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What Does the Music of Puerto Rico Say About Puerto Ricans?


The Lament of Poverty - p 4

The Lament of Poverty

Today, Puerto Ricans enjoy a level of prosperity far better than those of previous times and substantially better than many others around the world. This was not always the case. For centuries, most Puerto Ricans endured dire poverty in a colonial backwater of the Spanish empire.

For different reasons, the relative poverty of Puerto Ricans currently living in the United States, makes this theme important in our understanding of Puerto Rico and its people.

No song expresses the anguish of poverty better than one of most renown songs by the beloved Puerto Rican songwriter, Rafael Hernández:  Lamento Borincano (complete lyrics), here sung by the Trio Voces de Puerto Rico. At the same time, no song better expresses the indomitable spirit of Puerto Ricans, than archetypical "jíbaro" that is its hero.

Lamento Borincano (partial lyrics)

Sale loco de contento
Con su cargamento
Para la ciudad, ay,
Para la ciudad.

Lleva en su pensamiento
Todo un mundo lleno
De felicidad, ay,
De felicidad.

Piensa remediar la situación
Del hogar que es toda su ilusión, si.

Y alegre el jibarito vá
Pensando así, diciendo así,
Cantando así por el camino
Si yo vendo la carga, mi Dios Querido
Un traje a mi viejita voy a comprar.

Pasa la mañana entera
Sin que nadie quiera
Su carga comprar,
Su carga comprar.
Todo, todo está desierto,
Y el pueblo está muerto
De necesidad, de necesidad.

Se oye este lamento por doquier,
De mi desdichada Borinquen, si;
Y triste, el, jibarito vá
pensando así, diciendo así
Llorando así por el camino;
¡Que será de Borinquen
Mi Dios querido!
¡Que será de his hijos
Y de mi hogar!


He leaves deliriously happy
with his load of goods
for the city, oh,
for the city

In his thoughts
is a world full
of joy, oh,
of joy

He hopes to overcome his situation
at home; his only illusion, yes

Happily, the jibaro goes,
thinking that, saying that,
singing that along the way
If I sell my goods, my precious Lord
I'll buy a dress for my little wife

All the morning passes
without a single person
to buy his goods.
Everything, everything is deserted
and the town is dead
of poverty, of poverty.

One can hear this lament all over,
my unfortunate Borinquén, yes;
And sadly the jibaro goes
thinking this, saying this
crying like this along the way
What will become of my Borinquén,
My precious Lord!
What will become of my children
and my home!


Lyrics translated by Jaime Serrat

Graphic of the painting 'Lamento Borincano' by Obed Gomez, courtesy of the artist

The simple peasant, or "jíbaro" dreams of selling his wares and improving his lot. His selflessness is expressed in his wish to buy his wife a dress. But the sheer joy in those thoughts; that raised his spirits and kept him going, were crushed by reality. He laments the poverty that is so widespread, expressed in the song as a deserted town.

Do the images Don Rafael projects in Lamento Borincano still ring true? Some would argue that the song, written during the Great Depression, does not accurately portray the current situation of most Puerto Ricans. Others, disagree; citing an unemployment rate approximately double that of any state in the United States, and a reliance of government assistance by more than one third of the Puerto Rican population

In either case, the song's beauty is the eloquent statement it makes about the spirit of the typical Puerto Rican; an inner strength based on faith in God. The stoic streak in Puerto Ricans is often expressed by the common refrain: "Si Dios quire" (If God wills it).

Gentle Patriots - p 3       Immigration Ills - p 5

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