‘War is the Antithesis of Motherhood:’ A Voice From Puerto Rico


Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, along with allies from various peace and justice organizations, congregated at the Woodbine Ecological Center in Sadalia, Colorado last month to attend the 2014 IVAW National Convention and commemorate the 10th anniversary of the post-9/11-era anti-war veteran led movement. Ironically, this date fell on the week after the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War—a war that devastated Europe and was supposed to end all wars—and coincidentally at a time when the Obama Administration authorized another round of aerial attacks on the people of Iraq. This brought ill memories of the last war on the people of Iraq by U.S. forces, leaving many of the combat veterans attending with mixed feelings, self-reflection and, for some, sentiments of despair.

However, we veterans soon overcame these feelings with a rekindling of our commitment to organize, advocate, educate and work towards a demilitarized American foreign policy and to end the destructive nature of U.S. wars of aggression.

A critical part of building our movement, at a time of never-ending war, comes from the relationships we forge with international grassroots organizations and activists working to transform and challenge the imprint of U.S. militarism on the globe. We were lucky to be joined at our convention by a host of leaders from a broad swath of academic, movement and journalism backgrounds. Numbered among them was Dr. Sonia Santiago, founder and director of Madres Contra la Guerra—Mothers Against the War, an anti-war/anti-militarism organization based in Puerto Rico. I personally invited and involved Santiago, because I think audiences in the U.S. need to hear her story.

Santiago is a clinical psychologist with expertise in post traumatic stress disorder/syndrome, the spouse of a Vietnam War veteran and the mother of an Iraq War veteran. She is the screenwriter and developer of the film Madres Contra la Guerra and hosts a weekly TV and radio program in Puerto Rico. Santiago is dedicated to ending militarism worldwide, but more precisely ending militarism in her native island of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has provided bodies to fight in every U.S. wars of the 20th Century -and well into this new century, despite the territory having no say in political decision-making in Washington [Puerto Rico sends a non-voting Resident Commissioner to Washington. Puerto Rico’s Chief-of-State is President Barack Obama; however, Puerto Ricans residing in Puerto Rico are not allowed to vote in U.S. national elections].

MCG’s motto is ‘Motherhood is life and war is the antithesis of motherhood.” The workshop was entitled, “Militarism and PTSD in Puerto Rico.”

Counter-Recruitment Campaign

Madres Contra la Guerra conducts counter-recruitment actions, anti-war demonstrations, and public education about U.S. militarism in Puerto Rico and elsewhere and its destructive nature to the soldiers and to the people who are victimized by U.S. military behavior. They “support the troops” by demanding soldiers return home and by denouncing these needless and destructive wars. They provide services to soldiers and their families, such as legal rights advising, raise money for veterans in need, and link them to resources to get counseling, medical and mental health treatments.

Santiago has been politically active in fighting U.S. militarism en ‘la Isla’—in the island—since she was 17 years of age. At that young age she was among the thousands of protesters that participated in military draft card burnings as she stood against the conscription of young Boricua men bound to fight in the Vietnam War.

“Puerto Rican resistance to U.S. militarism was and is militant,” Santiago tells us. “During the Vietnam War, thousands of young people burned their registration cards. After many actions the Center for Reserve Officer Training, known as the ROTC, was taken off the University of Puerto Rico’s Rio Piedras campus.” She continued, “Madres participated in protests outside of military recruiting centers, making them move their stations inside shopping malls.” As part of Madre’s counter-recruitment campaign, “Madres Contra la Guerra educated parents, and Puerto Rican mothers specifically, to request that they do not allow military recruiters to have access to confidential information about their children between the ages of 16-25 years.” Santiago was referring to the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind Act (2001), which requires federal funding for education in exchange for military recruiter access to student’s information. Parents, however, may sign forms requesting that their children’s information be withheld from recruiters.

According to Pentagon data, this action led to 57 percent of Puerto Rico’s 10th, 11th and 12th graders to “opt out” from being contacted by military recruiters in 2007—the height of the Iraq War—barring recruiters from contacting 65,000 potential soldiers.

On Puerto Rico’s Colonial and Military Legacy

Santiago started her discussion with a brief account of the U.S./ Puerto Rico colonial relationship dating back to the Spanish-American War to more contemporary times, focusing on the militarization of the island by the U.S. military.

