Saturday, October 01, 2005

Después de la Revolución

Después de la Revolución

Independence Day in the Republic of Puerto Rico! The Puerto Rican National Army is marching out to El Morro Castle to the tune of La Borinqueña, the national anthem. The newly elected president of the republic is content. It was a long hard battle but he won and the island would be better off for trusting in him.

It had been his logic from the very beginning to prey on the fears of the people. The fear that they would lose their American citizenship if Puerto Rico suddenly became independent. Everyone knew that their citizenship was by writ of Congress and not a guaranteed right. Everyone knew it could be taken away at a whim. And half the population of the island had not wanted to gamble on the future of the new republic. That was fine; actually perfect. Because, overnight, he had solved the housing and unemployment problems that had been plaguing the island for generations by nationalizing all the property that had been abandoned.

His new army was perfect. He assured himself it would never bomb any part of the Island—a thing the Citizens if Vieques were ecstatic about.

He was happy about how easy it was to drive around the island. It reminded him of the days before Operation Bootstrap when the roads were safe and there were no car jackings or road rage. Even his wife had started enjoying driving again!

He was delighted that the war on terrorism was going so badly in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, South Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Tibet, Myanmar, and the United Kingdom. With every country’s armies so busy, no one would be bothering his lovely paradise.

He was also happy that Haliburton had decided to leave Puerto Rico for good. They were too expensive and all they ever did was pollute the natural beauty of the Island. Besides, there was too much overcrowding. He just wanted to destroy the excess housing that he did not need anymore and plant trees.

Finally, he is happy because now he has given a new identity to all those poor souls who have been wandering around the USA and the rest of the world not knowing what a Puerto Rican was. He is proud because he has given his people a home and their identity back.

What is a Puerto Rican?

What is a Puerto Rican?

Last month I wrote a brief history of Puerto Rico. The funny thing is that as I wrote the article I could not help but ask, “What is a Puerto Rican?”

When I was growing up in San Juan, PR, I always thought that a Puerto Rican was someone who was born in Puerto Rico, grew up there, spoke Spanish and was forced to learn English—just because we are part of the USA. We were all loud and loved rice and beans (red, not black), we danced to “salsa” and “merengue”, and played politics like a contact sport. We were ruled by the three dogmas of the Puerto Rican Culture: Machismo, Religion, and Family.

After living in the United States for the past 23 years, I have become confused. I have met Puerto Ricans here who have never visited the Island, who speak no Spanish, have no idea of our history and culture—yet they “feel” they are Puerto Ricans. How can this be?

Puerto Ricans are—like any other Latin American race—very nationalistic. I learned at a very young age that Nationalism has no rhyme or reason. Latinos are very proud of their culture and we each have a unique and beautiful heritage. To explain how someone’s sense of nationality survives in spite of never being in their homeland, never learning the language, and never voting in a Puerto Rican election (which always includes a caravan of 100 cars with loud speakers), we must look at these individuals as they interact with the larger habitat—The United States of America. Everything is magnified so that Puerto Ricans in the US are responding to the major sins of the “Evil Empire”: Racism, and Colonialism.
I have always heard of how bad things are in Puerto Rico. Everything is magnified so that Puerto Rico is very much controlled by the whims of the larger US market. There were two major immigration droves to the USA, both of which were initiated by Puerto Ricans “looking for a better life” after a downturn in the local economy.

In 1953, the largest migration of Puerto Ricans to the United States mainland occurred, with 69,124 emigrating (mostly to New York, New Jersey and Florida). This entailed mostly unskilled workers who quickly took all the concierge, maid, and gardener positions—unwanted jobs at the time. It resulted in the first big realization of how un-accepting the US mainstream culture was to these pioneers and their tragic experiences were immortalized in the work by Pedro Juan Soto—SPIKS, a collection of short stories (published originally in Spanish by Editorial Cultural in Puerto Rico in 1956—translated into English in 1973 by the Monthly Review Press.)

