Para que si no lo sabia….The Last Puerto Rican has not been born. I am very proud to present one of our first supporters as he continues his mission on educating us about the legacy of the Natives of the Americas.
We met back in the mid 90’s when I was doing a presentation for an organization I used to work with called Muevete. I was amazed at most of what Bobby was talking about in his presentation because a lot of what he was saying my grandmother “Mama” had already taught me. At the end of that day…I realized that I had met a new friend. When I started the website, Bobby was always there to help me personally in meeting other elders that would help me develop what you have here today in our website.
My most memorable of moments with Bobby is when we were finalizing the print for his second book “Song Of The American Holocaust”, That morning we had just heard that the World Trade Center had been attacked…a day that so many of us will never forget. I share all of this with you to say time is precious and you should always look to keep in touch with those who help you grow.
So now we are in El barrio, Bobby has teamed up with
Cemi Press, a subsidiary of GaleriaCemi.com and he has unveiled a brand new book. In this interview I am here with him in La Fonda Boricua having some great food and talking about his newest project.
I hope you enjoy.
As I am,
The Urban Jibaro
Buy The Last Puerto Rican Indian Today Click Here
UJ – Give us a brief overview of this book.
BG – This book is a collection of verse that reflects on 500 years of accomplishment and great sufferring of the aboriginal people of the Americas, both North and South. I begin with the Tainos but I also examine the histories and and achievements of what the indigenous people of the Americas have endured from 1492 until today…
My first Poem is called “Thank You, Mr. Columbus”, my way of saying “some of your heroes are not heroes to us” and for that we must start with Columbus. He was a rapist, a murderer and a thief. Would you believe it if I told you there are more towns and cities named after him than George Washington and Abraham Lincoln? There are more statues of Columbus than of any other other individual in the United States. To Native people, erecting a statue of Columbus is like erecting a statue of Adolph Hitler in Israel.
UJ – Why was it so important to write this book?
BG– I think it is important for me personally, as a part of my mission to raise awareness about indigenous history from our perspective. There is so much misinformation put out there that it is hard for natives and non natives to know what really happenned as well as what is going on today. Many people say the Tainos are extinct, but we are very much alive and very active in the Native American community in NYC, the US and the caribbean. In the NY and Tri-State area most of the Pow Wow’s are run by Tainos. I organized the only Native American Pow Wow in the Bronx for 7 years and I have been getting a lot of interest in reviving that project. Another example of misinformation about Native Americans is history books that claim that indigenour people originate from Asia and that we came via the being straits some 25,000 years ago. There are hundreds of tribal nations in the Americas and it is unanimous, they all say that we did not come from any place else…we emerged from this land. Using that as a springboard, I discuss illegal aliens, these “so called illegal aliens” are descendants of people that have been here since the beginning of time but are labeled illegal by folks that have been here less than 100 years.
UJ – Speaking of misconceptions, what do you think is the biggest misconception about Tainos?
BG – I think the biggest misconception is
that we no longer exist. In the past few years, extensive DNA tests have been carried out in Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic. These tests indicated that at least 60% of Puerto Rican and Dominicans have Taino DNA. So it has been proven scientifically that we still exist.
Our culture is still very much alive, we currently use several hundred Taino words in both everyday English and Spanish. Words like Tabaco, Huracan, Barbacoa and Manatee and I can go on and on. In our spiritual practices, Santeria and Espiritismo use many Taino rituals and customs such as the use of tabaco, spiritual cleansings or despojos and special healing baths like one that uses the crushed bones of a Manatee. In any of the caribbean islands, a lotof our customs are carried out in everyday activities. I understand that there is a film crew traveling the Dominican Republic in places like El Cibao that are documenting the preservation of Taino customes that have been passed down from their anscestors.
UJ – What other books do you recommend for someone looking to find out more about Taino’s?