“On July 25, 1898, U.S. troops invaded Puerto Rico and implemented a military government, for 30 years prohibiting Spanish in schools. Hundreds of U.S. teachers were brought to teach, replacing Puerto Rican teachers. In 1917 U.S. citizenship was imposed on all Puerto Ricans. Those who refused citizenship were automatically ostracized,” Santiago affirmed. That same year the U.S. entered the First World War and was in desperate need of a large army. She continued, “Not coincidentally, that same year, 27,786 Puerto Rican men were recruited to fight in the First World War… More recently, ninety percent of the members of the Puerto Rican National Guard and Army Reserves in Puerto Rico have been in Iraq or Afghanistan, about 8,700 soldiers. Of those, there are about 1,650 maimed [soldiers who have sustained physical injuries].”

She also touched on the popular struggle to oust the Navy from the municipal island of Vieques, which had been bombarded by the U.S. Navy, 180 days a year, for over 60 years, using all kinds of ordinances, and testing all kinds of chemicals (depleted uranium included), delivered by air, land and sea, while having a permanent population sandwiched between the two military assets on each end of this small island.

At one time, Vieques had a population of about 12,000 or so. However, when the decision was made for the island to be used as a Naval bombing range, two thirds of the land was expropriated from the people living there who were either forcefully relocated to the center of the island, or relocated to the Puerto Rican mainland or the Virgin Islands. Vieques was viewed by the Navy as an indispensable training asset. For years it has been the site to rehearse such military operations ranging from the D-Day Invasion in Europe to the recent invasion of Iraq.

Today Vieques has a population of about 9,000. It is the municipality with the highest cancer rate in Puerto Rico. Many attribute this with six decades of chemical contaminants pounded on the small island by the U.S. Navy. Under popular pressure, the U.S. Navy finally withdrew from Vieques in 2003.

A person in the audience brought up the case of political prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera. Santiago briefly told the story of his case, noting his 33 years of imprisonment in a U.S. jail, and the international campaign to free him, referring to him as our “Nelson Mandela.”

Santiago compiles a list of Puerto Ricans who have been killed during combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those who have died outside of theater but whose death may be attributed to the current conflicts. So far, she has 123 names of ‘Boricuas’ [a demonym attributed to Puerto Ricans or anything Puerto Rican-esque] posted on her MCG website.

“The real unemployment rate in Puerto Rico is 40%. The U.S. military uses the need to work to sell militarism to our youth. Wars are declared by the rich and fought by the poor. My son was a victim of this situation; being unemployed for 10 months, he enlisted in the military as a soldier on January 2001, in a desperate act, like thousands of other young people in search of work and study opportunities,” exclaimed Santiago, using her son’s case as an example in describing the economic situation in Puerto Rico. Like many in Puerto Rico and in the U.S., Santiago’s son was a college graduate, with excessive student loan debt, and unable to find work. He deployed to Iraq early in the war and after 16 months of extreme violence returned home with a condition of PTSD that has left him detached, paranoid and isolated from other people. “He wasn’t that way before he left to Iraq,” Santiago tells us.

Telling the Story of the Puerto Rican War Veteran

Santiago went on to inform her audience about the sorry state of the Veterans Affairs hospital in Puerto Rico. “There’s currently one VA hospital in Puerto Rico servicing about 200,000 U.S. military veterans in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.” The VA hospital in Puerto Rico does treat veterans suffering from PTSD; however, it does not have the capabilities to treat veterans suffering from Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). Veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury have to seek treatment in the U.S., meaning that their families would have to uproot and leave Puerto Rico in order for the veteran to continue care.

During the workshop, Santiago showed the film Madres Contra la Guerra and translated the stories of veterans appearing on the film to English for her audience. One of the Boricua veterans in the film was U.S. Navy seaman Pablo Paredes Burgos, who was scheduled to deploy to Iraq on the U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard on December 2004. Paredes Burgos refused to board his ship, becoming Puerto Rico’s first conscientious objector to the war in Iraq. For refusing to deploy, Paredes Burgos was sentenced to three months of hard labor by a military court followed by a discharge from the military on an Other Than Honorable condition. In his statement to the court, he stated: “What I submit to this court is that I am convinced that this war is illegal. If I am guilty of anything, it is my beliefs.”

