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Mirador Puertorriqueño
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, for example.

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 to flourish.

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 crunchy tail.

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 auspicious.

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 attest.


November 2006

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 position.

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 (APE).

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. Eloísa 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 semblances.

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 3).

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 monarchy.

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.

* Wilfredo 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.



150th. Anniversary of the Foundation
of Arroyo, Puerto Rico

(This particular article has been read by over 85,000 as of December 2, 2005)



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 Alexandria, Virginia.

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 Cotoner.

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 established 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 Caños 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!

 

* Wilfredo 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.

of which were Puerto Ricans,
and in consideration of all our friends and readers in New York.