PSP Memories 2

I consider myself very lucky because I've gotten to live in the future several times in my life.Like many immigrants, I've gotten to travel in time and experienced the different centuries and social systems of m countries of origin, Cuba and Puerto Rico, and the US. Besides traveling in time as many immigrants do, I've gotten to travel to the future, when I experienced the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959 at the age of 12 and lived through the defeat of US imperialism, and when I got to be in the Puerto Rican Socialist Party for four years and experienced a prefiguration of an independent socialist Puerto Rico.

The first time I came to the United States was when I was five going on six and my father, who was a Presbyterian minister in Cuba, went to seminary in Chicago. We were living in Sancti Spiritus, one of the oldest cities in Cuba, in an old house with thick beams, a view of the Escambray mountains from deep high windows that opened onto an unpaved callejon. At the time I left I had only recently stopped believing that those purple mountains were heaven and stopped wishing I could go there so I could get a look at Joseph's coat of many colors with my own eyes. We traveled by bus to Havana, a six hour trip over mountains, and then by plane to Miami. There my father bought a used white Plymouth and we drove to Gettisburg, Pennsylvania where he had a summer job being a pastor to migrant farmworkers, before beginning his graduate courses at McCormick Seminary. I'd gone from my colonial city with cobblestones, narrow sidewalks, houses with doors flush to the sidewalk, houses built backwards on hills, each room cascading down the slope, to my abuela's house in La Habana where bedrooms in rows accommodated twin aunts, my grandparents, a married aunt, her husband and two cousins. Already La Habana was another century with dense streets, and lots of cars. The airplane was a time capsule that landed us in Miami, tropical and foreign at the same time. Almost immediately we set off driving to Gettisburg, where we lived in a decrepit, barren old farmhouse, I learned about skunks and was terrified that any chipmunk or squirrel might sprout a white streak of fur and make me smell. For an experiment I ate dirt because if plants could, maybe I could as well. I didn't like it. One night bats swooped from the ceiling just as they used to do in Sancti Spiritus but here I was allowed to crawl into bed with my parents. I met a girl who was mixed American and Colombian and whose mother had named her Barbara while her husband was out of the country, unaware of how funny that name sounded combined with her surname Barriga. At their house I was first served canned spinach, and had to try very hard to swallow the green emulsion and not gag. The greatest time warp was Chicago, where I lived in a multiple dwelling building for the first time, the married students' dormitory, and had to learn English very very fast. I went from knowing no words at all, to painfully reading the words my second grade teacher printed underneath drawings she made herself, of a jug of milk, an iron. I remember noticing one day that iron was spelled irun but pronounced iern and after that, next thing I recall, was rattling off English language with the other seminary children. Nevertheless living in a future century and in English was difficult. In class I was teased and while I understood the spirit I didn't understand the content. Years later I got it. One girl was saying I would Mary a certain boy. I thought the tease was some mockery of my name Maritza. Years later I got it. They were saying I would marry the boy.
We went back to Cuba and were put in a bilingual Episcopalian school in Havana so we wouldn't forget English. Another time-warp, another uprooting, another dislocation. We visited Sancti Spiritus where a corner bodega was now called a "Grocery". My various worlds converged and diverged. What was I? Which world do I belong in?
My father had gone to seminary in Puerto RIco in his very early twenties where he met my mother in the Church in Santurce where he'd been a student pastor. They'd married and she moved to Cuba and I was conceived soon after. As a Puerto Rican woman my mother was very foreign. She did not belong and neither did I.