Building Solidarity, Connecting Organizations

At the conclusion of the workshop I went around asking people about their thoughts on the discussion. “MCG work overlaps with IVAW work,” said IVAW Director of Development Joyce Wagner. “MCG applies direct service and organizing for social change. I really hope we can continue with this relationship and build relationships with other groups and people from other colonized places affected by militarism.” Joyce, a former Marine, works with civic peace organizations in Okinawa, Japan, which campaigns to evict U.S. military bases there, which are many and literally scattered across the whole island.

National Lawyers Guild member, Whitney Leeds, said the workshop was “fantastic.” She had traveled to Puerto Rico last year to attend the 76th NLG Convention hosted by the Colegio de Abogados -Lawyers’ College. It became obvious to her the presence of the colonial establishment in the Island as she described Puerto Rico as a “close knit community” having a unique homogeneous culture -different from what she’s observe in U.S. society- but being constantly reminded of the U.S. presence there.

“I knew about the issue with Vieques, but I didn’t know about the forced migration,” said Meejin Richart from the Center for Constitutional Rights. “She [Santiago] illustrated colonization as a process and illuminated the organization of resistance in Puerto Rico. She not only brought her voice to the panel, but also the voice of Puerto Rican war veterans via the movie she presented,” Richart expressed.

Later that evening, Santiago would joined Meejin and Joyce on a discussion panel with all Convention attendees about U.S. militarism and the negative impact it has on communities abroad. They talked about the altering cultural, economic, political and environmental effects that the nearly 1,000 U.S. bases and facilities in about 150 countries has on a local populations.

They liken these military enclaves in foreign countries to colonial settlements of American troops, sometimes accompanied by their families, and military contractors, at times displaying the familiar colonizer-colonized relationship with the host country. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that in many of these countries citizen movements have sprung up in opposition to these bases and facilities, and have mobilized to have them closed and see the troops leave. IVAW actively works to connect with these organizations.

Santiago ended her workshop with these words: “Motherhood generates life. War is the antithesis of motherhood. When we have children, we create to live, not to kill. We at Mothers Against War in Puerto Rico have the inescapable historical commitment and responsibility to preserve life, not just of our children’s, but of the thousands of innocent victims who we do not know and are killed in war.”


No Shortcuts: We Need Strategy


No Shortcuts: We Need Strategy

By N’Tanya Lee and Steve Williams

The need to develop a strategy that can cohere the different parts of our movement has never been clearer.

Both of us have been shaped by years of organizing the young, homeless people, and working-class African Americans and Latinas. After each spending more than a decade building different organizations in San Francisco, we teamed in 2012 up to interview more than 150 organizers and activists in some of the most active social-movement struggles across the country. One of the themes that emerged from our conversations is that although movement activists often use the same words, what we mean by those words can vary from person to person.

No wonder we have a hard time communicating with each other.

Strategy is one of many words with conflicting definitions. The word with which strategy most often gets intertwined is tactics. Sometimes these two words are used interchangeably. Sometimes strategy is seen as little more than the accumulation of tactics. Other times, strategy is seen as one front in a larger campaign. While we are not proposing that Webster’s Dictionary deploy observers in movement spaces to rule on semantic conflicts, any process of developing movement-wide strategy demands a shared agreement on the meaning of the term. For the purpose of this article, we offer the following definition of strategy: a plan to navigate shifting terrain to accomplish defined objectives which create openings to achieve a larger goal.

Effective strategy does not exist in a timeless and placeless void. It must grow out of and relate to the objective conditions in which it is being carried out, and it must respond to basic questions like: What is our vision of a transformed economic and social structure that makes liberation possible? What is our assessment of the dynamics shaping the conditions in communities, workplaces, the environment, the United States, and around the world? What are the scenarios, given those conditions, that allow us to achieve our vision? What are the campaigns and projects that we can undertake now to bring those scenarios into being and develop our capacities while constraining the power of the ruling class?

Once we’ve agreed on a working definition of strategy, there’s the issue of scope. Some talk about strategy at the level of a campaign. Others talk about a strategy to “take back the White House.” Still others see their strategy as “just keep fighting.” All of these are important. In a period that has witnessed a massive worsening of living conditions for working people and communities of color, the commitment to “keep on keeping on” is a necessary orientation. However, all of these partial victories have to be placed within a larger scope.

