“Eulogy” by Alan Valle Monagas

Our homes were mutual, as blood brothers,
Despite not having spoken to one another
For over fourteen years. Destiny ties a lace,
Between the children of a growing race.

Always sickly, as a child in the academy.
A black sheep, our brother, our friend.
Playing foundations to lay down grooves,
When we reunited over the moon.

A pragmatic idealist, always carrying gifts,
Whose actions nobody could ever comprehend.
A trust, a lack of concern, that lasts for days.
Degrees could not measure your mentality.

When we reunited
You gave me a reminder, a life lesson:
A forgotten gesture of kindness.
A treasury of forgotten memories.
Imagined by our innocence.

And then,
A closed casket.
A prayer for our forgotten brother.
A stare from his widow,
An invitation by his sister.

Why are we still here?
Dominated by our fears.
God, that art in Heaven,
Why are we all so fucked up?

Alan Valle Monagas

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“Snake” by Alan Valle Monagas

You can never change who you really are.
You were born with a track.
You cannot stray too far,
You are the wise snake in a sack.

You are at peace with what you have become,
Without regrets in your fake independence,
To sign those papers and away goes the trance!
Four years that have been drowned in rum.

Would it be sane to envy that which slithers?
Whose humanity has withered?
To succumb to the vices of the Blind One,
And wield the weapons of Ba’al?

A bullet has been delivered.
Now continue to slither.

Alan Valle Monagas

“Foreword” by Alan Valle Monagas

Immoral and lawless,
A state of constant vigilance.
Witch-hunts, secret police,
No freedom, no independence.

Your body, your mind, your soul,
All belonged to the state.
Monetary libertinism,
In techno-feudalism.

Geniuses are conscripted,
To strengthen the divide.
More weapons and gadgets,
And expensive medicines.

Cameras and microphones,
Propaganda and drones.
They stole our culture,
And murder our home.

We are the voices of the Earth,
Carrying sparks of consciousness,
Boundless and infinite
Atomic reactions.

Suffering without regrets,
Clouded with cigarettes.
We are what we hate,
And whatever we repress.

Satisfy your desires.

Alan Valle Monagas

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Review)

When we left the movie theater after watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I didn’t know what to think. I knew it was a great movie, hell, I knew it was a lot better than The Force Awakens (which I loved), but something about it was off… The Last Jedi has a lot of political messages and great action scenes, but there was one message that our generation needed and Rian Johnson’s Star Wars refused to send…

First of all, The Last Jedi is a lot darker than The Force Awakens. It starts off with a jarringly comic tone, which progressively gets darker as the film develops. Hell, it really feels like a Disney movie during the beginning. I am referring to the scene where Hux and Poe are having a radio conversation and Poe keeps pretending that he doesn’t hear Hux’s stereotypically villainous threats. It was a funny gag that reminded me Disney’s classic villains and their interactions with their heroes, like Captain Hook being played by Peter Pan. However, now that I reflect on this though, I feel that (despite being funny) the gag is pretty fucked up, especially because General Hux (the planet destroyer) and the First Order were allegories for Hitler and the Third Reich in The Force Awakens.

The Last Jedi feels political and revolutionary, it sends a lot of important messages that sneak through its plot. For example, Chewbacca gets persuaded not to eat meat after the porgs (surround him, looking sad, right as he is about to eat the cooked body of one of their kind. Chewie spooks them off and then feels guilty, and the next scene shows us that these creatures have populated the Millennium Falcon. It is a pretty clear-cut argument for vegetarianism.

Later on, Rose and Finn travel to Canto Bight, a casino planet. The Last Jedi‘s political messages are mostly sent through the scenes and characters from Canto Bight. Finn comments on the city’s beauty, and Rose tells Finn that this city (and its richness) exist because the gamblers make their fortunes from planets like Rose’s. They destroy their planets and steal the native’s resources, Rose mentions that this is why she and her sister joined the Resistance. Then, while they stare at a race track (think of the Kentucky Derby in Star Wars) Rose urges Finn to look closer, and he sees these creatures being lashed by their jockeys during the race; just like real-life horses are whipped by their jockeys. We see numerous scars on the creatures and later on these animals are freed by Rose and Finn. Here we have another clear cut argument from The Last Jedi in favor of animal rights.

