Amol, My Art on Love
Love, and its various representations, have been a central theme that I have tried to incorporate into my art. The construction of what “love” is, or is supposed to be, mostly comes to my life through pop culture (movies, songs, poetry and novelas) and, of course, personal experiences. During the last couple of years, I’ve been working on destroying those narrow and exclusive concepts of love and seeing how they have influenced my previous relationships. Seeing many possibilities of what love can be, has geared me towards more sincere feelings of empathy, respect, affection, and understanding towards others.
“Comrade, during work or the struggle, you are the hammer to my sickle.”
“The only censorship I’ll allow is when your lips silence mine…”
“El Libro Rojo del Amor” (The Red Book of Love) was the first zine I did, and it won Best Zine on the 2015 edition of Festival Tintero, the biggest and most important independent art and comics festival on the island. Playing around the “activist pick up lines” that circulated on the net, several folks decided to criollizarlo (make our own versions) called #labiarevolucionaria. Dozens of activist friends started coming with their own, keeping in line with a progressive and non-traditional view of love.I got the idea to create a zine with these lines, and searched for images that translated the literal aspect to the visual. I chose propaganda posters from the Spanish Civil War, Soviet Union, the Chinese Maoist Revolution, along with photos of historical figures as visual references. The idea of using these propaganda posters that sometimes represented totalitarian ideas and subverting them into messages of inclusive love felt like a way of providing healthier meaning to progressive ideas of independence and socialism.
“Te recuerdo Armando” (I remember you Armando) is a comic I did for Record Store Day organized by Discos Diaspora in la Casa Cultural Ruth Hernández in Rio Piedras, a place where a lot independent and alternative artists come together. “Te Recuerdo Armando” is a song by Eduardo Alegría of Alegría Rampante, an independent pop rock band from the island whose lead singer has been a part of the art scene since the late 80’s and who has been an inspiration, or “creative godmother,” to a lot of new queer and gay artists.
This video was shot as part of Hotel Puercospin, a series of concerts that Alegría Rampante played, and it was the first time I heard his version of the song. The song is a play on “Te recuerdo Amanda” by Chilean folk singer Victor Jara. Since my college years Victor Jara has been present in my mp3 player beside Silvio Rodriguez, Violeta Parra, Fernando Delgadillo, Pablo Milanes, Mercedes Sosa, and all the folk artist that made me into a stereotypical young independentista with touches of bohemian Cuban revolutionary flair . Talking with Eduardo Alegría about where he got the idea for his version, he told me it was kind of an accident. He knew of Victor Jara’s song, but he learned the song through Robert Wyatt, whose version is a little dark and synthy. Alegría likes wordplay, and in an impromptu moment, he swapped the gender and developed the song from there. During our conversation, he also told me about the importance of visualization and representation, which stuck with me and made me do the comic. Visualizing other types of love and relationships is important for breaking norms. I still find it hard to understand how people can actively oppose a loving relationship between consenting people. We are talking about love, a beautiful feeling and act, and yet people are baffled by it. As the song says:
“this is a story that talks of the love between two workers, two workers of those you see on the street and you can’t imagine what’s inside the soul of two workers. In any city, in any country, in any place…”
Using the lyrics of “Te recuerdo Armando,” I created a comic that tells a story of love between two workers -- a teacher and electric company worker -- and built on images that presented themselves when hearing the song. I chose those two workers because they are a large part of the public sector workers that we still have left in Puerto Rico, and they have the most militant workers’ unions.
“ we’re born sad and die sad, but in the meantime we love bodies whose sad beauty is a miracle..”
“their lips were a necessary caress, how could I’ve lived without them until now…”
“ of all the other hands, hers where the only ones that transmitted life…”
“it’s beautiful to know that you exit, one feels alive..”
“we all need an accomplice sometimes, someone who helps us use our heart..’
Young Boricua And Proud
For the past couple of years, Puerto Ricans have been leaving the island and going (mainly) to the U.S. in search of jobs and possibilities. Choosing to stay on the island is a privilege that few of us have. Getting a job in Puerto Rico is very difficult, and when you have a job you are not compensated like you deserve in comparison with the work done. Work benefits are nothing but a dream for most part time workers. These conditions have once again created a phenomenon of mass migration to the States. It is very common that empires, in our case the U.S, exploit all the resources that they can from their colonies, whether they be economic, natural or human . The most academically prepared youth are often the first in line at the airport gates.
