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The Promised Land of Puerto Ricans

Colonialism is central to America’s policies on Puerto Rican Policies. The island has more than $70 billion in outstanding debt. Puerto Rico is a territory so it is not its own state nor country.

“500,000 Puerto Ricans have left to the United states since the debt crisis arose and 500 millionaires came to Puerto Rico”

The Young Turks 2018 Youtube

Puerto Rico is simply unable to file for bankruptcy and the economy has been skewed for years on the basis of corruption, neo-colonialism and lack of control on their own affairs. When you have a country that is controlled by a superpower that barely knows a lick of anything about Puerto Rico, its citizens and its culture, you will have people that will struggle. The United States makes the financial decisions of their commonwelath.

When looking at the history of Puerto Rico, it is a story that has been told endless times. As most accounts of colonialism go, the white nation conquers a nation of color for their resources. In this case it is America and Puerto Rico. I make this separation of America and Puerto Rico simply because to this day, America does not even consider Puerto Rico as their own. Puerto Rico has its own culture and would be their own country if there were no links between America. The only issue is the ownership that America has over Puerto Rico that prevents it from being its own country. The simple yet crucial act of colonization still reigns over this promised land today.

Examples of colonialism found in Puerto Rico include, colorism, sexism, economic instability, and humans right violations. All of which long will outlast Americas colonial rule, if they were to ever leave the island.

When it comes to Latinx peoples such as ones that come from Puerto Rico, they are often excluded in everything. One issue being equal pay.

On average, Latinas in the U.S. are paid 46% less than white men and 31% less than white women

https://leanin.org/data-about-the-gender-pay-gap-for-latinas

On the site LeanIn.org, they do a great job explaining the numerous studied they’ve conducted on Latinx women who are currently in the job field. Latinx women had to work all of 2018 and up to November 2019 to catch up with what white men made in 2018 alone.

When looking at modern day pop culture, we realize that America want nothing to do with Puerto Ricans. They only want their culture, food, women, mannerisms and music yet don’t want the Latinx people themselves. We see how Latinx people are left out everything, hell even Puerto Rico is left out of decisions concerning Puerto Rico. Americans love to fetishize Latinx women for the fiery and “feisty” attitudes, yet turn a blind eye when that same Latina says “My country just had multiple earthquakes, can you help us.” When it comes to the Latinx people who are poor, dark skinned, LGBTQ, elderly, women, there is no care for that at all.

We even see now, through the use of cryptocurrency, how white American men come into Puerto Rico promising the inhabitants of this land happiness, the same as Americans did in 1898. In reality, we know that they are there for tax breaks. If Puerto Rico did not have this advantage they would not be there.

“We’re the tax playground for the rich,” she said. “We’re the test case for anyone who wants to experiment. Outsiders get tax exemptions, and locals can’t get permits.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/02/technology/cryptocurrency-puerto-rico.html

In all, Americans have never cared for Puerto Rico and never will, as it will continue to have a colonialist mindset against those they’ve oppressed. In my opinion, everything regarding Puerto Rico reminds me of back home in West Africa. It is almost identical. White colonizers, oppressed people, fetishization of culture and misuse of natural resources. In my time at Hunter College as an African Puerto Rican and Latino Studies Major, it is a cycle that I am familiar with. Unfortunately it is a cycle and is almost tiring to witness each semester that I’ve been here. “When will it end?” is what I ask myself everyday as I walk through West Harlem and El Barrio on my way to school. And on that note, I will end my OpEd with this meme that perfectly represents colonization.

Recovery, Mental Health and Immigration Status

How are the 3 connected?

Images from both the 2010 earthquake of Haiti and the barren streets of NYC during Hurricane Sandy

When interviewing earthquake survivor Giovanni Roy, he seemed to be indifferent to speaking about his experiences. No part of him was reluctant to share information, but no part of him spoke as if he wanted to relive it.

Giovanni came here almost 10 years ago in early February on a cold NYC winter day, with nothing but a jean jacket after having to pass through the Dominican Republic and Miami, Florida. Not to mention, he came in the middle of the academic school year.10 years later, he is a 24-year-old student at Hunter College living under TPS (Temporary Protected Status). Giovanni is a member of the Haitian Student Association of Hunter College and has been for a few years now. Many of his peers refer to him as “Gio” and he is usually known for his boastfulness and pride in beating anyone at dominoes and his love for food. To the naked eye, it seems that he has successfully transitioned into living in the United States, but what is hidden is his experience of living through a disaster.

