What does Black radicalism in white academic spaces in Latin America look like? Dra. María Elba Torres Muñoz.

Dr. María Elba Torres Muñoz exemplifies what radically unapologetic blackness can achieve in white Academia for black people everywhere.

“Pero ¿cuál es tu contribución?” But how will you contribute? We sat at the dining room table adornada con latas de atún, aguacate, lechosa, limones, botellas de agua,velas…velones de esos de la botánica y libros con paginas del color amarrillo tono “you might need my words someday” . I think it was approximately day three post huracan María. No había energía eléctrica pero sugiero que si había luz. There was no electricity but there was an endless supply of thinking to be done and in the company of someone as introspective and intellectually developed as Dr. María Elba Torres Muñoz there was an endless supply of conversation. There I sat, in the wooden chair, a newly admitted student into the graduate studies program in Estudios Hispánicos en la Universidad de Puerto Rico Rio Piedras, three books to my left and three cans of tuna to my right and María Elba directly in front of me. I had made it and I had her undivided attention. We began to brainstorm about the characteristics of an academic career and how as black afro descendant women we have a responsibility to intersect our education with our people at the institutional and community level. “En el barrio, desde el barrio, en la academia con respeto para el barrio.” Me imagino que se podría decir que Dr. Torres helps me and her other students to grow with her wit, pressing concern and golden wisdom. I concluded from our conversation about my goals, my contribution as an academic that I must act with intention and responsibility.

Dr. María Elba Torres Muñoz is many things, but an exclusive academic she is not. In November of 2015 thousands flocked to Puerto Rico from Latin America, the Caribbean, the United States and even Western African countries to take part in the five day long “Primer Congreso de Afrodescendencia en Puerto Rico”.. This conference was a series of talks and workshops in which over 5000 attendees took part in crucial discussions about decolonizing processes, tradition, spirituality, natural sciences, movements for racial equality, and representation of blackness, hosted by Dr. María Elba Torres, which exceptionally exceeded the expectations of even Dr. Torres herself. However, the most redundant critique regarding the conference was the presumed lack of accessibility due to it being held within the walls of a university which has proven to be just as racist as any government institution in Puerto Rico. While the conference wasn’t held at a chinchorro or a discoteca which are perfectly fine places to talk about blackness as well, it was held in a place that is in dire need of spaces for black radicalism, La Universidad de Puerto Rico. The conference, unlike most political conferences in Puerto Rico was completely casual, open to the public, provided free food and drink, and was completely free of cost. Additionally, the intellectual participants such as government officials from Colombia and Mexico, authors, founders of renowned organizations were completely approachable for everyone who attended. In a university such as UPRRP where the Hispanic Studies department is in the building dedicated to Antonio S. Pedreira, one of the most racist Puerto Ricans to ever live, work like that of Dr. Torres and the others who participated in the execution, organization and collaboration of a conference committed to revolution in the black diaspora is redefines blackness outside of white gaze and white supremacy which is the first step to recognizing autonomy for black people.

The critique about accessibility at the conference prompted me to question my participation in “academia” or more specifically as a black racially marginalized subject seeking higher education within a white system. It seems contradictory until we challenge ourselves to recall. The tradition of universities was first practiced in Fez Morrocco, Africa in the year 859 A.D. Additionally our African ancestors had very many spiritual traditions which involve divination and hereby thousand-year-old oddunes or “wisdoms” and ifnormation vital to our conciousness just as philisophy, biology, psychology and literature. We must recall that academia nor knowledge nor understanding are white concepts, in their purest forms. Academia has been hijacked by whiteness, white supremacy and capitalism which use it in a non-natural way to expand class warfare. The reality in Puerto Rico’s university system is that the 11 campus University of Puerto Rico is the only public university which prefers students who had the privilege to study in private schools rather than public schools which typically omits black (negros evidentemente negros) students from entering because it is a privilege that not very many evidently black Puerto Ricans have. La Upi arguably has the most experienced professors bot only for their academic careers, however also for their expertise on the subjects they teach and their contributions to Puerto Rican society. The other institutions of higher learning in Puerto Rico are private schools that can often be more than double the tuition of the University of Puerto Rico hereby not accessible to every Puerto Rican child who wants an education. When we remember that intelligence is at its very essence black tradition, we can become like Dr. Torres who has traveled to numerous public schools in Puerto Rico to work with young black students who hope to study at the University of Puerto Rico. When these young people are rejected for reasons that don’t involve academic ability and prerequisite, reason unknown, Dr. Torres has taken it upon herself to work directly with the admissions office in favor of these applicants, in favor of an institution that must work towards racial equity to remain standing in this mostly afro descendant country. Through this work, Dr. Torres reminds myself and other black “intellectuals” who have made it to the institutions such as University of Puerto Rico that with the privileges that education rewards come responsibility to our people, our community.

