 inhabitants, including 851 slaves
and numerous migrant families fleeing political turmoil in Venezuela (Brau)
and Santo Domingo (Betances), as well as laborers, farmers and even adventurers
from Austria (von Kupferschein or Cofresí), Italy (Carlo and Acarán),
Croatia (Petrovitch; Wiscovitch) and the United States (Bruckman). Though
Puerto Real was closed in 1841 by Governor Santiago Méndez Vigo
to deflect its growing trade to the nearby Mayagüez port, its population
continued to thrive, specially after the First World War (1914-1918) when
the collapse of beet sugar production in Europe induced a sugar cane production
boom in Puerto Rico, including Cabo Rojo. Notwithstanding the Great Depression
(1932-1938) and the dislocations brought about by World War II (1940-1945),
the municipality and town remained a lively place as its traditional household
manufacturing industries (tayloring, Panama hats and mahogany furniture
makers, for instances) and the local salt and fishing industries continued
How was Christmas celebrated in 1945 in a slightly isolated town like
Cabo Rojo just out of the depression years and in the midst of the difficulties
and restrictions imposed by Word War II? To this end I must rely on early
childhood memories and, equally important, the recollections of Lieutenant
Colonel (Retired) Nestor Asencio and his wife Matilde Matos, whose ancestors
were original settlers of Cabo Rojo and who have been for many years residents
of El Paso, Texas.The reminiscences will also help us relive the sudden
collapse of the sugar industry in Puerto Rico as experienced by my grandfather
after the short lived early World War II boom years and the transformation
of the island in less than a generation from an agricultural to an industrial
and service-based economy and society.
I should first note- to highlight the localisms inherent in close-knit,
traditional societies- that though born in the nearby city of Mayagüez,
I was registered in the non-existent Cabo Rojo 'Barrio Carbonell' supposedly
located on the road to Puerto Real by the Hacienda La Monserrate. The
largest sugar plantation in town, La Monserrate was established in the
19th century by the prominent Puerto Rican autonomist of Catalan descent
Dr. Salvador Carbonell (the Virgin of Montserrat is the Patron Saint of
Cataluña), who spent time in the El Morro jails in the late 1880's
for his opposition to the then prevailing Spanish regime. Nor was my grandfather,
Manuel de Santiago, a Cabo Rojo native.
Born in the Villa de San German, he grew up managing small sugar cane
fields belonging to his father and his wife's- Emilia Irizarry- family.
Unable to buy, or lease, farmland in San German during the First World
War boom (land ownership in San German was highly concentrated), he opted
to lease the Hacienda Borinquen in Cabo Rojo (where today stands the Urbanización
Borinquen, not far from the old cemetery) from don Mateo Fajardo and his
wife doña Antonia Cabassa, the owners of the small Eureka Sugar
Mill in Mayagüez. The hacienda turned out to be sufficiently profitable
to allow him the purchase, direct from Detroit in 1918, of a model T-Ford
for $500.00 delivered at the port of Mayagüez. However, after the
war, prices collapsed and the hacienda went bankrupt.
This upset not withstanding, in 1922 he leased over a 25 year period the
1,700 cuerdas (a cuerda is slightly less than an acre) the Hacienda Belvedere
overlooking the Caribbean Sea, the second largest in the region located
in the Barrio Miradero between Puerto Real and Joyuda, not far from La
Monserrate. Founded in the early 19th century by the Monagas family (Belvedere
was a palace in Vienna belonging to the Austrian emperor), and later owned
by the Vidal family, the hacienda had a small sugar mill (trapiche) and
chimney (still standing) and a large stone house with 'ausubo' ceiling.
In 1922 the family moved from San German to Belvedere, but because of
its 4 miles distance to town (my father and his older sister traveled
to school in a two-wheeled horse-buggy) my grandfather purchased from
don Julio Monagas his large, late 19th century, 'mamposteria' town house
in the Calle Betances, in front of the Curry School, near the Cabo Rojo
Alcaldia, the early 20th century Presbyterian Church (or 'el culto'),
the Excelsior (Paraiso) Theater and the Cuna de Betances Masonic Lodge.
My father, who worked as an Agricultural Extention Agent in Cabo Rojo
in the late 30's and early 40's was offered a job in San Juan at the Office
of Price Stabilization, a Federal agency that regulated prices and the
availability of scarce goods during the war years (1941-1945). However,
after settling in Rio Piedras, he always took vacations from December
25th to January 8th, the day after the Three Kings celebration, to spend
Christmas with the rest of the family in the large Calle Betances house.
This is the source of my late World War II Cabo Rojo Christmas recollections,
particularly the 1945/46 ones.
The 1945/46 Christmas season ingrained itself in memory. For one, my younger
sister was then baptized in Cabo Rojo. Three additional events stand out
in my mind: First, the big Chritmas party in the Hacienda Belvedere's
wooden, sea-side house; second, the New Years Eve celebration in the Calle
Betances; and, third, the Three Kings Day's children gift-giving event
in the Cabo Rojo Lions Club. However, as Nestor and Matilde Asencio recently
called my attention to, the most boisterous Christmas festivities at the
time occurred in Cabo Rojo's popular barrios of El Cibao and La Pileta,
as we shall later see.
The great depression and the war years notwithstanding, Cabo Rojo remained
a relatively prosperous and thriving island municipality. To illustrate,
it was not uncommon to find popular 1930's orchestras playing in town,
such as the famous Whoopy Kids from Ponce, the Happy Hills from San German
or, direct from the San Juan Escambrón Beach Club, the Rafael Muñoz
Orchestra, well- known in Latin America through its RCA Victor recordings.
In fact there appears to have then existed keen competition in Cabo Rojo
at the time as to who threw the best party in town.
