After Pedro Albizu Campos' first imprisonment in La Princesa, members of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party and civilians organized a march in protest. Puerto Ricans wanted independence from the United States, and from Blanton Winship, the US-appointed governor, who had not been elected by the people. They secured all the necessary permits, invited a marching band, gathered with their families after church. Men, women, and children headed toward the parade, where they would celebrate Palm Sunday with music and palm fronds.
Hundreds of people marched as the band played "La Borinqueña." They were met by hundreds of police officers in riot gear who shot their Tommy Guns directly at the crowd of unarmed civilians. Under Winship's orders, the cops surrounded the demonstrators, leaving them no route for escape.
The shooting lasted about thirteen minutes, some people say. Others insist it was fifteen.
The police murdered nineteen people, and wounded about 235, including a seven-year-old girl, a man shielding his young son, and an eighteen-year-old boy looking out his window.
Witnesses said that as the cops walked by the dead or dying, they beat them with their clubs. Most of the victims who lay dead on the street, the evidence showed, were shot in their backs while running away from the gunfire.
Although an investigation by the US Commission on Civil Rights found that Governor Winship had ordered the massacre, none of the murderers were ever convicted, or even prosecuted.
This was our history, I would eventually learn. We'd come from uprisings against colonial rule, slavery, massacres, erasure. We'd carried histories of resistance, of protest.
And I would also learn that my father, even though he spent his days selling perico, was imagining some other life. All that time lost in his books, all those nights writing poetry and painting, every single dollar he stashed away—Papi dreaming of another place, where his kids could play outside, where he didn't have to sell dope anymore. One day, he would tell me all his secrets, all the stories not meant for children: the other woman he'd loved, the baby who died before I was born, the army days. And I would write it all down, determined to remember.
This is where I begin. I come from poverty, from El Caserío Padre Rivera, the government housing projects, and there are stories here I never want to forget.
In El Caserío, Anthony and I spent most summer days playing outside. It was a world of men, of violence, a place too often not safe for women or girls. There were shoot-outs in the streets, fourteen-year-old boys carrying guns as they rode their bikes to the candy store just outside the walls. We watched a guy get stabbed right in front of our building, watched the cops, who we called "los camarones," come in and raid places for drugs and guns. Outsiders were not welcome. Outsiders meant trouble.
We were poor, like everybody who lived there, but we didn't know any better. At times, El Caserío was like the Wild West, but what you didn't know unless you lived there was that most people were just trying to raise their families in peace, like anywhere else. The neighbors kept an eye on all the kids, fed them, took them to school, took them trick-or-treating on Halloween. All over the neighborhood, people told stories. El Caserío was where I learned about danger and violence and death, but it was also where I learned about community.
This excerpt ends on page 17 of the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book Lincoln's Spies by Douglas Waller.