Another message deals with the military-industrial-complex. DJ steals a vessel from a random gambler in Canto Bight and helps Rose and Finn escape. This vessel belonged to an arms dealer and DJ exposes how there are no “good” guys or “bad” guys. The arms dealer sold weapons to both the First Order and the Resistance, good and bad guys. I guess you could call this an anti-capitalist message, but conservatives and liberals both agree that selling weapons is a dirty business.

Finally, Kylo “reveals” that Rey’s parents were good-for-nothing drug addicts, who sold her into slavery and are now dead in a ditch. This last scene essentially sends a message that resonates with many people, we can become more than our parents. It’s the same message Yoda tells Luke, “we are what they grow beyond.” Meaning that each successive generation of children and students should become better than us, otherwise, what is the point? This is The Last Jedi’s metanarrative, the death and decay of the old ways feeds the new. Therefore Kylo kills Snoke and Luke dies without training Rey. Although, we could also argue that the film’s real metanarrative is that as long as people are oppressed, there will be a resistance; a connecting thread that runs throughout all Star Wars films throughout the series.

Speaking of different topics, everything the characters discuss and everything the camera focuses on plays an important part in plot. It adhered to the principle of Chekhov’s gun. The film also keeps you on the edge of your seat, you don’t know what’s going to happen next. The Last Jedi has one of the best lightsaber fight scenes in the history of Star Wars. It might even be better than Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon’s duel against Darth Maul. It was seriously impressive and after watching it, any reservations I had about the film’s Disney tone went straight out of the window. I felt like I was having an orgasm. Although, to be fair, I was expecting more action from the film, but that was because I had unfair expectations. I was expecting The Empire Strikes Back, but what we got was different, which is a good thing.

Now, making a movie that appeals to everyone has always been difficult. Someone, from some community, will always find something “wrong” with your work. Keep in mind that I am speaking as a fan, someone who agrees and believes that Star Wars is “our generation’s religion.” Still, I think The Last Jedi played it too safe. These are the things that left me puzzled when I left the theater:

  • How did Leia manage to save her own life by using the Force? Sure, she is force-sensitive, but actually managing to use the Force to pull herself into safety was pretty outrageous, and it was definitely a WTF moment for the audience. I feel like Rey already broke this barrier. She showed how people without any force training could basically become proficient without a reason, but yeah. This made me feel like Disney took too many liberties with Star Wars. They are stretching what can be acceptable to fans. And yes, I know that according to canon, Leia received some Jedi training, but really, this was never shown or discussed during any of the films, so it is still a major WTF moment.
  • Not to be overly PC, but as a Puerto Rican Star Wars fan, I am disappointed that our heroes find Benicio del Toro’s character, DJ, in a prison cell. Mostly though, I am disappointed by the fact that he also betrays the Resistance and causes the deaths of hundreds of people. I know Benicio del Toro is type-cast as a criminal in most of his roles, but I was disappointed to see him, a Puerto Rican actor, be typecast as a sleazebag, even in a galazy far, far away…
  • Second, after implying that Finn and Rey would end up together in the first film, Rian Johnson conveniently created another non-white character to become Finn’s love interest. Then, Rey and Poe instantly develop an attraction to each other. Now, we can argue that Poe is Latino, or Hispanic, that their relationship is still interracial, but Poe is light-skinned, so it does not really matter. It is not controversial or groundbreaking.

I feel that Star Wars failed to be as progressive as it originally aimed to be (or as progressive as it should be). Fans felt that Rey and Finn would end up together, and then we get this Harry Potter-esque romantic twist, which not only betrays fans, but also betrays people who do not believe in outdated and foolish ideas about racial purity. I honestly feel that this change was made to appease the race purists from America and Britain, people who are afraid that their race will be “wiped out” to avoid any possible controversy. For me, this is both hilarious and sad. It was something I could not talk to my friends about, because I didn’t know how to frame my feelings into a joke, which tends to be the healthiest way to communicate controversial ideas like this.

