Curtis Friends

Doña Felisa Rincón de Gautier (Doña Fela, for short), was the first woman mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and by extension the first woman mayor of a capital city in the Americas. Doña Fela was Old World-gracious, but as tough as nails. She never would have backed down on a face to-face with Donald Trump, as did the current woman Mayor of San Juan.

I met Doña Fela in the late 60s, when she visited the San Juan night club, “Las Catacumbas,” where I was coordinating a radio show.

Coincidentally, also appearing in that photo is composer Noel Estrada, who at the time was Protocol Officer for the Puerto Rico State Department. He is the composer of the beloved song, “En mi Viejo San Juan,” for which I created the only authorized translation, “In My Dear Old San Juan.”

In my recently published poem of praise for Puerto Rico in this IFZ spot, I alluded to the failure of the U.S. Army to set up helicopter command posts throughout the island, in order to serve those many inland areas where a large portion of the Puerto Rican populace resides. Carmen Yulín Cruz, the feisty Mayor of San Juan, is the only Puerto Rican official to have – at least remotely – had the cojones to stand up to the President, for his failure to meet that crying insular need of Noel Estrada’s already isolated, “…Small and enchanting isle in the sea…” as lovingly depicted in his venerable hymn of praise, “En mi Viejo San Juan.”

In President Trump’s already brief, then further truncated drop-in on Puerto Rico, he spent all of his time in carefully managed portions of the San Juan Metropolitan Area. Puerto Rican officials, including the Mayor of San Juan, all neglected to explain to the President that, while all of the FEMA and other goods seen piled up at San Juan ports are certainly gratefully welcome, but the fact is that they are not reaching the areas of greatest need, out on the island’s interior.

As a longtime resident of Puerto Rico, I am aware that, even in the best of times, it can be a challenge to reach those isolated population centers ensconced throughout the mountain areas of Puerto Rico. It defies logic as to why those so-called leaders in San Juan did not corner the President and explain to him that, even if the normal trucking equipment and drivers were whole, and not also battered by the devil storm, the goddamned roads are impenetrable due to downed trees, mud and flood! Throughout all of this, I am screaming to myself, “If the U.S. Army can, in no time at all, go into foreign lands and establish veritable cities, supplied by helicopter, why the hell are they not doing the same in inland Puerto Rico?! – where, for months there will be no electricity, potable water or access to groceries! The claim of San Juan’s mayor that people are dying is attributed to the fact that hospitals throughout the island are relying upon undependable back-up systems or are flimsily connected to an already greatly debilitated, interior power grid. Why was the President not shown the one town that could only go to market by crossing a river on foot, holding onto a hastily constructed cable, after the bridge was blown away?! Soldiers could put up a pontoon bridge in a trice! Why the hell was this not rammed down the unpresidential throat?! Instead, they all stood around like celebrity-awed gawkers, allowing that asshole of a pretender to get away with tossing “cake,” in the form of paper towels, to his “grateful subjects!”

I relate the President’s disinterest and ignorance to a similar, “Ugly American” incident of my own experience in Puerto Rico:

During the 1970s, I was pursuing my usual penniless but satisfying interests in the popular music fields of Puerto Rico and Mexico City. In order to keep body and soul together, I taught occasional English classes at the Berlitz Schools of language, and was on call at Manpower Temporary Services. One Saturday morning, while hoping for a respite, I was summoned by Manpower to come in for an in-house stenographic dictation assignment. The client was a representative from Look Magazine’s main office in Des Moines, Iowa. There had been a financial scandal in Look Magazine’s sales office located in the New York Department Store building on Avenida
Fernández Juncos. Everyone had been dismissed and the office closed. The rep had been sent to Puerto Rico to arrange for legal representation and reopen the sales office in order to collect the substantial, outstanding subscriptions.

Noting my efficiency and dispatch in getting out his correspondence, the rep wondered if I might be interested in managing the collection of the outstanding accounts and the eventual closure of the office, which might take up to a year. Having had nothing like a regular job with a decent salary, I jumped at the opportunity. For mhy assistant manager, the rep selected from Manpower’s roles Ibrahim Medina, an extremely bright graduate of the University of Puerto Rico. I left the hiring of the secretary up to Ibrahim.

In order to make the point of my story, it is necessary to cite some ethnic facts about Puerto Rico. The majority of the population is White or of mixed race. About 6% are of obvious African descent. The ordinary, observant traveler generally would be aware of this. Ibrahim Medina and the blond, blue-eyed secretary he hired were in the majority group.

The Look Magazine rep who hired us went back to Iowa after the office settled in. Either he or someone else would come to Puerto Rico occasionally to monitor the court proceedings and office operations. The original rep always would rent a car at the airport and get around on his own. Once, they sent an older gentleman who, it soon became obvious, had allowed himself to become stifled in a cultural and intellectual time-warp.  He contacted the office and requested to be picked up at the airport.  Due to a recent injury, I would be late getting to the office, so I asked Ibrahim to pick up the rep. When I arrived at the office, he was there, and  I found him strangely disconcerted.

Later, Ibrahim explained: Bordering the highway that leads from the airport to San Juan, there is a large housing project, mostly occupied by people of African descent.

(As an aside, when Rafael Hernández was governor, in order to spruce up that housing project, in anticipation of a visit by POTUS, he decided to apply a, “Potemkin Village” touch by painting only the sides of the buildings that faced the highway!)

Anyhow, as they were passing the area in question, the innocent boob of a rep turned to Ibrahim and asked: “Where did all of these Colored People come from?”

Sadly, that is a question that easily could be asked by the current POTUS!

*****  *****  *****

Wherefore, sire, hast thy little lamb gone --
The poor dear is so innocent and meek?

Oh, not very far; and it’s never forlorn,
Since ne’er dangerous knowledge does it seek.

Curtis W. Long

Curtis W. Long

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