Filiberto Guerra Sr.- A 60 year old Puerto Rican Nationalist who spent the past 20 years of his life as a political prisoner in the United States on charges of seditious conspiracy. After having his sentence commuted, he returns to a New York he can no longer recognize. What was once a proud symbol of patriotism and liberation remains a senile, embittered husk of an old man.
Filiberto “Tito” Guerra Jr.- The 21 year old illegitimate son of Filiberto Sr. Estranged from his father at an early age, Tito grew up with only the stories and recollections of his father, cementing Filiberto as more of a legend than a father to Tito. A Brooklynite born and raised, he feels lost in a culture he struggles to navigate. He decides to bring his father to his apartment for the first time after years of distance.
The overcast sky loomed overhead, enshrouding the Port Authority Bus Terminal in a thick shadow. The kind of oppressive fog that seemed to portend the coming of rain, but the rain never came. Contributing to the murky smog was the exhale of cigarette smoke billowing from the mouth of Filiberto Guerra Jr., or Tito, as he was more colloquially known. Tito leaned against a wall, his silhouette draped in a miasma of smoke and shadow, his eyes fixated on Gate 86. The bus from Kansas City carrying his father was scheduled to have arrived at 3:15pm. It was 3:45. Tito continued to suck drags from his cigarette until it became a mere stub of ash. As he reached into his back pocket for another, he heard it: The churning of wheels twisting over the concrete, echoing through the terminal. The street bellowed and heaved and retched until finally spitting up the long awaited bus from Kansas City. Tito removes himself from the wall. Reaching into his front pocket, he pulls out his wallet. There lies a printed picture of fabled Puerto Rican nationalist Filiberto Guerra Sr. He studies it, then looks upward toward the huddled masses exiting the bus. There are many that could be his father. He takes a single, hesitant step forward. Then, after everyone seems to have exited, one person reveals himself. A frail, beleaguered old man struggles down the stairs. Tito realizes, only he can be his father. He walks up to the puzzled old man.
TITO: Hey Papi! Soy yo, Tito.
Filiberto squints, scanning his eyes up and down Tito, his brow furrowing, craning his neck as the two ends of his mouth recede gently, slightly revealing his teeth.
TITO: Tu hijo. ¿Tu recuerdas?
Filiberto, still squinting, begins to slowly, lightly nod.
FILIBERTO: Ah, Tito, si, si.
Tito glances at his father repeatedly, his eyes darting between his father and the ground. Filiberto’s gaze is distant, sporting a vacant stare towards the sky.
Silence befalls the two. Filiberto just stares blankly into the distance, standing still. Tito sucks on his lower lip, his eyes shooting wildly in a wide array of different directions, but always returning to their point of origin.
TITO: Hace frio, ¿ah?
FILIBERTO: Si, esta frio.
Silence once again dawns on the father and son. Tito bites into his lower lip. Filiberto maintains his impenetrable stare.
TITO: Mi carro esta…
Tito points to his right.
TITO: ¿Quieres ir?
Tito and Filiberto enter the car. Tito opens the door for his father on the passenger side, and gets in on the driver’s side. Filiberto struggles to put on his seatbelt, so Tito does it for him. They begin to drive away.
While on the highway, the silence between the two persists. Filiberto begins playing with the window, opening it and closing it repeatedly. Tito raises an eyebrow and smiles awkwardly.
TITO: Papi, no juegas con la ventana por favor, esta frio afuera.
Filiberto continues fiddling with his newfound toy.
TITO: Papi. Papi.
Tito inhales deeply, then exhales, placing his attention on the road ahead.
Tito pulls out his iPhone, and plays “Vivir Mi Vida” by Marc Anthony.
TITO: Que buena, la salsa.
Filiberto stops messing with the window. His eyes become sharp.
FILIBERTO: Apaga eso.
FILIBERTO: Apaga esa mierda.
TITO: ¿Que pasa, no te gusta la salsa?
FILIBERTO: No me gusta la mierda. Marc Anthony es un idiota.
TITO: ¿Qué te pasa con Marc Anthony?
FILIBERTO: Ese idiota quiere que Puerto Rico sea un estado. Que jodienda.
Tito shuts off the music.