I grew up hearing stories of the rebeldes in the mountains. Of the torturados. When we returned from Chicago, on a freighter, our luggage was searched and my father's caqui trousers were confiscated. I was aware that the times were both exciting and dangerous. Many protestands were involved in the clandestinaje. Faustino Perez, who was in charge of fundraising for the 26 de Julio underground was my father's friend. We once hid him in our small apartment in El Vedado.My father told me not to mention to anyone in school that there was a man sleeping on our couch. One day when I came home I mentioned that my friend Anita's father was some kind of army officer and she was picked up from school by a uniformed chofer. My father got pale. I wasn't used to seeing fear on his face and it shocked me. He asked me if I'd told Anita anything about our guest. One of my father's jobs when we came back from Chicago was to be a kind of chaplain for young protestant students at the Universidad de La Habana. I would go with my father to a house near the University where they boarded. Many of them were involved in el clandestinaje. They would come to my father with their moral dilemmas as they tried to reconcile their Christianity and their revolutionary work. What about killing? What were they to do if their revoluitionary work put them in a situation where they had to kill. Years later I learned that in one of my father's customary evangelism trips, this one to Mexico, Faustino had enlisted him to deliver to Fidel ten thousand pesos that had been raised to buy the Granma, the boat used for the invasion of the insurrectionists. The young protestants commissioned my father to ask Fidel if he was a communist, a marxist-leninist. My father later told me, when I was already an adult, that he had done this. He had met Fidel and Che, and their trainer ____________, in a house in the fancy Mexico City neigborhood suburb El Pedregal. After a shared meal they had sat at a marble topped table where Fidel crumbled some bread and as he spoke spread it and mounded it and spread in on the marble top. My father asked him the question and Fidel told him that he was anti-imperialist but that he was not and had never been a marxist-leninist. Fidel explained to my father his vision for the insurrection and stated he expected the revolution would be victorious in a year. He told my father his vision that to avoid revenge bloodshed there would be summary trials of the Batistato's war criminals. He invited my father to join the expedition as a chaplain. He gave my father written messages to deliver upon his return which my father hid among his sermons.
Fidel's tutelage supported my father through some of the vertigo he experienced at the high speed revolutionary changes. He understood the summary trials. A serious stumbling block for my father was when the revolution, after relying on the protestant church for technical assistance to design their literacy campaign, forbade the church from continuing their literacy campaign once the revolution launched its own. I was not allowed to go with my friends to be an alfabetizadora just as my father stopped my mother from becoming a miliciana. After the Bay of Pigs, I would hear my father and mother arguing about leaving Cuba. "Who have you been talking with that has changed you?" Her screams did not win that battle. I often wondered what my life might have been like if my mother had won that argument instead of my father and we had remained in Cuba, integrated with the revolution. The irony was that we did leave because my father was offered a job in the Evangelism division of the World Council of Churches in Geneva but after we landed in Miami, when they got wind that he no longer supported the revolution, the job offer was withdrawn. A very cautious man, he would not have left Cuba without a job in hand, and the Church whose anti-communism had produced my father's views (another time warp) had left those ideas behind and had embraced theology of liberation and my father was now loyal to an anochronistic master and left in the lurch by the master-de-jour. Had the job offer been withdrawn before we left, again, my family might have remained in Cuba.
At my episcopalian bilingual school in El Vedado all courses were in English except for a class called Espanol which included history and language. The professor, a Dra. Coronado, taught us that communists canned children's flesh for food. Anticommunism was think. One day, when we were driving home (still in our old white Plymouth which my father had brought back from Chicago on that freighter) we passed the rich neighborhood of Miramar on the way to our modest and distant reparto Nuevo Santa Fe. I was staring at mansion after mansion with big curved driveways. "I don't understand why tjhey don't take the extra money those people have, and give it to the people who don't have enough." My father looked at my mother and he said, "Nos salio comunista la nina." The thing was I could hear a tone of pride and admiration in his voice. If communism believed what I'd just said it must be good. I began to have fantasies of being in una celula comunista, of being one of the conspirators agains the Batistato I would hear my parents, aunts and uncles talking about whenever they got together.
The way I learned history in Cuba I got the idea that the sole point of human activity was liberation. to be like Marti was the purpose of human life.
