“Yo Soy Taino” is a new live-action puppet film by the screenwriter and director Alba Enid García. The film, which recently premiered on HBO, is 13 minutes long and entirely in Spanish. García dedicated the film to the 2,975 lives lost to Hurricane Maria in 2017, and her love for the people of the island nation shines through. “Taino” offers a brief and necessary look into the complicated history between the United States and Puerto Rico, particularly as it intersects with the culture of the Tainos, an indigenous people who were the main population in the Caribbean prior to European colonization.
Alba Enid García dedicated the film to the 2,975 lives lost to Hurricane Maria in 2017.
The film begins in a small home in the country two weeks after the hurricane. We first see Abuela Yaya as she sits in her home listening to a radio announcer. The announcer criticizes the infamous paper towel-throwing incident by President Donald Trump while visiting the wrecked nation in the aftermath of the hurricane. “There’s a disconnect,” says the radio announcer, “between the reality of life on the island and the public perception of life on the island.”
Marabelí, Yaya’s granddaughter, shows up to visit and bring her grandmother food. Yaya begins to tell Marabelí about Puerto Rican history, from 1897, when Spain relinquished its power over the country and allowed it to be autonomous, to 1917, when the United States invaded Puerto Rico. She describes to the young girl how 20,000 Puerto Rican soldiers fought for the United States during World War I, including Yaya’s husband. “They believed in the prosperity of the great United States,” says Yaya. (The film ends with Yaya removing a U.S. flag that was placed next to a portrait of her husband. She stares at his face for a moment, before uttering “¡Pendejo!” or, “You sucker!”)
Woven through the grandmother’s history lesson is an explicit look into how Maria has affected the country: schools are closed, supermarkets are empty and the Marine Act of 1917, known as the Jones Act, a U.S. law that permits only U.S. ships to move goods to and from Puerto Rico, is waived. The young girl asks her grandmother: “Do you think we’ll survive”?
As the film draws to a close, Yaya prays in Taino and tells the young girl that they will—nothing can stop the spirit of “Boricuas.”