We enter this discussion of strategy as leftists — another term that suffers from multiple meanings. Due to the rightward jerking of the US political spectrum, progressives and liberals are often lumped together with anarchists, socialists, revolutionary nationalists, feminists, environmentalists and anyone else willing to resist the barbaric state of affairs in a confusing stew called the Left. While we believe that many of these forces should unite when possible, to lump them all together as the Left commits two fatal errors. First, it muddies what can be a useful definition of the Left. Second, it implies that these groups act as a unified political force towards a clearly defined left project, even though that’s clearly not the case.

Chilean political scientist Marta Harnecker offers a useful definition of the Left as those “forces that oppose the capitalist system and its profit motive and which are fighting for an alternative humanist, solidarity-filled society, a socialist society, the building blocks of which are the interests of the working classes. This society would be ‘free from material poverty and the spiritual wretchedness engendered by capitalism.’” Based on this definition, we begin from the standpoint that the objective of any left strategy must be to topple capitalism in order to make way for an economic system that allows for all people around the world to develop their capacities to the greatest extent possible in harmony with the planet.

Still, a strong Left needs to clarify its vision: toward what are we struggling? We all operate amidst the wreckage of a forty-year onslaught in which the neoliberal wing of the capitalist class squawked that capitalism was the end of history. The collapse of the Soviet Union and many of the socialist experiments of the twentieth century rendered much of the Left confused. On TV and in classrooms, capitalists insisted that socialism’s defeat proved capitalism wasn’t just the best way of organizing an economic system, it was the only way (Cuba, of course, being the troublesome counterexample to their free-market fairy tale). There is no alternative, they insisted.

Over time, left movements substituted resistance for principled opposition. In the United States, socialism became a word that few dared to touch. Today, there are new openings. The economic crash of 2008 has left millions of people disillusioned, disaffected, and dispossessed. Still, there is little confidence that anything else is possible, and our inability to describe a compelling alternative to capitalism renders us irrelevant to most. Any anticapitalist strategy in the United States must contend with this reality. We must provide a response to the question: toward what?

Following the leadership of socialist experiments in Latin America, we can refer to our economic system as twenty-first century socialism. Although we understand that others may prefer different terms, what is most important is clarity. The strategy we are developing aims at nothing less that a fundamental break from the logic and institutions of capitalism and the related systems of white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and imperialism.

With a working definition of strategy and clarity on the strategy’s objective, many will leap to the question of what is to be done. This will be an error if the first task is not to answer the question of who will be doing it. The question of who are the social forces that have the potential power and the interests of fighting to bring another world into being is central to any strategy. After all, Marx did not call for anyone who harbored a grievance against capitalism to come together; no, he implored the workers of the world to unite. Leftists too often gloss over this issue. Terms like “the Left,” “the movement,” or “we” are thrown around in a way that projects a level of unity and coherence that simply doesn’t exist and overlooks deep fragmentation and institutional deficiencies.

The project of building and cohering the social forces capable of carrying out a socialist strategy must distinguish between left ideas, leftists (people who hold left ideas), left organizations (organized explicitly on the basis of unity around left ideas), and left projects (campaigns and other efforts to challenge and move beyond capitalism). While lots of forces — both leftist and non-leftist — will have to play important roles in carrying out a strategy to challenge capitalism, leftists bear a special responsibility to operate as a conscious force because of the resilience of the system and the power of the capitalist class, and the truth is that we are not yet a “we.” Any effective strategy for socialism must address the need to build and cohere the organizational and political strength of the Left and the popular forces that will play key roles in carrying out this anticapitalist strategy.

Although further social investigation needs to be conducted and analyzed, it is painfully clear that the actually existing array of left forces in the United States is insufficiently connected to and rooted amongst the very social forces that are most likely to play a key role challenging capitalism, white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy. This is not just a problem of representation. The integration of historically oppressed and exploited communities into the core leadership and participation of a rejuvenated US left promises to transform the outlook, practices, and demands of that Left. The reality is that left forces in the United States do not currently have the capacity that will be necessary to successfully execute a strategy for socialism. But we’re also not as far off as it might seem.

