Xavi Burgos Peña

Xavi Burgos Peña is co-founder of La Respuesta magazine. He is a Boricua/ Dominicano of the Diaspora who has lived his life between New York City and Chicago. His professional experience is mostly in the area of community-building, including youth development, social marketing, and organizing against gentrification. His journalism credits include being editor and chief designer for Que Ondee Sola magazine, columnist for La Voz del Paseo Boricua newspaper, contributor to Gozamos magazine, and guest writer for Claridad newspaper in Puerto Rico. Contact: xavi@larespuestamedia.com

Naked Freedom?

BarrioIcon-Newsletter1x1I love to see a naked body any day. A naked Puerto Rican body? Even better! But I’d also like to consent to seeing such things. Apparently, friends and people in the virtual world don’t feel the same, especially since its in the name of art.

Yesterday, three folks were arrested for baring all in the middle of San Juan’s busiest square while being sketched by art students. The performance piece was the graduate project of one of the accused, who upon her release grudgingly stated to Noticel that “the law continues to define the body as something dishonest and impure”.

That is true. The law (in both the colony and Empire) is indeed made up of shaming and dehumanizing mandates towards our bodies and the identities and practices associated with them.

But lets not lose sight here of that fact that they just strolled up onto the plaza and got naked for all and I mean all to see. That means the viejos playing chess, the abuelas going to church, youth going to school, tourists looking for an authentic experience (and ‘chacho they may have found it!). How was their consent received, how were they engaged in the concepts apparently inherent in this act? They probably weren’t, which also speaks to the elitism of performance art, but I digress.

They most likely did it to receive the press they are now gushing over and with the knowledge that they’d be arrested for violating the indecent exposure laws of the Código Penal. In other words, they proved their point.

I bet you’re thinking: Wait, what, Xavi is conservative?! That asshole… Well, I’m all for civil disobedience and provocative acts of protest, but is “freedom of expression” something that we should apply for every act conceived? No. Should we run around supporting every act in the name of art and radical forms of expression? Naw, Im good. Sometimes we got to check ourselves and others.

Interestingly enough the mayor of San Juan said that she personally doesn’t have anything against this form of art and would’ve approved it if they had requested permission. According to her statement to El Nuevo Día the city could’ve provided some type of notice regarding the performance to offer people with a consensual choice whether to view it or not. And I think pedestrians would more often than not decided to see it.

Whether she’s telling the truth its hard to say, since this happened after the fact. But it’s a pretty progressive statement for a mayor of a major city and seemed like a good compromise. Like, who really likes to get arrested? It seems the performers didn’t, as one can see in the video below. Bendito. 

So let’s be mindful of who’s the audience we’re trying to provoke and engage with; and the manner and context of the engagement. And be willing to compromise and not be so quick to support everything because its “art” and “freedom” after that pesky government gets involved. Bandwagon politics really aren’t that cute of a look.

Print this entry

Puerto Rico Teacher Victory and Penepé Political Opportunism

BarrioIcon-Newsletter1x1According to this article, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court struck down the Governor’s plan to tweak the pension of island teachers. The government claims that the pension system is “$10 billion deficit and would run out of money by 2020.” But the court found their plan to give teachers less in retirement than what they put into the system unconstitutional.

Pro-statehood Resident Commissioner Pierluisi responded with: ”Taking away [teacher's] rights in a disproportionate manner is not fair.” He is right, but what a way to jump on the political bandwagon! It’s as if his party even cares about the island’s public educational system.

Wasn’t it under Pedro Rosselló’s pro-statehood administration that a Secretary of Education went to jail for stealing millions of dollars? Or under Luis Fortuño’s pro-statehood administration where university students were beaten by the police because they dared advocate for affordable, public education? What short term memory these penepés have.

This kind of political opportunism is sickening. Puerto Rico is in a bundle and its government officials don’t know how to get it out of it without flipping the bill on the public, destroying valuable human resources, and adequately addressing one, major root cause: the island’s political relationship with it’s imperial padrino. What a “Macondo” Borinquén continues to be.