FILIBERTO: ¿Eso es lo que escuchas?
FILIBERTO: Esa mierda, ¿eso es lo que escuchas?
TITO: Uh...no entiendo, pa.
Tito’s shoulders slump slightly. Filiberto continues his distant gaze. Tito opens his own window.
FILIBERTO: Isabella only speaks English in the house?
FILIBERTO: Your mother. Did she speak English or Spanish with you?
TITO: She speaks both. She just...I just...never really picked up on it. I know my Spanish needs work but, I’m pretty impressed I made it this far. What gave it away, when I pointed to the car?
Tito smiles, hoping to invite some levity to dissipate the palpable tension in the car. Filiberto’s expression remains unphased.
FILIBERTO: I knew from the first few words you spoke. It’s rigid. Stiff. No accent. Sounds more like rehearsing for a Spanish test than native tongue. You listen to salsa?
TITO: Uh yeah, sometimes.
FILIBERTO: How you listen to salsa if you don’t understand Spanish?
TITO: I mean I usually just listen to the melodies and Google Translate the lyrics later.
FILIBERTO: Jesucristo. No wonder you’re listening to pendejos like Marc Anthony. That’s your culture, nene, it’s important.
TITO: I know that. That’s why I listen to it.
FILIBERTO: Out of obligation?
TITO: Well...yeah...I guess? I mean it’s not like I grew up in Puerto Rico. It’s not easy to listen to music I can’t necessarily relate to, let alone understand.
FILIBERTO: You Puerto Rican?
TITO: Well sure, but-
FILIBERTO: Then there you go. This is your music.
TITO: Yes, I get that, but it’s not like being Puerto Rican is a one size fits all kinda deal.
FILIBERTO: ¿Que ibas a decir?
TITO: Nothing just...stupid...forget it.
FILIBERTO: You trying to say you not Puerto Rican?
TITO: No, but, doesn’t always feel like it.
FILIBERTO: What would it feel like?
TITO: I don’t know. Maybe that’s the problem.
The two get off the highway and make their way into Brooklyn. Filiberto gazes out the window, Tito keeps his eyes on the road.
FILIBERTO: Muchos gringos aqui.
TITO: Yep, that’s Williamsburg for you.
Filiberto shakes his head from side to side.
FILIBERTO: These buildings…
TITO: Yeah those just got built. Y’know, everytime I see these crazy ass luxury condos, I just think like, what exactly is white people’s beef with curtains? Y’know? It’s like, it’s like, you got these big ass glass windows, everyone and their moms can see inside your house, you’d think they’d have some curtains or something. This ain’t Michigan, people will straight rob you here. Well, they would’ve a few years ago, I suppose.
Filiberto ignores his son’s comedy bit and continues staring at this building.
FILIBERTO: I used to live here.
FILIBERTO: Yeah. I used to live in the building that used to be here. When I was a boy.
TITO: Oh shit, wow. You sure that was here?
FILIBERTO: 10th floor, Hylan Housing Projects. We used to sit on the fire escape and watch the city from up there. See that fire hydrant? That was how we used to cool off during the summer. Salsa greats used to perform at the block parties on this strip.
TITO: Pa, that...the Hylan houses are in Bushwick...this is Williamsburg.
Filiberto’s concentrated stare becomes a vacant gaze once more.
The two continue their drive. Filiberto looks out the side window. Tito occasionally glances at his father.
Tito parks his car. He helps his father out of his seat, and the two enter his building.
TITO: Sorry pa, I live on the top floor. Can you make it ok?
FILIBERTO: Si, chico.
Filiberto laboriously climbs each flight, struggling on each step. Tito remains close by, keeping a watchful eye on his father.
FILIBERTO: Where are we going?
TITO: My apartment, pa. Remember? ¿Recuerdas?
FILIBERTO: Oh, si, si.
They make it to the top floor. Filiberto attempts to open the door to the roof.
TITO: Pa, that’s the roof. Venga aqui.
Tito unlocks the door to his house.
TITO: Well, here it is. Mi casa. Welcome home, papi.
Tito’s apartment is a small, humble residence. The walls are draped with painted canvases and artwork. In the middle of the living room is an easel with a canvas, and the floor is covered with a tarp and crumpled newspapers.
