Anyone who’s passed through San Juan’s historic center over the last few years has inevitably stopped by la Calle San José to snap a selfie with a giant colonial door bearing an image of the Puerto Rican flag. Known appropriately as “La Puerta de la Bandera,” the mural boldly asserts its presence from the side of an abandoned historical building on a busy commercial strip, where on any given day a gaggle of tourists flashing peace signs can be found taking turns at photos.
Since it was first painted by local artist Rosenda Álvarez four years ago with permission from the building’s owner, La Puerta has emerged as an emblematic fixture of Old San Juan and a symbol of national identity. Which is perhaps why Álvarez found it appropriate to revisit her mural in the wake of the island’s newly-imposed fiscal oversight board, which has significantly darkened the collective mood over the past few days.
As of Monday, surprised visitors and residents of San Juan were greeted by a somber black-and-white reimagining of the island’s beloved red, white, and blue bandera. While Álvarez’s latest work seems to evoke a mood of patriotic mourning, Boricuas might also recognize parallels with the defunct Puerto Rican Nationalist Party’s spare black-and-white cross.
For his part, the building’s owner was originally unaware of the changes, but he has since expressed his full support for Álvarez’s decision. The general public, however, was more divided, with some even trying to mobilize fellow islanders to repaint the flag.
— DiosiBieberVera (@e4a6723e4b874f9) July 6, 2016
— Mikę 〽️ (@MikeRiv07) July 5, 2016
In response, Puerto Ricans have taken to Twitter with a mix of humor and outrage to speak out against citizens who would condemn an artistic statement before taking action to better the island’s ongoing crisis.
Sounding out like the playful chorus of a traditional Puerto Rican plena, #PeroQueNoPintenLaPuerta captures the pain felt by Puerto Ricans on the island without losing its ironic touch. Recurring themes included the reduction of the minimum wage, the controversial zika-related fumigation, and the island’s skyrocketing crime rate.
Others took to photoshop for a slightly wackier take on the controversy.
While others just trolled.
In all it seems Álvarez’s small but powerful gesture has mobilized sentiment across the Puerto Rican twittersphere. And with the island’s future still hanging in the balance, it may just be a taste of what’s to come.