But we did leave and I arrived in the US in 1961 in the midst of a revolution here. The Vietnam War, Civil Rights, and countercultural movements were on the rise and I was swept up by them. The culture shock was overwhelming....several time warps colliding. In Cuba my friends and I would have long conversations contemplating whether it would be a positive thing for our prospective novios to go to prostitutes so that they would not pressure us for sex. As a protestant girl in Cuba I was not allowed to dance, smoke, drink. Even going to the movies on Sunday was a sin. Because I'd gone to a bilingual school my English literacy was far beyond my cultural literacy. I landed by a coincidence in a private NYC school. (While apartment hunting in NY mid September my parents asked the realtor at an apartment way above our budget, if she knew any schools that had not started classes yet, and she mentioned New Lincoln. My parents only realized during the interview that this school was not a public school. But they were looking to integrate racially and they tested my brother and me and we got placed, me as a Junior although I was 14, and my brother as a freshman. My classmates couldn't tell from my English that I had just arrived here. They were sophisticated well to do New Yorkers, many were politically engaged participants of the counter culture who smoked, drank, and were sexually active. I was so terrified to go there from my Puerto Rican grandmother's tiny apartment on 18th street in Chelsea, that first thing just about every morning, I raced to the bathroom to throw up. This school was fairly small and many students had been together since elementary school. For many weeks I had not friends and would hide out in the library during lunch to avoid the lunchroom, and the room closed off section of the lunchroom at one end called the student lounge where the cool kids gathered to smoke cigarettes (the very idea!) and play bridge. In the library I wrote poems about death, and one poem which I called Laberinto about the constant human quest for what was only to be found within each of us, became my first published poem when my father included it in a small Spanish language magazine called Dialogo that he published out of his office at the Interchurch Center on Riverside Drive.
Between classees one morning three young women, sophomores and closer in age to me, who had begun to befriend me, called me into a classroom, sat me down, and announced they had decided to be my friend even though I was a Cuban refugee. They were all supporters of the revolution. In art class a young man in the senior class would sit next to me and talk to me about the revolution and why it was good and ask me what I thought about it. I told him I certainly didn't want the revolution to be overthrown because I didn't want more bloodshed but I couldn't bring myself to say that I supported it. The summer after my senior year when I was visiting family in Puerto Rico I wrote Chris to tell him that I was rethinking my views on the revolution. When he wrote to ask me why I had sent him a letter in Spanish I realized that I had mailed his letter to my parents and theirs to him thus announcing to my parents my changing views. It wasn't until close to two years later, when I was in Wisconsin University and saw a film about the Vietnam War that I had the thought, what is happening in Vietnam is what happened in Cuba. I realized that for me, it had been necessary to live in the belly of the beast to fully understand imperialism. My existential question, what would have happened if my family had not gone into exile? Began to have this answer: if I had stayed I might not have understood imperialism well enough to grasp the historic and strategic significance of the Cuban revolution. I might have been a dissident there. That Cuban tradition of liberation, had I stayed, without understanding the empire from within, might have resulted in me being a dissident.But in the US I was becoming revolutionary.
After I graduated and moved back to New York I had several friends who were trying to figure out how to be revolutionaries. One friend in particular took me under his wing. I believed at that time that on its own accord capitalism would become more benign. He explained exploitation to me, surplus value, and the role of the reserve army of the unemployed. There could never be a form of capitalism in which everyone could have socially useful work. Unemployment was a pillar of capitalism. He destroyed my reformist dreams. I wanted to be a revolutionary but where and how?

Perhaps it was he who told me about a rally at Dag Hammarskhold Plaza about Puerto Rican independence because the United Nations Decolonization Committee was discussing the colonial case of Puerto Rico. I went to Dag Hammarskhold Plaza and stood at the far edge of the crowd gathered in the narrow rectangular space. From there I could see the tarima. There was a thin, mustachioed man in a long coat speaking. I wondered, "who are these people?" I had to know who they were because I knew I had found what I was looking for, I had found my revolutionary organization. Thus began my second time in the future.

