“La patria es valor y sacrifico.”
“The motherland is valor and sacrifice.”
– Don Pedro Albizu Campos
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
– Marcus Mosiah Garvey
On October 30th of 1950 Puerto Rican Nationalists began an armed insurrection against US colonialism. The uprisings in Jayuay, Utado, San Juan and Old San Juan were a response to the US planned designation of Puerto Rico as a “Free Associated State”. Puerto Rican Nationalists saw this as a ploy to avoid having Puerto Rico listed on the United Nations list of colonized non self-governing nations. The plans for the insurrection were betrayed to the US colonial powers in Puerto Rico and the uprisings in Utado, San Juan and Old San Juan were quickly and brutally cut down. Only the Uprising in Jayuya lasted.
The leader of the uprising in Jayuya was a woman named Blanca Canales. She took over Jayuya on October 30th and declared Puerto Rico an independent nation and held it for three days. The US sent in bombers and ground troops to put down the rebellion. Blanca Canales and the other Nationalists were overwhelmed and Jayuya was lost on November 1st.
While Blanca Canales was fighting to hold onto to Jayuya and the new republic of Puerto Rico, her brother Griselio Torresola and another Puerto Rican Nationalist Oscar Collazo decided that the time had come for them to do their part to end US colonialism in Puerto Rico. Their target was President Harry S. Truman. Griselio armed with a Luger and Oscar armed with a Walther P38 went to the Blair house, the President’s temporary home while the White House was being renovated, with hopes of assassinating him. On either side of the house there were two small guard houses. Griselio and Oscar came from opposite sides of the street and opened fire on the guards. A fierce gun battle ensued and Griselio and a White House police officer Leslie Coffeli were killed, Oscar Collazo and another officer are shot and wounded.
While Blanca Canales is arrested in Jayuya, her brother Griselio Torresola is shot and killed in Washington DC. While some 3000 Nationalists are arrested in Puerto Rico, Oscar Collazo is sent to a hospital and arrested. Blanca Canales was tired and imprisoned for 17 years in prison for her part in the Jayuya uprising. Oscar Collazo was tried for the attempted assassination of the President and was sentenced to death.
In 1952 Truman commuted Oscar Collazo’s sentence to life in prison. Curiously enough, 1952 is also the year that Puerto Rico became a “Free Associated State” of the US. It has remained in that contradictory designation since then. In 1979 Jimmy Carter pardoned Oscar Collazo along with Lolita Lebrón, Raphael Cancel Miranda, Irving Flores Rodríguez and Andres Figueroa Cordero who were responsible for the US House of Congress shooting that took place in 1954.
Don Pedro Albizu Campos, the leader of the Nationalist Party said that the motherland was both valor and sacrifice. When people think of that saying they have a tendency to look back on Albizu’s life and think about his valor and his sacrifice. After the Jayuya Uprising and the assassination attempt on Truman, Albizu was imprisoned for the second time in his life. This time he was sentenced to 80 years. While in prison radiation experiments were conducted on his body and he was released in 1964 only to die a few months later of radiation posioning in 1965.
It’s easy to see why people think of Albizu when they think of his statement on valor and sacrifice but we have to remember that Albizu was probably not thinking about himself when he spoke those words. Although looking back now, it may seem like some kind of prophetic statement for his life, there were many, many others who found the valor and made the sacrifice for Puerto Rican independence. Others like Blanca Canales, Griselio Torresola and Oscar Collazo who thought beyond themselves to something greater.
This is not simply some history lesson but a foundation for the current events we live in today. There are Puerto Rican political prisoners and prisoners of war who are languishing in US prisons for answering the call of a motherland that demands valor and sacrifice. If you doubt the connections to today you don’t need to look any further than the two brothers Avelino Gonzalez Claudio and Norberto Gonzales Claudio who have recently been arrested and are serving sentences for the crime of desiring freedom for their country. Blanca Canales and Girselio Torresola were brother and sister who sacrificed everything for something greater than themselves. And now the Claudio brothers are facing similar fates.
If you think that the prison sentence of 80 years for Albizu and the 23 years he served in US prisons before dying, is a thing of the past then direct your attention to Oscar Lopez Rivera who has been behind the wall for over 30 years, serving a sentence of 70 years. For many Puerto Ricans who seek independence from US colonial rule it’s not the quantity of life for themselves that they seek but the quality of life for their country. When we look back on the history of this struggle do we isolate it to memory and remembrance? Or do we fixate that history within our present? When we look back at the valor and sacrifice of so many who have struggled, do we relegate it as some fixed point within the past? Or do we use it to chart our future?
“In this great future, you can’t forget your past.”
– Bob Marley