The Belvedere Christmas party in 1945 was celebrated shortly after the
war's September 1945 end.The party aside, the day (to me) is memorable,
for an additional reason. Prior to the attending the party, my father
stopped at the century-old stables near the hacienda's old chimney to
visit my grandfather's horse 'Caramelo'. The horse was saddled for me
to ride with his caretaker holding the bridles, of course.
Caramelo was bought as yearling in 1940 from a Ponce landowner. The beautiful
horse was a son of Dulce Sueño, the legendary Paso Fino stallion
owned by don Jenaro Cautiño of Guayama and the sire of the five
time Puerto Rico champion 'Guamaní' and of 'Caonabo', the Dominican
Republic's champion owned by dictator Rafael L. Trujillo. My grandfather
used Caramelo for his weekly hacienda round-ups and, occasionally, to
ride in town on Sundays with his Panama hat and his habitual white-linen
suit tailored by don Santos Ortiz Montalvo, who for three generations
dressed caborrojeños.of all shades and colors. However, unable
to buy the Hacienda Belvedere after the war, or renew its expiring 25
year lease, my grandfather parted with his horse in 1947, selling him
(for $800.00, I am told) to a Mayagüez businessman, who, in turn,
trained the 8 years-old horse for competition. Eventually, in 1949, Caramelo
won both the Paso Fino and Bellas Formas titles in the island-wide competitions
held in the old Sixto Escobar Stadium in San Juan.(My grandfather's ox-cart
team, or yunta de bueyes, won the island-wide pulling strenght competition
in the 1938 Ponce's Commercial and Agricultural Fair, besting the teams
of the Eastern Sugar Corporation, the South Puerto Rico Sugar Co. and
Ponce's Central Mercedita). Having lost control of Belvedere, however,
don Manuel reluctlantly moved in 1949 to the Barrio Cupey in Rio Piedras,
where he had bought in 1938, as a precautionary measure, a 340 cuerdas
sugar farm, today the site of the Los Paseos residential urbanization
by the modern Rio Piedras to Caguas Highway.
With the horse ride over, the family headed to the hacienda's sea- side
wooden beach-house, located at the site of today's Club Deportivo del
Oeste marina and gulf club, where a pig was being roasted. Once there,
I deemly recall a boisterous crowd which seemingly included the hacienda's
workers. Once roasted, I was given the privilege of having the pig's coveted
Aside from the creche, or nacimiento, in the San Miguel Arcangel Church,
there were no Christmas ornaments or illumination in the town's main plaza
at the time, or in the plaza businesses, a practice that began to take
hold in Puerto Rico after the war, particularly among the Old San Juan
businesses influenced by New York-style, colorful Christmas ornamentation
and marketing techniques. In Cabo Rojo's Church-oriented Christmas athmosphere,
the New Year's Eve celebrations in the Calle Betances were not particularly
eventful. After the habitual dinner, an RCA Victrola played 78 RPM records,
while family friends and acquaintances came in-an-out with greetings and
best New Year wishes. Shortly after midnight, however, don Hector Ronda,
the immediate neighbor, spread burning frankincense at the house, and
in the neighborhood as well; a ritual to bless homes in the coming year.
Six days later, on the Three Kings Day (January 6th), a cousin took me
to the 9:00 am Children's Mass where over 200 Cabo Rojo children gathered
to kiss the newborn King, an old Cabo Rojo church tradition. Immediately
after, the family headed to a special Three Kings Day toy-distribution
event sponsored by the Lions Club, the civic-minded mainland United States
fraternity established in Cabo Rojo during the 1930's by farmers, businessmen
and town professionals, including my grandfather. Upon arrival, the Three
Kings were distributing gifts, assisted by no-other than Santa Claus,
a development which, during the fifties, but in a wider context, nurtured
fears- unfounded, I believe- that Santa Claus would inevitably displace
the Three Kings tradition.on the island. However, it may be said that
the most lively and boisterous Christmas festivities in Cabo Rojo then
happened in the popular barrios of El Cibao and La Pileta, as Nestor and
Matilde Asencio and Sifredo Lugo Toro in his 'Estampas de Cabo Rojo' (1995),
so well attest.
El Cibao and La Pileta were two popular Cabo Rojo barrios peopled by small
businessmen, street and plaza del mercado vendors, car drivers, electricians,
blacksmiths, etc., many of whom migrated to New York City during the early
post-war years and organized themselves into the 'Caborrojeños
Ausentes', one of the most active Puerto Rican township organizations
in the City, and established Club Caborrojeño, the popular late
1940's and 50's Latin night-spot located in Broadway and 145th Street,
Manhattan. Seemingly settled initially by dominicans fleeing the early
19th century Haitian invasion (El Cibao is a region in the Dominican Republic
centered around Santiago de los Caballeros), El Cibao was located in the
Cabo Rojo exit road to Joyuda and the Playa de Mayaguez (Guanajibo), while
La Pileta comprised the Calle Mestre, a street in the eastern edge of
town, three blocks from the central plaza, paralell to La Pileta Stream.
Nestor Asencio recalls that crab-catchers and the crab-meat vendors in
the plaza del mercado were the driving force behind the barrios' Christmas
celebrations. In their incursions into the crab- abundant seafront farms
of Joyuda, the crab catchers would cut the pine-tree like, thorn covered
pirinola trees and chop-off palm tree branches for distribution in El
Cibao and La Pileta. The ornamented pirinola trees would decorate the
barrios' homes, while palm-tree branches and electric lights were hung
on lamp-posts and electricity poles along the barrios' streets. Meanwhile,
don Rafael Barrios Graniela, the town's skilled plumber and electrician
(most likely an uncle of Freddy Prinze Graniela, the tragic actor of the
1970's popular TV series 'Chico and the Man', whose mother migrated from
Cabo Rojo to New York in the 1940's) would organize bomba dances, jibaro
music entertainment and elaborate hand-made toys for distribution on Three
Kings Day to the barrios children, as Lugo Toro recalls in an 'Estampas
de Cabo Rojo' vignette.
