April 04, 2017
Behind Closed Gates: Debunking Myths from the Other Side
By Ana Portnoy Brimmer
Passersby walk around with strained necks trying to catch a glimpse of the inside. Hands conceal mouths as they spew the day’s rumors into neighboring ears. Both AM and FM radio stations spin fantastical tales, which they insist on calling news; and without ever having set foot near the site during the duration of el paro (1), individuals, Island-wide, weave astounding works of fiction.
The closed gates of the University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras Campus (UPRRP) have created a literary frenzy. They seem to have revived a yearning for an almost extinct oral tradition, an appetite for storytelling and for spinning old-wives’ tales (2). An astonishing array of myths regarding the happenings on the “other side” circulate and sizzle on the mouths and tongues of el pueblo Puertorriqueño (3).
Some of the folktales flowing in the sea of imaginative gossip surrounding and about UPRRP’s work-stoppage and upcoming strike, although untrue, could (if we’re being lenient) be considered whimsical, somewhat harmless fantasies sprouting from uninformed yet active imaginations.
However, most of the stories in circulation about the student movement and struggle are doing a lot of harm to the efforts and initiatives in effect, violently interfering with one of the few active attempts aiming to defend, not just the University of Puerto Rico, but the people of Puerto Rico as well, from the oppressive impositions of the Fiscal Control Board and the Government, resulting from the Archipelago’s current financial and political crisis.
It’s time to demystify the work-stoppage in development, to clear the tale-inducing smoke lingering over and about the closed gates of the most important public higher education institution of Puerto Rico, to debunk the myths on the happenings taking place behind the picket line. And one doesn’t even have to peek through the narrow strips between the bars to appreciate and understand la lucha en construcción (4), you just have to listen. Stand across the street from the gates and listen; hear the first-hand accounts, the oral histories, the sounds of hard labour coming from the inside, from the actual source, from one of the trenches of Puerto Rico’s struggle.
Pu-pumpum-pa, pu-pumpum-pa, pu-pumpum-pa… A group of nine barrileras/os (5), eight buleadoras/es (6) and one primo (7), sit in a semicircle, the batey (8) open to all of the bodies in resistance that want to manifest themselves and channel their energy into un baile de bomba (9).
“Si tú te creías que la IUPI (10) no venía naaaaa’ (11)...” the students chant in rhythm with the drums.
The first dancer parades in, bows and greets el primo, initiating contact and foreshadowing the upcoming challenge between them. She executes piquetes (12) (en la bomba y en la línea) (13) with beautiful firmness and strength. El primo follows, keeping up with the intricate patterns the dancer draws on the floor with her feet, and in the air with her arms and hands.
“Yo no callaré, yo no callaré, ante la injusticia, yo no callaré” (14) the chorus changes, injustice defied and reprimanded in the reverberation of the singing voices and drums. After a powerful exchange between dancer and drummer, she salutes el primo once again, indicating the end of her performance, and walks out just as another dancer walks in.
“Huelga en Río Piedras, y los estudiantes toi’tos ‘tan en protesta!” (15) the drums change their speed, playing faster and faster, the next dancer smiling and up for the challenge.
If you listen a little closer, you can hear hands digging up dirt and loosening the earth, the transition of plants from pot to soil, the plucking of weeds, the trickling of sweat beads down necks and backs. Students of Huerto UPR (16) tend to the urban garden within the campus, promoting the importance of agroecology, supporting the work-stoppage and resisting the stifling politico-economic impositions from that agro-conscious platform.
Listen further, and you’ll find yourself drawn in by a concoction of multisectoral conversations, panels, workshops, discussions, and information sessions on a variety of relevant and pertinent topics. Professors, staff members, students, lawyers, and community leaders offering forums on sexist microaggressions, and on the importance of auditing the debt; workshops on using the media as a method for the struggle and on gender perspective; documentary screenings (17); the list goes on.
There is no shortage of cultural and artistic events (18) either: poetry readings; musical performances by the university’s chorus and different bands and orchestras; bombazos (19); family Sundays featuring yoga, sports, storytelling, domino tournaments, arts and crafts, and information sessions for families to actively partake in and become aware of the UPR’s and Puerto Rico’s current politico-economic struggle; knowledge production and creativity are in constant stimulation.
Listen to the students in charge of logistics carefully rationing the food for all of those participating and taking on long shifts supervising one of the gates, making sure order is established and safety assured. Listen to hands trying to tie down the tent protecting them from the burning sun. Listen to lips exchange cherished anecdotes and remembrances experienced within the university campus. Listen to bodies lying in the grass and engaging with the space that’s being threatened to be taken away from them. Listen to fingers trying to hold on to what is quickly becoming a memory, a fleeting past. Listen to the wind rustle through the hopes and resistance of a people.
Listen to myths being busted, to folktales being fact-checked, to fiction confronting reality. Listen to the cries of justice behind closed gates, listen to the cries from the “other side.”
Clock Tower photo: Wikiwand
Flyer (red) for events by Humanistas En Lucha.
Flyer (blue) for events by Movimiento Estudiantil UPRRP.
- The work-stoppage
A feminist, collective effort must be made to revise and reformulate this idiom/term, it’s sexist and very machista.
The Puerto Rican people
The struggle in construction
Individuals who play the drums in bomba. Bomba is an Afro-Caribbean, particularly Afro-Puerto Rican, style of music and dance.
The barrileras/os who play the underlying and base rhythm.
The barrilera/o who plays particular patterns and rhythms by engaging with the dancer and trying to follow her/his steps in a synchronized beat. The steps/gestures are known as piquetes.
The dance space
A bomba dance
Another name for the University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras (UPRRP)
“If you thought the IUPI wasn’t coming…”
The dance gestures/steps (usually using the hands, arms, legs, feet, and waist) employed in bomba dancing.
Dancing bomba and marching in line. (Picketing is also called “piquete” in Spanish. So, both the bomba step/gesture and picketing are called “piquete”).
“I will not be silenced, I will not be silenced, standing before injustice, I will not be silenced”
“A strike in Río Piedras, and all of the students are protesting”
Pa’lante, Siempre Pa’ĺante Villa Sin Miedo and Vieques
Gatherings where bomba is played