8. “Olas y Arenas” — The Beaches Belong to the People
[AMBIENT - beach sounds]
Beachgoers: “mira, mira, mira eso, mira eso..”
[MUSIC - Zona Marítimo Terrestre, Los Riveras Destino]
Alana: The sun has already set, and all that’s left is a strip of orange in the sky. The people here are the last stragglers from a day at the beach – and there are lots of them, Listening to music, flirting. Posing. Drinking. Swimming.
This is dusk at Ocean Park on a Sunday.
It hugs Santurce, in San Juan, but if you squint you could be in Miami: Tons of oiled, glistening bodies. It’s… honestly, kind of a cheesy beach.
AND this is where I confess… that I like Ocean Park. It feels like a public park, and I just love watching everyone. There are always different clusters of friends – the fitness buffs, the cocólos, the surfers, the hipsters, the tropi-goths, the tourists, the cacos – all enjoying the same space, all blasting different, competing music, topped off with mantecados and Medallas for sale, and even some fenced off sea turtle nests.
[MUSIC - guitar strums]
Alana: Sylvia Rexach, the singer, was born and raised here in Santurce a century ago, so she might have had this beach in mind for one of her most famous boleros, Olas y Arenas. Maybe she also stood here, at dusk on a Sunday, and contemplated this relationship between sea and sand… before putting pen to paper.
[MUSIC - “Olas y Arenas,” Sylvia Rexach: “Soy la arena, que en la playa está tendida, envidiando otras arenas…]
Alana: She sings from the point of view of the sand, stretched over the beach, and she pleads with a wave that almost touches her, but then pulls back.
[MUSIC - “Olas y Arenas,” Sylvia Rexach: “Eres tu la inmensa ola, que al venir casi me toca pero siempre te devuelves …”]
Alana: This wave sometimes crashes against wet sand and she gets her hopes up, thinking that it’ll reach her. Her voice rolls like the surf, and you can feel her loss – grasping at a lover who is as completely indifferent to her as a wave is to dry sand.
iLe: She has a way of getting into you, like it's so passionate and, and you feel very connected to the island, to Puerto Rico.
Alana: This is Ileana Cabra, the Grammy-award winning singer known as iLe – who grew up listening to Silvia Rexach and writes boleros herself. She loves this song, and has performed it.
[MUSIC - “Olas y Arenas,” iLe and Jorge Drexler: “Soy la arena, en la playa esta tendida…envidiando otras arenas que le quedan frente al...”]
Alana: Yes, it’s a love song. But there’s a way of listening to it now, where the poetry crests and breaks with a different meaning.
iLe: It makes you feel a lot at the same time, like you can, you can cry just watching the sea., and at the same time you can get angry as well.
[MUSIC - guitar strum]
Alana: Because our coasts are in danger. Threatened by development, gentrification, even natural forces like erosion and sea level rise.
iLe: you know, that the action of that, the water like can give you something, but then take it away and you just have to deal with it.
Alana: In Puerto Rico, the coasts are public.
But people still find ways to flout the law, building where it's technically prohibited, or trying to make beaches private. That’s happening all over the archipelago, there are new reports of illegal constructions all the time.
It’s like the coasts are in danger from this double threat: the erosion and the rising seas on one side… and on the other, construction and privatization.
iLe: You feel that they also take away from you. [...] It's unfair and like we don't deserve that.
The government is supposed to, you know, make things easier for us but it doesn’t.
Alana: In Puerto Rico, the cost of living is high and the wages are not. More and more public goods have been privatized. Even shuttered government buildings, like schools, have been turned into condos.
Out of everything people are fighting for, and against, why is the fight for the beaches so front and center?
So… we’re ending this season with Sylvia Rexach’s bolero to love and loss. We’re gonna end up… where the waves meet the sand.
[LA BREGA THEME]
From Futuro Studios and WNYC Studios, I’m Alana Casanova-Burgess, and this is La Brega. In this episode, track 8: Olas y Arenas… The beaches belong to the people.
