yasmin hernandez welcome

Querer ser libre (Dylcia Pagán)


Mixed Media on Canvas
24" x 36"

"I walked into prison a free woman and I definitely came out as a free as a woman could be."

On April 4, 1980 a group of Puerto Rican Freedom Fighters, members of the FALN (Fuerzas Armadas para la Liberación Nacional or Armed Forces of National Liberation) were arrested in the US and charged with sedition. They each received outrageous sentences disproportionate to their charges, to be served in state and federal institutions. Dylcia Pagan was among them. As I enjoyed my childhood, other Puerto Rican children were being raised without their parents, imprisoned for their involvement to secure their nation's freedom. Once such child, being raised as Ernesto Gomez Gomez in Mexico, did not learn until the age of 10 that he was the son of Dylcia Pagan, incarcerated in California at the time, and of William Morales, another Puerto Rican freedom fighter who escaped from a hospital after his arrest and continues living in exile in Cuba. He was sent to Mexico to be protected from the US agents that imprisoned his parents. As a young boy, learning of his biological parents, he set on a quest to get to know his parents and his history.

I first heard of the FALN from my father as a teenager. In college, I found images of the political prisoners and read their stories. In 1995, I created my first painting dedicated to the women political prisoners: Dylcia Pagan, Haydee Beltran, Alejandrina Torres, Carmen Valentín, and the Rodriguez sisters- Ida Luz and Alicia. I also worked with different campaigns for the freedom of the Puerto Rican Political Prisoners. That goal was partially realized in 1999 when Bill Clinton's administration offered conditional pardons to 11 of the prisoners. Dylcia was among the freedom fighters who were released that year, however several Puerto Rican freedom fighters continued to be held and Oscar Lopez Rivera remains behind bars three and a half decades later.

I had the opportunity to meet Dylcia on two brief occasions since her release, but in the summer of 2005, I traveled to Puerto Rico with members of Ricanstruction to shoot scenes for the film Machetero at Dylcia's home in Loiza. We were there to work and she was all about the production as her background is in film and television. Yet she welcomed us into her home, cooked breakfast for us and trusted us with her huge heart. Dylcia's example teaches that fighting for freedom begins with living freely each day. In the middle of a long day of shooting, she invited a friend and I to the beach behind her home. We had the entire beach to ourselves and it was heaven. She told us stories about life in New York and about her son, and together we laughed as she reminisced while floating with the waves. I felt humbled and honored thinking, "Wow, I'm here with Dylcia Pagan". For me that's the equivalent of a young kid meeting a favorite star athlete or movie star. This is an individual of a group of freedom fighters that I had read about, admired, that had inspired me to paint, to work for my people, to work for the liberation of Puerto Rico. Watching her float that day in the water, her eyes squinting in the sun, got me to consider the concept of freedom and what that really means.

Ramon Emeterio Betances wrote: Querer ser libre es empezar a serlo. (The desire for freedom is the first step towards freedom) That day I learned that in order for Dylcia and her comrades to fight for freedom, they had to first embody that freedom in their hearts and spirits. I recently heard one of Dylcia's comrades, artist Elizam Escobar, say that freedom is not a state of being, it is a practice. It is a decision we make for ourselves and a deliberate choice we embody and act upon daily.

I painted Dylcia like I remembered her that day. I associate her with the ocean, with Yemaya. Seashells cover the foreground of the canvas and 20 shells, for each year she spent in prison, circle her head. Very much in the spirit of Yemaya, Dylcia is loving, nurturing and in the tradition of our ancestral matriarchs she will check you when you need to be checked. I wanted to paint her against the backdrop of the blue sky, because that is how I saw her that day in the ocean. That is also the blue sky that inspired the blue on our true Puerto Rican flag, whose sky blue was darkened by the US government. That sky blue and that white star represent freedom to us. Freedom like the sky is natural and infinite. And like Filiberto Ojeda Rios liked to say, that truth, that sky, can not be covered with one hand. It is only a matter of time before the oppressive reins seeking to contain our freedom will buckle.

April 2016- On a recent trip to New York City to raise funds for a healing arts initiative she is building in her community of Loiza, Puerto Rico, Dylcia became ill and was hospitalized. She is currently still receiving physical therapy before being released from the hospital and well enough to return to Puerto Rico. As part of the fundraising initiatives towards her recovery, her return home and her community arts initiatives, proceeds from prints sold of this artwork that hangs in Dylcia's home, will go directly to the Freedom Fighter herself. Your support of Puerto Rican art and our freedom fighters is greatly appreciated.


For more information on Dylcia and her son, see the award-winning documentary: The Double Life of Ernesto Gomez Gomez by Catherine Ryan and Gary Weimberg. The film aired nationally on PBS just before Dylcia's release. View this clip on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwigxgR9U7Q

For an interview of Dylcia Pagan on her life and work, view the short film Struggle is a Weapon by Vagabond Beaumont:


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