As already related, don Manuel de Santiago, unable to buy or renew the
Hacienda Belvedere lease, moved to his 340 cuerdas sugar farm in the Barrio
Cupey, near Rio Piedras and became one of the large colonos (cane suppliers)
of the medium-sized San José Sugar Mill. At the time El Cupey was
a rain-soaked barrio peopled by small farming families (Silvas; Villegas;
Figueroas, etc.) who, for generations, had supplied Rio Piedras, San Juan
and Santurce residents with plaintains, bananas, yautias, and batatas
(sweet potatoes), and whose Piedras River-which has its source in Cupey
Alto and criss-crosses the barrio- was a source of crystal-clear drinking
water to Old San Juan, Santurce and Rio Piedras vecinos during the 19th
and early 20 century (During the 1920's the river was dammed and a small
artificial lake created in Cupey Alto-the Lago Las Curias-which still
supplies drinking water to San Juan residents) After 1949, the Cabo Rojo
family usually spent the New Year's Eve in the Cupey house farm built
during the war in the rural Cupey Bajo/Cupey Alto road. However, prospects
for the sugar industry in the San Juan metropolitan area did not turn
The boisterous Cabo Rojo family members spent the 1953 New Years Eve in
El Cupey amidst rumors that the Mongil and the Mayaguez
Seín families, two of the largest sugar farmers in the area,
had decided to discontinue farming and engage themselves instead in major
housing developments.(Eventually the San Gerardo and El Señorial
Urbanizations) In October 1954, seemingly under pressure by the unfolding
events, my grandfather passed away of a massive heart attack, aged 68,
shortly before the 1955 harvest, his last. Indeed, a year after he passed
away the San José Sugar Mill ceased operations (1956) due to a
lack of sufficient cane to grind. In those circumstances, the proverbial
family squables took over and a judge ordered the farm's sale to the advantage
of astute and well-connected developers who bought the farm while simultaneously
procuring that the future north-to-south Rio Piedras to Caguas Highway
lay conveniently by the farm's western boundary, pararell to the Piedras
River, and to its northern one by the projected Trujillo Alto to Guaynabo
Las Cumbres Avenue, also close to the El Señorial development.
Meanwhile things were not faring any better in Cabo Rojo, not withstanding
the early Post-World War II sugar boom. Shortly after my grandfather's
demise, the over- a- century old haciendas La Monserrate and Belvedere
ceased operations, as inevitably did the Central Guanica, the third largest
in the world where the Cabo Rojo colonos marketed their cane. (Guanica
Central built an extensive railroad- line system in the twenties that
reached La Monserrate, Belvedere and other Cabo Rojo cane fields). Moreover,
during the 1980's the Ruta 100 from Mayagüez to Cabo Rojo's Boqueron
village and beach opened- up. The two-centuries old, close-knit, secluded
town's agrarian-based social structures and way of life, and its century-old
memories and traditions gradually, but inexorably, started to fade-away.
Instead, a young, highly mobile, island-wide generation took over and
a highly dynamic tourist-based economy- certainly unrecognizable to the
previous one- was on its decided way ahead. Memories, however, die hard,
as the recent refurbishment of the Paraiso Theater and the Calle Betances
Carmen Díaz Walker: Lyric Soprano
and University Professor in El Paso, Texas
The Puerto Rico-born Carmen Díaz Walker,
who currently teaches Applied Voice at the University of Texas, El Paso
(UTEP) Music Department, presented this past September 17th. Canta Latina!,
a highly successful recital of Spanish and Latin American art songs, Puerto
Rican, Cuban, and Mexican boleros and arias from well-known operas and
zarzuelas. Held at the University's Fox Fine Arts Recital Hall as part
of UTEP's celebration of the 'Mes de la Hispanidad', Ms. Díaz Walker
was accompanied by the well-known pianist, Assistant Conductor for the
Santa Barbara Opera and Lecturer at the University of California, Santa
Barbara John Ballerino, and the young Mexico-born tenor Mauricio O'Reilly,
who recently appeared in PBS's nationally televised 'Three American Tenors'
and performed in Carnegie Hall, the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Mexico City)
and in opera houses in Israel, Germany, and Austria.
How does a young singer whose grandparents lived and worked in New York's
Manhattan during the Depression (1932-39); whose father and mother married
in New York, but moved to the Island where Carmen was born, end-up in
the highly-regarded UTEP Music Department, 3,000 miles away from San Juan,
Puerto Rico in the south western tip of Texas bordering Ciudad Juarez,
Mexico and the far-west State of New Mexico?
Ms. Díaz Walker's paternal grandparents, Porfirio and María
Díaz, moved to New York City from the Caguas valley area during
the Depression years (1932-39), as did her maternal ones, Antonio and
Virginia Rosado, from the mountain towns Lares and San Sebastian. Her
maternal grandfather, who she recalls best, started out working (as did
so many Puerto Rican migrants during the depression and World War II years)
in the now shut-down Brooklyn Navy Yard and later became a head cook at
El Barrio's Metropolitan Hospital, located in103rd.Street and First Avenue,
Manhattan. Her father Jorge studied electronics and, upon enrolling in
the military, became an electronics technician with the U. S. Navy while
stationed in the Mayport Naval Base, Jacksonville, Florida.
Ms. Díaz Walker's parents, Jorge and Myrna Díaz, married
in New York City and after relocation to the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station
in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, settled to start a family in the San Juan suburb
of Guaynabo where her older sister Alida, her middle sister Ana María;
herself and her younger brother Jorge Antonio were born. While on the
island she started to become musically inclined. For example, her mother
used to go to the opera in field trips as a young student in New York
City. While in Puerto Rico, she placed her home address in Guaynabo to
Verdi's well-known Triumphal March from the opera Aida in case the young
Carmen got lost; and in her frequent trips to the Isla Verde Beach she
would dance her around in the water to the tune of the Blue Danube Waltz.