Print this entry

Puerto Rico’s New Immigrants Raises Questions about Race and Empire

BarrioIcon-Newsletter1x1On March 28, LatinoUSA published a story about Dominican and Haitian immigration to Puerto Rico. The report raises (but doesn’t discuss thoroughly) some interesting questions about race, the island’s colonial status, and Caribbean solidarity and xenophobia.

Disrupting Race in Puerto Rico

“In 2006, only two Haitians were apprehended by Border Patrol. Last year, the number was 600.” – LatinoUSA

Puerto Rico is considered to be the “whitest of the Caribbean” due to the amount of residents (75.8 percent) who identify with a white racial identity on the U.S. Census.

One reason, including internalized racism, is because there are few options available for other categories popularly used on the island, like mulata/o, trigueña/o, etc. Another is that there are a lot of European-descended folks. Puerto Rico received nearly half a million Europeans between 1815 and 1898 due to the Real Cédula de Gracia law, which promoted their settlement. There was also a comparatively low amount of enslaved people (unlike Cuba and Jamaica, which were island-wide factories of African genocide); but there were indeed many free folks of color and cimarrones - like my family. 

I bring up this history to help us ponder some important questions. In which ways do recent immigration from a “Blacker” Caribbean disrupt current racial categories? Are they discriminated against primarily due to their (undocumented) immigrant status, accents/ language, or their blackness – or a mix of all these characteristics? What will there influence be on Puerto Rican national culture and identity in future generations? How do Haitian and Dominican immigrants engage with each other in Puerto Rico, when the latter has a history of genocide and legal exclusion of the former – is there solidarity between them as immigrants in Borinquen? In the context of a decreasing and aging population, these questions should be more actively studied, reported on, and addressed.

A Colony With No Control Over Its Borders | Nationalism Can = Solidarity

“My dream isn’t to go back to the Dominican Republic. It’s to pledge allegiance to this flag, to the United States,” she says. “Truthfully, Puerto Rico, I love you.” - LatinoUSA

According to scholar Juan Manuel Carrión, some academics claim that “What a Puerto Rican nationalist really wants, deep down, is to kill a Dominican.” He refers to an imagined perception of nationalism being acquainted with xenophobic hatred and genocide (and not the anti-colonial, liberatory form I’d argue Puerto Rican nationalism often takes). But, this past month Claridad, Puerto Rico’s oldest pro-independence newspaper, dedicated its huge annual festival to the island’s Dominican community. As a part Dominican, Boricua independentista, this makes me proud. To me, there is no disconnect between affirming one’s national identity and standing in solidarity with other oppressed people. Plus, when was the last time pro-statehood folks were called racist; wasn’t it Santini’s penepé administration that denied a permit for a Dominican festivity in San Juan? No hay peor ciego que el que no quiere ver.

However, I do understand where some of the anger – from folks of all ideologies - towards island immigrants may come from (besides issues of language and race). Borinquen is a colony and therefore with no control over its own borders. The current economic collapse only heightens such discontent. Also, there are those who are infuriated by some immigrant’s sworn fidelity to the U.S. imperial project.

There were once a Cuban family who rented an apartment from my cousins in Juncos. Although they only had been on the island for two weeks, they were more pro-statehood than Barbosa or Ferré!

Still, I’d never advocate for them to leave or take an anti-immigrant stance. My nationalism is based on solidarity, as it has been between Puerto Rican independentistas and Mexican communities in Chicago or Blacks in New York, for example. It is my belief that the island’s liberation can happen when – among many other things – new immigrants are engaged and embraced, not ignored or discarded. Thankfully, the island’s independence movement has begun to do this while the Diaspora’s movement continues this long trajectory.

Below is a video (in Spanish) on an “Antillian Solidarity” mural production in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico.

Print this entry

Thoughts on Puerto Rico’s Million-Dollar Construction Projects

According to this news source, “Puerto Rico is planning a $26.5 million ‘revitalization’ plan for the island’s waterfront areas”

The construction projects will include nine municipalities and apparently produce 300 temporary and 145 permanent jobs to spruce up the look of these locations.

When I first read this I thought – ‘where is the money coming from and to whose benefit?’ Maybe for the North American millionaires the island wants to attract (and maybe as replacement for the poor and middle-class islanders escaping on la guagua aérea)?

