This is the story of a small nation who wanted freedom by any means necessary and fought the fight to become An Island Nation.
We were young and felt like orphans, tossed from foster home to foster home, we felt neglected and alone. First adopted by Spain our Island Nation suffered endlessly, in the hands of the inquisition, in the hands of educated idiots who wanted to have a new conquest. Then the United States abducted us from our Mother Land, a nation suckling a life that we may never understand, a life that was not our own. A life that was given away as a gift by a laughing god, one who found it hysterically funny to hand us over to the Americans with no questions asked.
We fought, we died, and we were tortured and chained because we wanted freedom. We were not strong enough, but for sure we were resilient and stubborn. We ran away from the villages near the coast into the mountains seeking protection from all the injustice we were suffering. These injustices cause many men and women to stand up and help the few natives left and the new migration of African slaves in the island. We were not and Island Nation yet; we were beginning to fight for our independence with the help of men like Ramon Emeterio Betances, Jose Celso Barbosa and Raul Otero.
“Is dark in here Juan turn the lamps on?” Maria asked Juan as she continues pushing the tables and chairs away from the center of the room. The guest of honor will arrive soon and with that the fear and excitement of listening to new ideas, which will fuel once again the thoughts of liberty. We also knew that allowing this meeting could cost us not only our lives, but the lives of our friends and neighbors. Some of the neighbors will come to the meeting and others will keep a diligent eye on the road for the militia. Not everyone could be trusted anyone could become a traitor.
We can hear the truck approaching near the river. Because the bridge was damaged the advancement by truck was impossible, they will need to continue their travels by canoe. Unless they wanted to become one with the rocks below.
Raul Otero walks in, taking off his hat and sitting by the window. He was a tall man, a mulato with neither straight nor coarse hair. His hair is short and well-groomed. He was thin but not like us, you can tell he has eaten his share, not a lot but better than we have. He dressed in a pair of khaki pants and a white shirt button up to his neck and black rubber boots.
He started talking softly, making sure we all can hear in the room, but not loud enough so he can be heard outside. He spoke about freedom, education and religion; along with the importance to work together towards the same goals. His primary goal was education, for the young and the old to understand the edicts, newsletters, and the laws passed by the government in power. He was in need of the collective in order to hold responsible the government that systematically has stripped away everything, but our dignity.
“We need to voice our opinions”, he said, “we need to speak our minds and feel free to tell the government that we were tired of all the injustice and we want change.”
“I want the same,” I said. “We all want the same, but how can we be free, we have no way to sustain ourselves. Our men are killed, and the women in the villages across the island have become desperate.”
“Women need to take part and learn how to use the same weapons men are using.” Said Raul Otero, staring at each of us, either to make us fear or stand up and fight, as we need to do to be successful.
Even when that meant women had to take control because there were not enough willing participants in this fight. We fought the fight with teeth and pens with pitchforks and ideas, and we thought that ideals were ideas and thought were words. We accepted a dream of a man, a man who said to the illiterate that was acceptable, to trust the same men who identified us by their prejudice, by our differences. These ideals, ideas, thought and words created our Island Nation one with resentments and hatred for the ones who sold our pride and identity.
They were the voice of autonomy and independence in this island, not yet a nation. However, as we attempted to build a free nation, a new enemy arrived, one that will prove almost impossible to extricate. The United States arrived displaying their pompous ass; using these simple phrases to name us vs. them; we are, we want and you are. We were but dung in the bottom of their shoes. We worked, we cooked, we cleaned and in many instances we kept their beds warm at night for them. Not by choice because we had no choice when it came to our bodies; the women were raped repeatedly and with not much left within us we escaped to the mountains, many die trying.
One of them was my mother. She was only twelve years old when she walked in to town and taken by the American soldiers; who raped and sold her in to slavery. Her parents were afraid of asking anyone and fearing the worst they never looked for her again. Some years later and a young woman came to the village with a little baby girl in her arms calling out for Carmen, my grandmother, as she placed the little girl on the ground and ran away into the woods. My grandmother was scared; she inspected the baby noticing a small bracelet, which she recognized as the same she had made for her daughter when she was a baby. With sadness and joy my grandmother raised me to become the woman I am today.
Raul Otero attempted to bring most of the undergrown political parties together. He continues to speak with underground parties looking for appropriated solutions to the crisis at hand. It became almost impossible to bring these men and women together, even though they wanted the same outcome for the Island Nation.
“We need to come together, we tried working individually and we lost many lives and opportunities in the process, what could be done differently? “
We finish the meeting early; we served some coffee and warm pan de mayorca. Juan shared his famous morir-sonando, a very sweet drink made with anisette and white rum. Juan and Raul continued their conversation in a more private matter.
“So tell me Raul, are the cases ready for delivery tomorrow?”
“Yes they are. The elections are in a week and the cases need to reach other villages and towns close by.” Said Raul while walking towards the canoe and calling out to his men.
“Maria, Luisa, Carmen and Ida will be in church this Sunday.” Juan said, looking at his wife with pride and concern.
With the elections a week away, we all need it to work fast and soundless. Guns where stored at different churches and in the tunnels that connected some towns with some of the villages. The creations of these tunnels was unknown to the American soldiers, as they never stepped foot into a Catholic church. That was our advantage our only way to start our campaign of terror against those who had terrorized us for decades. In the other hand, Raul Otero’s press continues printing the weekly newsletter. The literate ones read and shared the information sent through the cipher with the others.