However, it was listening to popular boleros and the then upcoming salsa
music in Puerto Rico's radio stations that made a lasting impression on
her. By that time, Ms. Díaz Walker was completely fluent in Spanish
and English and eventually she would learn French in high school and Italian
and German in college.
In 1976, at age 13, the family moved from Puerto Rico to the Mayport Naval
Base in Jacksonville where her father had been reassigned. The move, however,
turned out to be a blessing in disguise. By 7th. grade she sang in her
Church of Christ congragation, which had a tradition of not using instruments,
but only voices. By her high school years she had already appeared in
two musicals, a ballet and started taking voice lessons. As part of a
state-wide choir competition held at the University of Florida, Gainsville,
her high school choir earned 'Superior' mark an accomplishment which helped
admission to the University's Music.Department. Eventually she would complete
Bachelor and Master degrees in Voice Performance from the University of
Florida and the Louisiana State University, respectively.
As a graduate student, Ms. Díaz Walker sang with the Florida State
Opera and in her professional career she has performed as Donna Anna in
the well-known Mozart Opera 'Don Giovanni', sponsored by the Oak Ridge
Concert Music Association, and the role of Antonia in Offenbach's 'Tales
of Hoffman' with Opera- in- the-Heights in Houston, Texas. As a lyric
soprano she has participated in oratorio concerts with the Mid-Texas and
Laredo Symphonies. An avid Spanish Zarzuela enthusiast, she appeared in
Chueca's zarzuela 'Agua, Azucarillos y Aguardiente' in the El Paso Zarzuela
Festival and in the Napa Valley, California's Jarvis Conservatory Zarzuela
Summer Program. She has also performed in Latin American and Spanish art
song festivals in San Antonio, Texas and has also sung in Oklahoma, Arkansas,
Tennesee and Montevideo, Uruguay. Prior to teaching at the University
of Texas, El Paso, Ms. Díaz Walker, taught Voice Performance at
the Del Mar College, Corpus Christi, Texas. Her participation in the El
Paso Zarzuela Festival helped her land the UTEP Applied Voice teaching
Ms. Díaz Walker's recital at the University of Texas, El Paso's
Fox Fine Arts Recital Hall included Argentinian art songs by Carlos Gustavino
(1912-2000); Mexican art songs by Blas Galindo (1910-1993) and Manuel
Ponce (1882-1950); Spanish ones by Enrique Granados (1867-1916) and Joaquin
Turina (1882-1949) and popular boleros by the well-known Cuban and Mexican
composers Ernesto Lecuona (!895-1963) and Agustin Lara (1897-1970). To
the delight of Puerto Ricans in the audience, Ms. Díaz Walker made
excellent renditions of Rafael Hernández's (1891-1965) 'Campanitas
de Cristal' and 'Preciosa' and Noel Estrada's 'En Mi Viejo San Juan',
today the City of San Juan's official song. The recital also included
the duo 'Cállate Corazón' with Mauricio O'Reilly from the
popular zarzuela 'Luisa Fernandez' and concluded with the Aria from Gimenez's
zarzuela El Barbero de Sevilla 'Me Llaman la Primorosa'.
The UTEP Deparment of Music; the UTEP Center for Inter-American and Border
Studies; the Chicano Studies Department; the Mexican Consulate in El Paso;
and the Civic and Cultural Organization of Puerto Ricans in El Paso, Texas,
presided by Ms. Lydia Díaz, helped underwrite the event.
Ms. Díaz Walker resides in El Paso with husband Randy Walker (Missisippi-born)
and their three year old daughter.
March 18, 2006
Luz Haydée Rivera Myrick
Promoter of Puerto Rican Culture and Cultural Values in New York City
Ever since the late 19th century, and in the course of the 20th , New
York City has been the primary destiny of Puerto Ricans and Puerto Rican-Americans
moving to the mainland United States, though since the 1990's the State
of Florida has seriously challenged this primacy. In view of the designation
of March as "Women's Month", it is worthwhile to highlight the
contributions of its women - mostly unsung- to the cultural and civic
life of the most diverse and dynamic city in the United States, New York
city. Luz H. Rivera Myrick, an educator and civic leader, is a case-in-point.
Born in Comerío, a small agricultural town founded in 1826 as Sabana
del Palmar near Puerto Rico's Cordillera Central, Luz Haydée Rivera-Myrick
grew in a family-owned sugar and tobacco producing farm not far from the
Río de la Plata, the longest river on the Island.
After having completed her primary education, the family moved to the
also agricultural mountain town of Corozal where she became the Class
President and Valedictorian in the first graduating high school class
in town. (The high-school today is named after Emilio R. Delgado, a Corozal-born
poet who lived-and passed away in New York City in 1968; a city
where he had befriended the renowned poets Federico Garcia Lorca and the
Afro-American Langston Hughes during the thirties). Upon graduation Mrs.
Rivera-Myrick- whose father don Enrique Rivera was a relative of the late
19th and early 20th century Puerto Rico politician and Resident Commissioner
in Washington don Luis Muñoz Rivera- registered at the University
of Puerto Rico's School of Education where she obtained degrees in Counseling
and in School Supervision and Administration. She was appointed school
supervisor in her adopted town of Corozal and eventually was awarded a
scholarship to continue advanced studies at the prestigious Teachers College,
Columbia University, New York. As a honor student, she became a member
of the Kappa Delta Pi Society in the field of Education and later obtained
her Master's Degree in Personal and Vocational Counseling. She also has
graduate studies in Columbia University's Graduate School of the Humanities.