There are thousands of organizers and activists who have spent years building organic connections in many of the sectors from which an anticapitalist project will need to grow. These activists are embedded in some of the most vibrant struggles happening today. They are organizing undocumented immigrants to confront the Obama government for deporting record numbers of people. They are organizing workers at Walmart and various fast-food chains. They are organizing against police brutality and the further expansion of the prison industrial complex. They are fighting for the expansion of public education and public transportation. They are fighting against the commodification and surveillance of the Internet. They are building up communities’ capacities to confront climate change in Richmond, California; Black Mesa, Arizona; Detroit, Michigan; and the Far Rockaways in New York City. Organizations like National People’s Action and Climate Justice Alliance are taking important steps to outline what a break from capitalism might look like. The work of the Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland and the People’s Assemblies and worker co-ops being built in Jackson, Mississippi are examples of concrete experiments that will build popular capacities and give shape to our evolving vision of an alternative to capitalism. These organizations and projects are rooted in the very sectors that will need to play key roles in a left project.

Most of these organizations and projects are not explicitly leftist. Many of the organizers and activists anchoring them nevertheless do consider themselves leftists, though few of them are members of existing left organizations. 65 percent of the organizers and activists that we interviewed in 2012 identified their politics as anticapitalist. Some of these organizers have been working for more than twenty years building working-class institutions. Others became active during the Occupy movement and have made a lifelong commitment to social transformation. They are out there, and together, this constellation of would-be cadre is positioned to revitalize the next Left in the United States.

Despite — or quite possibly because of — all of this work, an overwhelming number of organizers do this work with the sober realization that what we are doing is not enough. That in the face of an increasingly audacious and coordinated capitalist class, all of this powerful work is, at its best, merely slowing the relentless march of neoliberal onslaught and climate catastrophe. So many of these activists have expressed a hunger to have their work break out of the archipelago of issue-based silos to establish a larger left project.

If this were to happen, if the thousands of organizers across the United States were to position themselves and their work in the context of a rejuvenated Left along with existing radical individuals, organizations, and institutions, the balance of forces would be fundamentally altered. The who of socialist strategy would begin to take shape, and the Left would be in a position to craft strategy that grows from a vision of what we’re struggling toward, and with whom (and against whom) we’re struggling. For these reasons, building linkages between existing left formations and existing social movements must be the central preparatory task of any effective left strategy. We need the who.

Luckily, we do not take up this task without precedents or guidance. As Marta Harnecker has documented, Latin American leftists faced a similar challenge as they sought to mount a more unified resistance to the neoliberal assault of the 1990s. Harnecker’s analysis points to the critical role played by leftists who engaged themselves in the day-to-day struggles of various social sectors, including workers, women, indigenous communities, and communities of Afro-descendant peoples. By organizing; developing the leadership capacities of rank-and-file members; studying the relationship of their struggles to the exploitative and oppressive systems of capitalism, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and imperialism; and connecting their own struggles to the struggles of other popular forces, they built a movement that was able to take bold steps forward.

While the conditions in the United States are clearly distinct, the experiences of leftists in Latin America do hold important lessons for those here looking to strengthen resistance struggles and to build the capacities to execute a larger strategy that directly confronts the capitalist system. Two imperatives grow from this assessment.

First, all leftists not currently engaged with social-movement organizations should develop relationships with organizations, especially those that cultivate a protagonistic role for working-class communities, communities of color, and women. As we’ve discussed, simply having left ideas is insufficient; we must engage organizational vehicles through which we can put those politics into motion. In these relationships, leftists must avoid the corrosive practice of treating movement organizations — especially grassroots organizations — as mere instruments which carry out left ideas. They are not front-groups to be led. This support must be guided by a respectful mutuality that recognizes that social-movement organizations often innovate unique contributions to left theory and practice, as the women’s movement did in the 1970s.

Leftists should support them to develop their capacities to continue their fights against the worst ravages of the new world order. This might take different forms. Some leftists may volunteer as organizers. Others may provide administrative and logistical support. Still others might align their academic or professional work in such a way to provide institutional support to these organizations. Whatever the forms, the resistance organizations will have additional capacity, and more leftists will be able to learn from front-line struggles. The end result will be a greater and broader openness to socialism.

