Students Amanda Brain and Mia Lopez put the final touches to planted tree

Simon Bolivar, Puerto Rican flag remembered together in Sabana Grande

By Wallice J. de la Vega

SABANA GRANDE, Puerto Rico -- As written by George Orwell in his prophetic work "1984", "History is written by the winners". That has been the case for Puerto Rican history, which as taught in public schools has traditionally omitted crucial events, considering them insignificant. Such is the case, for example, of Simon Bolivar's intervention in Puerto Rico's independence struggle and the notable Venezuelan´s connection with at least one of the island's historic events.

Professor Angelo Rivera rises Puerto Rico´ flag with students Angel Rivera, Waleska Rosario, Amanda Brain, and Mia Lopez.

"As recounted by General Paez in his memoir", says Sergio Guerra Vilaboy quoting Venezuelan historian Luis Chávez Orozco(1), "after Bolivar's triumphant entrance in Caracas January 10, 1827 one of the most important subjects the "Liberator" mentioned to me was that of Cuba and Puerto Rico's freedom".

According to another part of history, Bolivar was in Vieques for a short time in 1816, after a defeat in Venezuela. This fact was omitted in the textbook "Historia de Puerto Rico" (Paul G. Miller), which was part of mandatory studies in Puerto Rico's school curriculum from 1922 to early 1950s.

As the U.S. colonial government's Commissioner of Education, at some point Miller was part of the most recent winners who wrote Puerto Rico's history. In his book's foreword, he highlights that "this book is composed only of that which is essential in Puerto Rico's history. There are many events that have contributed nothing". One should read between the lines that he, as all winners, decided which of our history's events are essential -- and therefore historical -- and which ones are not.

Another "non essential" historic landmark for Miller was Intentona de Yauco (Yauco Coup Attempt), considered as "the last major revolt against Spanish rule in Puerto Rico". This failed pro-independence effort, aimed at taking over the Spanish Armory in Yauco and declare Puerto Rico's independence from there, came about 81 years after Bolivar's stay in Vieques, 29 years after Grito de Lares revolt, and one year before the U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico. The Yauco coup's leader was Fidel Velez, a native of La Torre rural sector in Sabana Grande.

An additional historical fact that seems not to be taught in our schools has to do with our national flag. The flag's current design was conceived in New York City by Puerto Rican exiles members of the Cuban Revolutionary Committee, and was used by them since 1895. By the coup's date of March 24, 1897, Natalia Vega, wife of Velez, had already woven in Yauco the first Puerto Rican flag. Our flag was raised for the first time in Puerto Rican soil on that day -- in La Torre, Sabana Grande.

What do all these omitted elements in our history have in common? All of them were joined as the central theme of a ceremony held in La Torre March 24. That day a small group of Sabana Grande natives gathered to commemorate the first day Puerto Rico's flag was raised, as well as the Yauco coup's 121st anniversary, and at the same time to remember and immortalize Simon Bolivar's figure and his indirect presence in La Torre.

"It just so happens that there was a tamarind tree on Simon Bolivar's tomb", explained Angelo Rivera, a teacher at the now closed Franklin D. Roosevelt school in La Torre. "Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral brought a sapling from that tree, gave it to (nationalist Pedro) Albizu Campos, and with soil from several Latin American countries, they planted it in Lares in 1932".

Student Waleska Rosario breaks ground while professor Ángelo Rivera and students Amanda Brain y Mia Lopez wait for planting the tree.

A sapling from the Lares tree was planted at La Torre school during the ceremony. Soil from Lares' La Torre sector, mixed with Sabana Grande's La Torre sector, was used for the symbolic act of unity. Rivera considers the tree "a grandson of Bolivar's".

After raising Puerto Rico's flag, the planting was supervised by agronomist Javier Vazquez and executed by students Waleska Rosario, Amanda Brain and Mia Lopez, who represented the next generation of La Torre's community leaders-activists. Also present were student Angel Rivera, retired -- but then volunteer -- teachers Zenaida Candelario and Migdalia Candelario, and other community members.

Roosevelt school was closed Oct. 23 and is now listed on the island government's unused public buildings inventory. Rivera belongs to a citizens' group proposing the former school be transferred to the municipal government to be converted into a center for vocational training and community, social, and sports services for people of all ages living in the seven rural sectors connected by the property.

The tree planting symbolized a new start for a tenacious community.

"Why reduce the merits of the efforts of this people from La Torre?," asked Rivera referring to the long and tenacious struggle this sector experienced to have a model school and then lose it. "I understand this a very important thing ... pro-independence people, pro-statehood people, it doesn't matter, it has been shown that this determined people can develop a great thing here and grow it like Bolivar's tree".



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© Wallice J. de la Vega 1995-2018
San Germán, Puerto Rico
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