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.


1 comment:

José M. López Sierra said...

Should criminals be in charge of correcting the wrong they inflicted?

Puerto Ricans vote in elections every 4 years at an 80% level of participation. Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States (US) government for the past 116 years. If the US government has the final say in what happens in Puerto Rico, what is the purpose of these elections? The purpose is to fool the world that Puerto Rico is a democracy.

The United Nations (UN) declared colonialism a crime against humanity in 1960. The UN has asked the US government 33 times to decolonize Puerto Rico immediately. The US government has refused. It says that Puerto Rico’s political relationship with the United States is none of the UN’s business. The US says that it is a domestic affair.

To appear that the US government wants to decolonize Puerto Rico, it promotes the use of plebiscites to determine what Puerto Ricans want. Doesn’t that sounds innocent and democratic? So what’s the problem?

To begin with, the international community already rendered its verdict and determined that colonialism is illegal. So to have a political status option in a plebiscite that favors maintaining Puerto Rico a colony of the United States is not permitted. To have a political status option of Puerto Rico becoming a state of the United States is also not permitted under international law. The problem goes back to the beginning of this article. In order to have free elections, the country must be free. So before these elections and plebiscite could be valid, Puerto Rico would have to first be an independent nation.

What people must realize is that Puerto Rico is a colony of the US because the US government wants it that way. That is why it has used terrorism to keep it that way. That is why it refuses to release the Puerto Rican political prisoner of 33 years Oscar López Rivera. That is also why it is ridiculous to believe that decolonization is a US internal matter in which the UN has no jurisdiction over. If we allow the US government to decolonize Puerto Rico, she will remain a colony of the United States forever!

José M López Sierra