Pedro Albizu Campos and his timely legacy

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Puerto Rican activist’s death.

During Sunday’s parade, marchers will call for the release of Puerto Rican activist Oscar Lopez Rivera, who has served 34 years in U.S. federal prisons for seditious conspiracy.

The case has drawn parallels to another political figure in Puerto Rican history involved in the independence movement. Pedro Albizu Campos served as president of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party until his death in 1965, and was imprisoned for 26 years for attempts to overthrow U.S. colonial rule in Puerto Rico.

On the 50th anniversary of his death, we spoke with Dr. Andres Torres in Lehman College’s Department of Latin American, Latino and Puerto Rican Studies about his legacy.

What is your interest in Albizu Campos?

In my earlier days, I was very active in the independence movement in New York City, learning about the struggles in the early part of the 20th century around independence for Puerto Rico and his whole presentation of Puerto Rico as a nation that one should be proud of. He was a formative person in my own identity formation as a New York-born Puerto Rican.

What is his connection to Puerto Ricans today?

He was a leader of a movement that moved hundreds of thousands of people in his day. The reason he resonates so much with Puerto Rican youngsters today is because he is a cultural icon, he’s a figure of integrity. They admire his refusal to accept domination from the big power. And that is a very strong feeling among young people. Across the world there are movements to try to resist domination, whether they be economic (Occupy Wall Street) or political (Arab Spring), by forces that just seem to be overwhelmingly powerful.

How is he commemorated today?

In the Puerto Rican Day Parade, you’ll always see people carrying posters in his honor. There are still Puerto Rican political prisoners, one obvious case being Oscar Lopez Rivera. He is a modern-day voice following in the tradition of Albizu Campos and other independence leaders over the years.

Meredith Deliso