To me, no matter how “progressive” or inspiring this film might be, it truly did not become as revolutionary as it should have been. It wasn’t the film we needed right now. The Last Jedi’s messages about rebellion, colonialism, corporatism, war profiteering and animal cruelty are all great, but they are also old messages that films have been delivering to us for decades. None of these things are current, pressing or new. They were not the message that a racially-divided America needed right now. We needed to see Finn with Rey and Rey with Finn. Some people might call the idea campy or preachy, but really, I don’t think that it’s asking for much. Especially after The Force Awakens was setting us up for this. Besides, it’s not like we’re ever going to see a Star Wars film with a non-white protagonist as powerful and morally righteous as the others (I’m looking at you Cassian). Now, that would really be revolutionary, but I guess that entertainment today still has to cater to the majority, while feeding Easter eggs to minorities.

In my opinion, The Last Jedi did not show us anything new, so, I guess that’s why I left the theaters confused and slightly disappointed. For a film saga built on resistance and revolution as its central pillar, I feel disappointed that The Last Jedi took a safe (or conservative) stance on interracial relationships. I must have been foolish and innocent to believe that a relationship between a black male and a white woman could ever be part of global culture in 2017. 2015 was a different time. I wonder what its message is going to be in 2019. I’ll be looking forward to it. But I’m not expecting any revolutionary this time around, at least not in the film’s message. Maybe Disney will finally release a great movie with a black male prince and a white princess. But if this film has taught me anything, it’s that failure is our greatest teacher. Hope has failed me a lot since 2016, so I guess it’s time to learn.

“Cristal” por Alan Valle Monagas

Las tragedias del mundo moderno:
No poder hablarle a mujeres bellas,
En relaciones de parejas complejas,
El no invitar por ser inmaduro.
El no saber como reaccionar,
Desearla a ella, sin saber como actuar,
Tener un solo día a la semana
Pa’ vacilar, los demás a trabajar.
Fumar y ponernos a dialogar,
¿Cuál es mi problema?
¿Cómo puedo mejorar?
¿Cómo definirías esa palabra?
No tomar las cosas personal.
Aprender a ser consciente y a apreciar.

Pero mira, a mí en este cielo
Me han bajado ángeles,
Pero siempre son los demonios,
Los que me buscan y soban.
Si sabe que me gusta,
¿Por qué ella no hace lo mismo?

¿Cómo acercarme a mi idea de Dios?
Cuando pienso que no me la merezco.
Quiero sus manos en mi cara, que me mire a los ojos,
Y que me diga, “Alan, tu eres bello.”

Pues así yo pienso.
Estoy tan avergonzado de ser yo.
Querer sexo, necesitando amor,
Siempre tan pendejo, negro ciego,
Cuando no puedes ver,
Lo que está al frente de tu cara.

¿Cuántas oportunidades se perdieron?
No se pueden contar,
Solo imagina al amor en una copa de cristal
Que se te cayo, ella se rompió,
Los cantos no se fragmentaron.
¿Como beberemos de lo que necesitamos?

Alan Valle Monagas

Native Heritage in Puerto Rico

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Puerto Rico’s history always starts with Christopher Columbus’ invasion and colonization of Puerto Rico in 1493. History books treat Puerto Rico as if it did not exist prior to 1493, as if the island was some kind of phantom that magically manifested itself in 1493 without a history. In reality, Puerto Rico (or Borikén as it was called by the Natives) already had a civilization living within its islands for hundreds of years before Columbus’ arrival in 1493. Some posit that millions of Natives lived within the islands when Columbus arrived.

Puerto Rico’s history has been the history of cultural encounters. The Spanish weren’t the only people to settle Puerto Rico after its invasion. French, German, Italian, Jewish, Chinese and Irish last names are all common last names around Puerto Rico today. However, we are taught that our racial heritage emanates from three different ethnicities. The Native Puerto Rican is a mixture of African, Spanish and Taíno as the late anthropologist and Harvard graduate Dr. Ricardo Alegría declared.

A popular story in Puerto Rico is that Columbus asked these Natives who they were, and they answered “Taíno”, which meant “good people” in their language. These Natives had their own sacred ceremonies and religion. They fished with nets, they played sports, they practiced agriculture and they practiced animal husbandry. However, before the Taíno, Puerto Rico was already inhabited for thousands of years. In fact, the Taíno, like we Puerto Ricans, were the result of multiple different cultures from South America meeting and intermixing within the islands throughout the centuries. The Arcaicos were the first, before meeting and intermixing with the Ortoroids, Guanahabateys, Huecoides, Ostionoides, and Saladoids. This lead Rivera, a researcher from the UPR, to conclude that a “Taíno culture does not exist.” Instead Rivera argues that what Columbus found was an intermixing of different indigenous cultures in our archipielago. [1]

Ethnicity Estimate

Eduardo Sinigalia Sierra, a friend and graduate student from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras, had this to say: “these are contemporary problems within archaeology, that question of [cultural] mixing continues to be unsure. […] it is undeniable that there are still people with indigenous DNA, but the problem of calling the group Taíno, is also a problem, they were many people who coexisted within the archipelago, for centuries.”

