Exodus. Why I’m Sticking it Out: “Unmasking the Colony (I think)”

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Barrio Pozuelo Casa de los Pastelillos

Read the Segundo Episodio, here.

By: Norma Iris Lafé

Punto Pozuelo Zona Turística, Guayama

Primo Miñi is the coolest cat in el barrio, to know him is to love him, he lives to make others laugh, and loves to disarm me—his cuz. The King of El Relajo is out front of El Hit de Oro—cogiendo fresco—encircled by his barrio buddies holding court, El Gran Combo blaring on the vellonera in the background. He had grown a new appendage, a can of Coors light clutched in his fingers. I walk up to the family negocio, greet my cousin with the kiss of Christ on the cheek and cop a chair. Beneath the blue canopy shading the sidewalk café, scintillating ocean breezes envelop me in the wonders of paradise. Amazed, am I, at my good fortune, que estoy acá y no allá.

Cuz…dáte una fría. Like “The Flash,” Primo dashes to the store counter, hurries back, and hands me my favorite—Medalla Light—the gold and red-colored emblem states “made in the distilleries of Puerto Rico.”

Cuz…how can you drink that nasty-tasting Medalla? Primo takes a jab at my choice in beer and I move in with an upper cut.

You don’t know shit! about beer. Medalla has a robust zing to it, next to that piss water you be drinking. It’s also made right here in Puerto Rico and was voted the best light beer in the world by international beer connoisseurs for your information! You should be supporting island-made products too.

I see you’re still the independentista you were in ASPIRA when we were kids in New York.

It felt as though he had blown my cover in full view of his beer-drinking cronies. I just assumed islanders and the diaspora were all on the same page.

Not one to sit on the sidelines—an economic injustice going unchecked—I had fallen onto a new battlefront terrain. Where “the enemy within” was not the usual suspects—American-style racial, class, gender divides armed by xenophobic Anglo-American protectionists. But found myself smack dab in the middle of an internecine warfare such as I had never dealt with before. The bitter feud and swordplay between Puerto Ricans over the “colonial question” makes the legendary Hatfield’s and McCoy’s kissing cousins by comparison. (If you’ve seen the TV show, you know how ornery they can be.)

Having worked and been schooled by all three political persuasions; far be it for me to openly profess one ideology over the other, and risk alienating family and friends, or  (worse) jeopardizing my island jobs, which has been known to happen in our system of cronyism. So, like the Swiss, I resolved to maintain party neutrality lest my head get chopped off in the pendulum swing that is Puerto Rican partisan politics. This enables me to share my candid observations—an outsider looking in.

That said…

Partidistas wear their RED, BLUE or GREEN colors like a badge of honor; something akin to the Knights in Shining Armor (sometimes without the shine). For it is now widely agreed—in Crisis Puerto Rico—the staunch politicking has gone way too far and only served to run El País to the ground. Some political pundits—there is no short supply of—offer the view the (oxymoronic) “Free Associated State” has run its course—depending upon their partisan position as well.

The REDS

El partido popular democrático is the “poor people’s party” in power today. Populares hoist the flag for “Pan, Tierra y Libertad,” holding fast to those patriotic values of “La Pava” preserving of Puerto Rico´s Spanish language and rich cultural heritage while staying in the comfort zone of the commonwealth that provides for them. Born of the “New Deal” struck in ‘52 by the populist party founder Luis Muñoz Marín, the first democratically-elected governor envisioned the closer US economic ties—a necessary evil for the once-autonomist—as bettering the lives of hungry and jobless islanders, a step towards self-sufficiency, it was hoped.

It’s no secret: over the 63 commonwealth years since, we’ve gone from the “Free Associated State” to the “Welfare State.” The irony is:  the common-law union between the “Motherland and Father USA” unwittingly birthed a monster—El MANTENGO—a behemoth of islander dependence on federal aid that developed an unnatural appetite for feeding on its own. Much like the mutant Wolverine who self-regenerates to live forever—defying the laws of nature. The curse of EL MANTENGO, in Puerto Rico, is a self-perpetuating poverty—defying the humane logic of social intervention, because, frankly, EL MANTENGO now has a life of its own.

Poverty is “Big Business” on the island that pays major dividends and incentives (so to speak) to all who are customarily engaged in pandering to the poor, that is, keeping the federal funds flowing islanders in survival mode desperately cling on to, at all levels of functional (and dysfunctional) society. [Throughout the 78 isla municipios only the strong will survive the population losses and the federal funds exiting right along with the hundreds of thousands of islanders leaving.]

Thus, the Estado Libre Asociado provisional economic model—El ELA—for all intents and purposes backfired. And EL MANTENGO is the symptom of our ”baby” democracy’s adverse reaction, the side effects, to the massive infusions, billions and trillions, a third world aid formula that stunts rather than stimulates growth. And we need to find a pro-active cure ASAP.

