Archive | November, 2014

Alderman Maldonado Speaks on the New Paseo Boricua Arts Center

Posted on 06 November 2014 by alejandro



Earlier this month, the Puerto Rican Cultural Center (PRCC) bought four buildings on Division Street in a move to expand the Paseo Boricua cultural and economic corridor. The properties will be converted into the “Paseo Boricua Arts Center”, which will include live and work studios for artists, a retail space, theater, and other entertainment features.

The vision for this center arose years ago from Eduardo Arocho, Executive Director of the Division Street Business Development Association. With the help of the PRCC, Belmont Bank, and 26th Ward Alderman, Roberto Maldonado, it will finally become a reality. La Voz del Paseo Boricua sat down and spoke with Alderman Maldonado to discuss the project. Here is what he had to say:

La Voz del Paseo Boricua: What importance do you attach to the acquisition of the four properties which are housed around Ashland Sausage?

Alderman Maldonado: Revamp what was traditionally and historically known as the Puerto Rican economic enclave on Division Street. It will serve as an anchor to attract Puerto Rican and Latinos to this area. It will be a great asset for the mixed economic development of this community and more importantly, the Latin American performing arts theater will attract people from all walks of life. The wine bar will also be an awesome component to the development.

La Voz del Paseo Boricua: The project calls for a building where there will be fourteen live and work artist spaces, a retail art gallery, a ninety-nine seat theater, and a space for the development of wines from Latin America; a piano lounge, etc. How does all this fit into your vision for the community?

Alderman Maldonado: This will compliment the massive economic development on California Avenue between Division Street and Chicago Avenue. I have three major interests, dreams, and aspirations for this community. First it is public security – everyone wants to feel safe. We have made major strides with working with all the police commanders that touch every ward, holding commanders directly accountable for the safety of the residents. Its been a welcoming relationship. Second is education. The 26th Ward only has two Level One schools. In 2012 there were five Level One schools because of CPS [Chicago Public Schools] restructuring. There are now four schools on-track to be Level One. The third is economic development, which includes housing and business development. The housing market is booming. We have tried to have our community be as diverse as its been. We want to make sure new residents and other residents who left, see the beauty of Humboldt Park and give it a second look.

La Voz del Paseo Boricua: You have been a major supporter of this initiative. What is the importance of Belmont Bank in terms of financing this acquisition?

Alderman Maldonado: Belmont Bank has an interest in contributing into our area. In terms of economic development, they’re a common sense community bank that has shown interest in this community and are partners in this initiative. Making this project a reality will make more business opportunities.

La Voz del Paseo Boricua: What would you say to constituents who are worried or weary of an artist housing space because of the historic connection between these initiatives and gentrification?

Alderman Maldonado: How could we deny that gentrification is taking place? How could we, as Latinos, incorporate ourselves to this community and in new economic models of development? We have a great opportunity to encourage our middle-class residents to invest and buy to be a part of this community as well as embrace residents in subsidized housing to make the community more solid and stable.

La Voz del Paseo Boricua: How will the community be engaged in all its phases of development?

Alderman Maldonado: I presume that the majority of the future tenets are artists from the community, but its obviously open to all artists. We build the opportunity so everyone can take advantage of it.


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The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture Celebrates Its Historic Grand Opening

Posted on 06 November 2014 by alejandro

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Last Thursday, September 4th, the former Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture re-opened its doors with a celebration of “Boricua” traditions and a new name. As the only Puerto Rican museum outside of Puerto Rico, the new name of The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture is very fitting.

After 15 years of renovations, the institute became a National Museum. The mistress of ceremony was none other than Ana María Belaval from Chicago’s very own WGN channel 9. CEO Billy Ocasio highlighted the evening of culture by entertaining the public with performances by Trío Superior, AfriCaribe and a fashion show by designer Michelle Gómez featuring Jaslene González, the winner of cycle 8 of America’s Next Top Model.

