In Puerto Rican parlance, and a derivative of the indigenous language and Spanish, the island is known as, “Borinquen” or “Borinquén.” Puerto Ricans, in turn, call themselves, “Borinqueños,” “Borincanos” or “Borícuas.”
“Lamento Borincano” is a plaintive song that describes how Puerto Rico fared in the economically depressive state into which it was thrust after it became a ward of the U.S., as a result of the Spanish-American War. One of Puerto Rico’s most popular songs, it was penned by the island’s prolific composer Rafael Hernández (1892-1965). Hernández, a Puerto Rican with obvious African roots, was a longtime resident of New York City. There, undisturbed by economic and other encumbrances that befell the island as a result of becoming a U.S. prize of war, he was able undisturbedly to compose a variety of musical elegies dedicated to his beloved Borinquén.
In light of what Puerto Rico is going through today, I thought it would be interesting to imagine, by way of the following versification, what Rafael Hernández might be saying about the current state of affairs.
The Puerto Rican, “jibaro,” a naïve small-town dweller, was used by Hernández in the diminutive form, “jibarito,” to personify the island’s grief at that time.
This is my translation of one stanza of the song:
The jibarito goes along his way,
Singing, mumbling to himself, crying:
“What will become of Borinquen,
“My dear God?
“What will become of my island?
“What will become of my home...?”
***** ***** *****
My concept of what Hernandez might be thinking today:
Puerto Rico, my isle in the sun,
Snatched from Spain by the bold Yankee gun,
Still wearing chains in this verdant cage,
Still wond’ring when we’ll become of age.
Tata Taíno, long-vanished blood,
Disappeared under the Spanish flood,
Your spirit remains within us all;
Through song and dance, you plaintively call
The African drums that followed you,
Beat out the whip’s lash that you felt, too.
The ebony hand that touched those drums
Still lives today, and the cuatro strums.
The jibarito did suffer much –
Money-deprived, of trinkets and such –
But, never in his’try has cruel fate
Left Borinquen in such a state.
Money is useless with naught to buy;
Such damage can only make one cry.
Wind and water turns green to pale;
The lack of power hurts those who ail.
Dwellings are lost, or just stripped bare;
There’s no release from oppressive air.
Babies cry, and their poor mother’s moan;
Supplies are all cut down to the bone.
In hamlets, far from the food supply,
With the roads blocked – can copters still fly?!
Why has the Army not established
Command posts, just to serve those ravished?
With sun all day and nights without light,
Three million souls all suffer this plight!
It will not end tomorrow or next’
Mi pobre gente seem to be hexed.
Isla bonita, hurt as you are,
This your Borinquen soul will not scar!
Marc Anthony does a modern rendition with his own touch at the end;