At some point, everyone dreams of being free – from work, from bosses, from obligations. Only some manage to do it which means the rest of us have something to learn. With September 12th marking the birthday of Puerto Rican independence activist Don Pedro Albizu Campos (he would have been 125 years old), a man whose mission was to realize the island’s liberation, we look back at his life to glean some of the important lessons that he utilized to guide his life whose sole goal was independence. Take a look below.
Stay True to Yourself
“El Maestro” was an intelligent man with versatile interests. After graduating high school in Ponce, Puerto Rico he received a full scholarship to study engineering at the University of Vermont in 1912. After just a year the polyglot (he was fluent in eight languages) transferred to Harvard University where he studied law, chemistry, literature and philosophy. When World War I erupted, he voluntarily joined the Army. He was assigned to the all black 375th Infantry Regiment. There he experienced segregation and racism that negatively impacted his view of the U.S. In 1919 he returned to Harvard and completed his degrees. Despite receiving numerous job offers stateside — from a clerkship with the U.S. Supreme Court to a diplomatic position with the State Department — Albizu Campos declined them all. He determined that his calling was to help free the island from U.S. control and returned to home to do just that.
Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk
The hardest thing about truly being independent is living your truth on a daily basis. It’s always easier to talk about what you want rather than pursuing it. In 1924 Albizu Campos began practicing labor law in his native land and joined the newly formed Nationalist Party. There he worked with others who believed the US economic and political control of the island was unjust. He decided to do what he’d seen Indian and Irish nationalists do when he was a student at Harvard: establish an expatriot, international campaign for freedom. Soon after, Albizu Campos traveled across Latin America to raise funds and spread his gospel of independence to others in the same position. He did this for six years.
Don’t Let Setbacks Stop You
What matters most when striving for a goal is continuing to work towards it no matter how many obstacles you encounter or the number of times you may fail. In 1930, when Albizu Campos returned to Puerto Rico, the Nationalist Party split. He became the new, smaller group’s President and reinvigorated its members while gaining support from students, intellectuals and the working class. The group’s public gatherings soon became a concern to the local, US-backed government who monitored their activities which led to two different massacres, one in Rio Piedras and another in Ponce. Despite being arrested and imprisoned for his alleged involvement, Albizu Campos never gave up his nationalist activities and supported his colleague’s plans to free their island home.
Be Prepared to Sacrifice
In other words, being independent and striking out on your own often requires forgoing certain comforts, luxuries or leisure in order to be successful. Albizu Campos would be arrested and released from prison for seditious conspiracy five times from 1937 to 1964, a year shy of his death in 1965. While serving his last sentence in a federal prison he was the victim of experimental radiation treatments that eventually ended his life. Despite this, he never stopped believing in his cause. While Puerto Rico remains a U.S. territory, el maestro put the issue of independence on the world stage and forced others to question its validity. This makes his attempts to live and die free worthy lessons to learn from. As he once put it, “La patria es valor y sacrificio.”
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