Molly Crabapple, a New York-based artist and writer, is a contributing editor to VICE. Her published work includes the memoir Drawing Blood, a nonfiction book on the Greek economic crisis Discordia (co-authored with Laurie Penny), and the art books Devil in the Details and Week in Hell. (November 2017)
Julia de Burgos’s life spanned Puerto Rico’s full entrenchment as a colony of the United States, while her public life as the island’s most celebrated and acclaimed poet took place against the backdrop of the twentieth-century’s global conflict between fascism and democracy. The problems Puerto Ricans face today, as their impoverished island fights for survival in an era when the international order seems to be coming apart, are the legacy of the struggles De Burgos faced. In January, I traveled to Puerto Rico with my father, carrying a copy of Julia de Burgos’s letters, visiting the places she had lived, trying to hear her voice.
On March 18, Turkey completed its conquest of Afrin, formerly a majority Kurdish city. Photos of the events soon flooded social media. Though far from the worst violations of the war, the scenes were emblematically dismal. Fighters from the Syrian National Army, now Turkey’s proxy militia, fired their rifles into the air at Afrin’s main roundabout, snapping selfies with their free hands. If a government had wanted to stoke new hatred between Kurds and Arabs, it couldn’t have staged a better show.
Two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit, aid remained a bureaucratic quagmire, mismanaged by FEMA, the FBI, the US military, the laughably corrupt local government. The island looked like it was stuck somewhere between the nineteenth century and the apocalypse. But leftists, nationalists, socialists—the anarchist and feminist Louisa Capetillo’s sons and daughters—were stepping up to rebuild their communities. Natural disasters have a way of clarifying things. They sweep away once-sturdy delusions, to reveal old treasures and scars.