Last week, I attended the latter half of the Unity March for Puerto Rico. When I arrived at the Lincoln Memorial, Lin Manuel-Miranda was finishing his speech and people were proudly waving the Puerto Rican flag everywhere. My mentor finally found me among the sea of people. She was there from the beginning in the early cold weather at the Capitol and marched with her friends and family to the Lincoln Memorial. It was apparent from her remarks, and the remarks of others, that the morning speeches were presented by politicians in a political language understood by the elite but left out the masses.
An overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans on the island speak Spanish. The speeches were primarily in English other than the songs and chants. Along with the actual language being an interesting and purposeful choice by the speakers, there is also the language of the elite that holds power against the people. According to my friends, there was a student from Yale who spoke using academic activist language. If we are not careful with our choice of words - be it language or actual words, we will certainly continue to reinforce internalized oppression and continue classist and racist attitudes. It is fascinating because the Yale student’s speech would have made a strategic choice for a policy brief or in Congress. When mobilizing over a thousand people, we have to stick to speaking our simple and certain truths, that our people are dying.
We as a people want more support, more outrage, more compassion, and to be treated with dignity and respect by this government. Boricuas are being treated like second-class citizens. The protest was filled with outrage for our women, primarily Afro-Rican and poor women, being forcibly sterilized. Eugenics was practiced in Puerto Rico in the 1930’s and today, it feels just the same. We are being killed, slowly and legally, starting with our people in marginalized and disenfranchised communities.
As a Xicana Boricua with African and Indigenous roots, I am upset that we did not speak up as loudly when Loiza, a town primarily made up of Black Puerto Ricans. Loiza was decimated after Hurricane Irma. It was not until Hurricane Maria decimated the entire island that the diaspora woke up and mobilized. Our community’s anti-Blackness is showing and so is the classism. The first towns to have electricity and power turned on were the richest towns on the island. Currently, half of Puerto Rico still has no electricity and power and it’s been two months. Repealing the Jones Act would allow for exports and imports to flow from countries outside of the US. It would be a huge help, however it is not enough.
My friends are sharing stories about how they can’t go to school because there is mold in the universities and some of their buildings are just falling apart. One of my dear girlfriends left the island and stayed with me recently; when I held her in my arms we just bawled. She is exhausted, drained, and scared. All she brought with her was two luggages filled with clothes that she had to wash twice to get the mildew off. People on the island and those leaving are exhibiting grave mental and physical health issues - from respiratory problems to deep depression; our people are in peril.
That’s why the Unity March was more than shaking our fists and flags at the president; it was more than mobilizing politicians to repeal the Jones Act, forgive the debt, and provide better aid, it was about being in solidarity with grieving diaspora who have been fighting for human rights on all levels (Pro-Woman, Pro-Black, Pro-Poor, Pro-Immigrant, Pro-LGBTQ, and so on). It's the accent. It's being held up by your mentor, the one who fought on the island and continues luchando. It's hugging a dear friend who's familia you care about, holding her heart close, and laughing at the nonsense. It's strangers that feel familiar. Es más que una lucha, es comunidad.