Ahead of May 1 Strikes in PR, This Poet Wants to Take the Power of Puñeta From Sports to Activism

Lead Photo: Courtesy of Lxs de Abajo

For many Puerto Ricans, the World Baseball Classic (WBC) final against the United States was about more than just baseball, it was an act of resistance. As PR challenged the United States – its colonizer – for the title, it certainly felt like David challenging Goliath. But because of the team’s winning streak, some joked that it was so hot it could even dismantle neocolonialism. Despite participating in a tournament revolving around a sport seen as quintessentially American, Puerto Rico maintained its identity throughout. During the exciting lead up to the finals, Puerto Ricans rushed out to buy blond hair dye to match the players’ lightened locks and beards. Poet Omar Iloy, similarly swept up in the excitement, put pen to paper and created a spoken word ode about the power of puñeta – a word that further united Puerto Rican baseball fans during the tournament.

Titled Puñeta en Ingles, Iloy melodically asks “dime como se dice puñeta en ingles?” repeatedly while explaining that while the word is endlessly versatile, it’s not something that the English language can accurately capture. It’s a Puerto Rican word that can empower them and no one else. As such, it became an inimitable rallying cry that Iloy argues can be channeled outside of sports, too.

“When that word is used in the heat of battle against the United States’s team, something de-colonial happens,” Iloy told me. “Because we’re winning, we can say, ‘not only are we at your level. We’re better.’ For a colony facing its colonizer, it’s cabrón and it feels cabrón. But [this feeling] is only one moment that repeatedly stays in the game’s atmosphere, it stays on the cancha. The poem comes from that desire of wanting to take that [feeling] from the field to the streets.”

And it’s not just limited to baseball. When Monica Puig won gold at the Olympics, she also gave her compatriots a reason to loudly shout puñeta. “The phenomenon is the combination: the passion and calor boricua behind the sport and the word puñeta.” But in the video, where he shows off his blond beard and holds a baseball, he explains how Team Rubio’s victories came at the right time.

On June 30, 2016, the US government signed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability (PROMESA) to address the island’s more than $70 billion debt. The bill created a seven-member control board – not elected by those who’ll most be affected – with the power to supersede the Puerto Rican government. Though former President Barack Obama called it “an important first step on the path of creating more stability, better services and greater prosperity over the long term for the people of Puerto Rico,” it’s hard to ignore the colonial implications of PROMESA.

The poem dropped just ahead of May 1 – a day when organizers have planned large-scale strikes across the island to protest the junta – in hopes of encouraging his compatriots to capture the power of puñeta once again. Check out his inspirational poem above.