Dr. Torres was raised in the coastal neighborhood called Juana Matos in the town of Catano by her mother who had recently arrived Puerto Rico from Cuernavaca, Mexico and her father a natural born resident of Catano, Puerto Rico. Juana Matos is mangle, swamp and during Dr. Torres youth it was rural, almost completely isolated, the houses were wooden, and the surrounding areas were sugarcane fields. Not much has changed. When she was 18, Dr. Torres would wake up to the sound of gallos at 4 am to get to class by foot, by boat and by foot again or sometimes by bicycle by 8:00 am at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras. It was a nine-mile trek through parts of towns where black women were often kidnapped and raped by the newly arrived white US American soldiers that actively controlled San Juan with their abusive and violent presence. The Torres family has fortunately had an extensive tradition of uplifting their community which even today is still stricken with economic poverty under the racialized capitalism that exists in Puerto Rico. The father of Dr. María Elba Torres, Dr. Placido Torres was one of the first black medical doctors in 1940s and 1950s Puerto Rico who tended to patients often free of charge that were living in a community that wasn’t visited by doctors. It is to no surprise that Dr. Torres upholds her family tradition of recalling her original self and working to uplift those who held her during her childhood. In the wake of Hurricane María, Dr. Torres has formed an alliance with three organizations to bring solar energy to the completely devastated historically black neighborhood where she was raised.   (insert link: https://www.generosity.com/emergencies-fundraising/solar-energy-for-puerto-rico-s-juana-matos )

Dr. María Elba Torres Muñoz serves the community of Puerto Rico, the community of Juana Matos, Cataño, her students and mentees and the community of the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras as an exemplary personification of revolutionary blackness in white supremacist academia. We learn from Dr. Torres that a black person who seeks to educate themselves inside of an academic praxis that has been hijacked by white supremacy must regard their education with intention and responsibility towards black revolution otherwise they might as well be white.

Dr. Torres is an intellectual, an academic, a community organizer and in every space, she enters be it in Puerto Rico giving students from New York University a three-week hands on seminar about art and public policy or Mexico where she discusses the plight of blackness in Latin America as a doctoral graduate from UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico), a proud black woman who works with intention and assumes the responsibility that she has socially, intellectually and institutionally. How will you contribute may be a question we ask ourselves as we dig into thesis writing and doctoral or masters investigations but contributions at the academic level for black people everywhere must be intersectional with black radicalism and inclusive of community. Dr. Torres reminds us that Black radicalism only truly exists within academia when it also exists outside of academia through the same channels.

The Second Conference on Afrodescendance in Puerto Rico is scheduled to take place at the University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras in August of 2018. For more information please contact us through: afrodescendenciapr@gmail.com

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How the colonial dictatorship in Puerto Rico enforces an oppressive agenda by exploiting black Puerto Ricans