[AMBIENT - beach sounds]
Paco: One of the feedback that we usually get from people that moved to Puerto Rico is that we in Puerto Rico, we don't know what we have. That this is such an amazing island.
Alana: Francisco Díaz Fournier, or Paco, is co-founder and partner of Luxury Collection, a real estate firm in Puerto Rico.
I had asked for an interview about the role of beaches in how people imagine Puerto Rico. Specifically, how his clients imagine it. He offered to take me to Dorado, a luxury community where a lot of wealthy newcomers move to. And along the way, he gave me a tour.
Paco: And that's Ricky Martin's home.
Alana: Oh, wow. He’s repaving his driveway.
Alana: These are some very impressive houses …owned by some impressive people. Including a famous reggaetonero…
Alana: Does he have a name?
Alana: But Paco won’t say who.
Paco: Yeah, I'm not supposed to disclose it.
Alana: Dammit. I tried.
Everything about these properties we’re driving past is luxurious – crisp lawns, bromeliads arranged just so. They’re not actually beachfront, but they’re gorgeous.
This February, the most expensive house to ever go on the market in Puerto Rico was listed at 45 million dollars, not far from where we are. A lot of the buyers are from the US, and have been drawn to Puerto Rico by tax incentives.
Paco: They believe in Puerto Rico, they say at this, these island has a great future. I feel comfortable with making that level of investment, and seeing that things are moving up, for me is great, it’s fantastic.
Alana: Paco tells me that when he’s involved in a big multi-million dollar sale, it means… yes, the commission… but also, he sees it as a reflection on Puerto Rico’s value.
Paco: But that's the main product I sell. I'm telling you, you can interview any of my clients and they will tell you, man, the first thing that Paco sells you is Puerto Rico with the pros and cons that – I try to make a balance.
Alana: The cons being drawbacks like… the high crime rate, the fragile electricity grid, the weak public education system… though, the gated resorts feel insulated from all of that.
We get to Dorado Beach, part of the Ritz-Carlton.
Alana: It's just beautiful.
Paco: Oh, this is spectacular.
Alana: A one bedroom looking out on the water here will cost you twenty-five hundred dollars a night.
Paco is a member at this club, that’s how we were able to get in.
Alana: Oh, so that's where the beach is.
Paco: That's where the beach is.
Alana: I'm wondering this whole time.
Alana: And so beaches are public…
Alana: everywhere, right?
Alana: So people can come in here to use this beach.
Paco: Well, to.. they, they will have to swim because they are coming inside of, uh, this property. You have to be a member or a guest or a resident.
Alana: There there's no, like, beach pass.
Alana: Were you joking about swimming? (se rie) Sorry.
Paco:no, I'm serious. Well, it sounds like a joke, but it's true. You need to, to swim to get access to the sand. Yes. The beach is public, but this is a private property.
[MUSIC - percussion]
Alana: I didn't know we were headed exactly here, to West Beach in Dorado. There have been protests here, because people have to climb over rocks to get to it if they don’t come in through the private entrance. They say that’s not in the spirit of the beaches being public.
These questions of access are popping up all around the island. I recently visited another beach that has been a kind of ground zero for this conversation – in Rincón.
Iris: I really didn't understand as a young person or a child, what the politics or what was going on here? All I knew was that I wanna go to a beach.
Alana: That’s where I met Iris, she grew up in the Bronx.
Iris: My parents were from Rincón and Añasco. They went to the states when I was little.
Alana: She and her husband, Ethan, have retired in Rincón – it’s a kind of homecoming for her. And today, they’ve come to Playa Los Almendros… While Ocean Park feels like a party, this beach – with its water like glass – it feels like a postcard. Or… it used to.
Ethan: When we first came here that was 40 some years ago. [laughs]... you know, all you saw was almond trees, high grass. It was beautiful. you know, you felt free. And then bit by bit, everything started closing in.
Alana: All the new development here makes the beach less accessible — it can be confusing.
There are buildings on either side of us, at the end of a short road that’s also a parking area. When I first pulled up, I didn’t know if I was allowed to come this way to get to the beach. Turns out, neither did Iris.