Upon obtaining her Master's Degree during the 1960's, Luz Haydée
Rivera was immediately employed as a Supervisor and Counselor by the New
York City Department of Education. In that capacity she collaborated closely
with the (then) recently established "Comité Cultural Puertorriqueño-Hispano
de Nueva York, a cultural organization founded in 1965 by the Germany-born
Peter Bloch to familiarize New York Puerto Ricans and New Yorkers in general
with Puerto Rican and Hispanic American artists and culture. (The organization
evolved into the still existing "Asociación Pro-Cultura Puertorriqueña/Hispánica-
also under the direction of Peter Bloch - which usually presents its cultural
events in the Museum of the City of New York's auditorium) As a Board
Member of the Comité, Mrs. Rivera-Myrick helped organize conferences,
poetry recitals, and concerts in churches, community centers and schools.
Equally important, she persuaded N. Y. C. Department of Education officials
to commemorate the Puerto Rico Discovery Week in the Hispanic City school
districts, an initiative that eventually lead in the 1980's to the designation
in New York State of November as "Puerto Rican Heritage Month".
Members of the Committe's original board included the noted Puerto Rican
poet and City College Professor Dr. Diana Ramírez de Arellano (grand
daughter of the 19th century Puerto Rican writer and historian Salvador
Brau), Cuban-born playwright Dolores Prida, the poet Angel M. Arroyo,
and Cabo Rojo-born Federico Pérez Marty, subsequently the president
of the Puerto Rican Day Parade, and today an aide to Congressman José
A. Serrano of the Bronx.
In the nineteen sixties and seventies, Mrs. Rivera-Myrick presided the
New York Chapter of the Lexicographic Institute, a Spain-based cultural
organization headed in Puerto Rico by the writer Ernesto Juan Fonfrías
to promote the proper usage and orderly development of the Spanish language,
particularly in a complex social and cultural setting such as the one
experienced by Puerto Ricans and Hispanics living in New York. She also
collaborated with Dr. Diana Ramírez de Arellano in the now defunct
Ateneo Puertorriqueóo de Nueva York. Her most notable contribution
to the arts and cultural awareness of Puerto Ricans in New York, however,
has been through the Asociación Puertorriqueña de Escritores
Together with the Círculo de Escritores y Periodistas Iberoamericanos
(CEPI), the Asociación Puertorriqueña de Escritores is probably
one of the oldest still active Puerto Rican literary and cultural organization.
Founded in 1945 by poets Angel M. Arroyo , Erasmo Vando, Gonzalo O'Neill,
newspapermen Antonio J. Colorado and Rafael Torres Mazzorana, among others,
the organization has been presided in the past 20 years by Luz H. Rivera
Myrick after a long tenure by the distinguished (and recently deceased-1999)
Arecibo-born Angel M. Arroyo. In the past 40 years in APE, Luz H. Rivera
Myrick has organized, or helped organize, conferences by the well-known
Puerto Rican novelist Enrique Laguerre (1905-2005); the literary critic,
poet and Professor of Spanish and Latin American Literature Dr. Adelaida
Lugo- Guarnelli of Baruch College (City University of N.Y.); the head
of the Spanish Program at Teachers College, the noted Hispanist and poet
Dr. Mordecai Rubin; and the literary critic, author and former Brooklyn
College Spanish and Puerto Rican Literature Professor Dr. EloÃsa
Rivera Rivera. (By the way the wife of Oscar García Rivera, Esq.,
the first Puerto Rican ever to hold an elected position in the United
States, in his case to the New York State Assembly in 1937 representing
Manhattan's "El Barrio" District.)
The APE has also sponsored conferences and poetry recitals by poets Juan
Avilés, Dr. Diana Ramíirez de Arellano, Anita Vélez-Mitchell,
actor Premier Solís and, recently, by the distinguished Spanish
literary figure and poet Antonio Porpetta. It has has also presented recitals
by pianist Alberto Bird, sopranos Evangelina Colón (today the Executive
Director of the Luis A. Ferré Bellas Artes complex in Santurce,
P.R.); her daughter Ana María Martínez, who has toured Europe
with the well-known Italian tenor Andrea Bochelli; Mercedes Alicea; and
the husband-wife team of tenor Rafael Lebrón and soprano Ilia Martínez.
During the 1980's APE sponsored a danza recital by a musical ensemble
directed by the New York resident Manuel Morell Campos, the grandson of
the noted 19th century Puerto Rican composer, the Ponce-born Juan Morell
Campos. (1857-1896). Traditionally APE events have taken place in the
over-a-hundred years old Horace Mann Auditorium located in Broadway and
120th Street, Manhattan, Teachers College, Columbia University.
Luz H. Rivera Myrick started writing poetry and short stories in high
school. Her story "La Vuelta de la Güitarra" won her a
literary prize at the time. (The title refers to the winding road between
Comerío and Barranquitas which, in one well-known turn, takes the
shape of a guitar). While still a University of Puerto Rico student, she
won the poetry Gold Medal Award in the well-remembered (and popular)1940's
and 50's radio program Tribuna del Arte directed by don Rafael Quiñones
Vidal. While a school supervisor in Corozal, she headed the Asociación
del Corazón and presided over the Catholic Daughters of America.
In New York City, Luz Haydée has received the "Palma de Julia
de Burgos Award" by the Asociación Pro-Cultura Hispánica/Puertorriqueña
presided by Peter Bloch; the "Award for Distinguished Community Services"
by the Instituto de Puerto Rico; and the "Izaguirre Horta Pro-Hispanic
Values Trophy". Mrs. Rivera Myrick is a member of the Board of Directors
of the South Bronx Mental Health Council, the pioneering, and highly successful,
community mental health program established in the South Bronx during
the difficult 1960's decade by Dr. Humberto Martínez, a University
of Puerto Rico Medical School trained psychiatrist.