The BLUES

El partido nuevo progresista, in turn, the conservative camp of “La Palma” wanting more, leads the charge for “Progreso, Seguridad y Estadidad” raising the banner for statehood. Founded in ‘73 by former governor, Republican businessman Luis A. Ferré, estadistas are like “the avengers” of the slight, opposing los populares’ sanctioned inequality with a vengeance! As second class citizens—since 1917—the US replica three branches of constitutional democratic government endorsed in ’52, not only denies islanders the “one man, one vote” in US general elections; the inherent Congressional exclusion also puts the state of Puerto Rico affairs at great risk, they aver. And that limits their plans for economic recovery and prosperity to a grossly uneven playing field.

I can’t very well blame progresistas for demanding the lingua franca “One nation under God indivisible with liberty and justice for all” also apply to islanders, having counted on the provisions of a full Bill of Rights en el otro lado of the Puerto Rican continuum, including the constitutional right to freedom of expression, that’s not always a done deal, either, in our “showcase of democracy.”

[But you didn’t hear it from me, that would make me some sort of a “dissident writer” and ours some sort of a US-backed repressive Latino dictatorship. Would it not? And yet, from the seeming censorship, the information void, the skewed analysis on critical issues relating to “La Colonia”—the buzz word on the island across all party lines—I tend to give credence to those undisclosed “gag laws” mentioned in certain island transformation circles, too. And to question is to set oneself up for, well, repercussions, maybe.]

The GREENS

Then, there’s el partido independentista puertorriqueño, pro-sovereignty diehards, apparently destined to bringing up the rear. Valiant crusaders against colonialism, waving their signature green and white flag for a free Puerto Rico now! Laying down their lives or rotting in jail if they have to: political prisoners Oscar López Rivera (for 34 years) in the same vein as the South African Nelson Mandela (for 27 years) and Don Pedro Albizu Campos tortured during his captivity (martyrized). The ultimate defense of human dignity on our own terms, the moral imperative, I admire the courage of their convictions. After all, this is our land—our legacy. Not up for grabs by the highest bidder. Looking to turn a tourism buck—take the money and run—cogiéndonos de lo que no somos.

The minority voting bloc (not more than 4% of voters, who knows how many remain) has often been the swing vote between the red and blue titans. Back-to-nature intellectuals who, nevertheless, keep their eyes on the prize; the “can do” vision of a prosperous, competitive and brightly-shining “Perla del Caribe” in the third world panorama. Founded in ‘46 by the party’s first president, attorney Gilberto Concepción de Gracia, their global vision hearkens back to that elusive dream: “Puerto Rico is the Bridge Between Two Cultures”—remember that?

[And not the “Latino Drugs Junction Between the Americas” our crime and drugs-ravaged tiny island in the Caribbean has become. A byproduct of US-Puerto Rico colonial relations, drugs is an import/export business the “US protectorate” could have well done without.]

And so, “it’s not what you can do for your country“  but “what’s in it for me and my party? In the growing pains, clearly, “baby needs a new set of clothes.” Will it be the REDS favoring association, the BLUES crying for statehood, or the GREENS clamoring to be free? Or a mosaic of all three?—the meeting of the minds the economic crisis calls for.

Whichever euphemism chosen, a colony by any other name is still a colony.

So says UN International decolonization law.

So says the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

Dissing both entities that continue to advocate for Puerto Rico’s self-determination, the US says…

“PUERTO RICO BELONGS TO BUT IS NOT A PART OF THE UNITED STATES!!??”

And?…Is that it?… Doublespeak?…Does anybody know what time it is?

And so…I began to think.  Seriously conclude (shut my mouth, you won’t be earning any popularity points with your gente); that maybe, quite plausibly, the enemy is not the United States of America. The real enemy is US, for our singular failure to look at ourselves in the mirror. That it is time to straighten up Our House Divided, steer away from the party semantics, and chart a new United People of Puerto Rico course. Or else…!se nos va Puerto Rico de las manos! Forewarns journalist Carmen Jovet—the Barbara Walters—of Radio NotiUno AM.

It may sound Pollyannaish, I know, but my thing is: why can’t we all get along? Why can’t we find common ground in light of our common plight? A human rights disaster of epic proportions: a population exodus that might have been averted had La Gobernadora not been undermined—during her turn at bat.

SIGUIENTE EPISODIO:  “She Came, She Saw and She Conquered:  ‘Sila’”

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Norma Iris Lafé is a “Boricua Freedom Writer,” an emerging writer of the Afro-Latino genre, shares the personal vignettes of a Diasporican (Nuyorican returnee) on the island, bringing readers insider news and the view from 21st Century “colonial” Puerto Rico. A Writer’s Well Literary Competition winner (2012), contributor to herkind.org “Global Woman,” “Mujeres Talk” and former writer KCBS News Radio Editorial/ Public Affairs (SF), she’s a Bronx HS of Science alumna, holds a BA in Black and Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College (NYC). Currently editing her back-to-roots memoirs, social commentary excerpts are available for your blog.

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