In a symbolic ceremony, Mariposa Fernandez takes her vows with her spiritual homeland
The bold rhythm of the buleador, a tall drum, rattles the room. The crowd turns, cellphones poised for photos. There she is—the beaming, barefoot bride sways her way toward a candlelit altar.
“Bienvenidos!” the bride greets the crowd. “It’s happening! It’s happening!”
Even though her “groom” is 1,600 miles away, she doesn’t consider herself stood up.
Poet, activist and educator Maria Teresa “Mariposa” Fernández, 46, got hitched to her homeland Puerto Rico on Wednesday night before a packed house at The Point Community Development Corporation. Born in the Bronx, Mariposa still feels strong ties to her ancestors’ island through loved ones there, and curated a free cultural ceremony to profess her love for Puerto Rico in sickness and in health. This is the bride’s second marriage; she wed herself in 2001 as an act of self-love. With savory food for sale and a donations drop, her second wedding doubled as a fundraiser.
Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, has suffered a decade of recession. But this fall’s Hurricane Maria deepened the island’s debt crisis and plunged Puerto Rico into a humanitarian catastrophe; power outages, difficulties with aid distribution, and closed schools are some symptoms of the wide-scale destruction. Local politicians including City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, herself Puerto Rican, have led ongoing disaster relief efforts.
Even though Mariposa wore the gown, it was a mass wedding. Spanning kids to seniors, over 60 people attended–the majority were proud Puerto Ricans. All were encouraged to take the matrimonial vows in English or Spanish. “I accept you, Puerto Rico, and your diaspora…” echoed in an emotional call and response following Mariposa’s lead.
Guest artists gave their blessings through performances that included Bronx youth dance troupe Dancers Dreamzzz and cultural icon, playwright and poet Ntozake Shange, who read from her new poetry collection, Wild Beauty, set to release this month.
The unique nupitals also involved an alternative gift registry. Guests were encouraged to purchase relief supplies ranging from seeds to insect repellent through an Amazon wish list, or bring goods straight to the party. Mariposa plans to deliver the donations to Puerto Rico in December along with a posse of female friends she calls “Mujeres con maletas”—women with suitcases.
Mimi Bracetty, 54, brought coloring books and crayons to donate. She doesn’t feel there is much she can do past donating, but tonight’s event inspired her.
“Oh my God, it means a lot of joy in my heart,” said Bracetty, taking in the room. Her uncle survived the hurricane in Cayey, located in mountainous central Puerto Rico.
For some, the vibrant ceremony and dance party that ensued offered a brief reprieve from the daily dread of family members’ fate in the Caribbean.
Lizandra Rivera, 52, has a cousin who drove over an hour from Coamo to San Juan so she could get phone reception to check in with family. Not only did Rivera’s 80-year-old aunt lose her house to the storm, but with only one lung, she’s had difficulty accessing the treatment she needs. It took Rivera three desperate weeks of trying to book a flight that would bring her aunt to the mainland for treatment before the elderly woman finally surrendered to her circumstances.
“At that point she no longer wanted to come to the States,” said Rivera. “She’d rather die in Puerto Rico.”