The second large immigration was in the 70’s and the 80’s and was called the brain drain—doctors, lawyers, architects, wealthy merchants, tired of the Puerto Rican government’s mismanagement and corruption, crime, and overcrowding, left in droves. A funny thing happened—due to the color of their skin and their accent—they were greeted with a similarly horrendous racist backlash. They were rejected by the African American community because of their language and their skin color—“café con leche”—yet, they were also rejected by the Whites, for the same reason. Some returned to Puerto Rico, and the ones who stayed in the USA formed a community where they could feel safe. They moved to the same neighborhoods—mainly the warmer climates of Florida and the southwest, and for some unknown reason Chicago—and resisted assimilation into the US culture. My mother, who is a very strong pro-statehood fanatic refuses to move to the United States because she “has” to pray her rosary in Spanish. I, on the other hand have been here since 1983 and could never go back to live in Puerto Rico. The institutionalized bureaucracy would drive me nuts.

Meanwhile, on the Island, the issue of status became a hot potato. In 1968, Luis A. Ferre was elected governor under the New Progressive Party that favored statehood as a solution to the status of Puerto Ricans. As I have stated before, Puerto Rico became a United States colony as part of the loot of the Spanish-American war of 1898. Since then, the Popular Democratic Party controlled island politics by offering “commonwealth” as the way to associate with the US—thus selling out the dreams of an Independent Puerto Rico. It meant that we would share currency, citizenship, and defense with the US, but were able to keep all the other aspects of our nationality—we would participate as Puerto Ricans in the Olympic Games, and in the Miss Universe Pageant (where a Puerto Rican has won four times since the contest started).

The electoral victory of Luis Ferre and the possibility of “loosing” our country and identity gave a boost to our quest for defending the Puerto Rican culture. The idea of assimilating our culture with that of the United States made every single election since 1968 a referendum on status. The 2004 election for governor of Puerto Rico was won by a margin of 3000 votes (out of a total of two million votes cast) by the pro-commonwealth candidate Luis Acevedo Vila with both legislatures controlled by the opposition party.

Every family can claim at least one member of each of the three ideologies (statehood, commonwealth, and independence) and thus politics is seldom discussed at family gatherings. The idea that we may be assimilated by the larger US has strengthened our desire to remain Puerto Rican, thus helping the Puerto Ricans who live in the States to “feel” Puerto Rican whether they have ever been there or not—whether they speak Spanish or not. If Puerto Rico were ever to achieve statehood, the indigenous culture would be threatened and we would do everything possible to save it.

The Jones Act of 1917 granted Puerto Ricans U.S. statutory citizenship–we are not concerned about immigration problems like the rest of the Latinos in the United States. However, our language, heritage, skin color, and culture forms a bond between all Latinos in the US.

So, what is a Puerto Rican? There are 3.8 million Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico and about the same spread all over the United States. Your guess is as good as mine.

A Brief History of Puerto Rico

A Brief History of Puerto Rico

After 23 years of living in the USA, I am getting tired of questions like do you have a green card? Is Puerto Rico a real country? What is the currency in Puerto Rico? I decided it is time to set the record straight!

Puerto Rico is the smallest and easternmost of the Greater Antilles; discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493 and claimed by Spain until 1898. We became a United States colony as part of the loot of the Spanish-American war of 1898. Our cities are built in the traditional Spanish Colonization style with a Church and City Hall in the central square and the rest of town radiating out from that. The focus of the town was the church; the focus of the Spanish was the Christianization of the barbarians.

On April 12, the Foraker Law (Organic Act of 1900) was approved, establishing civil government and free commerce between the Island and the US. Puerto Rico thus became the first US unincorporated territory.

On March 2,1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones Act and Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States – “organized but unincorporated.” A bill of rights was created which, among other things, established a locally elected Senate and House of Representatives elected by the Puerto Rican citizenry with elections held every four years. In addition, it granted Puerto Ricans U.S. statutory citizenship, which means that we were granted citizenship by act of Congress, not by the Constitution and citizenship is therefore not guaranteed by it. As citizens, they were allowed to join the army; only 300 rejected the citizenship and many others refused to join the army. During World War I, over 18,000 Puerto Ricans served in the US armed forces.

On July 4, 1951, the “Law 600” was passed, giving Puerto Rico the right to establish a government with a proper constitution.

On March 3, 1952, the flag of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was officially adopted - based on a flag designed by a group of patriots in the year 1895.

