What do you do when ten or twelve people on your street alone develop cancer, or when your kids are playing in the backyard but you don’t know if the ash that’s covered everything will give them cancer or respiratory disease. What do you do when the water you drink could contain heavy metals that seeped into it because your government has allowed a coal company to dump it’s waste in your community without any accountability to human health risks… That’s when you know you’re in Puerto Rico.
This week we examine some of the events that led to a decade long struggle of the people against a multinational Coal Company called AES.
We cover the issue by sharing some of the work of an Environmental Lawyer/community member Ruth Santiago, who has been on the ground fighting this issue as well as a post-doc fellow/researcher of Social Movements from St. Louis, Fernando Tormos Aponte. As protesters from Puerto Rico board a plane this week to Arlington, Virginia I wanted to speak to whoever is available from this movement about what is happening and what we can do to help. The stories are frightening. Check it out and please share/take action against the criminal behavior of AES.
As a female person of color, I rarely saw myself represented in the content I consumed growing up, and I definitely do not remember ever seeing a Superhero that ever looked like ME.
This is why La Borinqueña is so important to the younger generations of latinas.
Graphic novelist Edgardo Miranda and a number of incredibly talented graphic artists from Puerto Rico and the US, worked on a comic book that raised funds for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria called RICANstruction – collaborating with DC Comics to raise awareness about the needs of the island.
La Borinqueña is a Superhero that has inspired and raised close to a quarter of a million dollars for grassroots organizations on the islands. Yet her impact reaches far beyond this fact. Because children in our community can see themselves in a way they haven’t ever seen themselves before.
What I learned when I sat down with Edgardo will leave you inspired. And the conversation will also push you to ask yourself: What does it mean to have real representation, and original stories, in the content you consume on a daily basis? And beyond that, to ask who are the gatekeepers that determine whether you see yourself in the content that you pay for?
One of the amazing things about this comic series is that Edgardo was able to bring in DC Comics … from Wonder Woman to Superman, Batman and Green Lantern. We discussed that all it takes to raise awareness for the island is the belief that you can contribute, through your voice, your skills, your networks… through action. There are so many ways each of us can positively impact an island that experienced the worst hurricane in their history.
The discussion with Edgardo covers many things but we started with the most looming crisis – the Puerto Rican debt crisis. He shares that his first comic with La Borinqueña was focused on being able to digest how the debt crisis is impacting the people and allow those most affected to have a voice, to counter the fact that the island’s residents are US citizens and yet do not have voting representation in Congress.
Edgardo also discusses that the public needs to better understand Puerto Rico’s struggle under colonialism. And knowing Puerto Rico’s history is key. History is an important aspect of the comics that Edgardo felt was needed to fully capture what it means to be Puerto Rican and American.
We spoke of the ability of La Borinqueña to tap into popular culture to tell Puerto Rican stories, and be a catalyst for more conversations. Edgardo noted that most comics are written by white men and the narratives therefore pursue white male fulfillment in villians that are bullies to be defeated. But Edgardo asks: “To tell our stories of people of color, what are we going to do differently? Are we going to perpetuate the same traps?”
Edgardo notes that his upbringing was full of strong women who mentored him closely, and which had a huge influence on his creation of La Borinqueña Comics.
He states his activism is centered on the issues that affect marginalized groups who have been discriminated against.
We also spoke about the economic condition and climate change effects on Puerto Rico. The fact that the people of the islands have been working on borrowed money from the start.
(Check out the episode on the Debt to learn about the historical economic justice issues affecting Puerto Rico here).
Edgardo also shares what happened when Hurricane Maria hit and the circumstances around that tragic day that changed our lives. Edgardo spoke about being at a comic convention right after the Hurricane and worrying that it was inappropriate to be at this event given what was happening on the island. But ultimately many there described it as a therapeutic moment for all of them.
We spoke also of the Puerto Ricans living in the US realizing the level of inequality, that it was a “wakeup call” that made the millions in the US react to the disparity the islanders are facing, but also to galvanize them to organize and act. Since Maria we see many raising awareness and funds, and supporting organizations on the island to bring notice to the Public health crisis happening there.
When asking “What it means to be Puerto Rican” we discuss the fact that the answer is not one note, but that our experiences are varied and rich in perspectives. Edgardo travels the country to share the stories because of the power in connecting on universal experiences. And that universality is key towards a more equitable society, where the experiences of people of color are humanized.
Before the interview was over I had to ask Edgardo… “How much further do we still have to go in representation in Hollywood and mainstream media” and his answer was great… “We have a lot to go!… it feels like we haven’t even gotten on the bus yet, (like) we’re still waiting at the bus stop!”
