Ms. AnnaBy: Bill Lockwood
To all the saints and gods that watch over the boats
that fly the stars and stripes of the USA
Author and Historical Notes
To the tourists in the 1990s, the Caribbean was a Jimmy Buffet world of easy drinking and long, lazy afternoons. Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, was, however, a working port city on the west coast of the island, the opposite end from upscale shops and restaurants of Old San Juan.
Christopher Columbus discovered Puerto Rico on his second voyage to the New World in 1493. All the Western Hemisphere had been granted that same year to Spain by Pope Alexander VI, overriding any claim to the island by the Tanino Indians who were already living there. In 1898, the US won the Spanish-American War, and Puerto Rico became a US Territory. By 1900, Puerto Ricans had been granted US citizenship, so, unlike the rest of the Caribbean except the US Virgin Islands, it is not a foreign country. But unlike the Territories of Hawaii and Alaska that became states, Puerto Rico has not. Political movements for both independence and statehood have come and gone, and territorial status has remained. The island has a definite Caribbean culture and dominant Spanish language, but the citizens have Medicare and use the same blue mailboxes we have on the street corners in New York City or in our smallest Midwestern towns. There are old ex-patriots from the mainland in the bars here and there. They and the locals may well both be spending Social Security money. In the fall of 2017, Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on the island. The future is uncertain, but in many ways it will not be the same.
Along with Puerto Rico, Cuba became one of the main centers of Spanish colonization, but Cuba was granted autonomy as a result of the Spanish-American War in 1898, and it became a nation of its own. Its capital city, Havana, became a favorite spot for tourists, and it was known for its music and laissez-faire culture. In 1959, there was a political revolution that resulted in the creation of a Communist government aligned with the Soviet union . Trade, travel, and communication embargos were imposed by the US. A number of Cubans fled the island, rum distillers to Puerto Rico and cigar makers to Key West, along with many more. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, many Eastern European countries rejected Communism, and there were drastic changes in the Soviet union as well. President Reagan’s “Evil Empire” seemed to be no more. However, Cuba remained staunchly Communist and as hostile to the US as ever, and the US embargos and restrictions did not change.
Key West is an island off the southern tip of Florida, the southernmost point in the US, at the end of US Route One. It is ninety-four statute miles from the nearest point in Cuba. Today Key West is connected to the mainland by a system of bridges and causeways that carry US One. Juan Ponce de Leon claimed it for Spain in 1521. It became a strategic point on the deep shipping lane between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. In colonial days, many made their fortunes off salvage from shipwrecks off shore. In 1822, Lt. Commander Matthew C. Perry of the US Navy claimed Key West and the rest of the Florida Keys for the US, and Florida became a state in 1845. In 1912, Henry Flagler’s Florida’s East Coast Railway built the bridges and causeways connecting Key West to the mainland. Key West then grew into a resort destination for the rich and famous, till the Great Depression ruined the railroad in 1935. Eventually the highway connection of today replaced the rails, in 1938, making it again a tourist center of Florida sunshine, good times, and crowded bars. Artists and writers like Hemingway and Tennessee Williams are associated with Key West. It is a place of free spirits, where even the chickens run free. From the early days chickens were allowed to run free on the streets of Key West, as they do in parts of Puerto Rico. It was thought a protection for the birds in the old days from the voodoo practice of animal sacrifice. The outlawing of cock fighting and a 1967 law protecting chickens from harm and entrapment has only increased the number on the streets. A tourist favorite today is to watch the street performers, feed the wandering chickens, and view the sunset on the Gulf side from Mallory Square. In 2017 Key West was hit by Hurricane Irene, a different hurricane than the one that ravaged Puerto Rico. The poor chickens may well have been blown out to sea. But here the recovery has been much better.
A special thanks to the author’s niece, Michelle Januzzi, who served as nautical consultant for this book, and to my wife, Jeanie Levesque, for acting as my Spanish culture and language consultant.
“When all is said and done, life is first and foremost salt fish.”
~Halldor Laxnes, Icelandic author
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- · Ms. Anna