Iris: So even today, I'm not even sure which areas you can walk in and which areas you can’t [...] I had to ask questions. Are you allowed to come in here? Can you park your car? Am I gonna get a ticket? Like I wasn't sure.
Alana: And we’re standing next to a four-story condo building that’s actually been the center of a major battle for the coasts. It’s called Condominio Sol y Playa. It’s right on the beach, painted a kind of sandy color, with white balconies that look out on this very calm sea.
When Maria hit in 2017, violent, hurricane-strength waves destroyed its beachfront swimming pool. In fact, the hurricane changed a lot of the coastline all around Puerto Rico. Beaches became narrower strips of sand, which means that technically, buildings like this one are now closer to the water – or, perhaps I should say, the water is closer to the buildings.
After the hurricane, the condo applied for permits to rebuild the pool between the building and the beach. The government granted permission, and a construction crew broke ground.
[AMBIENT - construction sounds]
Maritza: Desde el día uno, desde el día que empezaron a suceder estas cosas –
Alana: This is Maritza Correa. She remembers coming to this same beach in July of 2021, and seeing that jarring construction site. She told a friend.
Maritza: Le dije pronto va a parecer un carey ahí adentro y las cosas van a cambiar.
Alana: “One of these days, a sea turtle is going to show up trapped in there, and everything is going to change.”
Maritza: Y asimismo sucedió al otro día.
Alana: And the very next day, that is exactly what happened.
Alana: On Playa Los Almendros, as the sand disappears and is replaced by water and concrete, the endangered hawksbill sea turtles that normally nest here had nowhere else to go. Except…into the construction zone, behind the wall. Where one particular turtle laid over a hundred eggs before getting stuck. Volunteers had to rescue her and relocate the nest.
The fiasco made headlines.
[ARCHIVAL - TikTok, @Biancagraulau]
Bianca Graulau: They found a turtle right in the middle of the construction site.
[ARCHIVAL - Noticias Telemundo]
Reporter: …en el condominio sol y playa ubicado en los predios de la Playa los Almendros en Rincón…
[ARCHIVAL - Noticel]
Eliezer Molina: … allá dentro barada, y tuvo que depositar sus huevos ahí.
Alana: The fight went to the courts – the issue was: did the condo really have a right to build anything in this particular spot, given that the beaches in Puerto Rico are for public use – for the public good?
These are questions that have focused a whole protest movement here in Rincón, one Maritza counts herself as part of.
The Ocean is a huge part of her life.
Maritza: Yo vivo en el tope de la montaña. Y yo veo el mar desde frente.
Alana: Maritza can see the sea from her home. She and her husband spend a lot of time out on the water.
Maritza: ¡A él le encanta y a mí me fascina!
Alana: She's here today not to enjoy these waves and sand …but to fight for them. Because the government agencies that were supposed to protect the beach, didn't. They let the construction happen. And that’s why everyone is here today: to do what the government wouldn’t… tear down the construction.
Maritza: La isla completa se volcó aquí en Rincón.
Alana: This isn't the first time people have been trying to take back this space. There’s been a permanent encampment. Armed police have been filmed beating protestors, and dragging them away.
[ARCHIVAL - video de twitter de V. Torres Montalvo]
Female protester 1: “Cobarde”
Female protester 2: “Eres un abusador”
Female protester 3: “¡Mira como la coge! Hey, eso no se hace puñeta”
Alana: The courts eventually ruled that the construction was permit-ted illegally, and what had been built had to go. And then… nothing happened. For months. The condo owners didn’t remove the wall, and the courts didn’t compel them to.
[AMBIENT - construction sounds]
Maritza: Alguien que me tire una foto…
Alana: July 4th 2022, when protestors convened on this beach to clear the concrete and rebar away themselves. That’s the day I met Maritza.
Maritza: ¡Ahi va! (grunts)
Protester 1: Ahí está...
Alana: There she was, a woman in her mid-60s, wielding a sledgehammer, thwacking away at the concrete wall.
Protester 2: Eso es!
