I always was a sinner
and an outlaw
I sold my things for the air and trees
For the sake of doing something
That would make others free
Acrylic on Burlap
72" x 40"
Pepito, who also went by “Ogundameji” was a friend to many.
I met him in 2000 during a performance by the band RICANSTRUCTION at El
Museo del Barrio’s summer concert series. He and I immediately began
talking about the history of Puerto Ricans in Punk music and Punk culture.
I knew off the bat that here was a man who was knowledgeable on just about
everything. He gave me his card which was a “Pleneros de la 21”
card, who he worked with for years.
Over the years as my relationship developed with the RICANSTRUCTION network,
I came to know Pepito more. Precisely when we had questions about certain
things, here was the man you would call: getting spammers off a website,
computer software/ hardware advice, the history of armed struggle, the
history of Santeria, Palo, Abakua in Cuba and all the Caribbean, Punk
and Hardcore music, Bomba y Plena, y mucho más.
Pepito would, here and there give me spiritual advice over email like
how to ward off people with funky intentions and how to attract positivity
to an environment or to oneself. One day Pepito learned of my mother’s
maiden name, Quirindongo, and immediately began consulting with a West
African mentor of his on the Congo origin of that last name. He always
encouraged me to call him to chat on these different topics since we were
both passionate about spirituality, culture, art, history and the political
situation in Puerto Rico. But I seldom talk on the phone. I was one of
those people who allowed email to take over personal contact.
In April of 2006 Pepito suddenly passed away from health complications
at the age of 35. Everyone he had ever touched, all the many, many people
he had ever touched were shocked. I knew immediately that I had committed
a huge mistake of not taking advantage of the opportunity to build with
such a warm, giving, and incredibly intelligent person. I knew that I
had cheated myself of many laughs (he had a great sense of humor), many
lessons and many memories.
I created this piece as a tribute to him. Ogundameji, as an aspect of
Ogun, Pepito’s orisha, representing the Yoruba deity of war was
really embodied in this brother’s character. The quest for justice
guided him each day on a greater level of struggle and on an intimate
level of him reaching out to all those around him to offer his help in
any capacity he could. It was his great love for his people and his deep
desire to see an end to oppression and struggle that made him the warrior
that he was.
The palette of this painting is predominantly red, black and green to
talk about the struggle that Pepito was a part of in his quest to learn
all he could about the African Diaspora and to bridge its communities.
These are also the colors of warrior orishas Ogun and Eleggua to represent
the lifelong battle Pepito lived: His battle against injustice, his battle
against the bullshit, his battle against imperialism and his battle over
illness, which he combated through martial arts, meditation and the Santeria
and Palo faiths. The chain and machete are representations of these warrior
orishas. The clothes, camouflage pants, combat boots, or actually in this
case, the Doc Martens, where very much part of his gear right down to
the black hoodie. The star and machete symbol are the symbol of the EPB-Los
Macheteros, the armed clandestine organization for the Puerto Rican Liberation
struggle. However their symbol, red and green on a black surface has been
used by RICANSTRUCTION for over a decade. RICANSTRUCTION created tee shirts,
patches and hooded sweatshirts with this red symbol on a black background.
Pepito wore his hoodie proudly. At that concert in 2000 when I tried to
buy a red and black RICANSTRUCTION patch from him, he refused and insisted
on giving it to me free of charge. I guess he knew that in no time, I’d
come to be part RICANSTRUCTION. Today that patch not only represents this
artists network working as part of the Puerto Rican liberation struggle,
it takes on new meaning since the FBI assassination of the Machetero leader
Filiberto Ojeda Rios on September 23, 2005. It also takes on new meaning
since the loss of Pepito another warrior, the brother who gave me the
patch with this symbol as a gift and who gave me my first personal introduction
into this family of which he was an incredible part.