On July 25, 1952, (Puerto Rican voters in a referendum approved the New Constitution in March) Puerto Rico was proclaimed as the freely associated Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. (Estado Libre Asociado)

On November 4, 1952, Luis Muñoz Marín was re-elected governor to his second 4-year term, with 64.9% of the vote.

1953 The largest migration of Puerto Ricans to the United States mainland occurred, with 69,124 emigrating (mostly to New York, New Jersey and Florida).

Law Number 1 of 1993 declares both English and Spanish as the official languages of Puerto Rico.

Politics & Culture

Politics is a sport.

We do not vote in the presidential elections and have only non-voting representation in the congress; however we do not pay federal income taxes because of that whole “taxation without representation” thing. The last election saw a 92% turnout and that is normal for the island. Of the population, 48% favor statehood, 47% favor commonwealth (status quo) & 5% favor independence. Every family can claim at least one member of each of the three ideologies and thus politics is seldom discussed at family gatherings. In the 2004 elections, the New Progressive Party (which favors statehood) won both the Senate and the House of Representatives by wide margins. It also won the Resident Commissioner. (our representative in Congress that has a voice but no vote). The Popular Democratic Party won the Governorship by a margin of 3500 votes with over two million votes cast. Many Pro Independence voters crossed over to prevent a Pro statehood sweep.

We speak Spanish at home but commence bilingual (English) education as soon as we go to school. We think in Spanish and then translate to English. Prepositions cannot be translated; we are always using the wrong one.

The population is 95% catholic. The Church is strong with a fundamental Christian base to the morals of the culture. In 1964, the Catholic Bishops formed a political party and threatened excommunication for anyone who didn’t join their party. Abortion was illegal (until Roe v. Wade) and homosexuality was illegal until the Supreme Court Lawrence decision. Machismo is the norm —women are secondary and subservient to males. Gay men are well below women in the social structure, where homosexuality is generally equated only with drag queens and effeminate men.

Race is a very quiet, but hot, issue. The original Indian population, the “Tainos”, was almost wiped out by the Spanish. The Spanish then introduced slaves in the 16th century to work in the sugarcane plantations as the Indian work force died off. The white masters mixed with the black slaves thus we have a large mulatto population. Everyone has some African mixture, but the more you have, the more you seem to deny it.

Puerto Ricans are like any other Latin American race—very nationalistic. For example, it might be an insult to call a Puerto Rican either Dominican or Cuban and vice-versa. To help explain: Cubans took many jobs from Puerto Ricans with the mass exodus in 1959 when they were fleeing Castro. Dominicans are currently entering the country illegally and are usually employed in the service industry taking more jobs away from the locals in a tough economy. In a normal economy, and it’s worse when things are bad, much of Puerto Rican business is “under the table”. So, the issue of valid citizenship in employment is easily circumvented. It is said: “when the US sneezes, Puerto Rico gets pneumonia”. Meaning, when the economy turns sour, the island is kicked in the ass. Everything is magnified so that Puerto Rico is very much controlled by the whims of the larger US market. Which explains some of the love/hate relationship that exists with the US. Of course, economics isn’t the only reason that you have to be careful with nationality. It goes much deeper than that in a way that is completely unexplainable. Latinos/as are very proud of our culture and we each have a unique and beautiful heritage. To lazily lump everyone into a generic “Hispanic” label is to disregard that we are unique human beings.

Puerto Ricans must address America's race and class divide

Puerto Ricans must address America's race and class divide

As Puerto Ricans were glued to their TV’s watching not only unimaginable death and destruction, they were also living the American race and class issue. In America, the poor and black are to be neither seen nor heard. Race and racism are “messy” so we talk about other things—we play the “who’s to blame game”. “Money talks, also. In America those at the bottom of the totem pole get the shortest shrift. In America being black and poor is a deadly combination.” (Laura Washington Chicago Sun Times, September 12, 2005)

“Some voices are saying that it was no accident that the thousands of human beings crammed into a filthy, flooded, and perilous Louisiana Superdome were the poor black citizens of New Orleans. Poor and black citizens of New Orleans were left to bake and perhaps die on their own roof.” (Washington)

Still, Puerto Ricans are in denial. To quote my mother in Ponce, PR(Republican and pro Statehood for Puerto Rico): “There ‘you’ go again. You’re getting emotional. This is not the time. We have bureaucracies to tend to, people to save, lives to reconstruct, and cities to rebuild. Stop trying to blame the President.”

