by Nick Gaglio
Not even 24 hours removed from a flight back to the Unites States, Rosa Clemente came to SUNY Purchase’s Social Sciences building on Oct. 19 to deliver a long-awaited lecture on hip-hop’s ascendance as a political and social force for Latinx Heritage Month.
“It was actually scheduled for last week,” said Daisy Torres-Baez, Coordinator of Diversity Initiatives at the Multicultural Center, which sponsored the event alongside the Hip-Hop Club, Latinos Unidos and PUSH: Ideas Into Action. The audience became rapt and engaged even as it became clear the lecture would be less about music, and more about the tragic events surrounding the destruction levied by Hurricane Maria.
Clemente just returned from a 14-day trip to Puerto Rico, where she and a group of activists documented their time through social media using the hashtag #PROnTheMap. In the lecture, the self proclaimed hip-hop activist detailed her findings on the island. She took the time to speak to average citizens affected by the storm, as well as San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, becoming one of the only American outlets to land a one-on-one with her after publicly sparring with President Trump. The campaign has shed light on the plight of the average Boricua, or Puerto Rican, sparing no pains for the sake of honesty and transparency in her reporting.
“There’ll be thousands of people that will die in the next few weeks in Puerto Rico because of lack of water, lack of power, lack of medicines and a total disregard for human life.” Clemente stated bluntly. “The United States is participating in criminal human rights violations right now on the island.”
In one particularly inflammatory video Clemente took via Facebook Live, she documented the neglect of the military taking their nights off to dance and gamble at the Sheraton Hotel in San Juan. “They’re here supposed to be helping Puerto Ricans. This is what they do every night while they should be working,” she says, still seemingly exasperated and bewildered. “Actually, not even working, just straight saving lives.”
“[It’s important that] Black people don’t separate themselves from the issue of Puerto Ricans’ needs right now because our brothers and sisters are calling for us,” responds Jakirah Holloman, Purchase student and President of the Hip-Hop Club.
#PROnTheMap is but the latest humanitarian step in Clemente’s life. Being actively involved in official chapters of both the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and Black Lives Matter, Rosa Clemente continues to assert her presence as a Black Puerto Rican woman, while never compromising to anybody else’s terms. In the early 2000’s, she worked closely with artists like Talib Kweli, Mos Def and Dead Prez to make hip-hop a more politically conscious and charitable movement, co-founding the National Hip-Hop Political Convention in 2003, while decrying the corporatization and misogyny of its gatekeepers. (most infamously Russell Simmons). In 2008, she was invited by Cynthia McKinney to join the Green Party ticket as a candidate for vice president of the United States, comprising the first Black female Presidential ticket in U.S. history. She has recently appeared on television, making the case for Puerto Rican independence on “Democracy Now” and CNN’s “United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell.”
“I was trying to see for the different months, Black History Month, Latinx Heritage Month, what could we do,” Residence Coordinator Shereen Bourne said of booking Clemente. “Seeing her work in hip-hop, [learning] she ran for office, she’s getting her PHD. All of this is a great role model for undergrad students.”
Born in the Bronx, but spending a good portion of adolescence in Westchester, she finished her talk with a hyperlocal call to arms to the campus: “If you’re an artist, I think this is a perfect time for cultural workers to do something. Compose something, sing something, make a play. I mean this is SUNY Purchase, I know what this school’s about! Political theater, political art, political music, composition, sing, dance! All of that is very necessary to revolution and resistance.”
“I think we need to push the conversation on campus of how we’re going to respond to what’s happening in Puerto Rico creatively,” Torres-Baez said upon the lecture’s conclusion. “I feel like she challenged us as a campus, in terms of cultural workers, what that response will look like. Hopefully people in the room will share that with friends.”