Recently, a Puerto Rican company started a public campaign focusing on the people that are still on the island called #yonomequito ( I don’t quit). Many people on the island have adopted this slogan as a call to stay on the island and innovate or as a moral imperative to nation build. To some, this is just another campaign of individual and not collective solutions. It’s not that people are quitting, it is that an unjust economic system is making us leave our land. And it puts us boricuas on two sides: those on and off the island. From the beginning of U.S imperialism on the island, migration has been a part of Puerto Rican’s lives. Various generations have gone to the U.S. and come back. My parents did that with their family in the 1970’s and because of that me and my sister were born in New Jersey (like The Boss) -- a fact that shocks a lot of the pro-Statehood people I know (I don’t know why, but whatevel).
There’s a Puerto Rican folk song called “Boricua en la luna,” sung mainly by Roy Brown (a 70’s protest singer) and popularized by Fiel a la Vega (a latin rock band that reimagined national pride in the 90’s) for younger generations. The song is based on a poem by Juan Antonio Corretjer, a pro-independence and socialist leader, and it talks about how Puerto Ricans carry our national pride wherever we are -- even on the moon. We love to passionately sing that song and it’s almost like a second or third unofficial national anthem for the independentistas and autonomists. We are Puerto Rican even on the moon, but in our context right now that doesn’t seem to be a popular opinion.
I believe that we should be free to travel and settle wherever we feel more comfortable. It doesn’t matter if you're here on the island or in the US or any other country -- you’re Puerto Rican even if you’re on the moon. What’s important is what you do where you are. I have been studying the diaspora, and I became interested in the revolutionary armed pro-independence groups in the U.S. Places like Chicago, Connecticut, and New York, places that had a big concentrations of boricuas who migrated there, were able to organize politically and fight for their community. The more paramilitary-style organizations, like the FALN, were underground so their integration with the community was limited by the nature of their strategy, but then I started reading about the Young Lords Party.
The “Young, Boricua and Proud” series of illustrations I have created is a study of the people and aesthetic behind the Young Lords and their movement and I see a lot of parallels between their struggle in U.S. cities in the 1960s and 1970s and what young people on the island are trying to do today. From the beginning they caught my attention because of their campaigns. One of their most famous campaigns, “the garbage offensive,” included picking up the trash in their community that the municipality neglected to collect and then dumping it at city hall. I was also taken by their efforts to help poor boricua families being displaced from their homes by the government and developers. This is something that resonated with me here on the island because poor areas on the coasts and San Juan are facing this problem right now thanks to the colonial government preferences for the wealthy and foreign developers. The Young Lords organization was based on the needs of their people and not on what they thought the people needed (something that we as a movement in Puerto Rico often fail to understand or don’t have the patience to do). Their occupation of Lincoln Hospital and free breakfast programs for children provided solutions to the problems Puerto Ricans in the U.S. faced as a result of poverty and exclusion, something that the comedores sociales (social lunchrooms) on the island are doing right now. Comedores sociales is a project that started in a couple of University Of Puerto Rico campuses as a way of feeding the students that couldn’t afford food or wanted a healthier option than the fast foods chains that the university offers. They exchange food for work, money, or bringing supplies for the next meal. For more information about the initiative: http://www.cdpecpr.org/#!inicio/mainPage
As I continued to learn about the Young Lords, what amazed me most was how advanced their ideology and practice were for the time, even more so than some of popular left leaning organizations here in the island. Their 13 Point Program and Platform still stands to the injustice of our times. I was happy and proud to know that they were one of the first organizations to actively engage and give leadership positions to women and gay members. Also, I was struck by their capacity to be self-critical and actively correct faults they had. An example of this was Point 10 in the platform: ‘we want equality for women. Machismo must be revolutionary...not oppressive,” which sounds a little crazy when you read it today. They changed it after women in the Party pointed out how contradictory this statement was. The revised point read: “We want equality for women. Down with machismo and male chauvinism!” Machismo is oppressive towards women and men, so you can’t advocate for equality from an oppressive stance.