In June 2001, friends and colleagues proffered a deserved recognition
to Luz Haydée's trajectory as a poet and tireless cultivator of
Puerto Rican and Hispanic arts and values. The event took place in the
ceremony room of Columbia University's Teachers College. In the celebration,
actor Premier Solís recited poems of hers which call the memories
of her relative Luis Muñoz Marín and her (then) recently
deceased brother Dr. Enrique Rivera Romero, a child psychiatrist; while
artist and poet Anita Vélez-Mitchell recited her unpublished poetry
for children. The Director of the Teachers College Spanish Program, Dr.
Mordecai Rubin, and the noted Spanish poet Antonio Porpetta presented
Recently Luz Haydée completed the course requirements toward her
Doctorate in Spanish and Hispanic Literature at Teachers College and also
retired as an educator from the New York City Public Schools system. She
is working a dissertation on the poetry of her good friend and colleague,
the poet and City University of New York Professor, the New York- born
Puerto Rican, Dr. Diana Ramírez de Arellano, who, unfortunately,
recently passed away.
The White House Task Force Report on the Status of Puerto Rico
The White House Task Force released on December 22, 2005 its long-awaited
report on the status of Puerto Rico. To no ones surprise it has stirred
the emotions-both positive and negative- of politicians in the island, who,
for over a century, have debated whether the island should be incorporated
as a state of the Union, become an independent republic, or attain some
other form of political relationship with the United States.
The report goes back to a Memorandum issued by President George H. Bush
(Father)on November 30, 1992 directing all Federal agencies to treat Puerto
Rico as a State, insofar as so doing does not disrupt Federal operations.
The Memo would remain in effect until Federal legislation is enacted to
alter the present status in accordance with the freely expressed choice
of the people of Puerto Rico.
As a follow-up to Bush's directive, President Bill Clinton established by
executive order (December23, 2002) a Task Force on the Status of Puerto
Rico, shortly before leaving the White House; and President George W. Bush
(Son) ratified an amended version instructing its members to issue follow-up
reports as needed. The Task Force's mission is to analyze the options available
for the island's future status and its relationship with the United States.
In discussing the status question, it is required that available options
be compatible with its Constitution, jurisprudence and laws.
The nine page report, which is directed to the members of Congress, is straight-forward
and its conclusions and recommendations concisely to the point.
First, the report states that Puerto Rico is, under the United States Constitution,
a territory of the United States and, as such, subject to the jurisdiction
of Congress under the Constitution's Territory Clause (Article IV, Section
Second, that as a territory its present status is not permanent and, from
a Constitutional viewpoint, Congress may revise or revoke it at any time.
Congress could allow the island increased powers of self-government, but
subject to the limitations imposed by the Constitution itself.
Third, the Culminated Commonwealth status proposed by the Popular Democratic
Party, whereby Puerto Rico would become a fully autonomous, non-territorial,
non-State political entity in permanent union with the United States, is
not contemplated, or allowed, by the U.S. Constitution.
Fourth, sovereignty under Statehood or Independence are the only permanent
future options for Puerto Rico. The Free Association (Associated Republic)
status, considered as a decolonizing option by the United Nations that is
supported by a faction within the Popular Democratic Party, is itself a
form of independence. As such Free Association is subject to the Treaty
Clause of the Constitution and to unilateral termination by the United States.
Moreover, since citizenship follows sovereignty and Puerto Ricans are citizens
by statute (rather than born in the U.S. or naturalized), they would cease
to be citizens under Independence and Free Association, unless a different
rule were prescribed by Congress.
Last, the Task Force recommends that Congress
provide within a year (2006) a Federally sanctioned referendum in which
the people of Puerto Rico would express themself on whether to maintain
the present territorial status of Commonwealth (Estado Libre Asociado)
or not. Should the people of Puerto Rico elect to pursue a permanent,
non-territorial status, Congress should provide for another referendum
between statehood and independence. If the people of Puerto Rico elect
to remain an Estado Libre Asociado, a referendum should be authorized
periodically to keep Congress informed of the people's wishes as long
as that status continues.
The report was eagerly welcomed by members of the pro-statehood New Progressive
Party and the Puerto Rico Independence Party. The leadership of the Popular
Democratic Party (PDP), however, has utterly rejected the same. Responding
initially in disarray, some argued that the report was an inconsequential
one drafted by third level Federal bureaucrats, while the influential
mayor of the City of Caguas, incensed, suggested that Puerto Rico sue
the Federal government for $100 billion and join the European Union instead.
Meanwhile, the PPD Senator Eudaldo Baez Galib recommended that the party
create a major local and international crisis if their requirements for
a culminated Commonwealth are not met.
The governor of Puerto Rico Anibal Acevedo Vila reacted with similar vehemence.
Regarding the report as an insult to the people of Puerto Rico, he expressed
willingness to denounce the situation at the United Nations. According
to the governor, eliminating the option of autonomy from a plebiscite
goes against our history and essence. Moreover, if the Estado Libre Asociado
is a territory under the jurisdiction of Congress as stated by the report,
the United States not only reneges the 1952 bilateral pact with the Puerto
Rico, but may have misinformed the U. N. General Assembly when it decided
through its Resolution 748 (VIII) that the island shed its colonial status.
These last two statements require further examination to fully comprehend
their scope and implications.
Based on the principle of the consent of the governed, Congress approved,
in the character of a compact, Public Law 600 (1950) authorizing the people
of Puerto Rico to draft a constitution and establish a government pursuant
to matters of local concern. On July 25, 1952, Puerto Ricans ratified
in a referendum the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, christened
by the Popular Democratic Party as the Constitucion del Estado Libre Asociado.
