Today, July 25th, 2020 makes 122 years since the US invaded Puerto Rico through the southern town of Guánica. Part of the former cacicazgo of legendary warrior cacique Agueybana II, who bravely fought the invaders of Colombus’ 1493 conquest. Present site of continued seismic activity like thundering cemís claiming freedom finally for these lands. The US invaders entered through the south and made their way up north to San Juan where they planted the stars and stripes that have waved above these islands ever since.
This artwork was part of an installation I created denouncing continued US colonialism in Puerto Rico. Exhibited in 1997, 1 year before the centennial of the US invasion, Proclaim Your Emancipation was the name of this piece and the name of the installation that I created for my BFA thesis at Cornell University. But the piece got left behind. Due to its weight from the hundreds of pennies glued to the unstretched canvas, I never managed to pack it appropriately and in time to send with the rest of our move when we left Queens, NYC in 2014 and moved to Puerto Rico. Back as an undergrad, I would have never imagined I’d be living in Puerto Rico. Back when some island-born and raised Boricuas at Cornell accused us financial-aid/ NYC born and raised Boricuas of being fake independence supporters because we did not live there.
There was a lot I left behind. Family, friends, communities, jobs, gigs, career, art, art scene, social life. Left to Puerto Rico which has always been the impetus, the inspiration, the truth behind my art. My spirituality, my art, my writing, my activism, my identity have always been these lands. So, in essence I left nothing. Borikén, invaded, colonized, exploited. Free. Borikén in its many manifestations, iterations is everything. I left the rhetoric. Left what I had imagined in search of a truth that resided deep in my bones, blood, and genes. A truth I set out to uncover.
This piece, though it no longer exists, is timely, as it was back then, conceptualized in the realities of my Brooklyn upbringing and of Borikén at the axis of Indigenous and African ancestral wisdom, the demise of US imperialism and racism, and the cusp of liberation. Afro-Boricua freedom fighter, grandson to an enslaved woman, Harvard genius turned tortured US political prisoner, Pedro Albizu Campos invades the sacred space of Lincoln on the face of a penny. Most discarded copper coin, no longer deemed valuable. The hypocrisy of the American Dream that proclaims half-assed emancipation to humans kept captive, still keeps humans captive and still keeps colonies. I subvert my ghetto public school history lessons with the clandestine Puerto Rican history lessons of my father in afterschool drives down the West Side Highway, across the Williamsburg Bridge to Broadway, down Bushwick towards East New York, Brooklyn. Each penny a liberation dream of a piggy bank Boricua wishing well piled high at the feet of a plaster Indio warrior aiming arrows at enemies or glued to a rebel canvas.
Emancipation has not or cannot be proclaimed for us by US Presidents, past, present, or dead, nor future liberators. Emancipation is ours alone to proclaim.