Tag: Puerto Rico

20191222_223548On December 31, 1972, a DC-7, loaded beyond its maximum capacity, taxied down the runway at San Juan International Airport in Puerto Rico.  The plane had been chartered by Pittsburgh Pirates star Roberto Enrique Clemente Walker (1934-1972), who set out to deliver supplies to the Central American nation of Nicaragua that was struggling to recover in the wake of a devastating earthquake.  There were no survivors and Clemente’s body was never found.   He was 38 years of age and left behind a widow Vera (1941-2019) and three sons. He was posthumously inducted in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame and his number, 21, was officially retired by the Pirates in 1973.  More than forty years have passed since his death, but to this day he is regarded as one of the greatest Latin baseball players to have ever played the game.  This is the story of his life by fan and author David Maraniss.

It goes without saying that baseball fans will more than likely be highly interested in this book if they have not previously read it. But even if you are not a baseball aficionado, I firmly believe that you will enjoy this biography of the late star.  Personally, I could not put it down and the time flew by as I read through the book.  As one would expect, the story begins in Carolina, Puerto Rico where we are introduced to Clemente’s parents, Melchor and Luisa.  On August 18, 1934, Roberto enters the world but no one at the time had any idea of the fame and tragedy that laid ahead. If you have been to Puerto Rico or even the Dominican Republic, then you know how important baseball is on those two islands.  For young Roberto, baseball quickly became a way of life and before the age of 20, he finds himself already being scouted by the big players in the United States.  However, his path to the Pirates was more intricate than has been publicly acknowledged.  Maraniss pieces the story together so that we can see how race, money and baseball acumen combined to create a chain of events that resulted in Clemente being signed by the team he would play for during his spectacular career.

Once in the major leagues, his career takes off but off the fields, many other things took place that highlight the strong conviction with which Clemente held his beliefs.  In the era of Jim Crow, segregation and horrific discrimination were widespread in the many parts of the United States.  The difference in social attitudes between Puerto and the states was not lost on Clemente and his determination to combat racial discrimination is truly one of the best parts of the book and shows why he was and is so revered.  Maraniss provides Clemente’s own statements as added emphasis to show the seriousness of his beliefs and actions.   And until his final days, he never stopped in is beliefs of equality and the responsibility that we all have to help each other in times of need.

The book is a little heavy on statistics and descriptions of some of Clemente’s best games including the 1971 World Series in which Pittsburgh defeated the Baltimore Orioles four games to three.  Batting averages and percentages are found throughout a good portion of the book and readers unfamiliar with baseball might find b studying a quick reference of what each means and its importance.  Baseball fans will recognize the importance of each in relation to Clemente’s story.   Something that I did learn which added to my view of Clemente, was his physical condition throughout his career.  His ability to perform at the professional level in spite of his ailments is nothing short of miraculous and a testament to his durability and strength as a person and professional athlete.

The author does briefly mention Clemente’s service in the United States Marines but does not go into much detail about that which I felt slightly detracted from the book. Clemente served in the Marines from 1958 to 1964, during off-season periods while in the major leagues.  He did not see any combat and his service is largely unmentioned in discussions about his life.  Perhaps the author did not feel it added much importance to the story and could very well have been the case. But I was surprised that it received scare attention.  Regardless, the book is still phenomenal and there is so much to the story that the reader will quickly move forward as Clemente’s life continues to evolve.

Maraniss does his due diligence as a biographer and does not shy away from showing us the dark side of Clemente which manifested itself in some surprising acts.  Also highlighted is the morbid vision Clemente had of his own death.  Those parts of the book gave me chills and I am sure that for those present at the time he made remarks about his own death,  they also must have felt a strange sensation rush through their body.  Sadly, his visions came to pass and the story behind how and why his plane crashed shorty after takeoff.  And like all crashes, there was no single event that could be blamed for it but a series of events that are outlined by the author.  As I read the recreation of the events leading up the crash, I could only shake my head in disbelief and anger.  Before he died, Clemente remarked to a friend that no one dies the day before they are supposed to. The words are beyond chilling but also prophetic.

As a sub-story, the events in Nicaragua are worth researching independently of the book. The Somoza regime had been in power for decades and its relationship with the Nixon, Carter and Reagan administrations are some of the darkest moments of American foreign policy.   And although this book is not focused on that subject, the earthquake and its aftermath does bring it to light as Maraniss shows the reaction of Washington amid fears of a political upheaval in the wake of the disaster.  Clemente’s decision to go to Nicaragua is both admirable and surprising but he was not one to shy away from what he truly believed in and it shows throughout the entire book.

