What Would El Rio Grande de Loíza Say to Julia de Burgos Today?
Credit: Nuestro Stories
What would the Rio Grande de Loíza, immortalized by the Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos, say to her today if it could speak? I believe it would say:
Why have you forsaken me and sold me to the colonizer?
Rio Grande de Loíza! ... Rio Grande. Big cry.
The greatest of all our island cries,
If it were not bigger than the one that comes out of me
through the eyes of the soul for my slave people.
The feminist Burgos, an advocate of Puerto Rican independence, is an international icon. In the 1940s, she wrote about Blackness, love, migration, nationalism, nature, and women’s rights.
She wrote Rio Grande de Loíza, her best-known poem, published in 1938.
Loíza has a rich culture
The river is the largest in Puerto Rico and the one that framed her childhood. It flows into the Atlantic Ocean on the island's north coast. It runs for approximately 40 miles and is the second longest river on the island, behind Río de la Plata.
Read more: Alfonsina Storni: A Timeless Poet Inspired by Edgar Allen Poe
Loíza is the Puerto Rican town with the strongest African Diaspora culture and the Taíno sacred mountain, El Yunque, stands as a lookout.
The poem speaks of her childhood – "My wellspring, my river/ since the maternal petal lifted me to the world" – and the grief of her island – enslaved by colonialism.
Burgos would be saddened to see the state of her beloved island. Puerto Rico has suffered under a $70 billion debt; a fiscal control board; cuts to education, pensions, and health services; the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and María; earthquakes; a pandemic; and now, to add insult to injury, the gentrification of the island under Act 60 that threatens to marginalize Puerto Ricans in their homeland.
The Rio Grande de Loiza would ask Burgos to sit beside it and listen to the story of unabated colonization that threatens the archipelago's existence and its people. It would ask Burgos to look through the eyes of their souls and stand and deliver her ode to freedom once more.
Her voice lives through each stanza
Rio Grande de Loíza! ... Stay in my spirit
and let my soul get lost in your streams,
to find the source that stole you as a child
and in a mad rush, he returned you to the path.
Curl up on my lips and let me drink you
to feel you mine for a brief moment,
and hide from the world, and hide in yourself,
and hear voices of wonder, in the mouth of the wind.
Get off the back of the earth for a moment,
and look for the intimate secret of my anxieties;
confuse me in the flight of my fantasy bird,
and leave me a rose of water in my dreams.
Rio Grande de Loíza! .. My spring, my river,
since the maternal petal rose to the world;
with you, they came down from the rough slopes
to look for new furrows, my pale yearnings;
and my childhood was a whole poem on the river,
and a river in the poem of my first dreams.
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By Susanne Ramírez de Arellano
Susanne Ramirez de Arellano is a writer and cultural critic who used to be a journalist, television producer, and news director. She lives between San Juan and New York and is, at present, making her first attempt at writing a novel.