These ‘Poets With a Cause’ are Defending Social Justice in Crisis-Hit Puerto Rico

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In Puerto Rico, writers, artists and musicians have united under the name “Poetas en Marcha” or “Poets with a Cause” to voice their opposition to school closures and their solidarity with the working class. 

The movement has hosted two events so far. The first was June 13 under the title “No al cierre de las escuelas: Poetas en marcha” (No to school closures: Poets with a cause), during which about 30 artists met to object to a government order to close down nearly 100 schools due to the economic crisis.

Government representatives have used the recent declining population in Puerto Rico as a basis for their decision. According to most recent official census figures from Puerto Rico in 2010, more than 600,000 Puerto Ricans have left the country. The lack of work and the slowdown in the economy in the smallest island of the Greater Antilles, for almost an entire decade, are just some of the issues that have spurred this new migratory wave.

The first “Poetas en Marcha” event took place in front of the Department of Education. We spoke with some of the organizers about the motive which ignited the movement. José Ernesto Delgado, author of “Tatuaje,” explained: “What propelled us to carry out this event is that some of us poets are products of the public system and feel that it is pertinent to defend a system that is mistreated by successive governments.”

Marioantonio Rosa, a poet and literary critic, said: “We want to raise awareness about an issue that will negatively affect students in need and lead to teacher unemployment, but most importantly that our education system is lagging behind even more, which has a great deal to do with bureaucracy, politics and nepotism.”

The second event took place July 3 in front of Fortaleza (the residence of the governor of Puerto Rico) in the capital city San Juan. This time, the participants of “Poetas en Marcha,” under the slogan “Yo soy Pueblo,” (I am the People) marched in the streets of Old San Juan. This “cultural crusade for social justice” was held in support of the working class, a sector which will also be affected by the measures imposed by the government to face the fiscal and economic crisis. During this event, nearly 500 people supported the poets and leaders of certain unions.

Regarding its importance, attorney Daniel Nina, writer and founder of the online newspaper El Post Antillano –- a digital magazine which also sponsored the event — said:

Not even in the days of Miguel Algarín and Miguel Piñeiro, when hundreds of people gathered at 236 E. Third St. in Lower Manhattan at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York City, to read poetry. Nor during the 1970s, when the Puerto Rican Socialist Party was in a cultural pursuit to attempt to save national dignity. Last night's developments also didn't come close to the theatrical experiences, nor the working class culture in Puerto Rico during the 20s and 30s, under the leadership of Luisa Capetillo or Pedro Albizu Campos and the Nationalist Party.

Last night, in Old San Juan Puerto Rico, the “Poetas en Marcha” marked a significant difference between the cultural pursuits of the 21st and 20th century. Why? Because during last night's event, beyond gathering all the poets, writers, creative artists and songwriters, the working class was present as well.

Nina, who is a professor as well, called the event “glorious”:

What happened last night in Puerto Rico had not occurred since the times when Bernardo Vega, a historical leader of workers, organized the tobacco workers in Cayey. It hadn't happened the late 70s when Juan Mari Brás and César Andreu Iglesias drove around in an old Volkswagen to organize working groups for the pro-independence movement, which later was the Puerto Rican Socialist Party. Last night was a glorious moment.

Perhaps it is the words from poet William Perez Vega, referring to the future of poetry using verses from the Spanish poet Gabriel Celaya, which best describe the atmosphere of these events:

It all depends on whether or not we know how to use this weapon (poetry) and who it will serve. It's pleasant to speak of a rose, the landscape or about love. However, one must support the conditions that allow the flower to bud, that enable us to take in the landscape and that help us conserve our country, the people and the planet as a platform for our love. And if we don't, we will turn poetry into something of the past, a fossil, something indifferent. That would be the end of us.

In the most recent press release published July 4, the collective pointed out in a defining statement:

We seek and love to talk about inclusion, love of our country without the flags or boring and antiquated talk of the past. We are the people and we are poetry, restoration… hope… Poetas en Marcha will never be William Pérez Vega, José Ernesto Delgado, or Marta Emmanuelli and Marioantonio Rosa. Poetas en Marcha is Felipe the janitor, Sofia the overworked and underpaid secretary, the young adults laughing while having a beer after their final exams, the noble lady selling fruit to get her family ahead, the dedicated and uncomplicated professor in his classroom day in and day out..whether it be in a school or university. Poetas en Marcha doesn't look for fancy names or titles, it looks for the people, connection, cultural restoration, and that plurality will always be the best seed we can leave behind. We are the People.

The next “Poetas en Marcha” event is scheduled for August 30, 2014, in the sector known as La Perla, Old San Juan.


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