Belatedly, we mark the loss of Puerto Rican writer, Rosario Ferré, who died Feburary 21st of last year. We do so now, we hope, with proper respect. As we have said many times, so many elders are leaving us. Those of us who are left behind continue to suffer the loss of their experience and counsel: Ferré, especially, contributed to the understanding of the island and its people.
As we discuss those who passed in less dreadful times and in view of the tremendous losses on Puerto Rico this hurricane season, we also wish to pay respect to the island itself and its vibrant culture. We earnestly hope that its resiliant population can once more rally despite the state-supported ignorance of its colonizers.
[Please note: Puerto Rico, as you may have read, is still under heavy duress. To make donations for the island's recovery, we suggest using OxFam's secure site at Donations or by sending a check, designating Puerto Rico on the memo line, to Oxfam America, Attn: Donor Services, 226 Causeway St., 5th Floor, Boston, MA 02114.]
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History is one of fiction's most important quarries…imagination being the other important source.
—from House on the Lagoon
Rosario Ferré was one of Puerto Rico's important intellectuals, a writer who reflected the island's several historical, political and social dilemmas with depth and compassion. She was born in Ponce, P.R., a city that itself offers a rich and diverse history, including that signature music form, the plena, the periodico cantado or "sung newspaper" circulated among ordinary folk. Being among the island's more privileged classes, Ferré even served as First Lady for a year, under her father, Luis Ferré's, governorship. However, she was by no means limited in art or life, by her class; and though she wrote most insightfully about Puerto Rican patricians, neither her fiction, essays, nor her poetry were apologias for priviledge. Although she at one point shared her father's passion for Puerto Rican statehood, in 1972 with her cousin, Olga Nolla, she founded Zona de Carga y Descarga, a pro-independence literary journal.
Her most remembered fiction is The House on the Lagoon, which the February 21, 2016, New York Times obituary tells us, was derrived from a much briefer piece written in Spanish, La Casa de la Laguna. In fact, and given The Wall's interest in translation, it is noteworthy that when Ferré decided to translate it into English....
In translation it doubled in size and changed so much that after it was published, she had to
retranslate it back into Spanish. In English, Ms. Ferré said in the Times interview, she found
that the patriarchal husband, Quintin Mendizabal, was “less unpleasant, nicer and more
human,” whereas in Spanish, he was “a scoundrel who is not worthy of forgiveness.”
Having recently been in Spain and Portugal, I was asked by many Iberians and foreigners alike about Puerto Rico's misfortunes, both with respect to the hurricane damage and the history of the island's fraught relationship with the U.S. I found myself referring to Ferré's Lagoon more than once; for it both fulfills the parameters set by the quote above and, at the same time, informs the reader in a most sanguine way about that relationship. Ironically, almost to the day of the storm, one hundred years ago on July 4, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones Act, which gave all Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship. This gesture came after the 19 years of statelessness subsequent to the U.S. seized the island and several other Spanish possessions during the Spanish American War, thus officially becoming an imperial power. I say "gesture" because, though citizens, Puerto Ricans were (and still are) not able to participate fully in U.S. political life because they cannot vote in federal elections. This situation has led to wry jokes about the island's relations with the U.S., e.g., those comparing the island to Uncle Sam's paramour—when will he make an honest woman of her? Uncle Sam's current treatment of her, then, is beyond abusive and nothing to joke about.
But I righteously digress. Suffice it to say for the purposes of these brief remarks that Ferré's Lagoon should be required reading for all who would—or who need to—understand the Commonwealth vs. statehood vs. independence arguments that have gripped Puerto Rican debates, found its way into its culture and creative work, and so affected our relations. Ferré's many works are well worth revisiting for numerous reasons, and we could stand to listen to her once more. Sadly, just as we often say of dreadful turns of events—that we are glad Uncle Soanso or Grandma Soanso, radicals to the core, did not live to see this—perhaps it is a mercy that Rosario Ferre did not live to see what Mother Nature and the North have done to her island. For all the dilemmas inherent in the statehood vs. independence debate, her fiction surpassed her; and though we are told that she ended on the side of statehood, I suspect she would not now.
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A by no-means-exhausive list of her work:
We would be remiss not to observe, more recently, that another voice has gone silent, that of the US poet, Richard Wilbur. As is the case with a poet so well known, his passing has not gone without a great deal of eloquent notice, and so we refer you to the New York Times obituary, which informs us and commemorates his passing as well as any of us could hope to do.
Daniel Alberto Viglietti Indart
Most recently, and so very importantly, we have lost yet another voice in the Americas. As a number of our readers may know, Daniel Viglietti was a Uruguayan guitarist, activist, and much, much more. He was an exponent of nueva canción, that form of song that featured importantly in the movements for justice and for freedom from the oppression and torture by the right-wing military dictatorships that swept across Iberian America and the Iberian peninsula in the Cold War era, e.g. in Francoist Spain, Pinochet's Chile, Salazar's Portugal and Videla and Galtieri's Argentina.
Descanza en Paz, Daniel.