Photo by Elizabeth Beyer

By Griselda Flores

Our group eagerly waited for Oscar López Rivera to arrive at Bebo’s Café in Santurce, a vibrant district in San Juan, wh

ere we were scheduled to have dinner with him Feb. 12. We were so caught up in our conversations when all of a sudden, we see the legend himself standing right next to our table.

                                                     Photo by Elizabeth Beyer

“Hello!” we all said as soon as we noticed him. We weren’t the only ones who took notice of the man who had just walked in. Some customers in the restaurant stared at him in awe while others waved. One woman in particular blew a kiss at him and he blew a kiss back at her.

Wearing an Isabel Rosado T-shirt, dark jeans and orange/dark red Nike tennis shoes, Oscar took an empty seat in the middle of our table. He was surrounded by enthusiastic and intimidated (or maybe that was just me) Medill graduate students who were quick to ask about his statement T-shirt.

“She’s Doña Isabelita. She was a good friend of mine who lived to be 108 years old,” López Rivera said while sipping on his mango smoothie. Like López Rivera, Rosado was an activist and a Puerto Rican nationalist.

The former political prisoner, who was pardoned in 2017 by then-President Barack Obama after spending more than three decades behind bars for seditious con

spiracy, talked about almost everything we ask him about. From his memories of Chicago — which include marching alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1966 — to watching Hamilton (he loved it!) and chatting with Lin-Manuel Miranda, to discussing life in prison.

“I like Chicago, but not that much,” he said jokingly when I asked him if he missed the Windy City where he moved to at age 14 with his family, including his younger brother José López, a prominent Humboldt Park figure.

López Rivera also told us to keep an eye out for was a young 

Humboldt Park activist named Jessie Fuentes. She’s part of the new generation of leaders, he said, “doing great things for the community.”

I also couldn’t help but ask about the day he was reunited with his beloved island. “I just wanted to see and hear the ocean. That’s all I wanted,” he said.

Extremely generous with his time, the Vietnam War veteran talked to our group for about two hours and 30 minutes. He had walked to the restaurant but we drove him back to his apartment in Santurce where he lives with his daughter. He said he’ begin the next day like he begins every day: going on a long walk at 6 a.m.

                                                    Photo by Elizabeth Beyer

 

“There’s so much work to do here, so I start my days pretty early,” he said.