Thirty-some years ago, stuck for the weekend in the apartment of a guy who was really kind of a dud, I read from end to end a novel about the last days of Leon Trotsky. I recall very few details now, but what made me sit up was the near postscript involving the Corrido del Leon Trotsky (probably one of several; you can find a version on YouTube), describing, as a news service to those without newspapers or radios or basic literacy, how Trotsky, something of the celebrity resident, was killed in Mexico City by a coerced assassin using “un zapatica alpinista.”
I loved the idea of the corrido, a cross of sorts between the town crier and the folklore of culture heroes, legends, and adventure tales. They are still made, even in these days of widespread literacy and the Net. We need our hard news, but sometimes you want music and poetry to tell how the news makes you feel.
I have a new hero, and she is the mayor of San Juan in Puerto Rico, Carmen Yulin Cruz. I suspect that in this case the line forms to the left. Three days ago I had not even heard her name, but Thursday night she burst onto the news clips and everyone’s volleying retweets with eloquence, anger, and poise, using every journalist willing to turn his camera or mike toward her as a megaphone to plead for her constituents and the whole Commonwealth.
If you have been living under a rock, Federal aid to Puerto Rico, an American possession, which has just missed following the island of Atlantis to the bottom of the ocean and is struggling without power, drinking water, fuel, telephone service in most places, or sufficient food, is not just a day but about a week late and a damn sight more than a dollar short. A few leaks, as yet unconfirmed, claim that the administration went silent after receiving estimations of the aid that was needed, suggesting no plans to help the island at all. The governor of Puerto Rico, probably knowing what kind of person he was dealing with, has been kissing White House ass, the government representatives on the ground have actually been calling the situation a “good news story,” and Yulin Cruz is having none of it.
“…I cannot fathom the thought that the greatest nation in the world cannot figure out the logistics for a small island of 100 miles by 35 miles. So, mayday, we are in trouble… I am begging. I am begging anyone that can hear us to save us from dying. If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying. And you are killing us with the inefficiency and bureaucracy.”
For her trouble, she got called names by our Tweeter In Chief, who seems to think that people on the island would be fine if they just put in a few hours work and stopped asking other people to “do everything for them.” Those Tweets hit the Internet at about the same time as a photo of Yulin Cruz up to her beltline in filthy water going from door to door looking for survivors. In another clip, she thanked a religious charity for solar lanterns which she was distributing to people searching for water in the dark.
This is not a bright shining moment for the United States. I’m embarrassed as hell. A whole island is stripped and broken, people are waiting all day for gas and cities of sixty thousand are getting deliveries of two thousand meals, hospitals have no power, while the administration here in DC took eight days to lift a bureaucratic rule about foreign ships putting in at the Port of San Juan because “the shipping industry likes it.” Celebrities and bush pilots and international chefs and members of the “Alt-Gov” Twitter collective are flying in with food and out with sick, desperate people, but our own Navy’s hospital ship was only got under way on Friday.
There will be a lot of heroes when this is over. They will all deserve a corrido, if that tradition has spread to the other Spanish speaking Americas from Mexico, but my imagination is starting with San Juan’s mayor. In my fantasy, the ballad is called La Rubia, the blonde lady, and like the best ballads, it will tell of the mayor performing supernatural feats: carrying a pallet of water on her back over a road too broken for trucks, shedding light from her bare hands, towing a boat full of survivors, or lifting up a child at the brink of death only to hear a healthy cry. And in the last verse, it will say, “No one person can do these things? No, you are right, one person cannot. It is done by you all, you are all heroes. But a single person with a big voice can breathe on the flame of courage, to be sure all these things are done.”
I can’t write it though. It has to be written in Spanish, by a Puerto Rican citizen, who’ll know how to put those sentiments into meter. But I will hum along.