Puerto Rico, Paper Towels, and Politics- The Street Art of Ponce

June is important for at least two reasons for Puerto Ricans– it’s the start of hurricane season and New York City holds its annual Puerto Rican Day Parade. I don’t live in New York anymore, but when I did, I tried not to miss it. The food, the music, and the smiles made standing in the heat or the rain worth it. For many people, the parade is their first introduction to the culture of Puerto Rico, and over 1.5 million people attend each year.

After the devastation of Hurricane Maria, the parade has even more significance. Most people have no idea that the parade is America’s largest cultural celebration, just as many had no idea that Puerto Ricans are actually Americans. You wouldn’t actually think so given the treatment that Puerto Ricans have received from the federal government. Attendees at today’s parade didn’t want anyone to forget it. In fact, Power4 Puerto Rico developed a Snap filter of President Trump tossing paper towels that went viral. As some may remember, the President famously tossed/threw paper towels at people who had lost everything during an October 2017 trip to Puerto Rico.

 

Our visit to Ponce, Puerto Rico

We visited Puerto Rico in March 2018 to see the island for ourselves and will post on that separately. While walking through the beautiful city of Ponce, we discovered street art that exemplified the pain and anger that Puerto Ricans felt toward the perceived insensitivity and inaction of the Trump administration. We spoke to many of the artists as they put their final touches on their murals.

The paper towel incident featured prominently in one of the larger murals. Artist Miguel Conesa explained to us how the gesture offended Puerto Ricans, who understandably remain hurt and angry months later. His piece, one of the largest, features a local begging for help from the President, surrounded by paper towels. 

Another artist showed the mainland U.S. kicking Puerto Ricans to the sharks. The paper towel adorns the donkey’s head.

Some artists graphically exposed the misleading death figures that the U.S. government used to minimize the tragedy and painted coffins to make sure that people remember the dead. Others reminded people of the pain caused by staggering power outages.

Some artists showcased those profiting off of Puerto Rico in the past, present, and future.

Still others painted about the poverty on the island, the lack of opportunities (even with a college degree), and mass incarceration.

Some of the most impactful murals depicted the deflated dreams of those who went to the mainland United States for a better life only to suffer disappointment.

One of our favorites depicts local moving to the northeastern part of the United States as though it were Disney World. The hopefuls carry their empty suitcases symbolizing the emptiness of their dreams. Half of the painting is devoted to the wind, which symbolizes the hurricane, the cold weather in the mainland, and the cold reality of what the migrants would face. 

 

In this piece entitled “…y ahora que?” (“now what?”), the artist portrays families huddled into crowded apartments in New York. The people are dressed in black like crows and look miserable with their new reality. Yet, the artist paints even more people flying in because they need to escape the island.

We accidentally stumbled upon the street artists while visiting Ponce, a lovely city with beautiful stately buildings, a rich history, and more traditional street art.

 

But if you go, make sure to look outside of the main square for the street with the political art. The artists want to make sure that we never forget what happened to their island. As hurricane season gets underway, their message could not be more important.

 


Also published on Medium.

29 thoughts on “Puerto Rico, Paper Towels, and Politics- The Street Art of Ponce

  • January 5, 2019 at 12:44 pm
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    This made me quite emotional. I live in Hungary and is a dual citizen, because I was born in Dallas. However, I haven’t been to the US since I was a baby. I knew Puerto Rico was American. Lots of people here ask me why I still live here, where the income is so low. I tell them about the reality of America. The lack of national health care, the few vacation days, the lack of childcare, the cost of living vs salary. Many people don’t know that here in Eastern Europe, we don’t have it as bad as people think.

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  • January 4, 2019 at 4:24 pm
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    A great article! You capture the importance of street art in politics perfectly, it’s amazing how much can be said in some of these works.

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  • January 4, 2019 at 12:29 pm
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    thank you for sharing this post. I find it shocking that people don’t know Puerto Rico is part of the US and even more shocking how the country was treated after the hurricane. This is all so thought provoking and important to share so more people understand what happened

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  • January 3, 2019 at 10:01 am
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    Nice work. I love street art and I had no idea Puerto Rico had so much. I think it brings the city to life and gives a lot of colour, plus they are really powerful and with strong meaning.

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  • January 3, 2019 at 6:49 am
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    There’s some really thought-provoking street art here, the paper towel certainly is a big feature. The murals are powerful and the desperate feelings come through, it’s really hits home. Must’ve been an interesting trip.