She refused to acknowledge New Orleans's Mayor Ray Nagin cries of desperation and cussing to get help for his people. She condemned Hip hop artist Kanye West when he went off script during a live NBC-TV concert for Katrina relief and said that President Bush did not care for blacks. She joined other Puerto Ricans and the Republican critics—she agreed that West was politicizing the issue and should stick to singing.

That may be why some news labeled African Americans taking food and water from groceries stores as “refugees”, “rioters”, and “looters”. Is that what Puerto Ricans were thinking: “What’s wrong with these people? Why didn’t these people just leave?” (Washington)

That’s why America’s first Mother pronounced, after meeting with the evacuees at the Houston Astrodome, that things were just peachy there. “What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality,” Barbara Bush was quoted by National Public Radio (NPR)’s
Marketplace. “And so many of the people in the arena here, you know were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.”

Puerto Ricans are in denial. What would be a real tragedy is if we miss this rare watershed moment to honestly and fervently address the race-and-class divide as we search for a permanent solution for the status issue in our island. The Pro Statehood movement has dismissed them as irrelevant—emotional—political. As a Puerto Rican who has lived 25 years in the US, I think it would be a big mistake to ignore this very important issue.

I wish I had a penny for every time I’ve been asked where is my green card—or what kind of currency Puerto Ricans use--I would be a millionaire today. As a physician, I have had patients request another of my partners because I “Spik” funny and can’t “splain” things. And some of my friends with darker skin fare worse—they are rejected by the African American culture, at the same time that they are rejected by the “whites.”

America’s race and class divide is real and deep and it is not going anywhere. America has never confronted the race/poverty conundrum. Have Puerto Ricans ever asked why is it that even though we pay the same payroll taxes (FICA) as the rest of the USA, our comparative social security benefits are lower? The same goes for Medicare and Medicaid. “In America, the poor and black are to be neither seen nor heard.” (Washington)

If Puerto Rico joined the USA as the 51st state we would be the poorest and darkest state. Before we debate status for our island again, lets reflect on how America treats its poor and non-whites.

HIV in Puerto Rico from a Puerto Rican perspective

HIV in Puerto Rico from a Puerto Rican perspective
Carlos T. Mock, MD

Growing up gay in Puerto Rico adds several problems and prejudices to GLBT Puerto Ricans’ lives. Three traits define the GLBT community in Puerto Rico: religion, machismo, and strong family/nationalistic ties. The Puerto Rican population is 95% Catholic. The Church is strong with a fundamental Christian base to the morals of the culture. In 1964, the Catholic Bishops formed a political party and threatened excommunication for anyone who didn't join their party. Abortion was illegal (until Roe v. Wade) and homosexuality was illegal until the Supreme Court Lawrence decision. Homosexuality is, to quote my mother, "an abomination". Machismo is the norm - women are secondary and subservient to males. Gay men are well below women in the social structure, where homosexuality is generally equated only with drag queens and effeminate men.

We grow up in very close-knit families with the mother as the anchor of the matriarchal hierarchy. Men wear the pants but women are the ones we fear. I remember that my biggest shame when I came out to my mother was that she would not get any grandchildren from me (thank God she already had 7). Another problem is that you are not supposed to leave your parent's home until you are married, or go to University (unless it is physically possible to commute). So most people live at home and never have a place to make out (this holds for both homosexual and heterosexual couples). That is why cars and public spaces in Latin cultures are so busy.

AIDS/HIV is a unique feature of the Puerto Rican GLBT story. Since more than half of the HIV/AIDS population in the island is resultant from IV drug use, a very different dynamic is at play. Either way, HIV positive individuals are at the very bottom of the GLBT hierarchy and are discriminated against by the rest of the GLBT community just as much as the general population.

To speak of a solution to the HIV/AIDS crisis in Puerto Rico, you will need to address two completely different issues, both with distinct stigma: homosexuality and drug addiction.