Filiberto looks around. He takes each step forward slowly, deliberately. He looks at the walls, the floor, the ceiling. He surveils every inch of the apartment.
TITO: Yeah sorry, I didn’t have too much time to clean up around here, the school’s been working me like a dog recently.
FILIBERTO: You still in school?
TITO: Well yeah, I’m still in college, but all this is for the elementary school I’m workin’ at now, it’s a little after-school art gig for the kids of the community. Pay’s shit, but those kids man, they really do inspire me sometimes. We’re unveiling a mural we’ve worked on for the past month over at South 5th tomorrow. If you wanna go I’d love to take you, but I’m warning you, we gotta get up preeeetty early.
Tito awaits his father’s response. Filiberto spots a picture of a woman in a frame. Holding it, he squints at it.
FILIBERTO: Esa mujer…
TITO: What? That’s mami, pa. Ella es mi madre.
Filiberto’s hand begins shaking.
FILIBERTO: La conozco...Yo la conozco…
TITO: Yeah you know her, that’s mami. Isabella.
FILIBERTO: La conozco.
Tito exhales deeply, and leans against a wall.
TITO: Sientate aqui, pa.
Filiberto takes the picture with him as he steps slowly to the couch. Tito sits on the opposite edge of the couch. Filiberto just stares at the photograph.
Tito shakes his leg violently, rapping his two thumbs together in his clasped hands. He hangs his head down, his face parallel to the floor.
TITO: You hungry?
TITO: You hu- ¿tienes hambre?
TITO: Listen, I know there must be a lot going through your head right now, and I know this mustn't be easy…
FILIBERTO: Quiero ir a la patria.
FILIBERTO: I want to go home.
Tito scratches the back of his head, and looks off to the side.
TITO: Papi I don’t...what do you mean?
FILIBERTO: They did so much to me, in there. They took everything from me. They took everything that I was. What they left behind, yo no conozco. Soy un extraño en mi propia mente.
TITO: Jesus, pa, I...I’m sorry…
FILIBERTO: ¿Quien eres tu?
FILIBERTO: Si, ¿quien eres tu?
TITO: Pa, soy yo, Tito.
FILIBERTO: Ah, Tito, si si. ¿Y tu nombre?
TITO: I... Filiberto Guerra Jr.
FILIBERTO: ¿Has olvidado eso?
TITO: No I…
FILIBERTO: ¿Has olvidado su patria?
TITO: Papi no, but…
FILIBERTO: Eres un extraño a tu cultura.
TITO: What? I don’t-
FILIBERTO: You’re a stranger to your culture, Filiberto.
TITO: What is that supposed to-
FILIBERTO: You let them take everything of who you were. You let them rob you of your resistance. We’re a dying breed, Puerto Ricans. I died in that hole a long time ago. The only flicker of hope that kept me warm during those cold nights was that my son carried on the torch. I now understand why I died cold.
TITO: Okay, that’s enough. I hate this. I really freakin’ hate this. You don’t get to come into my life 20 years later and tell me I’m not good enough or Puerto Rican enough or whatever enough for you! I’m me, ok? Take it or leave it. I spent so much of my damn life idolizing you and hating myself, hating how little I lived up to that name. It was like a big ass shadow I cast everywhere I went, always looming, always bigger than me. But I’m tired of it. I am who I am and you can accept that or not. But my Spanish and my music and whatever the hell else does NOT make me any less Puerto Rican, I refuse to let you take that from me!
Filiberto lets out a guttural, nasal snore. His head falls forward, and continues snoring.
Tito pauses, and lights a cigarette.
