BREVARD COUNTY – A group of local activists and Brevard County residents gathered at the Eau Gallie Square Park in Melbourne, on July 23, in a public demonstration of solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico’s protests demanding the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.
The event was but one of many across Florida and other states in the nation with diasporas of Puerto Ricans, joining the hundreds of thousands who flooded the streets of the U.S. territory for 12 consecutive days.
These massive protests have received global news coverage, the footage often showcasing what has become their signature cry of indignation, “Ricky, Renuncia!” (“Ricky, Resign!”) As a result, the governor announced his official resignation on the evening of July 24, amid the pressure.
The protests erupted on the island due to a recent scandal involving an extensive FBI investigation on corruption gone rampant and the publication of nearly 900 pages of a private chat that exposed the governor and other public officials engaging in derisive and offensive conversations about their own constituents.
Though the FBI investigation yielded 38 charges and six arrests in government, it was the contents of the chat that became the focus of outrage and led the people to take to the streets. The chat revealed graphic and lewd comments of misogynistic and homophobic nature from the governor, as well as incitement to violence, and even highly insensitive remarks about the damage and piles of dead bodies that were left after the devastation from Hurricane María.
The event in Melbourne started at 5:30 p.m. and went on for hours with more than 100 attendees. Many showed up bringing water and materials to make signs, some came carrying their own homemade signs, as well as Puerto Rican flags they waved or wrapped around themselves.
Others wore face paint with the country’s colors of red, white and sky blue, and even matching shirts and outfits with emblems of Taíno and Puerto Rican heritage, such as the flag and other designs that have become popular symbols of this movement. They played music native to the country with traditional instruments of the island in rhythms of “bomba” and “plena,” while women and children chanted and danced along.
“I love seeing the Puerto Rican community in Brevard County united like this,” said Oscar Rivera, a local activist who resides in Cocoa and is vice-chair of a political organization called BrevardDems. “It isn’t just Puerto Ricans out here either, so many people are with us in this message. It is a single message and it is simple: ‘Ricardo Rosselló should resign and we stand with the people of Puerto Rico.’”
The event was put together by Vimarie Monopoli and Johanna Alduen. Ms. Monopoli is a Suntree resident who runs a weekly podcast called “Brincando el Charco” or “Jumping the Puddle,” a typical Puerto Rican expression referring to those who cross the waters to live in the mainland.
Ms. Monopoli said the platform serves to hold a conversation with Puerto Ricans who “jumped the puddle” and those who still live on the island to learn how to better help them from here.
“It’s like a bridge of cultural continuation,” said Ms. Monopoli. “Some people reached out to us and we used the podcast’s platform to initiate plans for this event.”
The event was created on Facebook and launched in less than three days. Ms. Alduen, who works promoting Afro-Boricuan music and calls herself a “cultural warrior,” helped with planning by providing her group of bomba players called Taller Balancé.
“We organized this reunion of the Puerto Rican community here that, though not as hefty as the one from the Central Florida area, continues to grow, especially after the displacements caused by Hurricane María,” said the Palm Bay resident who joined the group with decorated maracas. “It is important to remain connected with each other, the way we establish community is through culture.”
Some were there representing their families in Puerto Rico, who they feel have endured the sufferings that came after María and been subject to abuse of power from their government, which was long suspected of criminal and corrupt behavior, saying they now feel validated and encouraged to fight.
“I am here to stand with my family in Puerto Rico, who is now going through very difficult situations like this one,” said Gustavo Gierbolini, a West Melbourne resident “Finally, it has come to light that our governor is corrupt – we got the last drop that overflowed the cup and motivated us to wake up and move forward. It helped us see that we are stronger and more powerful than any government and can get them to keel and do what is right by us. They have failed us completely.”
The protests have been heavily linked to be led mainly by younger Millennials who have heard “the stories of corruption and now lived them for far too long.”
As Ms. Alduen posed, the scandal of the chat has ushered a new generation of Puerto Ricans that just “will not take” it anymore. The current situation on the island has emboldened the citizens and evolved into a movement now aimed at removing all the corruption from the system.
Even though the governor resigned, future demonstrations are expected with a focus on expelling the entire cabinet suspected to be involved.