To say that I enjoyed reading this definitive biography would be a severe understatement.  It is one of the best biographies that I have read.  If you are interested in the life of Roberto Clemente, this is a great place to start.  Highly recommended.

ISBN-10: 074329999X
ISBN-13: 978-0743299992

Biographies

 

91zChcroMlL._SR500,500_If you have visited the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, then you know very well why it is called the “Island of Enchantment”.   It has a mystical feel to it and attracts thousands of tourist everyday.   The presence of the United States is found across the island, reminding the visitor of the territory’s status as a commonwealth.  Regardless, Old San Juan is like a step back in time several hundred years earlier as European explorers under the command of Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) make their way to the new world.  The history of Puerto Rico is often misunderstood or unknown.  The American occupation and the  events that followed still ring fresh in the minds of Puerto Ricans both on the island and across the continental United States.  But for a large number of people, the history of Puerto Rico prior to American intervention is often a mystery.  This book by Rudolph Adams Van Middeldyk addresses that very topic, providing a true history of how Puerto Rico came into existence and why it ended up in the possession of the United States.

The story begins in 1493 as Columbus and his entourage makes another journey to the Caribbean at the service of the Spanish monarchy.  Gold, spices and human labor are on the list of items to obtain as Spain seeks to expand its global influence.  However, Columbus had bigger plans and does not stay on the island long. In fact, he is only mentioned early in the story before departing for Hispaniola where he would establish Santo Domingo.  Other figures take prominence such as Juan Ponce de León (1474-1521), whom the town in the southern part of the island is named after.  There are many players active in the story, each with their own agenda and claim to a stake in a part of the new territory.  Ponce establishes a capital named Capárra from which he served the Spanish Government.  But his tenure is short lived as Columbus’ son Diego (1479-1526) embraces chicanery and Ponce decides to continue exploring resulting in his discovery of new territory that he names Florida.

Ponce’s actions are literally the tip of the iceberg.  As the new settlers move in, the fate of the island population is sealed.  Murder, rape, pillage disease mixed into a deadly brew that systematically erased the native population, some of which had already been enslaved and sent to Europe. Here we learn of the tragic story of the Boriquén population which does not exist today.  They are often referred to as the Tainos, which apparently is a name that might have been given to them by the Europeans.  The Caribs are also mentioned in the book providing a better understanding of their culture and the clash between the natives and the explorers.   The natives do stand idly by  waiting to be extinguished. Revolts take place and the author details them in the book.

Spain had become alarmed by what was happening to the native population and dispatched the Jerome Friars to attend to the island. Ordinances were passed to protect the natives’ lives and prevent their eradication but too much had taken place for too long. When the Friars arrived, the island was split in two with capitals in the north and south.  The southern capital of San German and its dark fate are discussed here in depth.  Visitors to modern day San German will take high interest in this part of the book.   Needless to say, it is quite a story and shows how close Puerto Rico came to being under the rule of several different empires.

Similar to the West Indies and South America, the French, British and Dutch empires all make an appearance as they steal territory from one another in an attempt at world domination.  The story of the British is perhaps the most famous and as an American, it is entrenched in the history of the place I call home. However, the focus here is on Puerto Rico and the number of foreign invasions are simply mind-boggling.  And it is a near miracle the the island eventually became a commonwealth of the United States and not territory of a number of nations.  The author discusses in detail each invasion for the reader to digest.

In September, 2017, Hurricane Maria barreled through the Caribbean and damaged Puerto Rico extensively.  Hurricanes are nothing new for the region and the number of those that have occurred over the past several hundred years are staggering.  Middeldyk provides a timeline for the major hurricanes that took place after the founding of Puerto Rico up until the time of U.S. intervention.  History truly does have a way of repeating itself.

Towards the end of the book, I did feel as if the author had strayed a bit off topic.  He asserts his own beliefs about the characteristics of some groups which could be viewed as prejudiced.  I did feel as if he made several judgments which were quite broad and unfounded.  However, the book was published in 1903, a time in which diversity and acceptance were nearly unheard of.   I do believe that the book has enough value to be of interest without that part included.  But we do not have the ability to go back in time and change his mind.

If you are looking for a quick primer on the history of Puerto Rico prior to commonwealth status, then this book is a good addition. The information is straight forward and clearly presented.   And maybe after finishing the book, you will see why Puerto Ricans say “Yo soy Boricua!”

