PURCHASE PRINTS: Large Prints:
(Allow an average of 2-3 weeks for the
arrival of prints. See
buy page for more information on purchasing. )
ARCHIVOS SUBVERSIVOS series
Acrylic and collage on Canvas
24" x 18"
Pedro Albizu Campos perhaps was the most persecuted figure
by the US authorities in Puerto Rico. What made him so dangerous to US
authorities was his brilliance and unrelenting efforts to bring dignity,
liberation, pride and valor to the Puerto Rican people. Albizu came from
humble roots, the illegitimate child of a man of Basque origin and the
grandson of an enslaved African woman. Born into poverty and not recognized
by his father until his 20s, Albizu was not able to begin school until
the age of 12. Proving himself to be a genius, he managed to complete
all of his primary and secondary education (grades K-12) in just 8 years.
He was recruited to study at the University of Vermont, from where he
was then recruited to study at Harvard University. While at Harvard, Albizu
was on the debate team. He studied biochemical engineering and military
strategy and earned a law degree. Albizu Campos spoke seven languages.
During his time at Harvard he fell in love with Laura Meneses, a Peruvian
woman who went on to earn her doctorate from the prestigious university.
She was the first Latin American woman to graduate from Radcliffe College,
the women’s college of Harvard. They married and had their family
in Puerto Rico.
As many Puerto Rican men, after the 1917 Jones Act, which imposed US
citizenship on Puerto Ricans, Albizu served in the US Army. It was actually
during his time traveling with the US military and through the segregated
south that he, as a black man, witnessed the institutionalized racism
in the US. During his time in Boston, as a student at Harvard, his connection
to the Irish community exposed him not only to Catholicism, which he took
on as his own religion but to British imperialism in Northern Ireland.
That example, coupled with struggle for liberation in India inspired him
in his own life’s mission to free Puerto Rico from US control. With
his impressive education, Albizu Campos turned down work offers in Washington
so that he could return to Puerto Rico and pursue his life’s mission.
In the early 1920’s Albizu joined the newly formed Puerto Rican
Nationalist Party. Upon becoming its president in 1930 he shifted the
organization to a radical, severe anti-imperialist force, boycotting the
electoral process presided over by the US colonial government in Puerto
Rico. The 1930s were characterized by bloody exchanges between the colonial
police, innocent Puerto Ricans and the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party
coming to their defense. Albizu spent the majority of his adult life in
prison as a result, charged time and time again with seditious conspiracy
or the attempt to overthrow the US government.
This painting is specifically about the controversy surrounding the radiation
experiments that don Pedro Albizu Campos was subjected to while in prison.
Collaged images and texts were mostly taken from the Ruth Reynolds Papers
at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies. Reynolds, a white-American librarian
was a dear friend of Don Pedro’s who went on to create, Americans
for Puerto Rico’s Independence. Ruth describes her friend Albizu
as “a man of the greatest intelligence, and of supreme goodness;
a man of true peace situated in the center of the most concentrated violence
of the most powerful empire of the world."
The collage features some intimate letters to Reynolds written by hand
or typewriter by Albizu. Some of these detail the symptoms he experienced
from the radiation attacks including burns inside the mouth and lesions
on the skin. My favorite, which speaks of US imperialism, the hypocrisies
of its constitution and the importance of the solidarity of Reynold’s
organization with the Puerto Rican people is cleverly written in penmanship
over a torn out page of the table of contents for a copy of the US Constitution.
Perhaps the juiciest document collaged into the painting is a copy of
a letter written by a man in Reynold’s organization and addressed
to famed scientist Albert Einstein, requesting that he please take interest
in the case of Pedro Albizu Campos and the radiation experiments he had
been suffering while incarcerated. The letter, written in 1954, features
an addendum that explains that they were in no way aware of the attack
on Congress staged by Lolita Lebron and her Nationalist comrades, members
of Albizu’s Party. Interestingly enough, the letter found in Lebron’s
purse cited the radiation torture of Albizu Campos as one of the reasons
behind their action. It is unclear as to whether the letter ever reached
the hands of Einstein and if there was ever a response. However Einstein
was indeed an expert in the atomic age. Albizu’s body was used to
test the effects of radiation, similarly to how Japanese victims of the
atomic bombs dropped by the US on Nagasaki and Hiroshima later were made
into lab rats for the same purpose by US soldiers and doctors. Moreover
in the 1930s Pedro Albizu Campos had been the instrument behind exposing
a US doctor, Cornelius Rhoads who had bragged to a friend about having
injected Puerto Ricans with cancer and proudly having killed some of them
off. He described Puerto Ricans as an inferior race worthy of extermination.
Conspiracy theorists later exposed Rhoads as having become involved in
the health policies for the US Department of Corrections coincidently
at the time that Albizu was suffering the radiation attacks in his prison
cell. Though Albizu Campos, having studied biochemical engineering himself
and not an ignorant man in any way, spoke out against these attacks, the
governor of Puerto Rico, who functioned largely under US control, dismissed
Albizu’s accusations as dementia. While Governor Muñoz Marin
carried out the commonwealth plan that kept Puerto Rico eternally tied
to the US financially and politically, Albizu’s body deteriorated.
When it did to the point in which it could no more, the politician finally
pardoned him and sent him home. Albizu died shortly thereafter on April
21st, 1965, exactly two months after the death of another dignified revolutionary,
Malcolm X (February 21st, 1965).
Perhaps the US government might say that the experiments conducted on
the bodies of Albizu and other prisoners (as the US gov’t admitted
in the 1990s), as well as on Japanese victims of US bombs, served a purpose.
The infamous doctor Cornelius Rhoads later came out as the mastermind
behind the Rockefeller Institute known for its cancer research and connected
to the renowned hospital Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. My brother
battled cancer at MSKCC for two years before being subjected to radiation
to the jaw and spine. He died a month after that treatment, not on April
21st as Albizu Campos, but on April 27th, 2010.
© Copyright 2007-2010, Yasmin Hernandez. Under no
circumstances should any of the images or content of this site be downloaded,
printed or reproduced without direct permission from the artist.