As part of this Grand Opening, four different exhibitions opened. “Mascarada Carnal” is an exhibition on colorful large-scale paintings inspired by the carnival and made by the artist Santiago Flores Charneco. The exhibit “What Do These People Have in Common” features a selection of letters of several world leaders written for Oscar López Rivera and asking for his unification with his community. Poets Salima Rivera and David Hernández were also honored with their own exhibits, “It’s Not about Dreams: The Artist and Poet Salima Rivera” and “Poems in Color: Homage to David Hernández”. On the newly opened second floor gallery, the museum presents “Homecoming”, a group exhibition reuniting Puerto Rican artists that are based in Chicago, featuring Bibiana Suárez, Cándida Álvarez, Edra Soto, Nora Maité Nieves, Josué Pellot and José Lerma.

The grand re-opening continued with the 14th edition of Barrio Arts Fest, during the weekend of September 6th and 7th, where over 25 different artists presented their crafts and artistic creations. This family event included poetry reading, performances by AfriCaribe, Las Bompleneras, Frank Díaz, Pocket Circus, as well as Family Mural Day sponsored by ArchiTreasures on Sunday.

This beautiful cultural institution is located in the community of Humboldt Park and will be open for all the public free of charge to enjoy its exhibitions, cultural events and future workshops and lectures on different topics related to our arts and culture. The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture is located in 3015 West Division Street, Chicago, IL 60622.

For more information, please visit: or

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Compartiendo ideas y visiones con Oscar

Posted on 06 November 2014 by alejandro

Juan Jose, Fermin Oscar and Jan

“Las visitas son muy importantes, abren una conversación muy importante entre Oscar y el pueblo,” comenta Jan Susler, abogada de Oscar López Rivera.

Como parte del auge de la campaña por la excarcelación de Oscar, el prisionero político puertorriqueño ha recibido varias visitas en los últimos años de abogados y políticos interesados en conocerlo, y entre otras cosas, comprobar de primera mano lo que se lee y se escucha sobre él: inteligencia, sabiduría, paciencia, firmeza, rectitud, perseverancia, humildad. La información que nos llega de esos encuentros repiten estas mismas cualidades.

Entre estas visitas que Oscar ha recibido en los últimos años figuran María de Lourdes Santiago y Juan Dalmau, líderes del PIP, Wilma Reverón y Alejandro Torres Rivera, copresidentes del MINH, los abogados Enrique Ayoroa Santaliz y César Hernández Colón, y más recientemente los abogados José Juan Nazario y Fermín Arraiza.

Para solicitar visitar a Oscar en prisión se necesita cumplir con un requisito de los siguientes: (1) haber conocido a Oscar antes de haber entrado a prisión, (2) ser miembro de su familia, (3) visita legal (abogados/as), (4) visita pastoral (ministros ordenados), (5) visita especial, (6) visitas que ayuden al prisionero a su reintegración a la sociedad civil.

La visita de Nazario y Arraiza duró dos días y comenzó a tramitarse en abril 2014 para finalmente concretarse el pasado 26 y 27 de julio. A continuación una entrevista que se le realizó al abogado José Juan Nazario, abogado constitucionalista y de derechos civiles y quien entre otras cosas, está actualmente activo en la campaña por la excarcelación de Oscar.

¿Cómo fue el proceso de solicitud de visita hasta su aprobación? ¿Cuánto tiempo tomó? ¿Quién lo debe aprobar?

“En abril 2014 se le envió una carta a la institución carcelaria indicando que la visita legal a Oscar por los Licenciados Arraiza y Nazario se llevaría a cabo los días 26 y 27 de julio de 2014. El consejero carcelario asignado a Oscar contestó diciendo que necesitaban nuestras firmas como una forma de relevo para realizar una investigación sobre nosotros (“background check”). Luego recibimos varias llamadas y alrededor de diez días antes de la visita el consejero carcelario nos confirmó la misma.”

¿Cuál fue el propósito de su visita a Oscar López Rivera? ¿En qué consistió esta visita?

“Era una visita que llevaba años por concretarse. El hermano Juan Santiago Nieves la había planificado por mucho tiempo y finalmente propuso encontrarse con Oscar allá para junio de 2012. El objetivo era compartir tantas ideas y visiones, que ya por carta (ellos) habían anticipado mutuamente, particularmente sobre la lucha por la independencia, la organización comunitaria y la campaña por su excarcelación. La salud de Juan desmejoró lamentable y aceleradamente, y falleció y trascendió sin poder realizar esta visita.