Perhaps my favorite moment of this interview was when Edgardo mentioned that La Borinqueña is a symbol of hope…. and I hope you also find yourself thinking of this as well, as we continue to share the voices of people who struggle daily, just to be treated with the same rights and dignity as anyone else on the mainland.
HOW can you help? Buy the La Borinqueña Comics, especially RICANstruction, which raises funds for Puerto Rico’s grass roots organizations.
From the first time I heard her story and her idea of a children’s book that captures the history of colonization in Puerto Rico, I was overwhelmed with bittersweet joy. I wished I had been able to read something like that when I was a little girl.
I remember the moments in my life when I read about some of the most influential figures in Puerto Rico’s struggle to be free: Pedro Albizu Campos, Lola de Tio, Lolita Lebron, and even indigenous Caciques that fought the conquistadors. Spain and then the United States, both invaded and repressed anyone who dared mention freedom for Puerto Rico. It was hate and ignorance that led us here. Puerto Ricans have every right to govern themselves, and this is the story our children must learn.
Because while we are living in the country that promotes equality, freedom and democracy it takes little to ask ourselves what is wrong with the Puerto Rico situation. It becomes imperative to take our story to the American public and highlight the need to give a colonized people their Freedom.
So I hope you’ll join the growing Puerto Rican movement that says that no country should cede it’s sovereignty to another.
This is why the work of Yajaira De La Espada is so important. She is an afro-latina/afro-Boricua that embodies the fierce warriors that are emerging to tell the stories that have long been denied to us or hidden from us.
A children’s book that highlights the history of colonization… She hopes that the book will be a resource to encourage children to thoroughly imagine what a free and sovereign Puerto Rico looks like.
This is the work that our people in the Diaspora and in Puerto Rico are starving for, and have been waiting so long to see. I know that Yajaira’s work is special, I know there’s a market for it… because in every face I meet through my activism, I see the spirit of a people who are ready to reclaim what is rightfully theirs.
Yajaira has been working to publish her work and I wanted to bring her story to all of you so that we can support it and someday soon hold it in our hands as we share the stories of our ancestors with our kids, nieces and nephews.
“I am raising funding for a picture book I wrote entitled, The Alphabet of Enchantment Island. It is an A-Z love letter to mi isla del encanto and an ode to AfroBoricuas past, present, and future. I would love your support. Please share with your community.”
Other interesting highlights from her conversation was her work in a Texas town with a large Mexican community: “They didn’t cross the border, the border crossed them” and the children she taught inspired her to work on a culturally relevant curriculum or culturally relevant children’s stories.
It was also alarming to hear her insights into the education systems and how flawed they are, from removal of librarians and counselors, to the unwelcoming environment for students from other countries and especially those displaced from Puerto Rico.
We discussed representation of afrolatinos in film too and the work needed to bring awareness to that as well. Yajaira highlighted past examples of representation, like Sonia Manzano from Sesame street, and Christina Vidal in the show Taina. But we spoke of recent examples to represent Puerto Rico as well, like “La Borinquena” by Edgardo Miranda and Miles Morales in the Spiderverse Movie.
And representation is so important because often the gatekeepers say things like “Puerto Ricans don’t read” or there’s no “Market” for a book on Puerto Rico’s history of colonization. But this is just the same old story, the same discrimination Puerto Ricans have always faced… and it’s up to us to fight that and say that our stories DO MATTER.
This week I spoke to Gloriann Sacha Antonetty about Racial Justice… A topic that impacts Public Health in so many ways. This was one conversation I’d been wanting to do for so long. One of the interesting pieces of this conversation was around Images of Oppression in all, but especially Puerto Rican history books, and how the education system is in many ways biased – because it doesn’t provide stories that give a holistic picture of our African descendants that were brought to Puerto Rico and enslaved.
We spoke about the fact that this imagery matters because no child would want to associate with images of slaves and people who were chained. So she spoke about the need to highlight those Afro-Puertoricans that made great contributions in history and to the Puerto Rican community. Giving children a perspective that instead celebrates the accomplishments of our African ancestors is so important.
We also spoke about experiences of discrimination on the island. From experiences in the workplace, to simply visiting a pharmacy, and the salaries of black women – it’s clear that racism does exist everywhere and in Puerto Rico it is not acknowledged enough. Gloriann noted that it is important to value our African descendants and heritage, and I absolutely agree with her.
The interview highlighted also the need for solidarity and taking part in conversations with others on how to gain the tools to fight racism both externally and internally. I felt so glad to hear her suggestions on how to address racist sometimes subtle aggressions in your day to day.
And finally I spoke to her about what she’s most passionate about. We spoke about her youth, and constant search for magazines with women that looked like her and her family. The way her father would go everywhere he could to find her a copy of Essence. And in speaking to Gloriann about her passion, her dream of creating a magazine that represents afro-carribean women, I realized that her vision will change the lives of so many women and little girls. I’m excited to keep following her work and I hope you’ll pick up that copy of the first magazine here: www.revistaetnica.com.