The victory
But before that, my first time in the future is important to tell because it has informed everything. My first time in the future was on the morning of January 1, 1959 when my brother came into my room in our small house in Nuevo Santa Fe outside Havana screaming, "Batista se fue." I thought he meant he'd gone away on a trip and I said, "Y que?" My brother came closer to my bed and stood over me "No, no, se fue, se fue." And just like that, the thing you long for but believe can never happen did happen. La dictadura was over. Batista was gone. We ran out into the street where all the neighbors were gathered. We found red and black fabric to tie together for a 26 de Julio flag. My father got all four of us, my mother, brother and me, into our white Plymouth. We took pots to bang against the sides of the car. We joined the many other cars on the big avenue everyone called De los Dinosaurios because of the curved concrete street lamps that looked like dinosaur necks. Everywhere, people drove cars with red and black fabric tied to the antennas or streaming from the windows, banging pots on the sides of the cars, screaming. At an intersection we saw a small crowd uprooting hated parking metres. An entire nation was rejoicing and I had learned the most powerful lesson of my life. We Can win. Victory is possible. History is not a succession of dictators. System change is possible.

Meeting the PSP
I'm not sure of the sequence of events after my lightning bolt encounter with the Party at Dag Hammarskold Plaza. I don't remember if I went there by myself or with my high school friend. I don't remember if I met Jeff Perry there. Maybe we were standing close together and we got to talking. He connected me at first with the Puerto Rican Solidarity Committee because he was part of that. I'm not sure if he helped me get a job at Aspira in Hoboken at the same time. I was living on Prince Street and commuting to Hoboken. Jeff hooked me up to translate at Claridad and even though I lived in Manhattan I began to militar in the Hoboken nucleo of the PSP. I identified as a writer, although my job wIas at a day care center before working at Aspira. At that time I was trying to read my poems in open poetry readings like at Saint Mark's Poetry project. I had recently separated from a husband I'd married at 23. Claridad was a dream come true. It was writing with a purpose. The managing editor, Alfredo Lopez, was the first person who took my intelligence seriously, listened to what I had to say, respected my views. It wasn't long before I was asked to become a redactora and offered a job as a funcionaria. I made forty dollars a week. My rent was $70 a month. The work was intense. We had a weekly deadline. Every Thursday was an overnight to lay out the paper manually on a light table rolling waxed strips of typed text onto boards. We developed our own photographs and had to figure out mathematically the proportion of the photo to fit into the hole in the text. We proofread the text again and again and sometimes had to cannibalize old boards to find words or even individual letters and strip those in over typos with wax. We joked, we laughed, we cried. At dawn some companeros took the boards to the printer and I walked home watching the sunrise, from our office on 20th and Broadway, through Union Square Park, to my small Prince Street apartment. There is no joy like that of good work done to the very best of one's ability.
While we were doing our best it was not good enough for some. In Puerto Rico the joke among party people was that Claridad bilingue, was in fact, Claridad trilingue, Spanish, English, Spanglish. We didn't understand language oppression at that time and were not able to claim that language is a living organism and that what mattered and was a victory, was that we had figured out ways to keep our language even if that required having it change. We laughed. And we felt humiliated. This was one example of many of the tensions in the Party resulting from our Una Sola Nacion, Un Solo Partido position. We were one but there were cracks in the unity. One part of the party was "better".
CESA
I went to a National Lawyers Guild workshop of some sort held in a big, many windowed room at NYU. I don't remember the overall theme. I chose to join a small group of women to work on sterilization abuse. Puerto Rican women on the island had been manipulated over many years to have their tubes tied and at that time one third of the women of child bearing age had been sterilized. And in New York women of color were being manipulated as well. The policy issue was "informed consent". We decided to continue meeting and soon gave us a name, Committee to End Sterilization Abuse, CESA. The acronym forms the work for decease or desist in Spanish.
In Puerto Rico to work in the main Claridad as a kind of training I got to interview the Secretary of Health whose name I can't remember. I think a visiting European journalist had lined up the interview for herself and I somehow ended up being her interpreter. She let me conduct the whole interview and sat back and watched. He admitted all of it had happened. The US for decades had been entrapping women, sometimes bribing them, to get their tubes tied. If the women concluded that tied tubes could be untied they were allowed to keep that impression and were not informed the operation was essentially irreversible.