While at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez (UPRM), I’ve met some prominent academics from Political Sciences and English Education, who, despite their liberal leanings, always scoffed at the idea of Taíno heritage being present within Puerto Ricans. They say things like, “No, our cultural inheritance comes from Africa, the Taíno don’t exist anymore.”

So, despite being “eradicated” over 500 years ago, some Puerto Ricans in the archipelago still have the blood of the Natives flowing within them. Today, we can find people who look like Taínos, en el campo. Why? Well, the Spanish raped the Native women, and made them their slaves. These mestizo children survived the harsh conditions of slavery.

In time, many Taíno women married conquistadors, combining the genes of the New World and Old World to create a new mestizo population, which took on Creole characteristics with the arrival of African slaves in the 16th century. By 1514, barely two decades after first contact, an official survey showed that 40 percent of Spanish men had taken Indian wives. The unofficial number is undoubtedly higher.

Poole, Robert M. “What Happened to the Taíno?” Smithsonian Magazine, October 2011.

Historians have conjectured that these Spanish slavers did not report Natives as their property to avoid paying taxes and to avoid any legal problems from Spain’s government. They effectively created false and incomplete censuses that reported the Natives as being exterminated. There’s been a systematic campaign to claim the Native’s extermination since the Spanish first arrived in the Caribbean, and it’s still in effect today.

Other Natives and mestizos fled into the wilderness, settling in places like Utuado, Jayuya, Maricao and La Mona. To add to this, Fray Iñigo Abbad, reported that Native communities existed undisturbed within San German’s mountains back in 1780. However, it also seems probable that by the late eighteenth century, these communities had been shaped and further enriched by the Africans who escaped the plantation.

Through Sinigalia’s recommendation, Irving Rouse’s notions of cultural history can help us decide whether Puerto Rico’s Natives have survived. Biologically it has become undeniable that some Puerto Ricans today possess indigenous DNA, my DNA test proved this. Linguistically the Natives’ language survives in fragments, through the names of the islands and towns throughout the Caribbean. Many of their words were adapted into Spanish, and these words were adapted into English as well.  Some examples are hamaka (hammock), kaniba (cannibal), iwana (iguana), kanowa (canoe), tabako, amongst others. Culturally, their petroglyphs are still around throughout the archipelago (even though we do not understand their symbolic meanings) and we can say with sincerity that we inherited the game of baseball from the Caribbean’s Natives’, who called it batey. [2]

I think that without even mentioning linguistic and cultural components, through biology, we can declare without a doubt that the Natives have survived. Which begs the question, why aren’t we taught our entire history? What about the other immigrants? Why and when did they start moving to Puerto Rico?

First of all, if Puerto Ricans realized that we share a common ancestry with Cuba and Venezuela, the United States’ power and influence over the Caribbean would suffer. Second, possessing knowledge of our heritage gives us a sacred sense of ownership over our land. Puerto Ricans would grow to love their land, and they would refuse to sell, or even allow others to desecrate it. Third, it would connect our people to other Native cultures across America. Puerto Ricans would be increasingly sympathetic to Native Americans causes, such as Standing Rock and protecting the Amazon, especially since the Arawaks who settled in Puerto Rico came from the Amazon.

We owe a lot to the Caribbean’s Natives. Through this reflective process I felt myself falling in love with my country. Feeling that despite our size, our contributions to the world have been pretty damn significant. Now, I want other Puerto Ricans to feel the same way. I want them to realize what their lives are missing, a deeper connection with the land that has granted them their lives. It is time we start educating people with Puerto Rico’s real history. Now, more than ever, we need a generation of people who truly love their motherland, understanding that they have been living here for a very long time.

Knowing who we are gives us power.