The homosexuals in Puerto Rico have not been able to achieve a sense of community. Too afraid to “come out of the closet” they do not organize and contribute to eradicate their own problems. African Americans and Latinos have forced the Center for Disease Control to create a new category of people spreading HIV: men who have sex with men. Our religion, machismo, and family ties make us uniquely incapable of preventing the disease, mainly because a lot of gay Puerto Ricans can’t admit that they are gay. They get married, have families, but then go on the down low to get homosexual sex: thus exposing wives and relatives to several diseases.

Drug addicts are a completely different story. Trying to support their addiction they are more often than not forced to have unprotected sex to maintain their habit. With lack of housing and just worried as to where their next meal will come from, HIV therapy is the last thing on their minds. Thus, they are very unreliable about taking their life saving “cocktails”.

I fear the only solution to the uniqueness of the Puerto Rican HIV problem will not be undertaken. I hope it will not take a scenario like South Africa where the government waited until one third of the population was HIV positive to finally intervene. The only solution I can see is for us to unite as a country and demand from both the Catholic Church and our dutifully elected officials to implement a campaign to promote prophylactic measures other than abstinence. Otherwise, Puerto Rico will be headed for an HIV disaster

Filiberto Ojeda Ríos

Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, the Pro Independence Puerto Rican fighter was killed in Homigueros, Puerto Rico this Past September 23, 2005—on the day that the Puerto Rican Pro Independence movement commemorates the 1868 Lares’ Cry (Grito de Lares)—against the Spanish occupation of the Island.

Ojeda Ríos, was sentenced to prison for the failed Wells Fargo attack in 1983, where a group of Independentistas were trying to steal seven million dollars that were being transported in a truck in Connecticut. Ojeda Ríos spent three years in a Federal prison, but was set free on bail in 1988. He skipped parole in 1990 and had hidden inside the rural areas of Puerto Rico, hailed as a hero by the left, and as a villain by the right. He was sentenced to 55 years in prison (in absentia) for parole violation.

After avoiding prison time for 15 years, Ojeda, who was 72 y/o, was corralled by the FBI. Stories vary from “he was unarmed” to “he fought and shot several FBI agents”—the only truth we can be certain is that the bullet that hit Ojeda did not kill him. He was left to bleed to death—after a 20 hours stand off. The widow, Elma Beatriz Rosado, and the autopsy findings confirm this.

Puerto Rico stands divided, as divided now as it has always being. The Left wanting revenge and issuing cries for retaliation. The Right is glad to get rid of another “terrorist”. His body was held in state at the Ateneo Puertorriqueno (Athenaeum), and later transported to the “Colegio the Abogados” (Lawyers Association Quarters). Again, these acts were criticized and hailed depending on where you stood on the political spectrum of the Puerto Rican Status.

Several theories abound—from nothing more than the culmination of a long investigation, to a plan by the newly elected Governor (Aníbal Acevedo Vilá) who won the 2004 election by a mere 3000 votes over 1.4 million votes, who allegedly conspired the murder with the FBI to generate Puerto Rican sentiment against Statehood.

Everyone in Puerto Rico has an opinion; it is the talk of the day. The Radio, TV, newspapers, everywhere people are talking and planning. Yet, what amazes me is that with as much corruption that is going on in the USA—Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo—the American press has completely ignored the incident. It is as if Puerto Rico was not part of the country. I wrote a few lines that simply put my feelings to rest.

Don’t cry for my country

Don’t cry for my country, rivers need not dry.
Filiberto Ojeda Ríos did not need to die.
Elma Beatriz Rosado saw the blood come out,
Nobody cried, nobody cared for an old fart.
The bullet did not kill him, he was left to bleed
The autopsy confirmed what we most feared.
The FBI lured an old man—must pay for his crime
Jail time was not enough, loose ends must be tied.
Twenty-two years later, he was hunted down,
Beaten, shot, his river waters got dry.
We all know he could had been saved, but
Don’t cry for my country, my country will cry.

Some will scorn the mourners, some will not care.
Puerto Rico’s Athenaeum will hold his remains.
Some feel safer that this man is dead.
The School of Lawyers seems to disagree, instead
They hold his body so that everyone can see,
The country is crying for Filiberto’s spilled blood.
Theories abound, right and left,
The Governor thought it might be best.
Seventy-two years of history down the drain,
From one hundred and seven—the yoke did not erase.
The Spirit rises with the soul of a man
Don’t cry for my country—no one can.