I knew the next step, I was afraid; I could do nothing, complain about the history in process or fight and define the future of my Island Nation and me. Liberty and justice were foreign concepts to me. In order to survive many of the natives and Africans chose to live away from civilization. In addition, with a few Spaniards and American sympathizers we created a trading system. We will sell to them vegetables, fruits, and some cattle; in return they helped us by educating us, teaching us different methods of farming and gave us medicine when we need it. We learned how to build stronger homes, learned how to make our meat last longer and with their help we grew stronger in intellect and passion for our freedom.
The tunnel was very dark, Carmen was holding the lamp in the front meanwhile we followed her to the trapped door under the church. We heard no one; we stopped talking at once, waiting for the door to open and some soldiers to appear. Two men dressed as soldiers and the priest came in, helping us to walk to the rectory with no lights.
“How was the trip? Are you sure no one follow you here? The priest continue walking ahead making sure we follow him quickly in to the rectory. We all nodded. The rectory had another small passage where crates of small homemade bombs where stashed. The bombs looked awfully small. One of the men started explaining that the time we had between the placement and detonation of the bombs was very short in fact, they were not sure of the amount of time. Also the priest spoke to us, one at a time. He explained to us how important this particular mission was and that was also acceptable if we chose to walk away from the mission. I played with my bracelet, meanwhile I listened to the men speak to us, I drifted away thinking about my mother the story told to me by my grandmother and how sad it was to think about her without a single memory.
We took a bath in the morning and change our cloth in to something more town appealing. Later in the morning three men appeared at the door of the church, there were our escorts throughout the town. In the morning, some shops were open, others never closed and others were waiting on the right customers. We walked around and look at the ships, the anglers coming in to the port and others just leaving. It was very busy, but delightful to see all the commotion. We continued walking near the governor’s mansion at the end of the town. It was a beautiful home; were all the orders came from here, the place where a man sat with all the power in the power in the world to do good and all he wanted to do was to load his pockets.
All of a sudden, I locked eyes with a woman; she looked at me and smiled. She is walking towards a shop she is well dress and I am not sure if she is a native or where she came from. My companion pushes me in to the shop and tells me to stand there until he comes back. Therefore, I did as I was told. Luisa and Carmen were in the other side of the town waiting like me for final instructions. Young men sat by me as my companion approached and dropped a bag were I was standing. We walked away and so did the bag and the young man. We went to different shops and did the same thing several times.
We enter a shop and order some coffee and boiled eggs. It was the same shop were the woman entered early in the morning. She handed me the coffee when I notice her bracelet it was similar to the one I wore. As I began to ask her about the bracelet suddenly I heard an explosion followed by several others. People were screaming and running away from the town center. In the far end of town, soldiers were running towards the Governor’s mansion and others running away from it. My companion ran out and met with other men who at this point were carrying guns and running in to different directions. The next detonation happened in a ship in the port, causing massive to other ships nearby; about five different explosions when off in the ship yard. It was a blood bath everywhere I looked. Additional trucks and soldiers arrived to the town center responding to the attack.
All of a sudden the shopped where I was standing caved in as the debris started to hit the tables, counters and some people who were in the shop, I felt a hand grabbing me and pulling me away from the rubble. It was many dead bodies around me; others were moaning and other trying to walk away. My companions were lost, I ran to the church trying to get back to my village. As I reached the church, I saw one of the men who spoke to us the night before with the soldiers. I noticed a man and a woman on the floor, as I got closer, I recognized the man lying on the floor it was Raul Otero and the woman was Carmen. I am not sure if they are dead or alive, but the questions could be asked later. I walked slowly and closer to them trying to find a way into the church; I heard a loud shout, as an American soldier dragged a body of a woman out the church. It was Ida.
A gentle hand touched my shoulder and asked me to follow him. I did without hesitation. The same woman was waiting for me near the outskirts of town. She had sent the boy away and then asks me to follow her; at first, I thought it was a trap so I guarded myself then I recognize the way she was going, it was towards the village and she stopped near a small hut.
“Before the soldiers find us wandering around in the woods let’s go in.” She opened the door and quickly closed it behind me. She showed me the small room and as she lifted the rug off the floor, a trap door appears. She gave me a riffle and told me to follow the wall all the way to the light, she assured me that we will meet again and not to worry about her. At the beginning, it was dark but as I approached the exit I can faintly see some light.
I heard some noises so I stay put, waiting to hear a familiar voice. Finally, a familiar voice, “Juan, Juan is Maria help me. I am down here.” He offers his hand and pulls me up to the surface, where questions came bombarding me all at once. As I walked back in to the village, I was trying to think what to say to them; I wanted to explain what happened without sending the message that we where defeated and all was lost. I knew this was just the beginning of freedom it cost several lives and maybe expose our movement, but we were strong enough to start again, stronger.
“Raul Otero, Carmen and Luisa are dead. Ida is missing and some of Oteros’s bodyguards were part of the militia and sold us all out. We lost more than freedom we lost in this fight the support and support we have in each other. We are not able to redeem ourselves to a cause that we lost by default. Let us go home and wait till the morning were all is clear and better solutions come along. The fight is not over.”
We were sad, we walked quiet and meanwhile our hearts were on fire. We reached the village, even when the bloodshed reminded us of our lost the fact remains we were heard. We became the movers and shakers of our time, the revolution is not over. In addition, they knew we were around; we were not trying to make peace until our Island Nation was free from our oppressors. We were notice and for it we will always be remembered as part of our broken history as the guerilla that never gave up.
“Grandma what happened to Maria and Juan”?
“Mijo is time to sleep. Besitos, God bless you.”
“Good night grandma. I love you.”
As Maria sat by the window she played with her bracelet.
Freedom and justice is not for a few is for all who believe it can happen.