Commentary
By Christina Colón 5-24-2018

For eight sobering minutes, a new Hurray for the Riff Raff music video follows a working-class Puerto Rican family as they try to rebuild physically and emotionally in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Filmed on the island and starring The Florida Project’s Mela Murder, the video — a vibrant backdrop to the band’s new song “Pa’lante,” sung by Riff Raff’s Nuyorican lead singer Alynda Segarra — captures in brilliant colors the pain and strength of the Puerto Rican people.

The video opens with a woman carrying her baby past rows of boarded houses and scrap heaps to the water's edge. As she looks out, the camera jumps to New York City, where a man is working odd jobs, carrying mattresses and packaging chicken. Their separation is an acknowledgement of the thousands who have fled the island, in what the media has called a mass “exodus.” From cooking to washing hair, the couples’ daily routines set against a backdrop of distress serve as an ode to life after trauma.

“Pa’lante,” a contraction of “para adelante,” is a Spanish affirmation meaning “forward.” In the 1960s, it served as the title of the newspaper produced by the historic Puerto Rican civil rights activist group the Young Lords. The group makes an appearance in the video, black and white footage of their protests flickering in and out as stanzas from Pedro Pietri’s poem, “Puerto Rican Obituary,” are read.

“Pa’lante is a very Puerto Rican mindset,” Kristian Mercado Figueroa, who directed the music video, said. “Be it a family struggling to stay together, or recovering from the hurricane, the Puerto Rican people are strong and they will always stand and move forward.”

The video is dedicated to Figueroa’s grandfather, Felipe Figueroa Rosa, “who died in the aftermath of the hurricane...and to all the Puerto Ricans still struggling.” Proceeds from the video will go to the PRIMA Fund, a collective founded after the hurricane to support Puerto Rico’s independent music and arts community.

The arrival of “Pa’lante” is timely. Just last week, CNN reported that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had stopped working to restore power lines downed during the hurricane. Their departure leaves at least 13,870 Puerto Ricans in the dark.

“I know how terribly frightening the climate of our current situation is,” singer Segarra said during a recent concert in Washington D.C. “I’m scared all the time. This is the only thing that I know how to do to create a better world, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like enough. So, a reminder that your daily actions matter, and your beliefs matter, and making art matters.”

She encouraged those in the audience to support organizations and movements led by Latinx people. “Whether it’s rebuilding Puerto Rico or supporting DACA recipients, take action,” she said.

Christina Colón (@CJaneColon) is an Assistant Web Editor at Sojourners.

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"'Pa'lante' Is an Ode to Puerto Rico's Future"
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