Second, leftists who are already engaged in social-movement struggles should make time and space to engage in broader discussions that break out of the archipelago of issue-based silos that organizations so often operate within. This is not a small task. Resistance is critical, and the demands of building and managing campaigns are relentless. Taking time to read, reflect, and theorize can feel like an indulgence if not completely irrelevant, especially if it’s not clear that you won’t be alone. The interviews that we did with organizers and activists across the country made it clear that others are hungry for this type of reflection and coordination. The project that we have taken up, LeftRoots, is an attempt to provide just such a space to support the ideological and practical development of social-movement activists, and there are other initiatives emerging too. Efforts such as these will be critical to cultivating a new generation of ideologically sharp and practically skilled leftists who can help cohere a social force in itself and for itself that demands a break from the capitalist system.

These two imperatives are complementary. As renowned labor organizer General Baker once said, “We have to turn thinkers into fighters and fighters into thinkers.” Steps like these will encourage more people to join and revitalize the US left. With a broader array of anticapitalist activists rooted in different movements, constituencies, and regions, the Left will be better positioned to craft a dynamic strategy that allows us to mount a concerted challenge to the capitalist system.

Such a strategy will be an active and present component of all of our struggles. Organizations and movements will feel ownership over it and use it to inform the actions that they take. Some activists will be inspired to take on new roles of leadership and responsibility. Organizations will experiment with innovative tactics with the goal of realizing a larger objective. Movements and organizations will see one another as partners in a larger struggle for liberation that crosses issue, identity, and geography. Such a strategy will make possible those things that currently seem impossible.

This is no quixotic search for a unicorn. As was the case in many of the most vibrant social movements throughout history, such a strategy guided the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. Documents like The Path to Power and the Freedom Charter provided a strategic outlook that gave independence to different movements and also linked them. As an example of their impact, when students in Soweto went on strike in 1976 to protest the apartheid regime’s attempt to impose the language of Afrikaans in the classroom, the workers’ movement, the women’s movement, and the movement of civic organizations all saw that strike as a part of their own struggles. Their strategy was not “Everyone, come work on the issue that I’m working on.” With a guiding vision and a clear analysis of social forces, different organizations were positioned to play distinct yet complementary roles in toppling the apartheid regime. This is the type of strategy that a growing US left must aspire to.

We are living in dire times, and the need to develop a strategy to challenge capitalism, white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy is becoming more and more clear. We must nevertheless avoid the temptation to cobble together an incomplete strategy in a desperate attempt to match the urgency of the moment. The US Left has a unique opportunity to forge a strategy that coheres different parts of our movement and expands our capacities to match the scale of the crisis and the tyranny of the 1%, but to do this, we must clarify our vision and deepen our roots in those sectors that have the deepest interest in transcending capitalism.

If leftists believe that such a strategy to confront and transcend capitalism is essential, then we have no choice but to do all of the patient and deliberate work necessary for such a strategy to come into being. We can do it, but there are no shortcuts.

Originally published in Jacobin Magazine

Taken from: http://leftroots.net/no-shortcuts/

Boricuas Where?… En la luna

Not long after the U.S. took over Puerto Rico in 1898, the response of the island’s elites took shape, influenced by the development of a Hispanic heritage-based nationalism. I argue that such hispanophile nationalism is at the core of island-based anti-migration and anti-diaspora narratives. Further, I propose that such nationalist discourses can be understood as a re-creation of the pre-1898 Peninsular-Criollo insular dichotomy.

In Spanish-ruled Puerto Rico, peninsulares, those born on the Iberian Peninsula, occupied a commanding position over their island-born Criollo elite counterparts, just because of their place of birth. Within this colonial dichotomy, an island birthplace made you inferior. It hybridized and bastardized your identity. Of course, there was a problem that Peninsulares did not consider—that their children would be born in the Americas, hence inheriting the “defect” of their birthplace. So, Peninsulares had to be somewhat flexible with the Criollo elites. The Criollos also had the wealth that most Peninsulares did not, and that allowed for the unhappy marriage of the two elite factions.

Island-based Puerto Ricans, whom for now own I will call Insulares, have taken on the role of pre-1898 Peninsulares. A visit to social media will show that, in great numbers, Insulares consider U.S.-based, and especially U.S.-born Puerto Ricans, as either not Puerto Rican at all or maybe, somewhat Puerto Rican. Hence, U.S.-born Puerto Ricans are placed in the role of the former Criollos carrying the birth-place defect that makes them inferior to Insular Puerto Ricans. Just like pre-1898 Peninsulares considered Criollos inferior for having been born on the island, so modern Insular Puerto Ricans consider U.S.-born Puerto Ricans as not really Puerto Rican due to their place of birth.