Tuvimos dos días de visitas. Las condiciones de la visita, legal o familiar, son sumamente inhóspitas. Mi primer saludo y abrazo, en la mañana del sábado, 26 de julio, fue a nombre de Juan. Al final del primer día de visita Oscar estuvo hablando sobre los Young Lords en Chicago y Nueva York, y sobre el trabajo organizativo importante que realizaron. Al despedirme, le dije que le daba un abrazo a nombre de un gran amigo de nuestra oficina, que fue Young Lord en Nueva York. El segundo día, domingo, 27 de julio, el saludo y abrazo inicial fue a nombre de las “Amazonas Boricuas,” que esa tarde, como todos los últimos domingos de mes, protagonizaban una protesta exigiendo su inmediata excarcelación, en esta ocasión con participación de las periodistas del país. La despedida del domingo fue muy sentida, ansiando que el próximo saludo pueda darse prontamente en el barrio boricua de Chicago y en las montañas de su Patria, San Sebastián.

¿Qué significa, como abogado y como puertorriqueño, haber visitado a Oscar López Rivera y haber hablado con él en persona?

“Oscar es un ser excepcional. Esto se ha expresado en innumerables ocasiones, pero hay que decirlo una vez más porque las palabras se quedan cortas. Inteligencia, sabiduría, paciencia, firmeza, rectitud, perseverancia y mucha humildad, entre otras grandes cualidades, le caracterizan. Gran e incansable conversador, dirigió los múltiples temas conversados. Contestó todas nuestras preguntas e hizo algunas pocas. Fue un inmenso honor estar ante la presencia de tanta valentía y fortaleza, llena a su vez de una gran humildad.

Fueron muchas las anécdotas, vivencias e historias que transmitían una lección de vida sobre su niñez con su abuela y abuelo, de su juventud en Chicago, de la experiencia en la guerra de Vietnam y de su regreso. También de la lucha y la vida en la cárcel. Todas historias de compromiso y solidaridad. La organización de las comunidades para reclamar sus reivindicaciones es un tema crucial para Oscar, quien tiene mucha confianza en la capacidad organizativa de nuestro Pueblo y de nuestras comunidades.

Tampoco pasó por alto el esencial amor por los animales, su mascota de pequeño Rocinante, un cerdito recién nacido que le regalaron a sus 4 años y su última mascota una perrita llamada Jíbara. Y el amor y admiración por la naturaleza a su alrededor. Siempre pendiente de los retoños verdes en el crudo invierno, o de los pajaritos que anidan entre las piedras que se conservan tibias o entre las rejas y muros del sistema correccional. En primavera y verano espera las aves migratorias y las alimenta. Son muchas las historias, anécdotas y lecciones aprendidas del gran Patriota Oscar que irán fluyendo en otras oportunidades.”

¿Cómo vieron a Oscar? ¿Qué impresión les causó? ¿Está saludable, lúcido? ¿Qué fue lo que más les impresionó de él?

“He comentado entre amigos y amigas que las fotos que tenemos de Oscar no le hacen honor. Tiene muy buena salud y mejor apariencia que en las fotos, luce más joven y lleno de pura energía. Bajo de estatura, delgado y fornido; altísimo de valor, compromiso, constancia, verticalidad… y ancho de sencillez, bondad, humildad, sacrificio… Dice que el calendario no le ayuda… Impresionante su fina inteligencia y capacidad de análisis sosegado de toda circunstancia.

Se levanta todos los días a las 4 a.m. Duerme poco. Al despertar hace estiramientos en la cama. Su desayuno generalmente es café puya y avena, que prepara en la celda con el agua caliente que sale a las 4 a.m., cuando nadie está en las duchas o utilizando agua. Luego sale a hacer ejercicios. Ahora camina en lugar de correr, con un impresionante 13 minutos por milla; 4 millas en 52 minutos. A las 10 a.m. entra al taller de arte a trabajar sus pinturas y sale a las 3 p.m. cuando regresa a su celda a prepararse su comida, dado que casi nunca asiste al comedor. Cada dos horas tiene que presentarse ante su consejero.”

