"It's time to affirm our culture."
Roberto Múcaro Borrero
United Confederation of Taíno People
"...considered [one of the] leading authorities
on ancient Taíno Indian culture."
All I could think of when I met the President of the United Confederation of Taíno People was – is he for real? According to everything I have been taught – he doesn’t exist. Everyone knows that Christopher Columbus did not discover a thing. Yet we still want to hold on to the other part of the fable. We still want to believe that the friendly Indians were wiped out. Gone. Forever. Yet here he is - "Modern-Day Chief of the Taíno nation", officially the President of the Confederation of Taíno People, UCTP.
The first thing I had to ask was, “Are you for real or an apparition? You’re not supposed to exist!” He laughed and said, “Yes. I’m real. You can pinch me!”
I told him that according to a well respected PhD. in the Dominican Republic, the Taínos not only did not die and still exist, but that they are the Dominicans themselves (and the Caribbean people) but they were just all lead to believe that they are not.
He gives me her name, “Dr. Guitar. I’m afraid that may be a bit of an exaggeration, perhaps. I do not espouse that theory. Our goal is simply to investigate how many of us there are out there with our Tribal Registration Project.”
I tell him, “I just interviewed an 80 year old woman from Puerto Rico, >Señora Gramita who can recite specific facts on Columbus - the names of all three of his ships, several songs she learned as a little girl - but when I asked who was there when Columbus got there, she thought about it before she said ‘los indios’. I asked her ‘where are they now?’ and she said she had no idea."
He nods, “There are many 80 year olds from Puerto Rico that will go on for hours about their Taíno ancestry or their Taíno relatives. But, unfortunately, the majority is probably more like her. That is a perfect example of the colonization of our people, and the ineffectiveness of the educational system.”
He explains that the Taíno struggle is about educating everyone about the fallacies in history. He offers an example, “In the late 1500’s the King and Queen of Spain made a law that said Spain was not allowed to enslave Taínos. When the Bishop read the new law in the town square of San Juan, it is said that ‘there were only 50 Taínos there’. ‘There’ meaning ‘there in the town square’. But it is understood as ‘there in the whole island of Puerto Rico’. It is a prime example of the manipulation of history.”I ask him about the DNA testing that proves that the people of Puerto Rico are still much more Taíno than anyone would have even dared to predict. He says, “I wouldn’t say that everyone needs to go and get a DNA test. But those tests do prove what our oral histories, that have been passed down through the generations, have been saying all along.”
I am taken in by the severity of his tone as he explains that, “There is one thing also that we care a lot about. We want to assert our rights to care for our artifacts. We don’t agree with the common practice of the display of our ancestors’ bones. If it is right to display bones then display the bones of Ponce de León right up there too and other Spaniards or other people. Why is it our bones? If every Puerto Rican is proud of all three races, then they should be infuriated. Those bones could be your Great Great Grandparents’.”
His words cut right to my heart. I had never thought of it that way. It really is common practice. Those bones are like dinosaur bones – prehistoric, a relic from the past.
He went on to talk about Columbus Day in the same powerful, enlightening words not too often heard, but truer than the light of day. “Why is Columbus Day a federally recognized holiday? My tax money is going to celebrate a man who was the 1st trade slave master and who was responsible for the death of thousands of people? Who never even set foot in the United States? When he got there [Borinken, Quisqueya, or the Bahamas] nobody was starving. There were no jails, no old age homes, no diseases. Everyone was better off. WE were better off. We are not a movement of people trying to go backwards in time. No. It is an affirmation of culture. Being able to speak out in a way our grandparents were not able to. What our grandparents said is now confirmed by DNA tests. It’s time to affirm our culture.”
I decided to show him La Diva Latina’s Taíno shirt to see what he thought because I get many emails about it. Some say that unless I am Taína, I shouldn’t be selling the shirt. Or that in the Taíno language, the men, women and children are all Taíno not “Taína”. Or that Taíno is not a race. The race is: Native American.
I pull out the carefully folded t-shirt and his smile widens on his face. “That is great! Where did you get it?” I tell him, “I made it. It’s for you.” When I made the shirt I never imagined that I would end up handing it over to the President of the Confederation of Taíno people, but there he was smiling a gentle smile.
Taíno means the good and noble people. Taínos are said to be kind, giving, of a gentle nature. At least something we learned about the Taínos are true.