Vieques seems obvious at face value; beautiful scenery, friendly people, and an easy rustic charm that only an underdeveloped, tiny island can provide. But a closer look offers insight into the past that not only warrants admiration but also utmost respect for the strength of a people who have endured exceptional challenges.
And it can be found in the most remote of places.
The clandestine maze of post-military use bunkers at the west end of the island is the last place one would expect to find a shrine to the relics of a buried past.
Veering slightly off the “main” bunker road, the unsuspecting explorer might be lucky enough to stumble upon bunker 412. Here a collaborative artistic representation by photographer Bonnie Donohue, composer Lauren Weinger, artist Warner Wada, and animator Maggie Hughes awaits discovery. Appropriately named “Reclaiming Vieques: Memory and Imagination”, two super-enlarged black-and-white photographs taken in December of 1941 cover the doors of the bunker. According to a nearby plaque the pictures depict Viequenses leaving their homes “…between the sugar era and military era in Vieques”, a time when the U.S. Navy began evicting thousands of residents from plantation lands in the western end of the island. A plastic adhesive, much like that used to paint advertisements on city buses, attaches the art to the building. In one photograph, a young woman, having just been served an eviction notice, stands stone-faced with her children in the door of her father’s home, to the contrast of the other, where a Navy assessor assigns value to plots in preparation of expropriation.
To this day the bunkers stand, but not without reverence. Thanks to the efforts of these artists to create this modest monument, residents and visitors alike can benefit from an expanded awareness of the past, as we contribute to the future of the Vieques we share.