Although much needs to be done, I truly believe Gloriann’s children, all children, will see a world that values and celebrates Black women/men and the impact of Afro-Caribbean people.
NOTE: I started the Episode with a Music recommendation from Gloriann – IFE
A powerfully progressive synthesis of electronic sound and Afro-Caribbean language, ÌFÉ is a bold new musical project from Puerto Rico based African American drummer/producer/singer Otura Mun. Mun, an Ifá priest or Babalawo in the Yoruba religion, has been a vanguard artist in the Puerto Rican music scene since his arrival there in the late 1990’s, producing critically acclaimed albums and songs for many of the islands most important musical voices. Founder and Director: Otura Mun. Musicians: Beto Torrens, Anthony Sierra, Yarimir Cabán
This is the Cover of the Book mentioned in the interview for the classroom, which is designed to address Racism and revise the way we speak of our African identity.
This week – Puerto Ricans face a life-and-death decision…
Reporting for the first time this year from Puerto Rico, I wanted to cover the most pressing issue happening on the island right now. On the eve of a major and possibly historic decision in Bankruptcy law, it is important to understand how the COFINA Agreement that is coming before Judge Swain on January 16 will affect the health and future of Puerto Ricans on the island.
So to help us understand it I am joined by Alvin Velazquez, Associate General Counsel for the Service Employees International Union– and SEIU representative in the bankruptcy proceedings in Title III in Puerto Rico. Before he worked for SEIU, he was Executive Director of the Commission to Audit Puerto Rico’s Debt. Alvin has a Finance and Commercial Litigation background, and works in the labor movement on financial and tech issues.
I’m also joined by Armando Santiago Pintado, coordinator for Hedge Clippers. He is coordinating a campaign in Puerto Rico in efforts to lift up what’s happening with hedge funds in PR relating to the islands debt. He’s worked in the past as a Policy advisor and in Policy research, but currently is part of the field campaign supporting organizations in Puerto Rico fight back against Wall Street greed. Hedge Clippers is a “group working to expose the mechanisms hedge funds and billionaires use to influence government and politics in order to expand their wealth, influence and power. We’re exposing the collateral damage billionaire-driven politics inflicts on our communities, our climate, our economy and our democracy.”
The lyrics are symbolic of the current state of the island, because it tells the story of the “Jibaro” or countryman who cannot make a living and sadly reflects “What will become of Borinquen, my God, what will become of our children and our home….”
In many poignant ways, the lyrics reflect what is happening in Puerto Rico, as Islanders ask themselves what will become of their children, their homes, their healthcare, and their family’s well-being if this Agreement is signed by the Judge. We are left to wonder if there is any humanity left in Puerto Rico, with Debtors extracting every last penny from a territory designed to fall into poverty, and still hurting from the most catastrophic hurricane in US history. And many more will continue to prey on the island if together we don’t send a message that this agreement goes counter to human dignity and human decency. The conditions created by this deal, will exacerbate the issues happening and lead to worse health outcomes for millions of people. In many ways- the outcomes will be not be seen, because when it comes to Puerto Rico, it’s easy to simply not see the inhumane way that Wall Street has stripped it of revenue for decades – causing Puerto Ricans to lack access for even basic services. It is a fact that we would not have had to bury so many of our loved ones, if the billionaires that live in high-rises in New York City had not aimed their sights on our already bleeding Borinquen.
For more information on what COFINA is you can click on this link:
English Lyrics of Lamento Borincano/PuertoRican Lament,Mourning He sets off happily with his cargo To the city, to the city Carries in his thoughts A whole world filled with happiness Oh, of happiness He plans to remedy the household situation Which is all that he loves!
And happy, the peasant goes Thinking, saying, singing on the way: “If I sell my wares, my dear God I’ll buy a suit for my little old lady”
And his mare is happy For he knows that the song is All a joyful hymn And then the daylight comes unexpectedly And they arrive to the city market
The entire morning goes by Without anyone wanting To buy his wares, oh, to buy his wares Everything, everything is deserted And the town is full of need Oh, of need The mourning is heard everywhere In my unhappy Borinquen,
And full of sadness, the peasant goes home Thinking, saying Crying along the way: “What will happen to Borinquen, my dear God What will happen to my children and my home?” Oh!
Borinquen, the land of Eden The one that when sung by the great Gautier He called The pearl of the Seas “Now that you lay dying from your sorrows Let me sing to you also Borinquen of my love”
I’m a child of Borinquen and no one will change that I’m a child of Borinquen and no one will change that And on the day that I die, I want to rest in you I love you, Puerto Rico, and no one will take that away!