BG – A good book was written by Irving Rouse called “The Tainos : Rise And Decline Of The People Who Greeted Columbus”. there is also which was written by a priest of the Dominican Order Bartolome De Las Casas. His book documented many atrocities that were committed a”The Devastation Of The Indies” gainst Tainos. This interview is being conducted at La Fonda Boricua which is only a few short blocks away from El Museo Del Barrio here in NYC and they also have several publications on Tainos that are very useful. be careful when you research Tainos online, you must carefully cross reference to get factual information. If you are from the islands, talk to your parents, grandparents or other elders.
UJ – Touching on the importance of the oral tradition of storytelling, who are the elders you seek out for guidance and knowledge?
BG – When I go to the Pow Wow I always shoot straight to the elders, whether they are Taino or not. I have gotten some great stories from about Borinquen from Cherokee and Seminole elders. A Cherokee elder once told me that Borinquen, before the arrival of Columbus was a spiritual center for Natives throughout the Americas. I also spoke to a Seminole elder that told me when Columbus invaded the islands, many Taino settled in Florida and intermarried with tribes there. So I when I travel the Pow Wow circuit or lecturing at Universities, many natives approach me and relate stories about Tainos. The Last time I visited Puerto Rico, I ventured to the countryside by the mountains I was told many stories by the old folks there. What is important to me is whenever I speak to an elder, to follow the tradition of asking permission to relate and share therse stories. I do this because at times it is important for certain stories to remain amongst ourselves so that the words are not distorted.
UJ – Are there any conferences that explore topics relevent to today’s Native American?
BG – There are a number of conferences and organizations. The National Congress of American Indians is probably the most prominent. However, many of these conferences and meetings are not open to the public. We are in a time that Natives from North, Central and South America are getting together to explore these topics and some feel that those in power are afraid of them organizing. So the answer is yes…there are meetings, but some may be private based on the subject matter being discussed. It is really a matter of survival, most Natives are against policies like free trade agreements because they feel that they exploit poor indigenous folks and deprive them of a decent working wage. Also, keep in mind that Native folks are very traditional and do not practice christianity, which has been percieved as a threat to the insitution of Christianity. Even the page on this book stating that it is condemed by the US Department Of Homeland Security has had it’s ramifications. I approached someone at the Museum of the American Indian about carrying the book and they said to me “who do you think runs this place?”. I have an issue with Homeland Security, when I was in South Dakota, I was told that under the guise of Homeland Security, sacred bundles and medicine pipes are confiscated in raids. There is a lot you wont read in the newspapers or see on CNN.
UJ – Have you heard the conspiracy about Mexicans trying to reconquer the US to reclaim their stolen land?
BG – Racisim is coming to the surface now, Some people are afraid that that the United States will lose their Anglo Protestant ethic. Times change, countries change… A Navajo elder once told me ” Bobby, we were here a thousand years before there was a United States, and we will be here a thousand years after it’s gone.”
UJ – How do you want to be remembered?
BG – I want to be remembered as the native Johnny Appleseed, traveling all over the world dropping seeds of knowledge. That would be my reward for doing my part in raising awareness and empowering people with the pride of knowing who they are and where they come from. I just started realizing how long I have been doing this when a young lady approached me at Syracuse University to compliment the lecture and then told me her mother had seen me when she was in college. Time flys but the journey has been gratifying.
UJ – What exactly is your repetoire of lectures and workshops?
BG – I speak on various themes, there are just a few…
Red, Black and Brown: The Native American,African and Latino Connection.
Columbus, The Pilgrims and Other Terrorists.
The Native American Heritage of Latinos,
Exploring Cultural Diversity in Native America
The Taino: the Native Americans Who Discovered Columbus
The Indigenous History of Latin America,
The American Holocaust: Columbus to Chiapas
Poetry Readings and Children Storytelling
UJ – Any last words for the the person out there right now curious about their heritage?
BG – Guakia Taino, Guakia Yahabo (We are Taino, we are still here)
The Last Puerto Rican IndianBy Bobby Gonzalez
A collection of Dangerous Poetry that pays homage to our Taino ancestors and our living brothers and sisters….