[AMBIENT - “Wooo!” hammering continues]
Alana: She took some pieces of rubble, as though she had just taken a turn tearing down the Berlin Wall.
Maritza: me llevo un pedazo de cemento porque quiero que mis seres querido, sepan que yo estuve aquí, que yo…
Alana: She wants her loved ones to know she was here, on this beach, and that she fought – she shed tears here.
[AMBIENT - hammer]
Alana: There are laws meant to protect the beach. These laws were made to be followed. And Maritza says the government isn’t even doing that.
Maritza: El gobierno no está haciendo valer las leyes. Si sabemos que la ley se hizo, ¿para qué? Para seguirla.
Alana: And then… she mentions this very specific term:
Maritza: ...y la zona marítimo-terrestre se respeta. Se respeta.
Alana: The zona maritimo-terrestre. The maritime terrestrial zone.
Alana: In some ways, it’s the closest definition of where we can go to the beach in Puerto Rico — a wonky legal term that’s on everyone’s lips.
Person 1: Zona Marítimo-terrestre
Person 2: Zona Marítimo-terrestre
Person 3: Zona Marítimo-terrestre
Person 4: Zona Marítimo-terrestre
Person 5: Zona Marítimo-terrestre
Alana: And the legal definition of this Maritime terrestrial Zone, it turns out, is shockingly similar to the lyrics of the bolero we started out with
[MUSIC - bolero tease]
Alana: That’s coming up, after the break. This is La Brega.
Xenia Rubinos: Hello, this is Xenia Rubinos and you’re listening to La Brega.
Alana: This is La Brega, and I’m Alana Casanova-Burgess.
To explain the zona maritimo terrestre, I’m going to ask you to picture Sylvia Rexach’s heartbreak again. She’s singing as the dry sand, watching this wave break against the dampened sand on a beach, believing that at some point the wave will reach her too.
MUSIC - “Olas y arenas,” Sylvia Rexach: “Las veces, Que te derramas sobre arena humedecida ya creyendo que esta vez me tocarás…”]
Alana: You can picture her as this stretch of sand on the beach that’s a bit removed from where the waves crash on the shore, just watching with wrenching longing.
[MUSIC - guitar strums]
Alana: So what does this have to do with the fight for beach access? Because the legal definition of Puerto Rican beaches as a space that belongs to the public depends on this exact concept: what sand gets touched by the waves and what sand doesn’t.
And as you’ll see, it’s not that simple.
For instance, the difference between high and low tide at that beach I like, Ocean Park, can be measured in feet– unless, you know, there’s a big storm or some kind of unusual tide. So on any given day, Sylvia is going to be left disappointed by this out of reach affair, jealous of the narrow, damp stretch of the beach basking in the affection of the waves.
Veronica: In Puerto Rico, difference between high tide and low tide is a few feet in most cases.
Alana: Verónica González Rodríguez is an environmental lawyer and professor at the Interamerican University in San Juan. We met in Ocean Park, we’re both barefoot, our toes are in the loose, cool sand, just before sunset.
Verónica: We have this concept of the maritime terrestrial zone that establishes by law that anywhere where the tides can be measured that are sensible – the high tide will mark common, public land.
Alana: This legal definition of the ‘zona maritimo terrestre” is what puts the beaches in Puerto Rico in the public domain – to be used for the public good. In short, it’s what gives us all access to the beaches.
And this definition dates back to the 1800s, when Puerto Rico was a colony of Spain. All laws in Puerto Rico are colonial, but this one is from the old regime, not the current one.
It was written for a Spanish context:
[MUSIC - percussion]
Verónica: A certain area of the beach was cleared… then no permanent constructions. So that in case there was a storm, those boats could be carried into land and therefore not be destroyed by the storm.
Alana: Then, an extra 20 meters were also supposed to be cleared for public use, so that the police could patrol and look out for contraband coming in.
Veronica: Late in the 19th century, people did not go to the beach to have a beer and get a sun tan. That's not how we related to the coast back then.
Alana: Now in Spain, where the law comes from, the difference between high and low tide can be really noticeable – as much as several meters on the north coast.