In a country in near bankruptcy (but can’t officially file for one), under billions of dollars in debt, a multi-million dollar project is a drop in the bucket. But still, why spend it on fixing playgrounds and touching-up boulevards? Is it because Puerto Rico’s political currency is gained by building something – anything?

This reminds me when former Governor Pedro “El Mesías” Rosselló flirted with a return to politics (he eventually ran again for governor in 2004 and lost – thank God! Unfortunately his son might run for office.). Family, who were thankful he was gone were praising his return. “There was massive corruption in his administration, but at least he did something,!” they cried. What he did was build stuff – coliseums, trains, highways, etc. All construction projects that look nice, gets votes and some low-paying and mostly temporary jobs, and remain as monuments to fantasies of modernity in an island loosing nearly 50,000 people a year. We also can’t forget that construction contracts are generally tied to political connections.

The question also arises who – if anyone – is engaging the surrounding communities of these proposed seafront projects? Will residents be able to have or maintain kiosks to sell merchandise? Are government officials asking them how they think these project could be better designed or executed to more precisely fit the needs of their communities? Or are they just getting notices of construction and jobs and that’s it?

I don’t know for this exact case but I do know how governments generally work. I assume one or two meetings were or will be held to get feedback that someone will take notes on and put in a remote folder as proof that the public was “heard.”

Well, at least, architectural students from the Catholic University of Puerto Rico allegedly produced the project’s conceptual framework – at least!

Print this entry

Thoughts on Calle 13′s ‘Adentro’ and Boricua Homicides

In ‘Adentro,’ the new single by Calle 13, frontrunner Rene Pérez Joglar raps with visceral fury the famous quote by pro-independence icon Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos: “Cuando la tiranía es ley, la revolución es orden” – “when tyranny is law, revolution is order.”

Is revolution the answer to the social ills Puerto Rico faces (which are not unique to those on the island but also experienced by Boricuas in the Diaspora)?

One ill is that of murder. Nearly a thousand Puerto Ricans die at the hands of their own every year on the “Island of Enchantment.” I never thought having an AK-47 pointed at one’s head (which Calle 13 references in the lyric below) as enchanting.

Qué vas a hacer cuando a tu hijo
lo pillen en la disco
y sin delicadeza con una ak
le exploten la cabeza
o que le borren la cara a tu hermano
de forma violenta
o que limpien a tu mai
con la corta y la cuarenta

When I first heard this song a rush of sadness immersed my body. The images of young, trigueño and negrito men with guns and gold chains reflect in much of our communities both a reality and a fantasy of a hyper-masculine grandeur. This is reproduced by icons consumed by our youth, which Calle 13 directly scolds. The fact that most of these young men – not all – are obviously descendants of those brought by the trans-atlantic slave trade reveals a racial angle to this quagmire of violence.

I reflect on all this as to not perpetuate the popular and contradictory cynicism our usually prideful people vomit in conversations amongst our own. I do it to encourage discussion as to how to increase respect, acceptance, and love among our people on a macro-level.

So, is statehood and therefore more federal funding the answer to the island’s woes? If that was the answer they’d be no Boricua ghettos in the U.S…. Is further isolating and decreasing resources to the historically marginalized the answer? Building more comunidades cerradas? Censoring violent lyrics and marketing images? A school curriculum that teaches acceptance of diversity and embraces its surrounding communities? Full, guaranteed employment or a living wage? An attitude of ‘lets get political sovereignty first and we’ll figure it out from there?’

Let me know what you think. 

Print this entry

Diaspora as a New Zion?

The Paseo Boricua flag monuments on Division Street in Humboldt Park, Chicago. I took it many years ago.

We left our “home” to only create a new homeland. But we didn’t replace one country for another, shedding our jíbara/o skins, but carried in our souls a nation unforgotten. And in all of our expressions is where you can find it – not hidden, but exploding in its incredible beauty, tragedy, hope, and complexity. And even more marvelous are the ways we are re-making a nation within a nation, a diaspora homeland thinking of our island Zion but creating a new North Star.

Print this entry