Giovanni, his uncle, cousin and elder sister pictured celebrating New Years Eve

The earthquake of Haiti in 2010, was a life-changing event for Gio. He was around 14 at the time when he said that the second floor of his building became the first. When interviewing him, I asked how he was doing because I think not many people get asked that question enough with serious intent. He replied: I feel amazing and I’m in a lovely relationship. That cheery attitude soon diminished when I started asking questions about his trauma with the incident.

“I didn’t believe it until I saw the people that I knew that were dead, I was just crying”

The issue of PTSD and other forms of trauma are not the only issues victims face but are the most talked-about issue. Varying forms of trauma may or may not be easily identifiable depending on the person. When I asked if he had taken any measures to seek help in processing his trauma his view on it was negative, but I don’t blame him because it is what he truly felt. He said “That would change nothing. It happened. They aren’t coming back to life are they?” Giovanni explained to me that the entirety of the disaster felt unreal, like a dream. He said he only began to understand things when he saw the dead bodies of loved ones.

This feeling of disconnecting completely from the disaster itself is a form of disassociation.

This is “a psychological experience in which people feel disconnected from their sensory experience, sense of self, or personal history. … Dissociation often occurs in response to trauma and seems to have a protective aspect in that it allows people to feel disconnected from traumatic events.”

https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-dissociation-22201

Not only is trauma and issue that Giovanni has to face. Another problem for him is his immigration status. He is under something called “Temporary Protective Status” others refer to it as being under asylum. “It’s biased, the wait is long, almost a year long.” He explains that maintaining employment in the period that it takes to get it is long and difficult, and he could be let go at any moment. He also explained that as a college student, this status didn’t provide him with any sort of Financial aid to fund his studies. Now in 2019, Giovanni works full time, over 40 hours a week and is a part-time student who also has to pay rent.

As a New Yorker, I only had a small taste of what a disaster was when Hurricane Sandy hit. I only realized the gravity of this disaster when I learned the next week at school that my earth science teacher, Jennifer Rondello-Dixon’s house was completely destroyed. Not only did this teacher go through such a grave disaster for where she lives but she had to continue coming to school to teach every single day without showing that she was struggling back home.

Jennifer sent a photo marking how high the water had reached in her house showing over a foot of flooding

Jennifer was born and raised in Queens, NY and had moved to Far Rockaway in later years. When I had Mrs. Dixon as a teacher she was then known as Ms. Rondello. I was her student during her transition from fiancee to wife. When asked about how her daily routine was before Sandy hit she simply stated: “My daily routine is still the same as it was when sandy hit 7 years ago… I wake up and go to work as a science teacher before coming home, cooking, cleaning and sleeping (though now I also have tyler to take care of.)” Though my interview with her was short and brief over Facebook messenger, I had a feeling she was typing this with the positive, warming smile that I knew her to always have.

Jennifer made it clear to me that her mental health was also taken into consideration. “Mental health is super important” she stated. I have known her to be one of the few teachers that students spoke to her about their personal lives and have even confided in her with my own self so this is almost an understatement in her terms. “Unlike Giovanni, Jennifer had a therapist but the natural disaster wasn’t something they discussed. “I leaned mostly on family and friends,” she said, stating that they were her main source of support during the recovery and relief efforts.

Photos of the relief efforts provided to Jennifer and others by neighbors and friends

One thing that struck me the most was the photos Jennifer had sent me. There were tons of pictures fo her earth science books, regents preparation books and etc. I knew that Jennifer was a passionate teacher so I’m sure that these books had sentimental value to her.

In Jennifer’s case, she stated that her mindset on life had changed. Though she did struggle a bit, she was able to make a big decision with her now-husband. I asked her how this disaster has changed her family dynamic and received such a beautiful answer. Jennifer said, “Sandy definitely affected my family dynamic because we decided to have Tyler (her son) after we bought our home because we realized how fragile life is.”