Since 1898, the people of Puerto Rico have not been permitted to govern themselves due to the abundant presence of United States colonialism in every sector of Puerto Rican administration. Because of this political and economic status of Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico are collectively, excessively oppressed socio-politically. However, because of the visibly, but also heavily-ignored, racist and racialized structure that has constructed Puerto Rican society, visibly black Puerto Ricans face capitalist oppression on an exceptional level when we consider the intersectionality between race and class. We use the term “visibly black”, because many white or “white passing” Puerto Ricans possibly identify themselves as being a part of the “black spectrum” due to cultural and possible ancestral ties without ever living the experience of being visibly black in a racialized society. Puerto Rico like every other Latin American country is not a country of racial harmony and unity, it is the complete opposite. The current racist and racialized system in Puerto Rico, that was created by Spanish colonialism and is reinforced by United States colonial capitalism, leaves black Puerto Ricans with even less political, social and economic access and privileges than what their white or whiter counterparts collectively have, therefore the system leaves no opportunity for black Puerto Ricans to truly be socio-politically and economically empowered enough for collective progress. This social status of the black population in Puerto Rico, creates a cloud of vulnerability over the black population making this population a target for cultural, economic and political exploitation by a system built to the interest of global white supremacy and oppression.

One of the most visible ways in which black Puerto Ricans are exploited is through the way in which black cultural traditions have been involved in political processes.  During the inauguration procession of the current governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo “Ricky” Roselló Nevares of the Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP), one of the few families internationally recognized for their continuous resiliency at keeping Afro Puerto Rican traditions relevant in the present cultural fabric of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, was invited to perform for Roselló and his constituents. To a person unaware of the atrocities committed by the PNP, this performance could appear to be inclusive of “afro-puertorriqueñidad” through “honor” and “celebration” of blackness, however, we know the truth to be that the PNP has exploited Afro Puerto Ricans, through structural violence since it was founded. Under the PNP governance and explicit leadership of former PNP governor Luis G. Fortuño in 2009-2012, Villa Cañona a sector in Loiza Puerto Rico, which has the highest concentration of black Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico, was marred by police violence while represented as a “drug and crime ridden community” by the media. The police violence involved blatant discrimination, murders and caused the entire municipality of Loiza to suffer from racist media attention as described by the ACLU documentary “El Color de la justicia”. In the present day, people and institutions refuse to associate themselves with people from Loiza through school admissions and hiring processes because of how the municipality has been irresponsibly depicted. Puerto Rican tradition in the inauguration of Ricardo Roselló and other events that support the most corrupt of politicians in Puerto Rico including those from el Partido Popular Democratico (PPD), support the pattern of expecting black Puerto Ricans to entertain political processes without giving them any tools for political access. This means that outside of the purpose of entertainment in favor of the corrupt politicians and their privileged constituents, Afro Puerto Ricans have no real collective access to analyze the actions of these politicians.

Much of the Afro Puerto Rican populations are concentrated in marginalized areas, like Loiza, which leads us to our next point about economic exploitation. To properly analyze the plight of these black populations in Puerto Rico, we begin with Puerto Rico’s history of slavery and its abolishment. The common but not absolute pattern is, that visibly black Puerto Ricans live primarily in coastal municipalities and Vieques. The explanation being that these areas were rich in sugarcane production therefore were constructed by cañaverales, sugar plantations. On March 22 in 1873 slavery in Puerto Rico was abolished and the newly “freed” blacks and ‘mulatos’ were required to work for three years in the same plantations. Even after these years, black Puerto Ricans were not readily provided with economic and political access therefore they remained living in isolated and impoverished communities in often the swampiest areas of Puerto Rico Ex: El Fanguito; until many were displaced into caseríos also known as residenciales, US public housing projects created by the United States government in the 1950s.  For example, many living in the region El Fanguito were forcefully removed from their homes to the caseríos Manuel A. Perez in Rio Piedras and Luis Llorens Torres in Santurce.

Llorens Torres is a mostly if not completely black populated housing project located in Santurce. Santurce was the first free black established community in Puerto Rico originally known as San Mateo de Cangrejos. In 2010 and 2011, the private police organization, Capitol Security Police recruited men from the Llorens Torres to work for $10 an hour to violently attack students who were on strike at the University of Puerto Rico in protest of a $100 million budget cut from the government fiscal plan as anonymous leaders from the student movement have shared with me. The news did not shock me. This past April 19, professors and students associated with the University of Puerto Rico, alike protested in front of the Capitol building calling for the government to audit the debt instead of going through with extravagant budget cuts from all of the education and other public sectors. I immediately noticed that the majority of the Puerto Rican state policemen and policewomen that stood in front of the Capitol building and denied us access to enter the public space, and beat and pepper sprayed protesting students and professors for no apparent reason, were mostly black and some verbally admitted that they were from some of the most marginalized black neighborhoods in Puerto Rico. Keep in mind that the Puerto Rico police force is trained by the NYPD, a very racist and terroristic organization in the United States. The student movement that organized the protest in front of the Capitol building actively calls for the administration of the University of Puerto Rico to create a university that is economically accessible via tuition and socially accessible via admissions processes to people from the same and similar neighborhoods as Llorens Torres and the neighborhoods where some of these police officers were raised. A lack of educational opportunity and political access can cause groups of people to be subjected to being used by the system like robots to carry out and defend the same violence that in turn, further oppresses them.

