Jeffrey C. Kasch Foundation Research Trip: Sara Awartani

This spring, I spent two days in the Center for Puerto Rican Studies archives in New York City for my paper tentatively titled, “¡Albizu Vive! The Tortured Body as Political Vessel in Puerto Rican Independentista Ideology.”

Here I was able to review the papers of Ruth Reynolds. A pacifist activist, Ruth Reynolds passionately advocated for Puerto Rican independence, as well as on behalf of Puerto Rican political prisoners. Her dedication toward the struggle for Puerto Rico’s self-determination began in 1943 with her introduction to Pedro Albizu Campos, the Nationalist leader. Following the Nationalist uprising in October 1950, Ruth Reynolds was arrested alongside Pedro Albizu Campos (amongst others), all of whom were charged with sedition to overthrow the United States government. It is during this period of incarceration (1950-1953) that Pedro Albizu Campos first accused the United States—in concert with the government of Puerto Rico—of human radiation experimentation.

Offering a wealth of material on her relationship with Albizu Campos, her own experience in prison, and activism surrounding Albizu’s final pardoning (he was again imprisoned in 1954-1964), the Ruth Reynolds Papers offered key insights into the legacy of Albizu’s accusations. In her oral history interviews, Reynolds speaks to the Christ-like figure Albizu’s body accrued following his death, which Puerto Rican independence activists assign to the U.S.-sanctioned tortured he endured throughout his imprisonment:

Now, this man with his uncompromising and virtually saintly character is the man, to the best of our knowledge, who suffered the worst torture under our government ever conceived, over a long period of time. Jesus was three hours on a Roman cross, and that is called the worst crime in history. Don Pedro suffered burns on his body for about three years, constant.

Material such as this, coupled with personal correspondence documenting the echelons of activism mobilized to secure Albizu’s pardon in 1964—including, rather excitedly, a response from Eleanor Roosevelt, which suggests the magnitude the “Campos Crisis” posed for the United States government—allowed me to paint a fuller picture of the life Albizu’s accusations—his tortured body—assumed throughout (1891-1965) and beyond his life.

My gratitude to the Kasch Foundation's donation to the Horton-Vlach Fund for American Studies is without measure. The opportunity to travel in pursuit of my scholarly interests has placed me in excellent position to publish as a first-year PhD student.