Looking inward was not an option. My socialist sensibilities and early training in ideological conformity were nurtured for too long to let them plunder under any momentary curiosity. My character was by then formed by a complex stew of emotional, psychological, and intellectual ingredients akin to a religious experience preparing me for a holy crusade. There was no room for doubt because the rooms were already filled with socialist truth. Thus, when my college acquaintance presented his ‘socialist-lite’ alternative for Puerto Rican independence, I laughed at him. Any perceived aperture to the possibility of compromise away from socialist orthodoxy had no space in my universe. I considered it the stuff from where heresies grow. Consequently, as I waited for the taxicab at the city of Aguadilla, I delighted in making him look like a fool:

‘I cannot accept your ideas. You do not understand!  The only alternative is to destroy this society, bring it down to the ground and, from its ashes, build the just socialist society,’

‘I am not sure of that, Ismael, what about…’ He replied with kindness.

‘You are not a socialist, ‘friend’!’

Later on, during my hot mid-day cab ride, I felt terrible at the way I mocked the guy. I struggled in vain to erase the emotional discomfort arising from my behavior but I could not apologize. To apologize would be to show weakness in my effort to bring about heaven on earth. Expressing regret meant threading the path of surrendering the dream. After all, the heart of the socialist is sowed with the thread of utopia. I managed to shift from my emotional discomfort by focusing on the scenic majesty of the land. As my eyes followed the natural magnificence, I found some relief from the guilt that oppressed me.

Recently, I took same Aguadilla turn in route to the city of Mayagüez and, as back then, I was caught by its attractiveness once more. This time, the picturesque contour offered an opportunity for pure admiration rather than emotional avoidance. Engulfed by astonishing beauty, I descended toward the Guajataca turn where the green mountaintops are followed by the indigo splendor of the ocean.  The rain forest mountains are everywhere to the left and still today seem impregnated with color and life. In their outline, I am convinced, we can get a glimpse at what God had in mind when making paradise. At times, if you listen carefully with your soul, you may hear the Arawakan cries of the Taíno people cooling on the sea breeze of the evening while admiring the landscape filled with typical Puerto Rican plants like the yagrumos, alelís, and giant ferns. Then, to your right, you can delight on the majestic plain yonder, and, a little further, on the crystal blue of the Atlantic hovering around in an eternal affair with the sparkling foam.

Do not allow it to fool you however, as the expansive realm of the ocean splendor hides beneath raging tidal currents of untold turmoil, as if they have witnessed the spilled blood of the Taínopeople wounded by the brutal blade of Spaniard conquistadores. With that in mind, and as if out of nowhere, the far-gone incident with my friend came back to haunt me. Emotion caught me as I asked God to erase time and place me again before my friend so that I could ask for forgiveness, so that I could ask him to look within me and see the infinite leap in understanding I have been blessed with. A leap I had not yet encountered on that long-gone day. Silently, I prayed for my friend and for forgiveness.

While descending through one of those notorious island curves on that route, I always feel as if the car will inevitably tumble down into the nothingness beneath. The long ride and the fear are symbolic, I think, of the perilous leap away from the idea of socialism; emblematic of the ecstasy and turmoil experienced when a socialist has second thoughts. Measuring the distance from one ideological pole to its opposite gives me a sense of falling into that depth, of losing myself. Such is the grip that revolution has on true believers. To abandon the idea of revolution is death, and worse, it is betrayal. 

The turmoil brewing in the Deep materialized itself on a parcel of humanity infecting the marvelous scenery in days before my birth but in ways nearing closer. On the early morning hours of November 7, 1944, a train packed with electors going back home to vote in their districts was travelling from San Juan to Ponce. Train number three of the American Railroad Company headed west. At each stop on its way new passengers boarded as the train approached the city of Aguadilla. Without a doubt, the beauty recently engulfing me was not naked before them. I can only imagine that the breeze coming from the north occasionally interrupted the dull sounds of the powerful iron monster with a tidal wave of life carrying with it the harmonious singing of the Coquí.[1]

The machine deviated at the Jimenez Station to switch conductors. Although the new one had no experience with passenger trains, Mr. José Antonio Román was supposed to finish the trip all the way to the southern city of Ponce. It must have been around 2 a.m. as the train sped down the hill section known as Cuesta Vieja hauling six passenger cars with hundreds of commuters when it suddenly happened. Derailing, the train exploded.[2]

El Mundo Newspaper described the incident: ‘The machine suffered a terrible explosion as it derailed and the impact was so great that three wagons were converted into fantastic wreckage. Sixteen people died and almost fifty were injured.’[3]Although attributed to the machinist’s error of driving at high speed, some thought it to be an act of terrorism. Among many Nationalists, there was the belief that it was an election day revolutionary act against American imperialism and what we considered the farce of elections. My father seemed to have some knowledge about the involvement of his brother ‘Guango’ in the incident. He acted as if hiding some secret reserved only for the friendly ears of true revolutionaries. Was this only Nationalist and Communist propaganda to foster their cause and affirm their strength or was there some truth to their involvement? After all, Nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos, by then in prison, called the ballot the coffin of the Puerto Rican nation.[4]

The possibility of my uncle’s involvement, even if faint, strengthened my commitment to a cause that seemed to be in the very fabric of my identity. It made me proud of knowing that our enlightened vanguard was active and committed to revolution. Nothing could interfere with a revolutionary’s commitment to the cause, nothing. This explains why my father grew so detached, as if coming too close to us was adulterous. I can see him standing with pumped chest and eyes wide open while mother sat at the table and contended with him.