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  • January 3, 2019 at 2:04 am
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    I always love street arts. These are gorgeous ones. Especially, the one comprehending poverty, lack of opportunities whilst holding aa colleg degree.

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  • January 3, 2019 at 1:59 am
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    I really love the street art. It is a great way to give you message to your society and it also makes your street beautiful.

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  • January 2, 2019 at 11:06 pm
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    Ah! The way the artists paint their pain, anger, and misery. How do they manage to make pain look beautiful? I hope their powerful artwork garner the attention of the world to how the inequality and injustice are killing the dreams of Puerto Ricans.

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  • January 2, 2019 at 10:31 pm
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    That’s a really cool art street in Puerto Rico.It will be nice to have some photo ops in here 🙂 And the arts have some meanings to it.

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  • January 2, 2019 at 6:48 pm
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    That yellow wall is just so pretty! I so need to visit PR. The natural landscape is stunning and I wanna see El Yunque Falls too…and so many much more.

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  • January 2, 2019 at 5:52 pm
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    Wow those are some powerful images. It is so sad how our administration treats Puerto Rico when we are the same nation. I hope this artwork spreads some awareness and gets people talking.

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  • January 2, 2019 at 4:39 pm
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    I absolutely love the symbolism woven into street art, and these murals are so powerful and beautiful. You have done a great job retelling the story as well! Just makes the case to protect freedom of expression by any means! 🙂

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  • January 2, 2019 at 10:05 am
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    I had no idea that the street art was so important to voice concerns about politics, inequality, and society! What an interesting eye opener. We’ll have to look out for the street art when we visit. Thank you!

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  • January 2, 2019 at 9:20 am
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    What cool street art! some really quirky and expressive pieces there.

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  • December 3, 2018 at 8:35 am
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    Just incredible! We love street art also, just astounded at the imagination and HOW they plot and create dimensional art.

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  • June 22, 2018 at 9:42 am
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    Loving these street arts, they are just too beautiful. Thanks for sharing ♥️ ♥️ By any chance you are interested on doing collaborations, you can check out the collaborations portal of Phlanx.com and connect with amazing brands!

    Xoxo,
    Tiffany

    Reply
  • June 22, 2018 at 8:08 am
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    What amazing photos. Such a beautiful country filled with amazing arts and culture. Puerto Rico has always been on my bucket list, but now I think I want to take the trip sooner rather than later. Thank you for sharing!

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  • June 22, 2018 at 4:10 am
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    Love street art because it’s inspiring and it’s a freedom to express yourself! Great post, thank you for sharing!

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  • June 22, 2018 at 2:16 am
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    OMg these murals are so amazing. I love street art very much and always look for it when traveling. Thank you for sharing I now must go to Puerto Rico

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  • June 21, 2018 at 6:29 pm
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    I think politics and art always find someway to collide which I think is great for expression.

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  • June 20, 2018 at 8:10 pm
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    That’s a lot of street art, it really is beautiful. I love seeing what others do with their artistic talent.

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  • June 20, 2018 at 6:19 pm
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    oh my goodness, i love this !!!!!!!! my eyes are mesmerized !!!!!!! these artists are so talented 🙂 i need to see this for myself one day

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  • June 18, 2018 at 3:03 pm
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    I really love street art and these murals are just fantastic! It takes a lot of raw talent to be able to create something like this and I have a lot of respect for the artists attention to detail. Would love to see this in person because I’m sure the photos don’t do them near enough justice. Great post!

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  • June 17, 2018 at 6:00 pm
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    All these murals are incredibly powerful. Art can start conversations by forcing people to think. I hope these artists can bring the attention of the world to the injustice being meted out to Puerto Rico.

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  • June 17, 2018 at 4:14 pm
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    I love street art! Puerto Rico looks pretty amazing for cool art!

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  • June 17, 2018 at 3:34 pm
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    I love how street art can comment on the politics and situations in a country

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  • June 17, 2018 at 11:38 am
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    I always search out street art when I travel, it’s such a great way to connect with a place. These pieces are so powerful! Thanks for sharing

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  • June 17, 2018 at 5:41 am
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    I have been honored by street art for a few years and I think it is one of the highest forms of expression so strong that only guardanodole you perceive all the emotions that are within. The story that you are telling us is strong and I find it right this desire not to forget what was in the past.

    Reply

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