In New York City the fight for informed consent was won. Being part of CESA, being one of its founders and leaders was joyous political work. Nevertheless, it turned out, there was a culture clash going on I was unaware of. My sole political experience was the democratic centralist marxist-leninist PSP. I showed up one day to what I thought was our regular meeting to find that all the other women, all white as I recall, had decided to conduct a criticism session to address my commissar style of leadership. Nobody forewarned me and as I recall only one person, I'm not sure who, backed me. I remember walking out in a daze, gutted, numb. I think whoever the one kind woman was said something to me like, they should have let you know they were doing this.
My experience
Always outsider, other
Spanglish
Sterilization Abuse, CESA
El Acto en el Garden..mi nacion es la lucha
In 1974 the Partido decided to organize an Acto de Solidaridad con Puerto Rico, a mass rally to express solidarity for Puerto Rican independence. The rally was set for October 27 to be held in Madison Square Garden. Nucleos mobilized in every city in which the party was organized. It was a massive effort. Alfredo Lopez, who later became my life-partner, was the head organizer. Claridad bilingue published many articles to mobilize and to denounce efforts to impede us. El Acto En el Garden Va. Famous people performed and spoke, Ray Barreto's orquestra, Jane Fonda. TV personality Geraldo Rivera was booed. I was one of the periodistas covering the event. There was one moment when I was standing behind the front bank of seats in which I had an epiphany. Where do I belong, what is my country, had been an abiding existential question my whole life, in Cuba because I had been half Cuban and half Puerto Rican, protestant in a catholic country, in exile because I was that and not a USer, in the PSP because I was half Cuban. As I watched I had this thought: "Mi nacion es la lucha." I understood there are no borders between our liberation struggles. I had discovered my true nation, la lucha had been, was, would be my home.
Gigantismo
io
the times
Claridad,
Getting to work in Claridad was having a direct connection to a means of production and creating a socially useful product every week. What a privilege. That Thursday night all nighter was exhausting, frustrating, challenging, and joyous, one of the most joyous experiences of my life. Solving difficult problems collectively, how to fill that hole in the board...One week we cannibalized a New Yorker magazine floating around the paste-up room and inserted a cartoon of a man skipping up a street. The caption, "Desfile un Dia, Pobreza Todos los Dias." That was the Party slogan for our contingents in the Puerto Rican Day Parade.
We had in jokes that caused us to cry laughing. One of the companeros once told a story about his grandmother in Puerto Rico screaming at him as a boy when he was in her cilantrillo patch, "Fuera del cilantrillo." Deep into the amanecida, around two AM or later all it took was for one of us to call out "Fuera del cilantrillo" for us all to break into laughter. At those hours, with that level of exhaustion and frustration, laughter saved us, kept us going, embodied the depth of our connection, affirmed our joy. There is not greater human joy than that of doing good work, collectively, making the world better, the world we want, inch by inch, day by day, stripped correction by stripped correction.
Methodist /PRWO
I was in the second tier of Party leaders, not in the Comision Politica, but Jefa de Redaccion de CLARIDAD. Later I figured out that nobody else wanted to do it, but I was proud to be asked to represent the party at a forum on the Puerto Rican National question at the Methodist Church on West 4th street, near Washington Square Park. El Comite and the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization, formerly the Young Lords, were also speaking. I remember the church was packed and when it came my turn I spoke on what I had studied up on, the Party's line, which boiled down to this: Puerto Ricans in the US and Puerto Ricans on the island are one nation. Independence in Puerto Rico constitutes the first democratic right for Puerto Ricans in the US. The PRWO had gone to China and been told by the Chinese that this was not so. Puerto Ricans in the US and on the island belonged to different nations. A friend who'd heard me told me I should have stuck to something I knew well. Truth was I couldn't. My job was to present the party line. I survived the presentation and fielded some questions during the q & a and was elated as I filed out of the church with some of my PSP companeros. As I reached the foyer between the meeting space and the front door I heard a scream and felt from my left a woman lunge at me, arms swinging. Her comrades restrained her so she didn't land her punch. It was Gloria________, who had spoken for the PRWO at the forum. Evidently my words had deeply offended her to the point that she needed to assault me. Sectarianism in the Puerto Rican movement was intense. The experience shook me to the core. I still shudder sometimes when I remember it.