This means there’s just… a lot more area in that tidal zone where the waves hit the shore – the public area can be bigger in Spain. But in Puerto Rico, unless there’s a storm or an unusual tide, day in and day out, those waves are crashing on the same sand over and over again. It means the public area of the beach is much slimmer here.
So this law that was written for a whole other part of the world, feels a little misplaced here – and antiquated.
Not only that, but it also kind of doesn’t sound like a law. It sounds very… lyrical.
[MUSIC - Zona Marítimo-terrestre, Los Rivera Destino]
Let me translate it for you, though it sounds less pretty in English (a lot of things do). The maritime terrestrial zone is defined as “the part of Puerto Rico’s coasts that the sea bathes in its ebb and flow, where you can feel the tides, or where the highest waves during the storms reach when the tides are not sensible.”
It’s almost calling itself to be put to music. So much so that we asked the Santurce-based group, Los Rivera Destino, to sing the words as a bolero for us.
[MUSIC - Zona Marítimo-terrestre, Los Rivera Destino: “El espacio de las costas de Puerto Rico que baña el mar en su flujo y reflujo, en donde son sensibles las mareas y las mayores olas en los temporales en donde las mareas no son sensibles”]
Alana: It's kind of poetic. It's sort of lyrical.
Veronica: It is, it's beautiful.
Alana: It’s beautiful,it's lyrical, but it also is short and kind of vague
Veronica: It's short, it’s kind of vague and usually lawyers like vague, right?
It gives us space to work with...but when you're creating public policy and public policy that affects the lives of so many people, it creates issues…
Alana: Issues – plural.
The law is vague, because it uses something as ephemeral as tides to define the zona marítimo-terrestre – and also because it gives the government this other way to measure what part of the beach should be public: use the highest waves in a storm – waves that ultimately reach so much further inland. Picture that. It would mean so much more of the sand (and beyond) would be in a no-build zone.
Alana: In fact, after the public outcry about the situation in Playa Los Almendros, in Rincón, the government re-measured the public area and used the highest waves from Hurricane Fiona to figure out where the zona marítimo-terrestre is. The result was clear: that swimming pool would have been on protected land. If the zona marítimo-terrestre were measured according to storm waves, and not just regular ones, a lot more land would be in the public domain.
That’s why… there’s been a consistent but unsuccessful push to change the law.
Mariana: Another definition would be more accurate. And that would be: where did the tide go after hurricane María?
Alana: This is Mariana Nogales, representative at large in the Puerto Rican legislature. Mariana is one of the lawmakers who has been pushing for a change.
Mariana: And that would be a more precise, eh, particularly for all the coming hurricanes that we can expect to have. Quizás es un concepto así, tan difícil de definir como el amor, ¿verdad? Es un concepto así. Si.
Alana: Love is inexact, and so is the zona marítimo-terrestre.
Mariana:Nunca es exacto (se rie). El amor es inexacto y la zona marítimo-terrestre también
Alana: Mariana’s office gets calls from constituents all over Puerto Rico about construction projects that block access to beaches, or which displace people. They’re feeling all of this very deeply in their lives – this assault on the beaches.
Mariana: I think it's part of what makes us Puerto Ricans. And I think it is one of the things people here have a clear idea of what the fight is for.
Alana: She notes that there’s a long history, since at least the 70s, of more focused fights against specific developments in Puerto Rico.
For over a decade, activists campaigned against the expansion of a Courtyard Marriott in Isla Verde.
[ARCHIVAL - Compañeros de Lucha (2012)]
Protester: “Entonces nos quita lo que pertenece al pueblo. Que es público: las playas y el mar.”
Alana: And what was the movement to push the Navy out of Vieques and Culebra but a fight to take back the beaches?
[ARCHIVAL - Fundación Culebra]
Narrator: “The Navy had agreed to…to move some air targets, return some acreage, stop shelling on the weekends. Now, their magnificent beach could at least be used on Saturdays and Sundays.”
Alana: All over the coast, there have been confrontations about who this space belongs to.