ASIN: B079R846RP

Latin America

DenisIf you’ve ever visited Old San Juan, you’ll know why Puerto Rico is called the Island of Enchantment.  The aura that permeates the old city fills the soul with a sense of warmth and nostalgia.  I’ve visited the island twice spending time in various cities across the island and climbing the rocks at the El Yunque rain forest.  The many friends that currently live there are some of the most hospitable people I’ve ever met and the cuisine is one of the best you’ll find in the western hemisphere.  Founded in 1509, Old San Juan is a major tourist attraction for travelers from all parts of the world. United States citizens have a unique connection to the island in that no passport is needed and American currency is the standard.  The relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States is perhaps the most complex and unique in all of the Caribbean.  The island, ceded to the United States by Spain at the Treaty of Paris in 1898, has been in a state of steady economic decline resulting in a surge in crime rates and unemployment.   The deteriorating conditions threaten to turn the island into a shell of its former self. The future of the island is a critical issue for Washington and as of today no clear-cut solution is in place.

Nelson Denis’ book is the go to source for the real story of the occupation of Puerto Rico by the United States government and the brutal, inhumane and deplorable actions of U.S. lawmakers and law enforcement officials appointed to the island to maintain order and enforce the policies of businessmen here in the continental United States.  To the chagrin of natives of the island, the then Governor, Luis Munoz Marin, served as a puppet of the United States permitting policy makers in Washington free rein to control the island’s economics and politics.  The imperialist tactics of the United States were not accepted by everyone and in the book we are introduced to the legendary figures of Vidal Santiago Diaz and Pedro Albizu Campos, who were life long advocates of Puerto Rican independence.  The island has a deep cultural history, from its early beginnings with the Taino Indians, nearly decimated following the voyages of Columbus, to the fight for freed from Spain led by Dr. Ramon Emeterio Betances, the late and great Roberto Clemente to many other celebrities, scholars and activists.  The future of the island is uncertain, and our relationship with our neighbor in the Caribbean is under constant strain.  But at the very least, our government owes this small island the care and attention that it needs and deserves.

ASIN: B00PWX7TKO

Latin America

santiagoMarch 2, 1917- President Woodrow Wilson signs the Jones-Shahfroth Act granting U.S. citizenship to the residents of Puerto Rico.  And while it prevents residents of Puerto Rico from voting in U.S. presidential elections, it opens the door for the migration of thousands of Puerto Ricans to states throughout the nation.  New York City was and still is the number one destination for Puerto Rican immigrants.  Many settled throughout the five boroughs with strongholds erected in small neighborhoods such as Spanish Harlem, parts of the Bronx, Bushwick, Williamsburg and East New York, Brooklyn.  The relationship between the United States and its neighbor in the Caribbean is unique and conflicted. The island is officially designated a commonwealth that uses American currency and whose laws are sometimes subject to U.S. approval.  Its designation as a commonwealth has placed in a precarious position; it is neither a state or a country on its own and its fate is inextricably tied to America.  The iron of Puerto Rico is that its citizens have contributed to the well-being of the United States in ways which many are unaware of.  During the Vietnam war, more than 48,000 Puerto Rican men served in the military. I personally know one of these men who proudly served this country in Southeast Asia.  Today he is a grandfather living out his days comfortably at a retirement home as he deals with the rigors of aging.  His story is one of millions that tell the story of the Puerto Rican experience in the land of the free and home of the brave.   Among the many stories is this one by Esmeralda Santiago, who recalls her childhood and journey to New York as her mother searches for a better life for her growing family.

Born in the San Juan district of Santurce, her early life is typical of most families at a time when U.S. involvement in the island’s affairs caused both apprehension and resentment at the meddling of Uncle Sam in Puerto Rican culture.  Today it may be hard to imagine, but less than one hundred years ago, the majority of governors of the island were American and helped corporations and the government rule the island with an iron grip. For several years, English was the mandatory language to be spoken in schools making Spanish unwelcome and the act of speaking it, an offense.  During this climate of colonialism and culture suppression lived a young girl whose life was about to change in a most dramatic way.

Economic depravity, stressful relationships and social conditions force her mother to make the fateful decision to move the family to New York City, a place Santiago had never visited and only heard of.  Her arrival in the city that never sleeps proves to be a rude awakening and culture shock in comparison to the home she was forced to leave.  The dark and gritty side of city life becomes a reality and as she explains in the book, the people were unlike anything she could have prepared for.   Class and racial discrimination combined with pedophiles,deviants and her lack of ability to speak English, transforms her world and forces her to mature ahead of schedule. The highlight of the book  however lies in her discovery of her talent for the performing arts.  Through determination and faith, she rises above her language restriction and excels in high school. And later in life, she earned degrees from both Sarah Lawrence College and Harvard University.   Many years have passed since she was a young girl in a small section of Puerto Rico, but her words make us feel as if we went back in time following her every step of the way.

ISBN-10: 0306814528
ISBN-13: 978-0306814525

Biographies