¿Conoce Oscar de las actividades que se celebran pidiendo su excarcelación?

“Oscar conoce todas y cada unas de las actividades que se realizan en apoyo a su excarcelación. Ha dicho, y lo reiteró ante nosotros, que se encuentra profundamente agradecido de todo el movimiento y cada una de las personas que apoyan su excarcelación, en Puerto Rico, en Estados Unidos y a nivel internacional. Al terminar nuestra visita, como cada domingo al finalizar el mes, se preparaba para llamar por vía telefónica a su hija Clarisa que se encontraba en la actividad de las “Amazonas Boricuas”.

¿Se le planteó a Oscar sobre nuevas posibles estrategias para su excarcelación?

“Hablamos sobre las estrategias vigentes y algunas nuevas. La campaña de visibilidad de Oscar en todo Puerto Rico, es crucial y fundamental a los demás esfuerzos que se realizan en Estados Unidos e internacionales. Cada boricua debe saber de la injusticia y tortura que sufre en la cárcel Oscar por más de 33 años, debe ser un asunto de discusión en la familia, entre vecinos y en las comunidades en general. Estuvo invisible para el Pueblo por mucho tiempo. Ahora es tema en las calles cuando se lleva una camiseta o se menciona su nombre. Se le respeta y se vocifera indignación por la gente que conoce su condición. Existe una simpatía generalizada por su excarcelación en el Pueblo que debe persistir, en la que debemos insistir y continuar cultivando hasta su salida.”

¿Qué consecuencias tienen este tipo de visitas para la vida de Oscar en prisión?

“Son extraordinariamente importantes porque le brindan la oportunidad de conocer, en una conversación cara a cara, distintas perspectivas y visiones de lo que pasa en el exterior, Puerto Rico e internacionalmente. Oscar es un lector voraz y un autodidacta en muchas áreas, así que le es muy fácil tratar y profundizar casi cualquier tema. Lo que no es común para él, es tratar esos temas en una conversación cara a cara, porque no siempre -salvo gratas excepciones- encuentra en su confinamiento esa oportunidad.”

Luego de esta visita, ¿cuáles son las nuevas posibles estrategias para su excarcelación? ¿Foros internacionales, etc?

“Conversamos sobre la posibilidad de llevar su caso ante organizaciones internacionales como el Consejo de Derechos Humanos y el Comité contra la Tortura de la ONU. Estaremos considerando esa posibilidad, y en consulta con Oscar y su abogada Jan Susler, se tomarán las decisiones correspondientes, consistentes con las estrategias para su excarcelación ya en curso.”

Vanesa Baerga

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Congressman Luis Gutiérrez speaks: “What happened between the Governor (García Padilla) and Oscar was an extension of what you see from the Puerto Rican people”

Posted on 06 November 2014 by alejandro

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Congressman Luis Gutiérrez and Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera have known each other since their early years in the Puerto Rican community in Chicago. Oscar, a community leader who, along with other leaders, managed to organize this community and create educational and health initiatives for the benefit of the poor and marginalized. Luis Gutiérrez, a young student in this community, who stood out because of his leadership.

Between them, there is familiarity. They recognize each other. They respect each other. Gutiérrez is one of the most important voices that constantly speaks in favor of Oscar’s release.

On October 4, Gutiérrez visited Oscar in prison for the fourth time. During the first three visits, they talked about their families, the Puerto Rican community in Chicago, and the memories they have in common. “We are like old friends, remembering old times, times we shared. It’s like seeing an old friend; we talked about things that happened 40 years ago. We talked about the past, the present, the future. I even talked to him once about how important it is for him to request his release from prison, about how I see the political environment, and about why he should do it,” said Gutiérrez.