Every way in which black Puerto Ricans are exploited by the colonial dictatorship, is political but an explicit example of political exploitation of black Puerto Ricans would be the fraudulent voter processes that have happened throughout every election. In discussing the political make up of Puerto Rico a common question is “why do Puerto Ricans constantly put the same corrupt politicians from the PNP and the PPD in power?” This can be analyzed with a countless number of perspectives that all of course lead back to the psychological effects of United States colonialism, but one of the most harrowing reasons is that politicians have obtained political support in exchange for items such as home appliances and jobs that don’t pay well but pay enough for a synthetic survival. Some of the latest cases of the practice was documented this past November in Santa Isabel and in Maunabo, coastal, so therefore municipalities with higher concentrations of black people. In a community organized discussion in February of 2016 in Piñones, Loiza, residents of Loiza and the municipality of Canovanas, another “black town”, mentioned how employees of both the PNP and the PPD gained support in their respective neighborhoods in exchange for items such as washing machines and refrigerators. The political exploitation doesn’t end there.

The majority of politicians working for the government of Puerto Rico are “blanquitos”. This means that they are elite, privileged white people who often come from families that have built their wealth from primarily being invited to Puerto Rico and given land post 1815. Because of Puerto Rico’s political status as a colony, it is imperative to pay attention to every detail that surrounds the people: “photo journalism” is one of those important details. In the picture below the current secretary of education, Julia Keleher who has decided to close 184 public schools in Puerto Rico is pictured with mostly black students. These children are completely unaware of the corruption and terrorism and colonialism that Keleher brings to Puerto Rico however they are being used as mascots for Keleher to appeal to the public as a servant, a white savior who comes from the United States, “land of opportunity” with no Puerto Rican heritage whatsoever to “save” Puerto Ricans. This picture was posted to her twitter account and was included with the words “why I took the job”. Closing 184 schools to pay off an illegal debt could be interpreted as she took the job to maliciously and intentionally hinder children and therefore the future of the country. We may never know.

keleher

This photo was taken directly from Julia Keleher’s twitter profile

Similar photo ops have been used for politicians to gain support around election time and once again, the people pictured in the photos are typically very marginalized and do not have the tools to recognize the oppression that they are being subjected to. Then of course there are the times that the Puerto Rican media displays black Puerto Ricans in a way to manipulate public opinion. After the protest in the Capitol building in April, Metro Puerto Rico published a photo of my face as the cover for an article in a way in which people could easily accuse me of being violent towards the government and especially the police officers who “have to do their job”. The article highlighted that professors denounced the violent tactics that the police officers used against the students. There were hundreds of people there but the only photograph that they published was of me. As Metro Puerto Rico has clearly proven to be against the strikes at the various University of Puerto Rico campuses, the picture was used intentionally for public reaction. People publicly accused me of being a part of ISIS and asked for the government to jail me. Throughout the course of that day not once did I ever hurt anyone or threaten anyone with violence.

So why does all of this actually matter? The examples of exploitation are endless. We coould possibly even involve the way the government has reportedly supported drug trafficking by way of the Dominican Republic and through Dominican immigration to Puerto Rico. In a country, so incredibly systemically violent as Puerto Rico, every action that politicians and their privileged supporters make fuels that violence. The violence here is the lack of access people in general have in the colony when it comes to representation. When black Puerto Ricans, the people who have constructed the majority of Puerto Rico’s cultural identity are denied proper access to the government etc, this creates a world of extreme institutional racism. Institutional racism fuels every ill of colonialism such as poverty. Colonialism exists much easier when the colonized are impoverished in ways in which people are impoverished here in Puerto Rico.

