Friday, August 28, 2009

Love in the Time of Migration

Some say that Puerto Rico is a land in the clouds, bordering the unreal and the fantastic - that to fathom it is to envision a dream dancing with a nightmare.

It is thus a daunting task, especially for artists, to capture and creatively express this island of contradictions. The Puerto Rican playwright José Rivera, who with his recent play Boleros for the Disenchanted, has come as close as anyone to portraying the surreal Puerto Rican experience in the 20th century. The theatrical piece, which had a run at the Goodman Theatre from June 20-July 26 detailed, through a love affair between Flora and Eusebio, the trials and tribulations of being on an island “on the move” in the 1950s.

The first act we are introduced to Flora, who like many jíbaras of her day, her entire world is only a small barrio in her town – Miraflores. The expectations for her are simple: get married, have a family, and stay true to God's word. And this she does, marrying a national guardsman, Eusebio, whom she met in Santurce. However, the political and economic forces that guide the island (which are subtly mentioned in the play) shakes-up the narrative of what Flora life was suppose to be. Everyday, thousands of the island's young are migrating to the United States since the island's resources and land have been toyed with by the very country they are escaping to, as lamented in angry bursts by Flora's father, Don Fermín. “Good people flee the material poverty on the island only to find the spiritual poverty up North is worse than anything they ever imagined,” he says in a strong but uncertain tone.

The second act takes place in rural Alabama, 1992. We find the couple living alienated in moderate poverty, their children scattered around the world. Eusebio is bedridden without legs due to his diabetes, but Flora is as devout to him as she is to God, even after learning of his infidelities. The irony is that her cousin Petra was the one who wanted to migrate to the U.S. when they were young, but a letter to Flora reveals a happy old woman surrounded by her grandchildren. Flora finally knew what her father meant when she tells her only friend, with a tone of sadness, of her brother who left to the U.S.“I never heard from my brother again. We only heard stories of a handsome man in the Bronx, playing his guitar, with a smile on his face.” Flora probably wishes she could be her brother of these stories, even if they are not true. Migration changed Flora and Eusebio forever, but at the end, even in sickness, they remain together every moment of their day, because the only piece of Puerto Rico they have is each other.

Originally published in the August 2009 edition of La Voz del Paseo Boricua newspaper

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