‘Jurakán’ Documentary Explores Puerto Rican Identity

Labeled an “unincorporated territory,” the island of Puerto Rico has been under United States control since 1898. On April 3, filmmakers Rosa Emmanuel Gutiérrez and Gonzalo Mazzini visited Eastern Connecticut State University to screen their documentary “Jurakán: Nación en Resistencia,” which addresses Puerto Rican identity amid the constant question of ownership.

“Jurakán” filmmakers Gonzalo Mazzini and Rosa Emmanuel. Gutiérrez.

Before beginning “Jurakán,” Gutiérrez and Mazzini asked audience members, “What do you know about Puerto Rico?” With several Puerto Ricans in attendance, results varied but were mostly enthusiastic. “Being from Mexico, I didn’t know anything about Puerto Rico,” until he became involved in the project, Mazzini admitted.

Mazzini’s first trip to the island came when Gutiérrez, a native, invited him after they met during undergraduate school. It was there that the documentary came to fruition. “It’s a very warm country,” he said, referring not to the weather but to the culture. However, he found it peculiar that for such a proud nation, Puerto Rican flags on display were often hung beside American flags.

Mazzini’s observation as an outsider caused Gutiérrez to consider why this was so common, and what it suggested about her role as a Puerto Rican. “It’s that Puerto Rico is a U.S. colony,” she said. “There’s no other way around it. For me, that was the norm.”

She started to think about the ways colonialism had long affected her as a Puerto Rican, sparking the inspiration to create “Jurakán.” The film includes commentary from 41 people — artists, politicians, economists and historians among them — who speak on Puerto Rico’s history as a Spanish colony up until the Spanish-American War, in addition to its current status as a U.S. territory.

Points raised throughout the film largely center on how Puerto Rican lives have been altered to fit a colonialist image over time, stripping people of autonomy in various spaces. Those featured cite the conversion of Catholics to Protestants, being forced to utilize the U.S. Merchant Marine and the past criminalization of the Puerto Rican flag as major examples.

Law 53 of 1948, commonly known as the Gag Law, was an effort by the nation’s legislature to suppress the Puerto Rican independence movement. This law, which lasted until 1957, made it illegal to own or display a Puerto Rican flag, to speak or write of independence, to sing a patriotic tune and to meet with anyone or hold any assembly in favor of Puerto Rican independence.

Discussion takes place in the documentary around significant figures like Pedro Albizu Campos, a leader in the Puerto Rican independence movement, as well as the psychological impact that comes with never experiencing self-governance. One person brings up Stockholm syndrome — a condition that causes hostages to develop psychological alliance with their captors as a survival strategy during captivity — that has developed in some Puerto Ricans, contrasting with the desire for liberation.

The film captures Puerto Rican identity on a wide spectrum, indicating the complexity behind years of oppression. “A common denominator is communities working together to solve their problems,” said Gutiérrez. “Beyond what political stance they choose, I think the most important thing is that communities realize their power.”

“Jurakán” won Best Documentary at the Rincón International Film Festival. There will be a sequel the production, focusing more heavily on the unification and organized efforts of Puerto Ricans against the setbacks that have continuously limited them.

Written by Jordan Corey