The reason that Puerto Rico is in a crisis is because of United States colonialism. There is a collective lack of access for everybody except the corrupt politicians that play along with the United States colonialism and the “gringo” expats taking advantage of the tax breaks and living in million dollar houses in Vieques, Culebra, Rincon and Viejo San Juan. In order to properly resist United States colonialism, the institutional racism in Puerto Rico must be eradicated. We eradicate institutional racism in any country by empowering black people outside of an aesthetic comfortable for white people. It is great to dance and sing, to recite poems about the beauty of being black, to wear our hair naturally however spaces dedicated to educating black people by black people, spaces of solidarity, brotherhood and sisterhood, spaces where critical analysis is accepted and spaces where there can be support in times of crisis must be constructed by black Puerto Ricans who have some level of access to promote necessary communal growth and therefore a national change. Con la boca es un mamey. I am available for this work.

Email: insurgentprieta@gmail.com

Sources and useful information:

The Color of Justice- full documentary:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bs4trwwtwtA&t=244s

Corrupcion e inpunidad- Antonio Quiñones Calderón

Enciclopedia de Puerto Rico:

-esclavitud, Real Cedula de Gracia de 1815

https://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/slaves.html

Una carta abierta de mi alma a la Alma de Carolina

 

Alma Yadira de Carolina es el alma de resistencia afroboricua

Queridísima Alma de Carolina,

Me encanta tu nombre, Alma. Alma. Me encanta porque todo el mundo tiene alma. El alma es la parte del cuerpo que no se ve, pero que nos da la capacidad de sentir y pensar. Todo el mundo tiene alma, pero no todos tienen la valentía necesaria para expresarse desde el alma. Por eso el alma es sagrada y especial, especial igual que tú. Cuando leí tu historia no me sorprendió que tuvieras un nombre así de grande… grandote.

Mi nombre es Dorothy, pero me dicen Chachi. Soy escritora y estudiante de la Universidad de Puerto Rico. Aparte de ser estudiante y escritora, soy orgullosamente negra con pelo rizo. Soy negra puertorriqueña y sobreviviente de acoso racista, así como el racismo por el que estás pasando. Tengo 23 años y el racismo y el acoso sigue. Cuando tenía tu edad, asistía una escuela primaria bien lejos de Puerto Rico, en Ohio. En todas mis clases yo era la única negra y la única puertorriqueña. Una tarde bien calurosa, unos de los nenes de mi clase me tiraron cosas al pelo a ver si se quedaban entre mis rizos. Lo hacían todos los días como un juego. Cada vez que les respondía me decían “negrita loca” y los maestros me decían “ignorarlos”. La clase de ciencias fue mi clase favorita, pero odiaba tener que hacer proyectos con los otros nenes y nenas de la clase porque nadie me escogía. Le decían a mi maestra “no la queremos en nuestro grupo porque es mala” y me decían, “es que nuestros padres no nos permiten jugar ni trabajar con negros”. Los mismos maestros le decían a mi mama que mi pelo era una distracción porque no era lacio. No podía ver bien la pizarra, pero tuve que sentarme en espacios aislados y lejos de la pizarra porque mi pelo era una supuesta distracción. Pensaba que mis familiares me defenderían, pero en vez de defender a su sobrina, su hija, su primita, ellos también me decían “pelo malo”, “no muy hermosa” y me aseguraban siempre no coger sol.

Me dolía tanto tener que aguantar comentarios racistas de mis maestros y los estudiantes y personas que por la mañana me decían que me amaban por compartir su sangre y su patria y por la noche “no coger sol por ponerme más prieta”, que a veces no comía, peleaba en la escuela porque fue mi manera de lidiar y canalizar la tristeza y el coraje. Entre esa tristeza y ese coraje, y el cansancio de no ser escuchada, encontré mi voz y me ponía a escribir cartas de amor a mi abuela, una negra con pelo lacio de Mayagüez y a mi bisabuela una negra con el mismo pelo que yo que solo he visto una vez en una foto porque las fotos de ella las esconden los mismos negros, coloraos, mulatos y jabaitos que salieron de su vientre. Vivimos en una sociedad muy racista, y nosotras, las negras como tú y yo, NO calladitas lo sufrimos más que cualquier otra persona.