This important lesson is one that political movements on the island are still learning from as they continue to deal with machismo in social justice organizing. Recently, during anti-austerity protests at the University of Puerto Rico, there was a debate among progressive political organizations and individuals about the problem of machismo we still face. On March 22, the day we commemorate the abolition of slavery on the island, students participated in a protest against the Fiscal Council that U.S. Congress is imposing on our island. The students were given a turn to talk and they chose two student leaders who were women. The MC of the protest pointed this out and added, “long live women and men, we don’t need more division,” which is the way machismo is traditionally swept under the rug in our culture and movement. A local organization wrote an open letter denouncing this action, which was answered by the male MC, who has been an activist for years, by accusing feminists of trying to divide and take his words out of context. This complete blindness to critique is major problem for us and it doesn't help solve our issues nor our movement.
Learning about the Young Lords, I found it very beautiful how these young people, most of whom haven’t been to the island, felt this kind of pride and love for a place where they were not living. My series "Young, Boricua, and Proud," tries to capture my respect and admiration for this group of young Puerto Ricans in the diaspora and the lessons they continue to teach us about social justice and what it means to be boricua.
Here on the island we have politicians and big interests that are constantly destroying our nature, economy, and spirit as boricuas, and seeing the devotion for their people that the Young Lords Party and other diaspora organizations embody is empowering and inspiring. During the last couple of years, I’ve met comrades who have been politically active in the diaspora most of their lives and I see the same love and passion for the progress of Puerto Rico that I have. So maybe Corretjer was right, we are boricua even if we are born on the moon.
Since childhood I’ve always had an admiration towards strong women, mostly from hanging out with my sister and mom. During my time at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras Campus, I learned about feminist theory, and that led me to have more progressive ideals. When I started illustrating, the first thing I made was a comic strip called “A veces pasa…” (Sometimes this happens), that had a protagonist and her cat. The stories were inspired by conversations with friends and the simple things that happened to them.
As a spin-off, I started portraying this unnamed character as important figures throughout history and it became a series of their own. Unknowingly, I represented international people and no boricuas, which guided me to add puertorican women to the set.
The first three Puerto Rican Íconas, the name of the series, were very active in the political struggle of the island. Mariana Bracetti (1825-1903) was a leading member of our independence movement against Spanish colonialism. Known primarily for sowing the first Puerto Rican flag, she played a key role during the Lares Revolution in 1868. With the code name “Brazo de oro” (Gold arm) she worked as an undercover agent and used her beauty and wit to get information from the Spanish government and fed it to the resistance. Luisa Capetillo (1879-1922) was an anarchist leader, a writer, a tabacalera reader (female workers who took the stem from the tobacco leaves) and was arrested for "dressing as a man” at the time. She was a strong black woman, way ahead of her time, in our Caribbean island. Lolita Lebrón (1919-2010) was a Puerto Rican nationalist who in 1954, with three male nationalist, went to the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C. and opened fire with a revolver asking for the independence of Puerto Rico. Five congressmen were wounded and all lived. She spent time in jail, and with a national campaign, she was granted her freedom along with her comrades. During the 2000s, she participated in the civil disobedience acts during the Vieques anti-militarism movement.
The last two in the series are more known for the artistic sides. Julia de Burgos (1914-1953) is one of our most distinguish poets, during her short and troubled life, she produced a considered large amount of work. My attachment for Julia comes from my mother. She’s not an academic person and really loves action movies, but she always loved Julia’s poetry. Then we have Macha Colón, singer, filmmaker and general awesome lady, who is the only one from the Boricua Íconas series that’s alive. Her presence, openness and pure love for what she does is reason enough to have her with the other Íconas.
I started the "Íconas" series to pay tribute to the women that have inspired me. After they were printed and out in the world, they capture and took a whole new meaning, introducing "Íconas" to children. Most of my adult life I’ve worked offering art workshop to children of all ages and I guess, subconsciously, that experience translated itself to my art. Mothers have told me how their children reacted positively to the "Íconas" cards set and this is when I decided to add biographical information and use it as tool to empower and educate children. That guided me to shift some of my work towards a children audience and hope to develop more projects like this in the future.
Pedro Lugo-Vázquez, AKA Castor, is an illustrator and assistant librarian in Puerto Rico.