iLe and her band were still without electricity in San Juan as they were prepared to launch her first-ever extensive U.S. solo tour at Mercury Lounge in New York City (Oct. 28).
“It was overwhelming because we had Hurricane Irma first, which was pretty strong. Then suddenly, we got word that Hurricane Maria was going to ravage the island,” iLe explained, holding court inside Billboard’s headquarters in Manhattan. “Luckily, we were a bit prepared because of the previous storm, but no one was expecting what happened with Maria.”
With no electricity and little running water, an impending 14-stop stateside trek and virtually no help from the U.S. government, iLe, her family and band were forced to push through and deal with the losses as they came.
“There were a lot of things happening all at once. We are [still] carrying a lot of emotions and frustrations, because we’ve had to handle everything by ourselves,” the former Calle 13 singer and Grammy-winning artist said. “At the same time, though, working together as we have is the only way we’re going to process this in the best way possible.”
In the thick of her first-ever extensive U.S. solo tour (information on remaining stops can be found here), iLe opens up about Puerto Rico’s state in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria, and why she wants her native island free from its colonial grips.
How has this all affected you as an artist?
In a number of ways, I’ve had to cancel two functions there. Like one in Bellas Arte, I’ve had to postpone because it was affected by the storm. I didn’t know what was going to happen to the tour, but still there’s also a psychological component to it where art comes in, and it helps me liberate all of what I was feeling. That has helped me process everything, because it really has been tough.
There’s also been a lot of insensitivity from Puerto Rico and the U.S. government. I receive all of that with rage, because I want my country to be independent. It’s part of a minority, and people take advantage of that. And even if it sounds dramatic, people are dying. In doing interviews, it’s helped me talk about it because this has been just shocking. It’s been 37 days, and we still have no electricity. I don’t have electricity, but I do have water. There are places that still have no running water. There are some places in San Juan that do have electricity but they are close to hospitals.
In general the electricity comes on and off. It all feels strange and eerie. I can’t believe after having a crisis, things have become so cold, which I don’t like because we’re such fiery people.
What’s the air feel like on the island right now? The mood, the environment…
There’s something subconscious happening. We’re still so colonized in our minds, we must always think that the United States is going to help us. [We] are always in wait of help, which doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen. There are American flags still hung up inside [people’s] homes. At the same time, I do recognize that there are lots people [repping] their Puerto Rican flags in efforts to lift us up. But more than uplifting, we have to re-build together.
Even people who don’t necessarily believe in independence are working towards it because we’re all having to work as a team, which in turn, signifies working independently for our own country. Because no one is going to take care of our country like we can. We have to work in groups and put ourselves in other people’s shoes. I think we’re seeing that among a lot of us. That gives me some sort of comfort, even though politically things are rough.
Why do you think Puerto Rico should be independent?
I think it’s something simple. It’s like your family — your mom and dad. We’d do anything for our family. Our country is like our family, we’d do anything for it. It’s everything, and it gives us life. How can we give that up to other people? It takes away its value, we can’t give that up, much less to a country that’s so cold, like the United States. It’s basic: It’s loving your country and protecting it until you die.
What’s at stake still being a colony?
By being colonized, they’ve buried all of our predecessors and history, all of those people who have fought for our country.
It’s [about] fighting for love, like anyone would fight for their own country. It has a lot to do with how were not taught properly in school about our Puerto Rican history. That has a lot to do with colonialism and brainwashing, that we’re not able and that we need help from a superior power to help our country move forward, which is not true. Today, we still create those false stories.
I feel in situations like this, that are so extreme, it helps us question what is happening and why we feel the way we do. And what are we going to do in efforts to change that. And automatically, the body sometimes just reacts. That’s what we’re doing right now. And that’s giving me hope.
If Trump were here, what would you say to him?
I don’t know if I’d be able to say anything, because he doesn’t have the capacity of being a human being. Obviously, I’ll defend my own if I had too. Yet it doesn’t really move me to say anything to him.
I just get moved by the acts that I do for my country, and [seeing] that Puerto Rico gets to this point of awakening where we value ourselves. It’s something that’s ironic considering how proud Puerto Ricans are, yet how submissive we can be. But something has to happen; the abuse is too much. I think it’s time to let that Puerto Rican spirit out and really ask, “What’s going on?”