However, this fourth visit was different. This time, he accompanied the governor of Puerto Rico to visit Oscar. For the first time, a governor of Puerto Rico visited the political prisoner who has mobilized the entire country. Along with the Governor, there were three young persons from his workgroup. “It was an important meeting for Oscar. Oscar should understand that everything we say is true and that was why the Governor was there, not on behalf of his party, not on his own behalf, but on behalf of the Puerto Rican people. I think that’s the meaning of this visit and why it advances the cause of his release. “

Below, Congressman Luis Gutiérrez’s interview with CLARIDAD about his visit to Oscar with the Governor of Puerto Rico:

What was this visit, between Puerto Ricans of different ideologies and methodologies, like?

I was aware that it was very important for the Governor and Oscar to talk and control where the conversation and the dialogue was going. In that sense, it was very different (to my previous visits). I already know Oscar, they had to get to know each other. Oscar spoke about his life philosophy, about the struggle, and about the reasons for his commitment to independence. There was a historical review of the arrival of Puerto Ricans to the United States, including stories from when he moved from Puerto Rico at age 14, and about the war in Vietnam. He described his experience, how his thinking has changed. He arrived to Vietnam as a soldier to defend freedom and democracy, and came back loving the Vietnamese, who were supposedly the enemies.

Oscar and the Governor talked about different historical events, but they talked more about Oscar’s thoughts, which I think was very appropriate. The visit was for Oscar, the freedom being requested is for Oscar and the one people need to understand is Oscar, not us. We have full freedom… If you support Oscar’s freedom before you’ve met him, you will be fully engaged after getting to know him personally, which unfortunately only a few of us have had that privilege. There were stories that made us laugh because there are always things that happen in life which make us laugh, and I saw a great sense of brotherhood between the Governor, who has a different political perspective, and Oscar.

Watching them hug, seeing their respect and affection, fills me with joy. What happened between the Governor and Oscar was an extension of what you see from the Puerto Rican people. He was there to represent them. (In this meeting) we witnessed the same that is seen in the streets of San Sebastian, where I haven’t seen a lamp post that doesn’t say “Freedom for Oscar.”

How does Governor García Padilla’s visit make a difference regarding Oscar’s release?

It may make a difference because he, as governor, took the time to go to jail, which –to me– is unprecedented. I have a hard time talking to executives about pardon, seeking to minimize sentences, it is even harder to convince them to go visit someone in prison. I think that (something important) was how the meeting ended. He (García Padilla) asked Oscar for a message to take back to Puerto Rican people. I think that, when you do such a request, it means you are truly committed.

I think the Governor has reached out. We must continue reaching out. I saw it in Puerto Rico with former prisoners during the 90s; Populars, Statehooders, and Independents were reaching out (mobilizing for the release of the prisoners). I remember that, back then, we asked (Rafael) Hernández Colón and Dr. (Pedro) Rosselló to support the release of the prisoners. Nine years later was when the first eleven prisoners were released. In fact, one of the young persons with the Governor asked Oscar, “Why didn’t you come out when the President offered you freedom? Why didn’t you take his offer?” I think that is very important, (to explain) that there are political people who have principles and that that principle wouldn’t allow him to leave someone else in jail while he was released; Carlos Alberto had not been offered anything at the time. He told them about that too. I think the visit to the prison changed those three young people. You could see that they were eager to ask questions.

Why do you think it has been so difficult for Obama to pardon Oscar?

I think every historical situation is very different. Back then, the president and the administration kept good communication. (The way we have been living) after September 11 (2001) has been very different. You have to understand the political realities of these times. The country is much more conservative and, say what you will about Bill Clinton, he had a different vision, one that this administration may not share. The other thing is that this isn’t over yet. At some point, I’m sure different leaders and areas of our community will meet in the White House with this president; this has yet to happen. There are different people talking and advocating for his release. I think the visits help to bring more people together. It isn’t easy to visit Oscar. The Governor had to call and make a request.

Why I think this visit will help? Because the Governor had to call the Attorney General (Eric) Holder and tell him, “I want to visit Oscar”. If not, he wouldn’t have been able to visit. People say, “Oh, they let him visit Oscar because he is the governor.” No, he had to get a special permission to see Oscar and that was granted by the Department of Justice (United States). That means that the Department of Justice understands how important this is. If I were the Attorney General of the United States and I saw a letter from a governor, to me, that would have some weight. (Also), it is a letter with a request to go to Terre Haute, which is out in the sticks.