Tito leaves his sleeping father and heads to the top of the roof. He sucks one long drag of his cigarette, throws his head back, closes his eyes, and releases the smoke in an exasperated sigh. His teeth dig into his lower lip, his head shaking from side to side, his eyes squinted. His breaths go from a series of hurried exhales to light chuckles in disbelief. Tito digs into his pocket, pulling out the picture of the young Filiberto Sr. The young revolutionary sits in the picture, staring intently to the side, resting his head on his index finger and thumb. A fragment of a fantasy. A snapshot of what once was, and will never be again. Tito holds the picture in front of him. After staring at it for a few seconds, he cannot hold the picture’s gaze. He looks down, to his left. In his other hand, he holds a lighter. Slowly returning his sight to the picture, he flicks his thumb across the lighter, sparking a flame. The trembling hand holding the lighter rises under the picture of his father. The edges of the picture begin to singe and char. Tito’s lip quivers. More of the picture begins to blacken. As his eyes turn to glass, they glow in the warm hue of the flame. They bear witness to the tragedy of time. A tragedy too harsh for Tito to bear any longer. He releases his hold on the lighter, and the flame dies. He blows out the embers on the bottom of the photograph, and wipes his eyes with his arm. The darkness of the night time sky engulfs him. Stuffing the photograph back in his pocket, he makes his way back downstairs. Tito returns to his living room. His father has taken up permanent residence on his couch, sprawling out, asleep. Tito heads to his room to sleep.
The only fleeting moments of sleep Tito was able to muster were during the few minutes before his morning alarm went off. It went on for 5 minutes before Tito was able to shut it off. It took 5 more minutes for Tito to leave his bed, and begin his day. He showered, brushed his teeth, and poured himself a bowl of cereal. As he sat, eating his breakfast, staring at the couch, he realized something: his father was absent.
TITO: Papi. Paaaapiiii.
Tito begins searching every inch of his house, which, granted, does not take long. Panic begins to set in. Where could he be? He continues searching. He exits his apartment and hears humming from outside.
Tito frantically opens the door to the roof, and sees Filiberto standing at the edge, the photograph of Isabela in his hand.
FILIBERTO (SINGING): Una mujer en mi vida/se ha empeñado en destruirme/Dios le dará su castigo/por mala, antes de morirme…
Tito sprints towards his father.
TITO: WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!
FILIBERTO: Voy a mi patria.
TITO: ARE YOU FUCKING NUTS?! DON’T-
FILIBERTO: Venga aqui, nene.
Tito cautiously walks forward.
FILIBERTO: Mira...over there...you can see them. The mountains of Ponce. That’s where I as born. Look at them. Peering into the heavens. I’m going to return there soon.
TITO: I...Yes Papi, yes. We’ll see them soon. Just please not today. Please come inside. Please. Por favor.
FILIBERTO: I don’t belong in this world. I don’t belong here. Not here.
TITO: You belong inside! Please Papi, please come with me-
FILIBERTO: Quien eres tu?
TITO: Papi, come inside.
FILIBERTO: Donde estoy?
TITO: C’mon, pa.
Tito grabs his father, and pulls him from the roof. They go inside. While inside, Tito paces around with a cigarette stub in his mouth.
TITO: I don’t know what to do with you. The damn mural unveiling is in a few damn hours, and I can’t just leave you here.
Filiberto fiddles with the photograph of Isabella.
TITO: Shit, shit, shit. I cannot have you ruin this for me, I worked WAY too hard for this.
Tito takes a long drag of his cigarette, and puts out the remains on an ashtray. He sighs.
TITO: Fuck. C’mon.
The car ride was silent. What once was a scattered anxiety in Tito has become an acute sense of irritation. Filiberto continued to fiddle with the car window. Soon, they pulled up to P.S. 157. Students and families alike were gathered in front of the mural. As Tito parked, he put his hands together and prayed.
TITO: Please dear Christ just let this go well. Please.
The two exit and join the congregation of people. Students begin to greet Tito.
TITO: Hey Steph! So glad you could make it!
ESTEFANIA: Mommy, this is Berty! He helped me make the mural!
TITO: Oh hey, how are you! I’m Filiberto, I’m one of the directors of the art program here.
ESTEFANIA’S MOTHER: Ay dios te bendiga. Esto es increíble.
TITO: Thank you, thank you, but it really is the kids, really. I’m just supervision. Your daughter is really talented.
ESTEFANIA: Is this your daddy?
Estefania points at Filiberto Sr. Tito’s eyes widen, his mouth opening before even knowing what exactly to say.
TITO: Uh, yeah! Yeah, this is uh my pops. I brought him out to see the mural.
Tito is approached by his supervisor, the Program Director Jennifer.
JENNIFER: Good morning, Phillip.