Reaction to Cheers’ “Strange Bedfellows” (1982)

“You have to make some choices, some commitments, it’s called growing up” (“Strange Bedfellows: Part 3”).

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I like watching Cheers because it reflects how I see my life. I identify myself with Sam, even though we are almost complete opposites. I’m not a retired relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, nor do I run a bar in the city. I’m a teacher that plays music in his spare time, and don’t care much for sports. However, Sam has qualities that identify him with every man. He is an exaggerated example of our cultural masculinity, he shows us how good-looking and successful men would behave during the eighties, and men still behave like this today.

Sam is promiscuous as hell. He hits on every pretty thing with two legs. He doesn’t care about their personalities or their smarts, at least, until he meets Diane. I also identify with Diane, she is a neurotic and brilliant university graduate, who doesn’t know what she’s doing half of the time. Sam hires Diane as his new bartender at Cheers despite her complete lack of experience. He hires Diane because he thinks she is physically attracted to him, and hopes to sleep with her. Sam has slept with many of his former employees, and always ends up breaking their hearts.

So, despite being polar “opposites,” with different perspective on relationships, Sam and Diane fall in love with each other. They engage in a classic “on-again and off-again” relationship. The whole “will they or won’t they” trope. Diane criticizes Sam’s exaggerated masculinity and Sam criticizes Diane’s romanticism. When they finally kindle their relationship, it falls apart, and sparks back when Cheers “jumps the shark”; Sam and Diane have a near-death experience in a small airplane. Their airplane pilot leaves the cockpit for shits and giggles, and pretends to be dead, leaving Sam and Diane to panic by struggling to fly the airplane. After this, Sam and Diane reflect on their lives, by thinking about the experiences they never had before dying. Sam tells Diane that one of his major regrets was never getting to marry her.

This declaration culminates in a passionate conversation between Sam and Diane, which is not consummated when Diane blows Sam’s advances off. She blows him off because she believes that a “night of passion” would ruin any chances of them developing a serious relationship. She doesn’t seem to remember that their romantic relationship developed after their first night of passion. This is Diane’s mistake, which I believe many women repeat in today’s society and culture. Women believe that men like Sam, who sleep around will only break their hearts. Reality is different, many guys are like Sam, they just want to have sex, but that doesn’t mean they are incapable of creating a relationship out of sex. Sleeping with a person helps us develop deeper relationships with them, to spend time together in bed. Your partner might not turn out to be the “love of your life”, or even suitable for a long-term relationship, but you learn from them. Nights of passion are good.

So, Sam decides to start sleeping with other women, and Diane gets upset at him. Their feelings cause them to compete with each other by dating other people. Diane, a former psychiatric patient, becomes more neurotic than usual and starts to spy and ambush Sam. Even Woody, who is not the sharpest tool in the shed, observes how Diane’s behavior is crazy (11:42). Sam settles for an intelligent and good-looking congresswoman named Janet. Their relationship makes Sam change and behave like a different person (15:37). At a press conference, Sam starts talking about politics, which he is clueless about, instead of talking about baseball. Diane’s neurotic behavior culminates when she fires a water gun at Sam, disrupting the press conference. Janet breaks up with Sam because she recognizes that he still loves Diane. She’s the one who tells Sam that he needs to grow up.

So, Sam decides to propose to Diane in a romantic evening in a sailboat under the stars. After everything that has happened, after leading Sam on about wanting to get married, Diane rejects Sam’s proposal. “What if getting married was a knee-jerk reaction to losing her [Janet]?” (“The Proposal” 13:41). So, Sam dumps Diane in the ocean and abandons her in middle of the ocean. We can argue that this event seals their relationship’s fate. Diane’s neuroticism and overthinking and Sam’s promiscuity has cost them their future together.

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So, why did I write about Cheers? I like Cheers because it acts as a surrogate for our own experiences. It helps us reflect on our own lives. It helps us experience this fleeting relationship between Sam and Diane as our own. It spoke volumes to me. When I heard Janet’s words to Sam, “you need to grow up” it was sacred to me. It was a message that arrived just as I was struggling thinking about my own future. There comes a time when we need to choose, when we need to commit to something. Our lives are not infinite, and if we fail to commit, we might end up like Sam. Happy on the outside, yet empty and alone inside. Failing to leave a lasting legacy in our world.