#4645 and Oller's Velorio
People often ask me if it's hard for me to find the Puerto Rican news I share with you weekly on my site and through my email newsletter. My answer is always the same: NOT AT ALL. There are so many beautiful stories to tell that usually my problem is not 'what to write' but rather 'how do I edit this thing so it's not as long as a Russian novel?'.
But this week, things were a bit different because there was one news story that overshadowed everything else. As you probably already know, a study by Harvard University estimates that 4,665 Puerto Ricans lost their lives as a direct result of Hurricane Maria. Not to compare, but to shed light on the magnitude of this number: this is more than the number of deaths caused by Hurricane Katrina and 9/11.
In the midst of my pain and anguish (and because my brain works in mysterious ways) I randomly thought of "El Velorio," that famous oil painting by the Puerto Rican artist Francisco Oller y Cestero. (I placed a picture right below in case you can't remember it... I had to Google it because I had forgotten all the details.) Despite the fact that Oller painted a super sad scene -the funeral of a small child- his work doesn't focus on the suffering. More than anything, it shows us a community coming together under one roof, gathering what little they have, to celebrate the life of an angel.
I love this painting because I think it highlights one of the most beautiful and unique aspects about our culture: our feeling of unity, solidarity and positivity in the face of adversity. This is something that was true 100 years ago when Oller finished this work and it still rings true today.
Just like the figures in this painting, this week we Puerto Ricans are mourning the death of 4,645 brothers and sisters while also reliving the catastrophe that swept over our island last September. It's not easy. But, in this spirit of this painting and of our culture, I hope that this collective funeral is not only about suffering and anger (though those feelings are more than justified) but that it also provides a space for reflection, unity, peace and solidarity.
Next week I'll return to my regular programming because, despite the tragedy that surrounds us, we Boricuas will continue sharing our light, love and talent with the world. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to vent a little bit. I promise not to give you an art lecture for a while, but I hope you know that if at any point you're the one who needs to vent, I'm here here you!
Click here to read this post in Spanish.