Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Uh Puerto Rico...Woh!! Obama 'erupts' the colony

On Tuesday, the island had a visitor from the continent, and it ain't Frankie Cutlass.

Like the Puerto Rican dancers on America's Best Dance Crew, the islands erupted on the American mainstage once again with an official presidential visit from Barack Obama. In past articles, I've talked about the curious cultural position inhabited by members of U.S. island colonies: the Filipino/Puerto Rican brutha Bruno Mars, Puerto Ricans in Florida, Pacquiao vs. Cotto, Puerto Rican and Filipino representation on America's Best Dance Crew (here and here), and the newly confirmed Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Still, questions remain about how Puerto Rico continues to configure in the national imagination of the U.S. Instead of dancing, singing, or boxing, the President's visit makes the island visible for a "mainstream" audience through political pomp and election skrilla snatching (he raised $1 million at a fundraiser).

Mr. Obama's home state of Hawai'i stands as an example of another island colony, which is at once "different" because of its exotic appeal yet "domestic" because it's the 50th state (hey a nice round number means national completeness, right?). Hence the twisted irony of Obama's visit: he used to rep a Pacific island colony (turned state) and now reps hard for the "mainland" on a visit to the Caribbean island colony.

The 50 state nation is purportedly "complete" in God's eyes, at least according to the kind folks at American Family Association who are sponsoring a "prayer event" in August with Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry. According to rhetoric of this group, the shape of the nation is set by God.

But what exactly is the shape of the nation? And how do we determine its borders? The U.S.-dominated islands (the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, Hawai'i, and others) prove the complexity of these questions. The islands trouble the nations legal, geographic, and cultural contiguity.

Enter Obama on a visit to the literal margins of America. How can the emergence of Puerto Rico in the U.S. imagination bring to light the sin of U.S. imperialism? Where does Puerto Rico, as a non-voting colony of the U.S., configure within the "ideal" of Americana?

As a territory under federal authority (especially military) but limited "voice" in federal governance, Puerto Rico's incongruity to an American ideal is a problem. And the people of Puerto Rico have much to be concerned about. Like the Philippines, Puerto Rico is experiencing a "brain drain" of skilled Puerto Ricans migrating to the continent. The island has more boricuas living on the continent (who interestingly can vote for president) than on the island itself. Much like the rest of the nation (only magnified), the island has been experiencing unprecedented unemployment and poverty. And like the rest of the nation, higher education is one of the first priorities on the fiscal chopping block, resulting in an uprising by students who are subsequently denied "voice". Freedom of speech in some instances has been banned in Puerto Rico, where student protesters who are increasingly unable to attend school because of rising fees are punished for exercising a fundamental American right. Liberty and justice...for some?

From the New York Times. Student protests meet roadblocks in Puerto Rican universities.

During his visit to the island, President Obama declared his support for the decision the colony makes regarding statehood (51st?) or independence: “When the people of Puerto Rico make a clear decision, my administration will stand by you…. We want Puerto Rico to have a shot at the dream that we all have.”

As an afterthought to the "main" U.S. agenda, Puerto Rico's future is becoming increasingly dismal. As members of a supposed critical "Hispanic" (continental) voting bloc, the President finds Puerto Ricans a valuable demographic. But how valuable is the President to Puerto Ricans?

As the author of the article "Obama's Puerto Rico Pit Stop" in The Nation writes, "The perception is that Puerto Rico is not a part of the 'national conversation,' but rather a colonial outpost in which identity politics, language and nationalism have residents mired in a perennial identity crisis."

Puerto Rico plays an important role in bringing knowledge to American imperial history (and future?). Where Obama's Hawai'i became "domesticated" and the Philippines became "independent", Puerto Rico--home to 4 million American subjects and whose migrated people constitute a coveted voting bloc on the continent--remains a major player in the quest for U.S. border-defining. Can residents of the "colonial outpost" challenge the notion of American imperial innocence? Or will America's island subjects remain the way they always have been? That is, invisible.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Another Allstars Victory!

On to the next one!

The Philippine Allstars are back and keep on winning! On Saturday, June 11, 2011, the group took 1st place at the Dance2Dance "World Street Dance Showcase Competition" in Zurich, Switzerland. After a few years hiatus, these national dance heroes are making a strong comeback. With a killer combination of hip hop foundation, theatrical spectacularity, power moves, and freaky "spear" freezes, the Allstars' hunger still proves stuff of champions.

Still, the Allstars faced tough competition, especially from USA's Mos Wanted (who seem to have Filipino American members of their own!). These America's Best Dance Crew competitors, who won 2nd place at the Dance2Dance event, showed perfect on-beat (and on-lyric!) execution with impressive repertoire of dance styles (house set is awesome!).

We welcome back the Allstars to the world stage. As winners of back-to-back Gold in 2006 at the International Hip-Hop Open d'Italia in Italy and the World Hip-Hop Dance Championships (WHHDC) in Los Angeles, Gold in 2008 at the WHHDC in Las Vegas, and another Gold in 2009 at the Malta Guiness Streetdance Africa competition, the Allstars have given a funky vision of Filipinos to dazzle the world!