It’s even happened at Ocean Park, that beach I like in San Juan.
[ARCHIVAL - Instagram @eliezermolinapr]
Female protester: “La playa es pública. ¿Entiende lo que pasa? ¡Es pública!
Alana: Throughout the island, people have been pushing back. There’s been a fight for the beaches – a whole protest movement that’s all about this space on the coast.
It’s even been violent. In January, private security guards fired at protestors at one illegal construction site.
[ARCHIVAL - Telemundo PR]
News Presenter: “A protester fighting against this private development built on public land in Aguadilla was shot in the leg over the weekend.”
[ARCHIVAL - Joslum YouTube Channel]
Protesters: Las Playas son del Pueblo… Ahora mismo, están los de…
[ARCHIVAL, NBC News]
Protesters: Las playas son del pueblo
[ARCHIVAL- Escuchar la Verdad]
Protesters: Las playas son del pueblo…
Alana: I want to linger on that line, so it doesn’t wash over us. In a country that belongs to another country, that refrain – las playas son del pueblo – asserts an ownership: this is ours.
What’s different now is that it’s kind of like the name of that movie – Everything Everywhere All At Once.
Mariana: We are facing a new type of colonization. Es un ataque por todos lados, por todos lados y de todo.
Alana: Since Hurricane María, there’s been an influx of people moving to Puerto Rico for tax incentives who come not only with a lot of capital to invest in luxurious beachfront properties, but with a different perception about beaches – an understanding, Mariana says – that beaches can be private, or at least restricted.
Mariana: Sobre todo por personas que vienen de otros países de otros lugares donde sí, hay la posibilidad de que las playas sean privadas.
Alana: It’s not only newcomers who see the possibility of construction and development along the coasts.
Every recent governor has wanted to see more development – and the current one, Pedro Pierluisi, is no exception. According to the Center for Investigative Journalism – In 2021, the first year of his administration, the government approved nearly 30 percent more coastal construction permits than in the previous year.
Again, Verónica González:
Verónica: Every one of them seems to have the same great idea to improve our economic situation. We need to get permits out faster and build more and construct more because we, have to get jobs to people, right? And that will fix everything.
Alana: Over a year ago, A panel of scientific advisors urged the Puerto Rican government to adopt a moratorium on coastal construction. Experts have said there’s not a moment to lose to take action. But the governor declined, and said that decision seemed excessive to him, that it needed more study. He addressed it in a press conference:
[ARCHIVAL - Centro de Periodismo Investigativo]
Pedro Pierluisi: Esto con lleva el llegar a un balance. Un balance… eh, justo.
Alana: There needed to be a balance, a just one, he said – because he’s hearing from people on both sides: those who want more protections, and those who want more construction.
And then there are those who are dealing with the people who can afford to have more access to the beaches – who are moving here for tax incentives that have been set up to attract them, and their investments.
[AMBIENT – Dorado]
Paco: I have to say that this is not the true Puerto Rico. There are places here that are so, so depressed. And so, in such a bad shape that there's no single developer willing to put a penny on, on those places.
Alana: Paco Díaz Fournier is the realtor who was showing me around Dorado… and he’s one of the people who supports the tax incentives that are attracting his clients.
Paco: We as Puertorican, we need to get more aware about how beautiful it's our island and believe that we can do better, that we deserve to have, uh, a better place.
Alana: That’s where the fantasy of the beach that we’re on right now – this private club in Dorado – meets a bigger idea of what Puerto Rico could be. That the people who are paying a premium for this gorgeous coastline will bring enough capital and employment to lift all boats.
Paco: And things are gonna get better finally.
Alana: So connect that for me to the idea of like, how do the public schools get better? How do the roads get repaved? Because also the people who are moving here, they're not paying taxes. Right. So, so where does the, the money come from for those things?
Paco: They have to pay the sales tax, they have to pay property tax.
Alana: But property taxes are quite low. There actually haven’t been conclusive studies about the benefits of the tax incentives that attract people to move to Puerto Rico. What we do know… is that there’s a well-documented housing crisis – rents are going up at the same time that headlines follow more and more proposals for luxury constructions.