¿Sabes el por qué lo sufrimos más, Alma? Porque tú y yo somos el futuro en el presente. No aguantamos el mismo abuso que sufrían y aguantaban hasta nuestras tatarabuelas. Lo luchamos con acciones grandísimas. En esta sociedad, en especial en Puerto Rico, no quedarte callada, no censurarte, no dejar que te abusen son formas de resistencia que van en contra de las normas culturales que han existido en Puerto Rico desde el año 1898. Eres más grande que todos esos 119 años y todos los abusos que sufrimos.

Alma, quiero que sepas que reaccionaste como deberías. Eres una nena, menor de edad y se supone que el principal de tu escuela tuviera la moral suficiente para protegerte a ti y a sus estudiantes. Pero te falló por cobarde, y el sistema judicial de Puerto Rico te está fallando, Alma. Pero en un ningún momento fallaste tú. No hiciste ninguna pataleta, lo que hiciste, mi querida, fue protegerte sin ayuda alguna. La decisión que tomaste fue decisión rabiosa y completamente apropiada para tu edad y por lo que tenías y tienes que cargar.

Mi querida Alma, yo llevo la misma rabia que tú. Soy adulta y yo soy mi responsabilidad ya, así que yo me defiendo. Tengo que escuchar comentarios racistas y lidiar con conductas racistas tanto en la calle como en las instituciones de Puerto Rico. Quiero que entiendas que amo a mi patria con toda mi alma, como si fuera mi mamá y todos los puertorriqueños como si fueran mis hermanos y es por eso que denuncio, sin pelos en la lengua, el racismo que existe y florece aquí en todo como si fuera un bosque de matas venenosas. Quizás te juzguen o te perciban como a mí me perciben, loca y grosera por simplemente ser lo suficientemente libre igual que tú, por luchar contra una violencia que tiene todo Puerto Rico sufriendo de alguna manera. Eres una nena sumamente libre, Alma. La mayoría en este mundo tiene miedo de la libertad y tratarán y tratarán de silenciarte por su propio miedo.

Mi amada Alma, hay una Orisha, una diosa africana que se llama Oyá y vive en las ráfagas del viento. Oyá es el ruido entre el silencio y el silencio entre el ruido. Ella es la Orisha de cambios. A todo el mundo le gusta cuando ella baila, hablan de su fuerza con sonrisas. Es hermosa como tú y anda con una fuerza espectacular, pero muchos la rechazan cuando trae cualquier cambio. La energía de sus cambios es como si fuera tormenta. Las tormentas destruyen, y en el caso de Oyá destruyen lo malo e innecesario para entonces fomentar lo bueno. Eso es lo que hiciste tú a tú edad tan joven. Tú defendiste tú derecho a la libertad cuando todo el mundo se escapó a sus “hogares” construidos de miedo, ignorancia, y complacencia. Que a ellos les guste o no les guste, no importa porque el cambio va. Tú no estás sola.

Alma Yadira, eres valiente. Cada lágrima que se te ha caído por esa situación es una gota de lluvia que está pariendo árboles que tienen los frutos que nuestra sociedad necesita para sanar. Alma Yadira, eres grande. Lucho por ti. No te conozco personalmente, pero quiero que sepas que aquí tienes una hermana de lucha a la orden. Yo te mando todos los abrazos y todo el cariño que no me dieron por ser negra cuando tenía tú edad. Eres valiente y eres el alma que vive en todos nosotros, alma de luchadora, guerrera, y cimarrona negra. Solo hay pocos que reconocen y se conectan con sus almas. Que los ancestros sigan protegiéndote. Mi alma y mi corazón están con la Alma de Carolina.

Con mucho amor,

Chachi

afro art

Esta pintura no me pertenece. Artist website: etsy.com/wildwerun