TITO: Oh hey Jen, g’morning. Turn out is great, huh?
JENNIFER: Yeah, the kids really came through. When we said bring the family, we meant parents and siblings, not the whole extended family.
TITO: Haha. Yeah I mean they’ve been working on this for a while, y’know? Shit, I wanted to show my old man too!
Tito points to his dad.
JENNIFER: Heh. It’s not just that. Kids can work on essays and tests for a while. None of them beam with pride like this. You’ve done great work, Phil.
TITO: I really don’t do that much, you know that, It’s all them-
JENNIFER: Alright alright, save it for the speech.
TITO: Haha! Yeah.
JENNIFER: You have an idea of what you’re gonna say?
TITO: Oh yeah, yeah haha.
JENNIFER: Alright. How’s 10 from now sound? Let folks settle in and what not.
TITO: Wait what?
JENNIFER: For your speech.
TITO: Wait you were serious?
JENNIFER: Well, yeah. You directed this whole project. I would like for you to give a few words.
TITO: Jen I’m really not ready for that, I got like no sleep last night, and I just wouldn't feel good about it. It’s the kids’ mural, not mine.
JENNIFER: Ooh that’s good, use that one in the speech ok? 10 minutes!
Jennifer walks away.
FILIBERTO: Quien carajo es Phillip?
TITO: Papi, why don’t you just stay here, ok? I’m gonna give a quick speech, just please stay here, please.
Filiberto lightly nods. Jennifer begins the speech.
JENNIFER: Good morning everyone! Really happy to see so many families here on this Saturday morning. My name is Jennifer O’Brien, Program Director of the After School Arts Program here at P.S. 157.
JENNIFER: Of course, we’re here to celebrate the absolutely wonderful work the kids have worked on for the past few months. We are just so thrilled to be able to share this mural with you. I’d like to introduce you all to my associate Phillip Guerra! He’s the Art Director of our program, and he’s been working with the kids to create the mural. Stand up Phillip!
Tito sheepishly stands up, feigning enthusiasm and excitement. He is itching for a cigarette.
JENNIFER: I’d like to pass it off to Phillip to say a few words to you all.
Tito exhales, and makes his way up to the front with Jennifer.
TITO: Good morning everyone!
The audience responds back with a good morning.
TITO: Too early for y’all? I said, GOOD MORNING!
The audience roars back with “good morning”.
TITO: Alright! Now we’re awake! Ha ha. Alright. So to start, I just wanna welcome everyone today, it really means a lot to the kids that you’re here. Truly. Give yourselves a round of applause.
The audience applauds.
TITO: C’mon, really give it up!
Audience continues applauding.
TITO: So yeah...uh...Yeah. So this mural, uh…
Tito looks at his father. Filiberto stares back at his son.
TITO: *Ahem*. So this mural means a lot. To everyone who worked on it. I think for a lot of us...there ain’t-there isn’t a lot of...you know, representation. That often, our stories aren’t represented, or they aren’t told. And these kids...these kids man, they’re so smart. So smart. I tasked them with the...the...the...the initial uh task for the mural was to create something they thought represented the community. A vision unique to them. Not the hipsters, not the corporations, not even their parents. And I mean that’s tough. That’s asking a lot. For a lot of us, we know what we’re supposed to say. We’re supposed to say what our parents told us, about how much better times were back then, and how white people ruined everything.
The audience laughs.
TITO: So a lot of that initial brainstorming period was tough. It was tough. I mean, even in assigning that task, I had all these preconceived ideas in my head of the “right” answer. Gentrification! Culture! All these disingenuous “right” answers. And I realized how much I was limiting these kids when they didn’t fit my preconceived ideas, y’know? At that point I relented, and I realized, no matter what it comes out as, it’s honest, and it’s real. This is theirs. And that’s the most honest form of representation you can get. These kids taught me that. To each and every one of you who showed up, and worked on this thing for the past month after school, I thank you. I truly, truly thank you. I’m proud of you all.
Tito takes a bow, the audience applauds. When the applause dies down, a single, solitary voice yells, and Tito’s heart drops.
FILIBERTO: Tu nombre?
Tito’s eyes widen, and he swallows deeply.