In a sense, Jennifer was able to see the positive of this event and start her family. She was able to come out of this situation with her family, friends, and neighbors by her side.

Politics of Commemoration

Manhattan’s usually colorful Puerto Rican Day Parade was muted Sunday by black and gray flags and t-shirts commemorating those who died in Hurricane Maria and protesting the federal government’s alleged dismal response to the devastation.

As the second anniversary of the disaster that struck our dear brothers and sisters of Puerto Rico approached, I could not help but think about why in every situation Puerto Rico is forgotten about. Right when school started, I heard more about the 14th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina than I have whilst Hurricane Maria was happening, in real-time! The silence surrounding Puerto Rico ties in with a plethora of institutionalized issues including white supremacy in dealing with natural disasters and how people of color are looked at in terms of disaster.

Every year, Hurricane Katrina is talked about yet, the issue of the incomplete recovery of New Orleans still persists. This is an event that had happened in 2005, 14 years ago! Hurricane Sandy in New York City in 2012, almost 8 years ago yet there are still people struggling to recover from this disaster. Now just imagine if the United States can barely help those within major cities within the 50 states, how can one expect them to help a territory that they barely see as their own?

Hurricane Maria just barely passed two years and the only time I hear about it is in schools and during climate strikes. As Trevor Noah once said, when someone outside of America is suffering there is no story, but once an American is involved then the narrative changes to “It could’ve been me”. I often wonder why we are unable to feel others’ pain when we cannot picture ourselves in a situation. Do we, as human beings have a finite amount of things we can care about? This tends to be an issue that I, myself experience. I am very conditioned to it and it is a product of me being born into this country. I simply should be able to feel empathy for those even though I have no direct relationship with them. This is a big problem in the issue of commemorating Hurricane Maria. Americans just do not see Puerto Ricans as Americans. It is viewed just as we view any other disaster happening in countries that are not ours. In a Washington Post article titled Puerto Ricans are hardly U.S. citizens. They are colonial subjects, the topic of Puerto Rico’s “Americanness” is discussed. One quote that stood out stated “It is true that Puerto Ricans have U.S. citizenship due to a series of congressional statutes. But it is also true that these statutes were enacted without consulting Puerto Ricans.”

Therein lies the issue. Puerto Rico is a part of the United States, but not really. Not only do the people of the U.S treat Puerto Rico like they are third-class citizens but the government of the U.S barely acknowledges them. The blatant disregard for Puerto Ricans highlights the everlasting issue of white supremacy that permeates the United States as well as the rest of the world. If you do not look like the “ideal American” (ie: white, European features) then you are just not cared for or talked about as much. Latinx communities face this issue every day in and out of the United States and is even worse for Afro-Latinx communities. Institutionally, we saw that the average person who sought out aid from FEMA in Puerto Rico received about 2000 dollars while the average person in Texas, during Irma, received about 5000 in FEMA aid.

In my opinion, I think we can do more. We can continue to commemorate Puerto Rico, Maria, and its victims by bringing them up in conversation in everyday life! Bring them up at summits, protests, marches and any sort of resistance focused event. We need to speak about our fellow brethren in the language that insinuates that they are Americans. We need to speak about Puerto Rico like we do with the rest of the 50 states and start to understand why Puerto Rico has been treated the way it is. The underlying economic reasons that Puerto Rico is the way it is and the legality of some policies that exclude Puerto Rico from the rest of the states. We need to shock those we have conversations with real, raw stories of the survivors of Maria, much like we do in our classes. The idea of someone having to wash their clothes outside two years after a hurricane is insane to us because we are so used to a quick recovery. Someone who still can’t find their children or their spouses after the hurricane to this day may shock people. Someone who may have no bed to sleep in due to lack of funds from lack of aid and jobs may not seem like much to Americans until we are snuggled up on a winter day under our covers and realize that those suffering may never feel that feeling again. I do believe that those who narrate the stories of those who suffer do an amazing job at making us open our eyes to this tragedy that still happens today. Through poetry and detailed accounts on how people are no longer safe, we are able to access these inner feelings that we may have in a way we can somehow relate. I just hope many more of us will read, watch videos or conduct interviews and spread overall awareness on topics as such.

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