Paco told me he doesn’t picture a future Puerto Rico where the whole coast is full of developments like the one we’re at in Dorado – it’s not gonna happen. But there is a trade-off to making some beaches more exclusive, and in a way, he says, it keeps some beaches clean.
Paco: Well, people are allowed to come here, but they, they want, this is a private property Alana. What do you want to do? Just to open the gate and say, well, anyone just bring your barbecue and do whatever. No.
Alana: Isn't it good that people can go to the beach? I guess I, maybe I don't understand what you mean by that.
Paco: Life is not only about going to the beach, Alana, please. we have, uh, man, there's tons of miles and miles, uhI can take you to beaches where people have access too, you're gonna be in tears, in tears. It's all full of trash. It's, it’s unbelievable.
Alana: No, life is not only about going to the beach. I agree.
And yes, there can be the annoyances — for some, that’s sand, there’s often music coming out of a speaker, or multiple sound systems at once… And… yes… unfortunately, sometimes people don’t clean up after themselves.
But that's what can happen in a public, shared space.
Beaches make up this ring of pleasure that encircles the whole island – an escape valve, which is why it hurts so much to lose.
What is a place without its people – and what are people without their place?
Around the same time Sylvia Rexach was writing Olas y Arenas, in the mid-50s, the naturalist Rachel Carson was writing about oceans. There’s this line of hers: “that every grain of sand tells the story of the earth.”
For our purposes, it tells the story of Puerto Rico.
Alana: All sand was once rock, or shells, ground finer and finer over millions of years, pounded mainly by waves and wind and carried down rivers until it ended up here, encircling an island that started out as an active volcano. And even after all that time, it keeps changing. Carson wrote: “Not only do the tides advance and retreat in their eternal rhythms but the level of the sea itself is never at rest.”
And so it is with beaches all over the island. There’s been so much erosion recently, that on some beaches cliffs have formed – which has the effect of revealing all the sand that’s just… gone. Waves crash into sea walls and swallow buildings. You can see how the island is shrinking, where the beaches are slimmer and slimmer and slimmer.
I suspect Sylvia Rexach would find this fact quite painful. I find it painful to share with you here, to sit on the sand and watch the waves do what they do.
It reminds me of what iLe said – channeling the message of our haunting bolero, “Olas y Arenas:”
iLe: It makes you feel a lot at the same time, like you can, you can cry just watching the sea.
And you know, that the action of that, the water like can give you something, but then take it away and you just have to deal with it.
Alana: But that’s not how I want to leave things. It’s not quite right that there’s nothing to be done. It’s not quite right to say that there aren’t people doing the fighting – pushing the government to regulate more responsibly, or to address erosion, or even in small ways, to clean up after ourselves.
[AMBIENT - Rincón protest]
It’s not quite right to say everyone’s just sitting on the sand waiting for change to come…
Protester 1: Soy de San Sebastián.
Protester 2: Soy de Yabucoa.
Protester 3: Soy de Aguadilla.
Protester 4:Yo vine desde Utuado.
Alana: On that July 4th day in Rincon, at Playa Los Almendros, people had come from all over to do the work to remove concrete that was on public land. It was there that I met Maritza Correa, who was wielding that sledgehammer.
Maritza: Se me quebranta la voz hija, por muchas razones. Se me quebranta la voz porque tú no esperas esto. Tú no esperas esto.
Alana: Her voice was breaking just thinking about how unexpected all this was.
Maritza: …de la gente que tú que tú misma…
Alana: How every person…
Maritza: …toda persona es un granito de arena, para llenar la montaña.
Alana: is like another grain of sand
Maritza: para llenar la montaña.
Alana: building up to a mountain.
Protesters: “¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!”
Alana: And, at one point, when protestors unfurled a massive Puerto Rican flag…
Protester: "¡Oye esta bandera es grande, solamente la carga un pueblo!"
Alana: It was Maritza, who took the bullhorn to sing not Olas y Arenas, but instead… the song we began this season with. It's the true anthem, the love song for Puerto Rico...