Now, after the resignation of the United States Attorney General, Eric Holder, can you imagine, from your position, any possible attempt to pardon Oscar?

Unfortunately, there are elections in November. I mean unfortunate in the sense that it limits the ability to talk and really get something. Nothing is going to happen a month before the elections and Holder is still there. And, let me tell you, we have a good work group: Nydia, José, Pedro and me. We are working together, maybe it’s the only thing we have in common aside from being Puerto Rican. We are Puerto Ricans and we want Oscar to be released. We will be meeting the week after the elections. We will resume our conversations and I’m sure we’ll talk about the next steps.

Do you think that the prison system and the political establishment of the United States have differentiated between Oscar and the rest of the former political prisoners?

It’s very difficult for me to answer that question, but I will tell you this: The rules are very clear when you visit a prisoner in a federal prison. The fact is that the Governor and I were given the opportunity to visit Oscar, a privilege that not just any prisoner gets. That should be clear.

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A Community That Can Teach the World: Roberto Clemente Community Academy Celebrates Forty-Years with an Educational Symposium

Posted on 06 November 2014 by alejandro

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“Let’s see if what Clemente has recently started will do justice to the students, to the teachers, to the parents, and to the community and hope that, in the future, it becomes the best school in Chicago.” – Oscar López Rivera

On Saturday, September 20, the Humboldt Park community celebrated forty-years of Roberto Clemente Community Academy’s (RCCA) founding in 1974. While there are those who may harp on the high school’s troubled history, the multiple events, including a symposium and gala at the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, demonstrated the significance of RCCA as an educational gem for generations of residents. As discussed at the symposium, the school is set to nurture global problem-solvers, who will be prepared for the world’s innovations and rooted in their communities.

The symposium, held at the RCCA auditorium to nearly 100 attendees, was full of notable scholars of education, such as Nilda Flores-González, David Stovall, Steve Tozer, Jonathan Rosa, and Orlando Hernández. Other speakers included Principal Marcy Sorensen and the Executive Director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, José E. López, both of whom discussed the school’s renewed vision of fostering global citizens.

While the notion of schools as building the citizens of the future is nothing new and remains an obsession for mainstream media – especially in the context of an ascending China and India – the symposium offered a nuanced spin to the idea, embedded in the Americas and the history of struggle that characterizes the Puerto Rican experience in Humboldt Park.

“We’re celebrating not only forty-years of Clemente [high school], but Latino cultural citizenship… Latinos added a new dimension to the notion of citizenship – which is cultural citizenship – by demanding the rights of culture and language,” spoke López when discussing the origins and implications of the school’s founding.

López went on to connect the struggle to found and further improve RCCA as a new educational imagining to efforts by other marginalized groups, like the Zapatistas in Chiapas, México and Blacks in the U.S., to gain freedom, land, and resources.

Jonathan Rosa, a professor of linguistic anthropology, echoed this sentiment, stating that “public schools are suppose to build citizens of the future and therefore be ‘inclusive’ and ‘equal’, which are tenets of the ‘American Dream’, but Puerto Ricans are racialized like Blacks and illegalized like other Latinos.” He goes on to add that what’s happening at RCCA, under the ‘Community as a Campus’ model, serves to counter this historical marginalization, because it is a “community enacting new visions of societal relationships and borders.”

According to Marvin García, a director at the Alternative Schools Network of Chicago, in a special edition of Que Ondee Sola magazine for RCCA’s founding, “the Humboldt Park “Community as a Campus” (CAAC) initiative… is an organic community plan conceived in 2009 [that] will create an educational environment framed within the precepts of the International Baccalaureate academic standards, and transform all the schools within the designated area into ‘safe and inviting places to explore the world.’”

The CAAC plan is set to expand preschool and kindergarten to Humboldt Park’s children, and strengthen after-school engagement, parent education, and teacher training, among other innovative programs and projects. RCCA is the centerpiece of this community initiative as it prepares to be an official International Baccalaureate Academy – an educational model only found in the most elite of schools. However, according to the school’s principal, a revived Roberto Clemente Community Academy will not replicate what has historically been done to Puerto Ricans and other youth of color.

