Editor’s Note: After we published a bilingual essay from four authors about Nelson A. Denis’ visit to Puerto Rico to promote his new book, we invited Nelson to share his own impressions from his seven-day book tour. Here is what Nelson sent us.
Last month I went to Puerto Rico to introduce my book War Against All Puerto Ricans on the island. I expected to see my family, get a little sun, attend a few book events: a much-needed break from a hectic schedule in New York. It ended up very differently.
The first clue came from El Nuevo Día. On May 17 the newspaper ran a front-page article on the book, which filled three full interior pages.
The effect of this article, and a few media appearances, was unlike anything I had ever seen. A meeting was scheduled in the Ateneo Puertorriqueño sponsored by Aleida Centeno, the president of the Nationalist Party.
They ran out of chairs. The crowd extended out two doors and down the stairs, a total of over 300 people. After the event, over 100 of them stepped forward to get their book signed. But before that, to end the meeting, we all did this:
Over 300 voices sang “La Borinqueña.” A few of them were in tears. It was an unforgettable moment, the first of many. The bookstores were the second surprise.
At Tertulia San Juan, the book event spilled out into the street.
At The Bookmark, the owners were ready with 160 copies of War Against All Puerto Ricans. Stacked in two full bookshelves, they looked like a revolutionary wall. And then the crowd swarmed in. With no room left in the store, dozens of people stood outside, and peered in through the glass windows.
WAPA TV arrived and covered the event.
We sold all 160 books that night. The store ran out of copies. The high point though, was the people who attended and testified: including one daughter (Laura Meneses de Campos) and two granddaughters (Rosa and Cristina) of Don Pedro Albizu Campos. Two of them spoke eloquently about the book, their lives and the legacy of Don Pedro.
In another private event, Rafael Cancel Miranda (who accompanied Lolita Lebrón in the 1954 attack on the US Congress) and Don Heriberto Marín Torres (a Nationalist from Jayuya, imprisoned with Albizu Campos) arrived to discuss the book, and their own experiences as Nationalists.
Both men were gentle and polite—but extremely passionate about their experiences, and about the independence of Puerto Rico. Both of them emanated a strong moral force. They drew an overwhelming respect from everyone in the room. All their words had weight and meaning.
At another point, several key leaders of the island’s Independence Party (PIP) came to meet me: Ruben Berríos (PIP President), María de Lourdes Santiago (PIP Senator), and Juan Dalmau Ramírez (PIP Secretary General). All of them expressed their support for the book, and then extended a gracious invitation: the PIP would like to host a multi-city tour for the book in July (the week of 18-25). Would I be interested in doing this?
Yes I would. I will return to the island in July, and tour with the PIP.
Upon my return to New York, my publisher told me that over 50% of the book’s sales are happening in Puerto Rico. They also ordered an emergency reprint, because they’d run out of books on the island. The publishing house was amazed because the book was in English—and 80% of book sales in Puerto Rico are in Spanish. Sure enough, they decided to print a Spanish translation, which is due by the end of 2015.
Reflecting on all of this, it seems my book has touched a nerve—not because of what I wrote, but because the island is in trouble. There is a growing sense that Puerto Rico’s current leadership has failed Puerto Ricans, and that some fundamental changes are imminent and inescapable. My book seemed to arrive at a key historical moment: with the island looking for answers, hungry for information, searching for a sense of direction.
I had one more experience during this trip, that I will never forget. On May 19, I was scheduled to appear on a TV show called Jugando Pelota Dura. When I arrived two elected officials (one from the pro-commonwealth PPD, the other from the pro-statehood PNP) were arguing on the air. They seemed to hate each other. They appeared ready to punch each other. It was a tremendous argument, and great television—so great that Chucho Avellanet, the next scheduled guest, was bumped five minutes back so that the argument could continue.
These two elected officials seemed ready to kill each other.
After their segment finally ended, they left the studio in a big huff, but an old political instinct kicked in, and I decided to follow a hunch. I made like I was going to the bathroom and watched them walk down the hall, toward the studio exit doors.
Mr. PPD had his arm around Mr. PNP. They were laughing at some joke, as they walked through the outer doors. That’s why Puerto Rico is in trouble, and that’s why people are buying War Against All Puerto Ricans.