Developing A People’s Conscience

Breaking With The Colonial Mindset

In his May 11, 1930 inaugural speech as President of the Nationalist Party, Don Pedro spoke on the need to adopt an optimistic philosophy and to actively resist the pessimism so prevalent among the people. He said, “it is necessary that we bring a moral infusion to our people so that they may believe again in their destiny and in their possibilities.” Essentially, he was talking about a psychological transformation that would allow the people to break with the colonial mindset leading them to believe that, faced against such a powerful empire, they are incapable of gaining independence. Don Pedro was very aware that, as he said on September 23, 1930, “All empires hold propaganda in their colonies to maintain the myth of their superiority.”

Within the context of Puerto Rico’s colonial situation, Don Pedro viewed nationalism as a force that developed a people’s conscience in connection to human values based in freedom. In a 1930 speech in Ponce, he said, “Nationalism is the force that stands against any power that denies us personality. It is a movement that aspires to awaken the forces of wisdom in the people… it is the nationality on a footing to rescue their sovereignty and save this people for the higher values of life.” For Don Pedro the purpose of the nationalist movement was more than achieving material progress — it was about a spiritual elevation, a development of the national personality, that made such progress possible, was the deeper reason for the progress, and, most importantly, was the right of the people being denied such due to colonialism.

Honoring The Spirit Of Lares

This development of the people’s conscience was of primary importance to Don Pedro, and many of the nationalist traditions he would introduce had a profound effect in this regard — some effects of which can be seen today. As soon as he became President of the Nationalist Party, he started the tradition of celebrating the birthday of important Puerto Rican historical figures — José de Diego, Ramón Emeterio Betances, Eugenio María de Hostos, etc. He also increased the level of respect given the Puerto Rican flag, insisting that the U.S. flag not be displayed alongside it, and recognizing Manuel Rafael Suárez Díaz as a martyr who died defending its honor. Probably the most significant nationalist tradition he started centered around El Grito de Lares.

Though militarily defeated, the revolutionary uprising against Spain on September 23, 1868 that saw the first declaration of Puerto Rico as an independent republic held great symbolic significance for nationalists. For Don Pedro, September 23 was “the Day of the Heroes and Martyrs of Independence.” In 1930 Don Pedro would start the tradition that continues today where, every September 23rd, people make a “pilgrimage” to the “Holy Land” and “Altar of the Homeland” that is the town of Lares to pay homage to “the heroes of our liberty.” Don Pedro saw the pilgrimage as an opportunity to more than merely pay homage, but also to receive the inspiration of courage and sacrifice that the revolutionary heroes of Lares embodied.

Don Pedro gave emphasis to the historical importance of the participants of El Grito de Lares and the symbols associated with it, symbols such as the first flag of Puerto Rico sewn by Mariana Bracetti used that day and which is the current flag of Lares, and the national anthem La Borinqueña written by Lola Rodríguez de Tió for the revolution and which is still sung by independence supporters today. These figures and symbols were a powerful connection to the spirit of revolution represented by El Grito de Lares. When the last living survivor of El Grito — 110 year old Don Pedro Angleró — passed away on October 16, 1931, the Nationalist Party issued a statement calling for nine days of mourning, asking all chapters of the Party to pay religious tribute and fly the Puerto Rican flag at half mast.

Controlling Public Education

The speeches and articles of Don Pedro, as well as the traditions he started around Puerto Rican figures and historical events, especially related to El Grito de Lares, were full of educational content. They allowed for the general public to gain exposure to a repressed history and narrative that made possible the development of a sense of self-awareness and dignity that was at the core of the nationalist movement. As a means to combat the propaganda put forth by U.S. officials and colonial authorities, Don Pedro’s very words and leadership became a kind of public education that taught the values of courage, sacrifice, and revolution.

While such is true, there was still an education system, which under U.S. control would not dare teach the people their revolutionary history, that had to be addressed. On October 18, 1930, during a tribute paid to him by the Cultural Society of the College of Laws, Don Pedro took the opportunity to criticize the system of education, saying, “The school can serve to build as well as destroy. We must seek the purpose that is pursued through teaching. Education cannot be an instrument of domination; education must form men informed of a patriotic approach and not servants of the prevailing regime.”

Don Pedro would have a considerable influence on young people and students. Many of them would become members of the Nationalist Party, and others would even establish student organizations that both supported Don Pedro and became active around issues such as university reform and the use of Spanish as the language of instruction in schools as opposed to the imposed English. Don Pedro even played a significant role in 1933 during a strike at the University of Mayaguez where students had a confrontation with police.


References:

  • Pedro Albizu Campos: Las Llamas de la Aurora- Acercamiento a su Biografía, by Marisa Rosado (Ediciones Puerto, 2008).
  • Pedro Albizu Campos: Obras Escogidas, 1923-1936, Tomo I, edited by J. Benjamín Torres (Editorial Jelofe, 1975).
  • Pedro Albizu Campos: Obras Escogidas, 1923-1936, Tomo II, edited by J. Benjamín Torres (Editorial Jelofe, 1981).

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