In this context, the United Nations approved its Resolution 748 (VIII)
of 1953, which exempts the United States from submitting annual reports
concerning the territory (colony) of Puerto Rico, insofar as the island
had been invested with attributes of sovereignty that identify the island
as an autonomous political entity. From the U. N. viewpoint the island
ceased to be a colony, but the estadolibristas also concluded that it
had also ceased to be a territory of the United States. Based on the Treaty
of Paris (1898), the Jones Act (1917) and Federal jurisprudence, the island,
however, is still a territory subject to the authority of Congress. This
is disputed by the governor and the Popular Demicratic Party. They also
dispute the exclusion of autonomy, or the Estado Libre Asociado, as an
option to finally resolve the status question. The governorss contention
that the exclusion of autonomy as a status option goes against the history
and essence of the people of Puerto Rico requires clarification.
The 19th century autonomic movement in Cuba and Puerto Rico originates
from the expulsion of their delegates from the 1837 Spanish Courts (Parliament)
that convened to draft a liberal constitution in the peninsula. Considering
the distance and the presence of bad blood (African) in their population,
the Courts decided not to assimilate their Antillean colonies and to govern
them through special laws. The special laws were never enacted. Instead,
Cuba and Puerto Rico were governed by military Captain-Generals (Governors)
throughout the 19th century until 1897. In that year, and, in the course
of the war of Cuban independence, Spain granted autonomy to Cuba and Puerto
Rico in a last-ditch effort to avert an intervention by the United States.
At the time Spain was a highly-centralized, antiquated constitutional
The issue of autonomy in present day Puerto Rico unfolds in totally different
political circumstances. The United States is a modern federation of States
which, from a political and administrative viewpoint, are autonomous entities.
The U. S. Constitution Territorial Clause recognizes but three types of
arrangements: possessions ( the Panama Canal, for instance); organized
territories (the Virgin Islands, for example) and States. To maximize
or culminate the Estado Libre Asociado (capacity to sign foreign treaties;
Federal block assistance; control of immigration; cultural sovereignty,
etc.) without impinging on its permanent union with the United States
(i.e., citizenship) is tantamount to the establishment of a confederation
between 50 federated States and a single, privileged Island in the Caribbean
subject in perpetuity to special laws enacted by Congress. The White House's
posture on the issue of autonomy is not anti-historical as argued by the
governor, but that's besides the point.
Though the estadolibrista leadership has characterized the Task Force
Report as inconsequential, Governor Acevedo Vila, has taken prompt steps
to counter its effects in Congress. Traveling recently to Washington,
he met with the Brooklyn-born Congressman of Cuban ancestry Bob Menéndez,
recently designated Senator from New Jersey. A staunch supporter of the
Estado Libre Asociado and Federal tax exemptions (today derogated) for
the so-called 936 pharmaceutical firms doing business in Puerto Rico (most
pharmaceuticals are headquartered in New Jersey), Senator Menendez may
become a key player in the Partido Popular's efforts to derail in Congress
the Task Force's proposals. To that end, the party has also hired the
services of the well-connected Republican lobbyist Charlie Black (by the
way, the son of the legendary Hollywood child-actress Shirley Temple).
In the most recent related development, Senator Pete Domenici (R- N.M.),
Chair of the Senate Energy Committee and a supporter of statehood (Puerto
Rico status issues are handled by that Committee), stated that the Committee
will not be able to examine the case of Puerto Rico this year, as recommended
by the White House Report.
According to the latest U. S. Census population count, 50% of the approximately
7.8 million Puerto Ricans reside in the mainland United States. The Puerto
Rican-American citizens living in the United States are in a convenient
position to help impel forward a process to finally resolve the century-old
status question, to the credit both of Puerto Rico and the United States.
Santiago Valiente, P.h. D., is a Contributing Editor to El
Boricua. Dr. Santiago-Valiente has a Ph.D. in Economics from Columbia
University and is originally from Cabo Rojo. Presently he and his
wife make their home in Santa Teresa, N.M. near El Paso, Texas and Ciudad
Juarez, Mexico where two married daughters and a granddaughter live.
Anniversary of the Foundation
of Arroyo, Puerto Rico
(This particular article has been read by over 85,000 as of December 2,
The town of Arroyo is celebrating the 150th. Anniversary of its establishment
as the 65th. municipality in Puerto Rico. Founded by Royal Decree on December
20, 1855, Arroyo, one of the smallest on the Island with an area of 14.6
square miles, is located on a coastal plain overlooking the Caribbean
between the erstwhile sugar producing town of Guayama and the also small
agricultural town of Patillas. The coming festivities are dedicated to
the memory of don Cristóbal L. Sanchez (1889-1968), a beloved teacher
of three generations of Arroyanos , the organizer of the town's centennial
celebrations in 1955 and the author of a history of the town's foundation.
Special guests in the December celebrations are doña Adalisa Sanchez,
daughter of don Cristóbal, and his nieces (and foster daughters)
doña Carmen Delia Rivera-Sanchez Vda. de Velázquez, now
retired in El Paso, Texas and doña Ilia Rivera-Sánchez of
Arroyo is one of the most picturesque towns of Puerto Rico, its name stemming
from a crystal clear stream that crisscrossed the region at the time.
Originally it was the port of Guayama, during the 19th century, one of
the most important sugar producing regions in the Island. The town was
also a prosperous fishing village. As an official port of entry to Puerto
Rico with a Spanish government administered customs house, the town was
originally settled and populated by Catholic immigrants from Europe, the
Caribbean, the United States, South America, and, prior to abolition in
1873, by free and enslaved Puerto Ricans of African descent.
For example, in his town's history Mr. Sánchez notes that the municipality
had a population of 5,123 inhabitants in 1868 (the 2,000 U.S. census counts
20,152 inhabitants) of which 330 were foreign-born. It included 38 born
in Denmark, 24 Dutch, 23 French, 12 Venezuelans, 7 Germans and 6 Italians.
