Puerto Ricans in Chicago experienced a true horror last night but it had nothing to do with zombies and ghosts but the real history of their island. The Chicago Boricua Resistance (CBR) and the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center joined forces to showcase the frightening but very real horrors Puerto Rico has faced through Colonialism Undead, which was really an art exhibit and celebration.
“Colonialism is scary as hell,” CBR member Miguel Alvelo told PRI. “When you look at it — when you really look at it — it is terrifying. But the thing is, as colonized people, we’ve normalized it so much, we don’t really think about it.”
It featured four rooms covering Puerto Rico’s history including Spanish imperialism, the U.S. invasion and the devastation of Hurricane Maria. Each room had archival audio/video as well as original art work and “ghosts” that haunted the space. Some of the atrocities featured included the 1937 Ponce Massacre when police opened fire on a peaceful march protesting the imprisonment of Nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos and killing 17 unarmed civilians and injuring more than 200. They also shined a light on the forced sterilization of 35 percent of women between the ages of 20-49 in the 1960s.
The San Juan’s Center for Investigative Journalism contributed a database that featured first-person accounts of the deaths of family members from 484 Puerto Ricans of the estimated 3,000 who died during Hurricane Maria. Many families interviewed attribute the demise of their loved ones to government inaction, PRI reports.
The publication also reports that the roof of the structure was constructed from blue FEMA tarp from the home of CBR member Ephran Ramirez Jr.’s father’s neighbor’s house in the mountain town of San Sebastián. Ramirez said the road in front of his father’s house has not been repaired to this day, and making it even more impassable is the banana tree that has grown there.
In the two years since the hurricane, many home remain in shambles, blue tarp where their roof used be and many roads are still washed out, NPR reports. Though Congress has allocated roughly $20 billion to rebuild houses and infrastructure, the money has yet to be disbursed according to NPR.
But it wasn’t just about these frightening truths, in true Boricua fashion they ended it with a party celebrating moments of resistance to end on an empowering note.
Alvelo explained to PRI that Reggaetón embodies things that “the black community, in particular, has been told they can’t do, like have fun. Like, be loud. Be pleasurable. And although those things are not often spoken about as symbols of resistance, they are. In a world that is telling you over and over again that you’re not worth anything, that you should stay quiet and you should follow the rules, taking time to be loud, have fun, have pleasure — is a form of resistance.”
CBR was founded in Chicago in 2016 and has expanded with chapters in New York and the Pacific Northwest. The group leads protests, hosts events and engages in conversations to raise awareness about issues affecting local Puerto Ricans as well as those on island. All proceeds from Colonialism Undead supported arts and culture initiatives, youth apprenticeships, an programs with community organizers like CBR.
Verónica Tirado, Secretary General of CBR told HipLatina “the intention behind the Haunted House is to serve as a bridge between cultural expression and political work. Engaging our multiple communities in Chicago was also at the core of our intention, so partnering with a wonderful cultural center such as SRBCC seemed like an idyllic situation.”