[Martiza: (singing) Preciosa by Rafael Hernadez: “Preciosa Preciosa te llaman… del mar que te bañan, no importa el tirano te trate con negra maldad...” ]
She sang “Preciosa.”
That song about the beautiful waves that have, and will always bathe Puerto Rico.
And about defiance to all tyrants that might try to hold us down.
[AMBIENT - Ocean waves]
[MUSIC - “Olas y arenas,” Balun: “Soy la arena que la playa está tendida…”]
Alana: “Olas y Arenas” is a particularly ethereal bolero.That’s why we asked our friends in Balún, the same brilliant group that scored this show, to reinterpret it. It’s the last track on our album. Here’s José Olivares:
José: Our cover takes more of an environmental slash ambient take on [the] song when mixed field recordings… to create more of a vintage vibe that’s more moody, more dreamy.
Angélica: I love singing the part that says “y te disuelves en la espuma!” I really love those lyrics.
[MUSIC - “Olas y Arenas,” Balun: “...y te disuelves en la espuma, alejándoteme más”]
Alana: And that was Angélica Negrón. You can listen to the rest of Olas y Arenas by Balún and to our whole cover album on April 11. The first single off the album, “Preciosa,” reimagined by Xenia Rubinos, is out right now.
This episode was written by me, Alana Casanova Burgess. It was edited by Mark Pagan and produced by Ezequiel Rodriguez Andino and Joaquin Cotler with help from Tasha Sandoval. Original art for this episode is by Rosaura Rodriguez.
Special thanks this week to David Rodríguez Andino, Aurelio Mercado, Deepak Lamba-Nieves, Yarimar Bonilla, Samantha Fields, Tracie Hunte, Joel Cintron Arbasetti, Ismael Cancel, and Paul Dryden.
The La Brega team includes Jeanne Montalvo, Ezequiel Rodriguez Andino, Joaquin Cotler, Liliana Ruiz, Tasha Sandoval, Mark Pagan, Maria Garcia, Victor Ramos Rosado, Juan Diego Ramirez, Marlon Bishop and Jenny Lawton.
Fact checking this season is by Istra Pacheco and Maria Soledad Davila Calero.
Our engineer is Joe Plourde. Our theme song is by Ife. Original music is by Balun – and, the Zona Maritimo Terrestre was adapted into a bolero by the very talented Los Rivera Destino.
You can hear all the music featured in this episode – and this season – on our Spotify playlist. We’ve got a link in our show notes.
This season of La Brega was made possible by the Mellon Foundation.
And… that’s it for our season, we hope you enjoyed La Brega Season 2 as much as we did. .There are so many people who we want to thank for supporting us and helping make La Brega’s second season happen. So here we go –
Lauren Cooperman, Neil Rosini, Andrew Golis, Julio Ricardo Varela, Kenya Young, Stacy Parker LeMelle, Emily Botein, Lorenzo Lautz from Big Sync, Laura Catana, Mike Barry, Tara Sonin, Theodora Kuslan, Andrea Latimer, Jennifer Houlihan Roussel, Dalia Dagher, Michelle Xu, Kim Nowacki, Rachel Lieberman, Miriam Barnard, Robin Bilinkoff, Jacqueline Cincotta, Rex Doane, Jason Isaac, Vanessa Cervini Rios, Kelly Gillespie, Lillian Xu, Agustina Caferri, Luis Luna, Kristina Newman-Scott, Jennifer Keeney Sendrow and the whole team at The Greene Space. Thank you thank you thank you.
I'm Alana Casanova-Burgess. Thank YOU all for listening.
And just because I want to, I leave you with our original musical version of the Zona Maritimo Terrestre, performed by Los Rivera Destino. Bai!
[Bolero: El espacio de las costas de Puerto Rico que baña el mar en su flujo y reflujo, en donde son sensibles las mareas y las mayores olas… en los temporales en donde las mareas no son sensibles… el espacio de las costas de Puerto Rico, que baña el mar.]
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.