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Hong Kong and Puerto Rico seem worlds apart. But recent global protests show there are deep commonalities as people organize against austerity, inequality, and the legacy of colonialism.
That was the topic of a recent panel this month at the CUNY Graduate Center.
The panel featured five experts, two from Puerto Rico, two from Hong Kong, and one from Taiwan.
The purpose of the event, according to organizer Wilfred Chan, was to “hopefully get toward some kind of shared vocabulary, or even interesting new avenues for inquiry.”
The panel positioned itself as part of a larger global discussion about building frameworks for community, political futures, and consciousness raising.
“As activists we should really think about in what ways a community is born,” said panelist Dr. Wen Liu, a professor of gender studies at SUNY-Albany. “It happens through action, through practice, through care.”
“How to rethink that whole global system is the question,” panelist and CUNY anthropology professor Dr. Yarimar Bonilla said. “To decolonize the decolonization movement.”
Hong Kong and Puerto Rico are both former outposts of global colonial powers that were later annexed by different rising global powers. Hong Kong became rich, and more unequal, thanks to its strategic position as a nexus of global capital. The city currently functions as an interface with China as it reemerges as an economic superpower.
At the same time, Puerto Rico’s diminished strategic importance to capitalist interests throughout the 19th and 20th centuries led to its current precaritized and pauperized state.
“In Puerto Rico, we’re told we should be more like Hong Kong in terms of wooing more financial capital and of having a stronger economic base,” Dr. Bonilla said.
The impetus behind the event was the newly formed Lausan Collective. Organized on WhatsApp in July in the wake of the Hong Kong protests, the group came together to talk and create space for perspectives that were largely absent in mainstream discourses around the city’s political unrest.
“There’s a simplification about what’s happening that tends to reinforce a lot of the binaries of East vs. West, or freedom vs. democracy,” Chan told the audience. “And these stories are more complicated than what you often see on the front page of the newspaper.”
The panelists noted how online left-wing discourse around the Hong Kong protests is often disappointing and wrapped in dated binaries, like the “tankie narratives” – that Hong Kong protesters are just another Color Revolution backed by the U.S. – that lead to a loss of solidarity with leftists around the world.
In addition to expanding the discourse around Hong Kong, Lausan Collective seeks to connect with and form solidarity with other oppressed and colonized peoples around the world.
Questions raised during the panel included:
What does it mean for different sites to erupt in protests at the same time? Can we think about similarities in terms of their methods, practices, or challenges? And also, in the way questions of sovereignty and possibilities are being articulated?
What happens when you are a place that doesn’t have nation-state sovereignty? How do you imagine your future? What kind of ideals or models can you look to? What statehood means? What is the nation? What is a state?
What can a people do? How can they cope in a space where sovereignty will not necessarily liberate them?
“What I’ve written about before is the search for a non-sovereign future, which does not mean a search for a future without sovereignty, but a search for something other than the Western model of sovereignty,” Bonilla said.
With emerging movements, clearly articulated political ideology is often absent. To catch a glimpse of the possibilities or potential futures, Bonilla says we need to look for “emerging structure of feeling.”
This means not only asking why people are mobilizing, but also looking at art, music, dance, memes, any form of cultural expression.
For example, panelist Jun Pang brought up the protest slogan “Restore Hong Kong.” Pang – a researcher based in Geneva but who’s worked for various Hong Kong NGOs around migrants’ and women’s rights – raised the question, what does “restore” mean in the context of Hong Kong’s history?
“We can’t be talking about restoring our British colonial history because that was also an oppressive regime,” Pang said. “But then also the word restore gestures towards more than just colonial nostalgia and more than our desire to return to a period before the protests. It’s also a response to grief, loss, and also a posture of hope in response to previous disappointments and unrealized possibilities.”
Even if a movement fails, it’s important to remember it created new possibilities and socialities, the panelists said. In Puerto Rico, it’s currently unclear how they will move forward after successfully removing the governor. Protests still rage in Hong Kong, but what follows if protesters’ demands are met is unknown.
And that’s okay.
“There is also another form of power within, that was built on the streets [of Puerto Rico] in July,” said panelist philosophy professor Dr. Rocío Zambrana. “This power of interrupting. This power of saying no. And without necessarily knowing just yet what political future is available.”
Watch the entire conversation recorded live here:
LIVE: Non-Sovereign Revolutions? Thinking Across Puerto Rico and Hong Kong at CUNY Graduate Center!
Posted by Lausan 流傘 on Thursday, December 5, 2019
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 womenhttps://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.