Such attitude is also present among Insular Puerto Ricans newly arrived to the states—especially if they move to non-traditional areas of Puerto Rican settlement. However, just like the obvious faulty logic and expiration date of pre-1898 Peninsulares, the migrant Insular Boricuas soon run into the problem of having their children being born or raised in the States, thus inheriting the birthplace defect that nationalist popular discourses attributed to previous waves of U.S.-born Puerto Ricans.

Another factor adding to the “un-Puerto Rican character” of mainland-based Puerto Ricans is language. And again, the identification of language with identity is also part of nationalist discourses. The supposed inability to speak proper Spanish has been traditionally presented as evidence of the cultural degradation of migrants and mainland-based Puerto Ricans. Ironically, claiming the Spanish language as a marker or definer of Puertoricaness is something that Puerto Rican revolutionaries in their quest for independence from Spain never did. There is an obvious reason for this. Spanish was the language of the metropolis, the language of the oppressor. There was no way that an independence and anti-Spanish movement could claim the Spanish language as a definer of Puertoricaness. However, very tellingly of the hispanophile nature of early independence and nationalist movements, under U.S. sovereignty, Spanish becomes a definer of Puertoricaness.

Thus there are two main identifiable markers traditionally used to signal identity within nationalist narratives: 1) belonging to the land or having the island as one’s birthplace; which accounts for the organic or natural component of identity and 2) language, which provides the cultural aspect of one’s identity. Please note that the cultural component is not enough to make you fully Puerto Rican—at least in very conservative nationalist narratives, the land and the place of birth give you a natural claim to your identity. Hence, the nationalist narratives which are so dominant among Insular Puerto Ricans not only depict U.S.-born Boricuas as not truly Puerto Rican but also portray migrants as falling prey to assimilation and cultural degradation. They are presented as losing their Puertoricaness.

A good example is found in Ana Lidia Vega’s short story “Pollito Chicken.” Suzie Bermudez, the main character of the story, a Puerto Rican who migrated as a child to New York, is back in Puerto Rico on a vacation. She is presented as a type of pitiyanqui—simultaneously ashamed of her Puerto Rican heritage, and also a shameful example of the bastardization of Puerto Rican identity, due to migration and Yanqui assimilation. At the end, she is made whole after having an orgasm courtesy of a trigueño macho Puerto Rican bartender, who somehow allows her to regain her political consciousness via penetration, to the point that in her climax she screams: “Viva Puelto Rico Libreeeeee!” A way of reading this is by understanding Suzie as the land waiting to be conquered and then plowed by her conqueror and lord, which gives her/it meaning and purpose. Both the land and its rightful utilization are conspicuously used in nationalist discourses. But at any rate, the Insular Puerto Rican regenerates Suzie, the degraded assimilated migrant, by penetrating her like no gringo could.

Examples of the “negative” effects of migration and “exile” abound. After Julia de Burgos’s death in New York, her passing came to be interpreted by some as an example of what the “exile” does to Puerto Ricans. As my colleague Consuelo Martínez has argued, she is presented as a “…martyr pushed to death by her diasporic experience in New York.” That image goes beyond literary production, and beyond class boundaries. It is previously found in newspapers during the First World War period—a time when a substantial migration of Puerto Rican labor to the US took place.

 “Juan Boricua, no salgas aunque el Diablo te lleve; mira aquí cómo sales, … mira aquí cómo vuelves.”   Diluvio, November 16, 1918.

The degradation of Puertoricaness outside the island is also found in popular mythology. Who is not familiar with the old tale that the famous Puerto Rican frog (el coquí) can’t survive outside the island? Regardless of weather or care, the coquí will die outside Puerto Rico because it does not belong anywhere else. The people of Hawaii might have a different opinion on the matter as they consider the coqui—now everywhere in Hawaii—an obnoxious plague to be dealt with.