, Secretaria de Informacion y Propaganda
I wasn't prepared for being Secretaria de Informacion y Propaganda. Working in Claridad there had been that weekly product to get out. It kept us honest. I'd never tasted party burocrazy yet. The meetings were endless and tedious. And they were ruled with an iron hand. Early on I was excited because I imagined I would have some leeway and I came up with a detailed political education and propaganda plan. I don't remember a single element of it, only that I worked very hard on it and it was mine. It was quashed and crushed without a glance. There was no discussion of it. Nobody as far as I could tell even bothered to read it. My job was to follow orders it turned out. I got my taste of alienation and because I had been used to work that I was deeply engaged in shaping at the paper (while always obviously within the party line) the alienation was extreme.

All nighter and guardia
I don't remember the sequence here either. I was very pregnant and I was still in Claridad. So when was I in charge of the SIP? In any case. I had done my all nighter, 24 sleepless hours, and I had my night to do guardia at the party offices (and Claridad's) on East 13th street. We were under FBI surveillance and had decided there had to be someone in the office 24 hours a day to prevent them from coming in and rummaging through our files. That added another 24 straight hours of no sleep. When I walked out onto 13th street after my guardia shift was done and made my way home to the apartment in Riis houses on Avenue D, the thought that I then realized had been forming for awhile, bubbled up into my conscious mind. "There is something wrong with this picture." I began to wonder if it made sense to be part of an organization that thoughtless, that could assign a woman in advanced pregnancy an all night guardia shift the day after her all night putting the newspaper to bed all night shift. I began to realize that I had put my entire life in the hands of the party and I began to rethink that decision. Maybe it was time I began to think about myself and my needs.

, Madre
What happened to Alfredo/ Leaving the Party
Many things converged: the wheel of history had turned and the movements that had been on top of that wheel, that had made us believe we were within sight of independence, were now being crushed underneath it; on that wheel the party had taken on bigger and bigger projects (electoral participation on the Island, the Garden in 74, the Bicentennial Without Colonies mass rally in Philadelphia in 76; and we became parents. From where I sat, or lay breastfeeding, it looked like this: The ideological and class differences between US Puerto Ricans and Island Puerto Ricans that had always been present in the Party began to crack the organization and erode its integrity. Alfredo was a US based Puerto Rican. The Comision Politica was dominated by the Puerto Rico based line. Under the guise of pressuring him to continue leading Claridad full time after he was a parent and needed a living wage, the Party purged him. Leaving or being forced to leave the Party almost broke him. My role in the party was smaller and I was always somewhat marginal, not a "real" Puerto Rican being half Cuban. But it seemed to me, from where I sat breastfeeding, that it was easy for me to disappear into motherhood. I don't remember anybody coming to talk to me about what role I might take. It might have happened but I don't remember. I remember that I simply faded away from the party into motherhood.
Learning something about how to think

Back to the past: fascism in the US
I've been privileged to live in the future. Paradoxically, because we had the line one nation one party, and because we embodied that organizationally and waged campaigns that engaged both the island and the Empire, we inserted the clarity that comes from the urgency that comes from living where the system collapse is more advanced {the colony), into the reality in which system collapse is more obscured. The benefits enjoyed in the metropolis of the empire, fruit of imperialist exploitation, obscure the collapse of the system and soften it. But we inserted the colonial reality, operated from its urgency and clarity, into the belly of the beast. And now, that systemic collapse is within the metropolis. In a sense the metropolis has cycled its way to a past it has avoided until now.The US for the first time has a visibly crazed ruler in power. The ruling class is falling apart and drawing its desperation cards: to fan a fascist movement and prosecute wars. The ways we learned to think and strategize in the PSP, that we believed in, conceived in, and fought to win, that we knew it was important not simply to take on the battles you were assured of winning, but those that truly mattered if we won, those are key lessons now, in the belly of the beast.
We lived through an era of great repression
Occupy
Resistance

What we know matters.