“Only by letting our students define citizenship for themselves, only then will they acquire citizenship,” spoke Sorensen, ending a symposium that showcased exciting developments that will benefit the residents of Humboldt Park, but can be a lesson for communities across the globe.

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Terre Haute, Indiana

Posted on 06 November 2014 by alejandro

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The morning was colder than anticipated: 48 degrees Fahrenheit. I arrived the night before in Indianapolis, Indiana, from where we left, driving for an hour and a half, to the Holiday Inn in Terre Haute. That morning we met to have breakfast with Puerto Rican Congressman Luis Gutiérrez. Then we left for Terre Haute Federal Prison. Arriving, the cold hit us again. We walked to the entrance. There we identified ourselves and waited a few minutes to enter.

That prison was built in 1938 and later adapted for current requirements. It’s made of dark brick. It looks well maintained, clear and clean on the inside. Photos of the building as it looked in 1938 adorn the lobby. While I looked at them, the guard called me to go in. We passed the first and second gates. Then we walked through an internal yard that leads to the main building. Walking out to this yard, it was still cold. I thought of all the souls gathered there since 1938. How many deserved it. How many didn’t. How many who deserved it never got there. How many who deserve it now aren’t there.

We arrived at the main building. Another gate. A hallway, another door, and then another gate. Then a waiting room with some one hundred chairs. Comfortable. Like an airport. Placed in line across from each other. They’re assigned by number. We sit down. At the other end, a family with a prisoner.

Soon, from a door at the other end, out came the man I came to see. A short man, showing his years. He looked at me and smiled. He’s the same as he looks in the photo published with the column this newspaper publishes on Saturdays. He went to the guard and then walked over to us. Luis hugged him and they greeted each other with affection, like people who have known each other for more than 40 years. Then I greeted him. I gave him a big hug, and he returned it. I told him about the solidarity of his people and the affection all of us in Puerto Rico have for him. We hugged strongly again. We sat down.

For almost three hours we talked about his childhood in San Sebastián. About his life in Chicago. About people in Chicago at the time. About his friends. About people in Puerto Rico at the time. About people in Puerto Rico now. We talked about Vietnam, where he was declared a hero. We talked about why he joined the independence movement. We talked about the current problems in Puerto Rico and about the most important thing to resolve them: solidarity.

Oscar López Rivera has been in prison for 33 years. He hasn’t been accused of committing any violent act. He hasn’t been connected to any violent act. He was accused of conspiring. The line that divides “conspiring” from “thinking” is very fine. I don’t think Oscar would be a danger for the future of our country, of our community, or of our family. His sentence, far too excessive, violates the most elemental principles of humanity, sensitivity and justice. Oscar López Rivera owes no debt to society, and if he ever did, he paid it a long time ago. He hasn’t done us any harm.

Who has harmed us are corrupt politicians or those who mortgaged the future, our present, borrowing without caring who had to pay. But they’re not in Terre Haute. What has harmed us are the advertisements of the Republican ultra right of the U.S. press, sponsoring a local political party. But they’re not in Terre Haute. What has harmed us are those who only worry about votes, or about their counterpart in the media, ratings. But they don’t even know where Terre Haute is. Who harms us are the parents who aren’t concerned about their children’s education. But they aren’t even interested in knowing about what Terre Haute is.

After about three hours, I asked him what message, if any, he wanted me to take to you. He thought for a moment. He said he was grateful for what has been done for his release. Then he spoke of hope and of solidarity. Yes. This man who has been in prison for 33 years. Who is already 71 years old. He still has heart and spirit to talk about solidarity and hope. What a lesson for so many people!

The time arrived for me to leave. I had to go back to Indianapolis to catch my flight. I wanted to talk longer with him. I gave him a big hug. I told him that we would keep working for his release. I asked God to bless him. He thanked me. I thanked him.

Leaving, it was still 48 degrees Fahrenheit. But for me, now it was a warm morning.

I hope to greet that compatriot again, in Puerto Rico.

by Alejandro García Padilla / Governor of Puerto Rico Publicado en El Nuevo Dia / October 8, 2014

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