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“Nosotros No Tenemos Armas Para Echar A Pique Sus Fuerzas Navales,
Pero Tenemos el Arma de Echar a Pique Su Prestigio en El Mundo.” Albizu 1930

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7th letter by Oscar López Rivera: “Everyone Listened”

olruic-webThis is the seventh letter by López to his granddaughter Karina
Published October 19, 2013

Oscar López Rivera / imprisoned for 32 YEARS

Dear Karina,

When I recently recounted the struggles of the Hispanics against discrimination in the workforce, I remembered my first attempt to organize a protest. Many Puerto Rican immigrants lived in subhuman conditions, in buildings filled with vermin, with rickety staircases and roofs that fell down in pieces. The owners of those buildings never bothered to maintain them, but they did bother to collect the rent every month, and to make life impossible for anyone who was late.

I started to visit the people who lived in the worst conditions, knocking on every door to organize them. The first woman i talked to said, “Who is going to listen to a Puerto Rican woman?” The answer came from my heart: I would listen to her, and then the two of us would go to listen to the rest, and finally, everyone would listen to each other. I convinced her and we started to talk with the other tenants. Our only goal was that they clean up the building, fix the broken pipes and handrails, and get rid of the multitude of rats and cockroaches that so many families had to live with.

We confronted the owner of one of the buildings and we warned him that the neighbors were not going to pay the rent until he made the place decent. He ignored us, but when he saw that the rent was due and no one had paid, he agreed to clean up and make some repairs. I could not imagine then the risk we had run: most of the owners of those buildings had built fortunes by stomping on people that they saw as forced to live in filth. If they had to invest money in repairs, they preferred to set fire to the building in order to collect on the insurance.

There was a politician in Chicago who owned several buildings. They were all in poor condition, but many Puerto Ricans had to live there even if no one would hear their complaints. Then one day several neighbors trapped some rats and put them in a box. The box was wrapped up the like a gift and taken by our women to the mansion belonging to the politician, where they accepted it because the women had said that it was a present to thank him for his good work. The wife of the politician was the one who opened the box and it caused a great scandal. Then they ordered that the buildings t0 be repaired.

At the same time, we fought so that the banks would stop discriminating against immigrants. Most of us had savings accounts and maintained good credit, but the bank would never give us a mortgage or car loan. An idea occurred to us: we gave the children of the community some big pots filled with change. We took them one Saturday morning, which was the day when the bank was crammed with customers, so that every child would open an account and make the clerk count every coin. The line became interminable, with all the kids making noise and shouting at the same time. Then someone suggested that the coins would also serve to jam the revolving doors… so we did this. No one could enter or leave the bank. Soon the police arrived and they ran into a picket of latinos demanding that they be treated with dignity. The scandal took place in a branch on the corner of Division St. and Ashland Ave. One of the high executives of the bank arrived and agreed to talk with us. He committed to respond to our demands and to hire latino personnel for the branches.

The doors of the bank were unstuck and the children celebrated by throwing the coins in the air. A Puerto Rican woman, grandmother of two, was the one who was in charge of the protest against the bank. Her eyes shined brighter than the light reflecting off the coins in flight. All of us had listened to each other, and from this was born a great solidarity.

In resistance and struggle, your grandfather,

Oscar López Rivera

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