Indeed, the town was originally a true melting pot. Among early settlers
we find surnames like Huyke (Dutch), Massari (French Corsican), Fantauzzi
(French Corsican), Napoleoni (French Corsican), De Choudens (French),
Manautou (French), Escott (possibly British), O'Hara (Irish American),
Preston (possibly American), Mc Cormick (Irish), Falu (African), Cardoze
(Italian), Riefkohl (German), Lind (Danish) and, of course, Spanish surnames
traditionally identified with the town of Arroyo such as Cora, Sánchez,
Cintrón and Moret (Catalan). Of all those surnames, "Lind"
is particularly interesting.
During the 1840's Edward Lind, a Danish merchant from the prosperous port
of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands (then a Danish colony) bought from his widowed
sister, Henrietta Overman, the Hacienda Henriqueta located in Punta
Gáilarte, Arroyo, then a barrio of Guayama. The Hacienda
eventually became one of the most productive sugar plantations in the
southern coast of Puerto Rico.
Shortly before the purchase, Mr. Lind met, and married, Susan Walker Morse
(1821-1885), a New York lady that had been visiting her uncle Charles
Pickering Walker in his Hacienda Concordia in Guayama. Ms. Morse happened
to be the oldest daughter of Samuel F. Morse, inventor of the telegraph.
Samuel F. Morse (1791-1872), the son of a protestant clergyman, was born
in Charlestown, near Boston, Massachusetts. After graduating from Yale
University, the young Samuel studied portrait painting in the prestigious
Royal Academy of London where he befriended- and painted-
the famous Marquis de Lafayette, a hero of the French and American Revolutions.
Upon his return to New York, Morse taught art at the newly established
New York University and began tinkering with electromagnetism.
With money earned after developing the telegraph, Morse built a self-designed
estate in Poughkeepsie, New York, overlooking the Hudson River, called
"Locust Grove.", today the Samuel F. Morse Museum and Gardens.
To escape the harsh Hudson Valley weather, Morse spent his winters at
the Hacienda Henriqueta. After an extensive and successful European tour
in 1858 to demonstrate his invention, Morse traveled from Southampton,
England to Puerto Rico and set a two-mile telegraph line connecting the
Hacienda Henriqueta and the newly chartered town of Arroyo. The line was
inaugurated on March 1, 1859 in a ceremony flanked by the Spanish and
American flags with the presence of the Captain General (Governor) Fernando
Unfortunately, the international sugar markets deteriorated after 1870
and Edward Lind, who passed away in 1882 and is buried in Arroyo, sold
the Hacienda to the Fantauzzi family, major sugar plantation owners in
Guayama and Arroyo of French-Corsican descent. Eventually the Fantauzzis
a modern sugar mill, interestingly called "Central Lafayette"
seemingly to honor the famous French revolutionary hero befriended by
Morse. The mill was eventually sold to German investors early in the 20th.
century and, together with the Central Los CaÃ±os in Arecibo,
expropriated by the Federal Government during the First World War (as
were many German-owned businesses in the mainland United States) and turned
over to a cooperative of its workers and sugar producers (colonos). This
historical landmark, now a memory in the minds of the older Arroyanos,
ceased operations in 1970, though a hospital set up by the mill cooperative
called "Hospital Lafayette" still stands.
Mindful of their colorful past, the Arroyanos have recently restored their
old Spanish Customs House and established a local history museum at the
site. The museum displays mementoes and historical pieces donated by descendants
of the Overman and Lind families. It includes a table utilized by Morse
to accommodate his instruments. To commemorate Morse's stay and his great
scientific achievement, the town erected a plaque in its central plaza.
Moreover, the town's main street has borne his name ever since the early
20th. century. Another principal town street has been named "John
R. Brooks," in remembrance of the major general in the U. S. Army
who disembarked through the port on July 29, 1898 during the Spanish-American
War, four days after the landing in Guanica on July 25. The troops were
well received by the population, and General Brooks and his staff were
housed in the nearby Hacienda "El Algarrobo" owned by the McCormick
family. The troops were accompanied by a group of Puerto Rican exiles
living in New York, including the Yauco coffee grower Antonio Mattei Lluveras.
In Arroyo and Guayama, don Maximino Luzunaris of Arroyo served as interpreter
during the town's transfer- of- authority negotiations.
As is the tradition in Catholic Italy and in Spain, all Puerto Rico towns
are under the advocacy of a patron saint or a patroness. Arroyo's protector
is the Virgen del Carmen (Virgin of Mount Carmel), patron of fishermen
throughout Europe. Accordingly, festivities (Fiestas Patronales) are celebrated
every July in which the Virgin is paraded in Arroyo's waterfront (Malecon)
in a candle-lit boat covered with flowers. The town also celebrates its
own carnival in February. For those with gastronomic inclinations, the
recently restored waterfront is strewn with excellent sea-food and traditional
Puerto Rican food restaurants.
Last, the commitment of Arroyanos to their children's well-being and education
should be highlighted. The work don Enrique Huyke (b.1850 in Curazao)
, a young Dutch who settled in Arroyo in the 1860's, his wife doña
Carmen Bozello and their son don Juan B. Huyke Bozello (1880-1961) merit
attention. For their dedication to the education of Arroyo's youth in
the late 19th. and early 20th centuries the town's elementary school bears
the name Enrique Huyke and its high-school "Carmen Bozello de Huyke."
Their son, don Juan B. Huyke Bozello (1880-1961), was a prominent politician,
lawyer, writer of children's texts and Puerto Rico's Secretary of Education
during the 1920's. In turn, don Juan's son, Emilio E. Huyke, also born
in Arroyo, became a leading newspaper editor on the island and the author
of a history of sports in Puerto Rico.
Saludos to all Arroyanos in their anniversary, including those scattered
throughout these great United States!
Santiago Valiente, P.h. D., is a Contributing Editor to El
Boricua. Dr. Santiago-Valiente has a Ph.D. in Economics from Columbia
University and is originally from Cabo Rojo. Presently he and his
wife make their home in Santa Teresa, N.M. near El Paso, Texas and Ciudad
Juarez, Mexico where two married daughters and a granddaughter live.