subscribe: Posts | Comments

Mother Island


A reflection upon the emotional paralysis toward the MotherLand:


Mother island. Your bones, your flesh. That which is and always has been your own, beyond the names, languages, and dogmas of the empires that lusted over you, who possessed and trapped you. Resilience is now a concept defined by you. We are embers from bonfires in Playa Combate.  

Culture. Legacy. Family. These are motion. How we honor the legacy of our ancestors, those who came before us, and how we must lift up the ones who come next. The woke children that tug on the abuelas’ skirts. Rituals of passage are recognition of role and responsibility. Family. Legacy. Culture.

Puerto Rico, originally named Boriken, which -in our Arawak Taino language- means land of the brave and noble lords. Colonized by Spain, and occupied by the United States in 1898 after the Spanish American War. Puerto Rico. We have had many identifications:  a protectorate, a colony, a commonwealth, of the U.S. We participate in the military and have made great contributions in defense of the United States. We have citizenship, although we cannot vote in presidential elections. Our currency is the U.S. dollar, and we are limited by the Jones Act, which regulates maritima trade. “The Law that strangles Puerto Rico”, as per the NY Times.

We were granted an autonomous government in 1952 with the creation of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico or Estado Libre Asociado. For the past 10 years we’ve been seeing an economic crisis that climaxed last year, with more than $70 billion in debt caused by triple tax exempt bonds and business regulations that only served to enrich U.S. corporations, as well as $50 billion in pension obligations. In response, Congress passed the PROMESA Act (Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act), last year. This bill established a Fiscal OverSight Board to restructure the debt, and overrule the Puerto Rican government. This board has the power to privatize our land and change labor laws, among other things. And payment of their time will be added to the debt. This was the death of the Commonwealth. Artists and activists responded by waving black and white Puerto Rican flags. An artist, Karlo Ibarra, published an obituary in the daily periodical El Nuevo Día.


Estado Libre Asociado (ELA) 1952-2016 “Ni pan, ni tierra, ni libertad” Agradecemos al país que, de alguna u otra forma, soportó 64 años de limbo político. Que el espíritu de la autodeterminación ilumine cada uno de nuestros corazones e infunda, asimismo, valor para encarar lo que parece imposible. Descansa en paz.


When I decided to leave the island in 2010, my grandma (dad’s mother) asked me: Por que te vas, si aqui siempre hay de donde comer? En el patio y en las calles, platanos, panapen, mango, toronjas, malanga y yautia. Why do you want to leave? Nature here always provides. There’s food from the backyards and from the streets: plantain, breadfruit, mango, avocados, grapefruit, and root vegetables. But I did need to leave. And learn. There’s no progress in comfort.

Now, what we face is much more profound. Hurricane María has lifted the veil on what colonization has done to Puerto Rico, how it has weakened our infrastructure in service to outside forces. How there’s a deep disconnect and lack of education here in the United States about its relationship to Puerto Rico and its other Caribbean territories. How -us in the diaspora and all of you our allies- how we must step up and mobilize against systems of oppression of our communities of color.

I’d love to see Boricuas, rise and claim the value and strength in our way of magic, our way of creating cultural and intellectual legacy, of building family and community, sustainable economic systems that strengthen the island and its people. To reclaim a perspective that is our own and celebrates our native and Afro-Caribbean roots. Using the name Boricua to peel off the scars left by our colonizers.

Boricua means “Brave and Noble Lords” in Taino Arawak language. Our nature is that of generous warriors, who defend family and land to no avail. We who feed, house, and nurture the spirits of those who come to us. We are people who BUILD: we build our own homes with our hands, with work, connected to the land. We are a culture of music, dance, food, and festival. We are resilient under the whips of hurricane winds and political disarray. We are wet soil when wild rivers calm down; fresh and reborn.

This year, I became a fellow in a national Intercultural Leadership Institute (ILI). Our first convening was this past March in Jackson, Mississippi. A generous and transformative immersion into the heart of Southern Black Culture. This was an important moment in my own journey, reflecting heavily on the colonial status of Puerto Rico as I learned about the journey of our kin from the black community in the south.

Three bits of wisdom spoken by one of the faculty elders, C. Leigh McInnis, still resonate with me:

  • “We often (People of Color) define ourselves in positions of deficit instead of surplus.”
  • “If you don’t love your people, you will betray your people.”
  • And lastly, “When you don’t know your culture, you perpetuate ideas that hurt you and your culture.”


A shift in mindset and approach must be embraced. And I believe its through claiming what makes our own culture strong and why it keeps those of us living in the diaspora awake at night: Family, connection, collaboration, trade, community, motion. Movimiento. Amor. Respeto.

“The resistance is capillary and complex”, said Dr. Maribel Alvarez at ILI. It is; its about empowering a multitude of leaders, the collective, rather than following a single leader, having gate keepers, or waiting for things to solve themselves. We must take on a horizontal approach to power that is in opposition to the vertical power structures we are so used to. We can’t fight fire with fire; we know that it’s a failed system that thrives on us opposing it. This is hard. Colonialism has programmed us. And it is a process of unlearning. And within this process, what must be prioritized is self-compassion, awareness, trust. Vulnerability is strength. No one can touch you when you are strong in you and when you lift up others in unison.

As we are all now singing in the diaspora,

Temporal, temporal. alla viene el temporal.
Que sera de mi Borinquen cuando llegue el temporal
Que sera de Puerto Rico, cuando llegue el temporal

We will rebuild, I’m confident. We are the brave and noble lords.  But we must take action to protect our people, our land, our memory, and our future.

Borinken, FUERZA!


Corozal, Puerto Rico; 1940. Photo by Jack Delano.

My home town of Corozal, Puerto Rico; 1940. Photo by Jack Delano.



Shey Rivera was recently awarded entry as a fellow in a prestigious Intercultural Leadership Institute hosted by four national anchor organizations in the field of cultural equity and advocacy through arts and culture for communities of color. These four organizations are the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture (NALAC), First People’s Fund, Alternate Roots, and PA’I Foundation. This intense two year training takes the work of cultural leaders nationally to the next level by teaching the core values of true intercultural work through immersion and experience.

ILI now has an open call for applications for the next cohort of fellows, this time for a one-year commitment. Follow the link to apply by January 17, 2018!


About Sheyla Rivera

Sheyla Rivera has written 37 post in this blog.

Escritora, músico y gestora cultural. Nació en Puerto Rico en la década de los 80s, entre el campo y la urbe. Completó un bachillerato doble en Psicología y Sociología en la Universidad de Puerto Rico, recinto de Río Piedras, y cursó la maestría en Medios y Cultura Contemporánea de la Universidad del Sagrado Corazón. Se destaca en el manejo de organizaciones artísticas sin fines de lucro, cultura visual japonesa, estudios de género y teoría cultural.


Leave a Reply