‘Revolution is my life. You see these children, [pointing toward us] if I could offer their lives right now for independence and revolution, I would do it without hesitation!’ he yelled.

I can remember mom crying while we tried to console her. Deep inside, however, I was in proud agreement with dad. How my metamorphosis must have pained him! My passion for socialism fading, I had become a stranger to him and he could not take it. No rejection from past comrades could compare with the sadness of my father’s disappointment. Close to the end, we ceased to discuss politics and dreaded to bring up anything touching on ideology. In a way, such absence ripened the reward of a few deep conversations on other matters, especially related to faith. The diaspora of my new convictions, however, never allowed for an encounter at the level I hoped for.

My father was the product of his generation and of deep convictions. Not prone to openly express much emotion or accept an intellectual challenge from one of his sons, I realize that my chances for a deeper encounter were slim. The closest I felt to him was while reading his only letter to me, where he expressed his love and admiration for what I had accomplished and thanked me for a previous letter to him. Not that I had not known of his love, I always knew of his love for me although he never verbalized it. After all, I was the most radical of his children, the one who could always understand. The great fear of totally losing him by losing the dream of revolution never materialized, and his letter was enveloped in that truth. I am thankful for that.Just a few years ago, I buried my father with his beloved Puerto Rican flag embracing his casket as he had embraced it with his life. He died a communist. At that time, I again silently sang the revolutionary songs to pay homage to the fallen warrior. And I cried his death and still honor his life.

His closing days were met by a measure of God’s love. By the end, the communist ‘official’ rosary prayer leader prayed it daily and with devotion and received communion often. He never achieved absolute coalescence between his politics and faith, but I know that God likes fighters on his side. Although my father’s revolutionary utopian plan remained unrealized, he fought the good fight. Where there is no passion for truth, there can be no yielding before God’s throne. I have no doubt that in the heavenly abode, the full truth now discovered, he is still gathering the angels around to do more than just singing. Looking back to his journey, I feel a sense of contented thankfulness for the mercy of God upon me in revealing through my father that if truth, as the key to open the mysteries of existence, is not passionately pursued, life is nothing but meaningless eventual vanishing. The air of freedom now filling the lungs of my soul killed the fantasies of socialism within me, but dad’s committed life taught me how to retrieve and wave a new flag, the flag of freedom. And now, I am convinced, he still looks on in approval.

My stance with other radicals was another matter. It ran a tumultuous course others before me have experienced. A Puerto Rican socialist reading this account will still despise me today. Although with the fall of the Berlin Wall the Socialist Party faded and many others went into hibernation or hiding under the mantle of nationalist causes, they still see a rejection of the dream as a great offense. For black American leftists, consternation at my position easily shifts toward dismissal. My blackness fades away fast once they find out that I do not share their views. From being “one with us, a son of the same Mother Africa, I become something else, an islander, not really black. I am simply someone who cannot understand their reality, as I am not one of them. For a few who believe in freedom, I will remain forever suspect; forever one who might still be a wolf in sheep clothing. That is a price I am ready to pay for my embrace of freedom but it is not easy to find yourself at times in a kind of intellectual limbo.

It has been a great journey to discover the truth about man, the truth about social processes and the beauty of liberty. What I have learned about collectivism is that it is a vision more than an ideology. It is a way of looking at the world, a worldview that paints reality in a certain color, one that becomes so comforting and so difficult to surrender. Having been a “red diaper baby” and having my whole world wrap on a set of assumptions, I can say that to detach from that vision is the most difficult exercise.

Now, having gone through the hurricane, I see things through a different shade. I see now how moralistic and all-encompassing socialism is; admitting no real compromise or partial commitment. Being so comprehensive, a failure in one of its parts cannot be admitted without risking total demolition. Revolution sweeps your life like a Caribbean hurricane tearing apart all in its path. It offers a posture of moral justification and, as a reward, it confirms your humanity and anoints your superiority. Such posture comes at the expense of reality. The revolutionary dream denies the reality of a fallen and imperfect world where self-alienation, division, error, sin, and inequality do exist. We do not possess the radical capacity to overcome our nature and the fate such imperfection imposes on the human race. It is only in accepting reality that an ocean of authentic possibilities opens before us.


[1]The coquí is a very small frog about one inch long. Its genre is found throughout the Caribbean islands but only the Puerto Rican type makes the “co-qui” sound. In Puerto Rico, it has become symbolic of national identity. During the time of the Taíno Indians, they must have been of amazing numbers and were central to their myths and art.

[2] See Haydee E. Reichard de Cancio, La Tragedia del 7 de Noviembre de 1944 (The Tragedy of November 7, 1944), El Nuevo Dia, Seccion Por Dentro, Pg. 116, Diciembre 7, 1996.

[3] Ibid, p. 116.

[4]Hear speech here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3oszOEBt5s&feature=related.

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