But how have these perceptions and narratives affected the way in which 21st century Insular Puerto Ricans perceive migrants and U.S.-based Puerto Ricans? Moreover, how have Insular Puerto Ricans reacted to the census data indicating that mainland-based Puerto Ricans have finally surpassed Insular Puerto Ricans in numbers? The decline of the island-based population and the new exodus are being mostly attributed to the economic crises. Popular explanations and some public officials’ stand on the new exodus are simple enough. If the island’s economy were in a better condition, most Puerto Ricans would not be leaving and many would be returning. To that effect, some officlals speak of plans to propose a series of economic incentives to encourage Puerto Ricans to return. It is most intriguing that motivating Puerto Ricans to return worries some in Puerto Rico. As pointed out by many commentators in social media, the resources to be used in any such program could very well be used to offer incentives to those who are still on the island.

Either this is a political ploy paying lip service to the recent migrants’ dream of returning home or the Insular Puerto Ricans, having political power but being economically weak, see in the States-based and migrant Puerto Ricans an economic opportunity. Hence the Insulares‘ willingness to engage with the new Criollos—the state-based Boricuas.

That “return to the patria” narrative might be very enticing to a population that has always been told “you are not Puerto Rican,” “you are not Puerto Rican enough,” “you don’t even speak Spanish,” “you have never been to the island,” “you left the island,” “you don’t know the culture.” A population that has heard from U.S.-based elites and, sadly, even from academia, “you don’t belong here in the U.S. and you never will.” Hence, just like the pre-1898 Criollos tried to prove their españolismo, some in the diaspora go to extremes to “preserve” or “recover” their Puertoricaness—for example, by sending their children to Puerto Rico so they can reclaim their roots and culture just as Criollo and Peninsular elites sent theirs to Spain.

At least publicly, a few members of the island’s government appear to be interested in fomenting a return, the island’s public via social media engages in a type of migrant-shaming most notably represented by the all too common one liner, “La patria se hace trabajando.” This phrase not only accuses Puerto Rican migrants of laziness, but also of lack of patriotic feelings and true love for the island.

In early February, El Nuevo Día, the island’s leading newspaper, published two articles dealing with the current exodus. In one of them, a Puerto Rican engineer explains her reason for leaving the island. In the other, a non-Puerto Rican explains the top six reasons for staying on the island. From the latter, we get a reproduction of “la patria se hace trabajando” in the form of “there are opportunities here [on the island] life isn’t easy, but those who look for opportunities, find them.” Because, of course, we know that those who move to the mainland in search for a new job or opportunities do so because they had not look hard enough on the island, right? The most important aspect of this piece is that it went viral on social media to the point of meriting a report by the Insular press and that it was touted as an example of what Puerto Ricans could do if they really tried.

The repost came under the title “Razones de una Boricua para vivir en la Luna,” published a few days later.

The talk is always about those who abandon their land, the fight, the desire to better the country. But the talk is never about the sacrifices one must make to buy that one-way ticket. We, the ones who leave, are neither cowards nor traitors… to leave behind what you love the most to follow your dreams you must be strong and determined.

It is not surprising that the young Puerto Rican engineer who moved to Ohio, unable to find work after completing her degree, felt compelled to state that she loves Puerto Rico, that it pains her having to live in the US, that she is neither a coward nor a traitor. It is not surprising because even in this young 21st century, nationalist discourses continue to tie your worth and identity to the land and to other accidental features such as the language you speak. And, a cursory reading of social media comments would sadly show how widespread this view is.

It is necessary for all to move away from nationalist discourses seeking to determine who is and who isn’t Puerto Rican. For nationalism has never been about inclusion but about exclusion. It is necessary to move away from movements that tie your “true” identity to the island for they make the identity of diasporicans less than that of Insular Puerto Ricans. Such approach only strengthens the Balkanization of the Puerto Rican community. Indeed, the placing of different values based on place of birth just helps to reproduce the same class, racial, gender and political divisions found within the island’s community. Hence, we need to stop assigning value to Puertoricaness based on place of birth and residence. We need to de-center the essence of Puertoricaness. That is the only way in which el coquí can sing freely outside the island, the only way for flexible and non-oppressive Puerto Rican identities to flourish unmolested. And, the only way to find solutions to the many challenges faced by the Puerto Rican populations on the island and on la Luna.


Original can be found at: http://centropr.hunter.cuny.edu/centrovoices/chronicles/boricuas-where-en-la-luna