Marco Lopez, Desiree Rodriguez, Hazel Newlevant, Derek Ruiz and Neil Schwartz (editors), Puerto Rico Strong (2018)
This is a comics anthology supporting Puerto Rico disaster relief and recovery in the wake of Hurricane María in September 2017.
I confess that before reading this book my main source of information about Puerto Rico and its relationship to the USA was West Side Story. The book has given me a lightning introduction to 500 years of the island’s history, from the original Taino inhabitants, through brutal Spanish colonisation to the current US imperial presence. Puerto Ricans were made US citizens – who don’t have the vote – in 1917, and a couple of weeks later the men were called up to fight for the US in World War One. As many as 1500 Puerto Rican women were involved in trials of the contraceptive pill in the 1950s, without real informed consent. And so on.
Among the 40 short pieces, as well as the history lessons, there are childhood stories, fantasies of dystopian futures and mythic pasts, explorations of the complex identities involved in being Puerto Rican, tales of friendship and creative enterprise, all in a dazzling range of art styles. Most of the writers and artists are Puertoriqueños. Donald Trump’s insulting paper-towel-throwing stunt and subsequent blocking of aid after the hurricane is mentioned, but his presence is restricted to less than a handful of pages. Attention goes instead an exhilarating assertion of pride in Boricuan identity and the proud history of resistance. (Borikén was the name of the island before the Spanish colonisers renamed it.)
I’m in awe of the work of the editors bringing this vast array of writers and artists together in a work that has many overlaps but never feels muddlingly repetitive. My copy was a gift for my birthday in March. I waited too long to read it.