In this one I’m going to get personal, and political. On Monday July 22nd, on the feast day of Mary Magdelene, the masses of Puerto Rico arose in a unified cry of defiance against the current governor Ricardo Rosselló. Around half a million people congealed to dethrone the governor for the level of blatant corruption and disregard for the people of the island.
For videos, images and news articles: see this.
This little island, Puerto Rico, subject to centuries of colonization, still a colony, rose in fury. I watched in awe as the waves of people came together under one banner, with one voice, united. But I was torn.
First, let me tell you a little bit about my island from my point of view†. Since the “discovery“† of Puerto Rico by the Europeans, the island quickly moved into the possession of Spain, under which the land was mined into exhaustion, all the gold and riches immediately shipped back to the Continent. The indigenous people of the island mixed, died, or went into slavery. Typical story of the Caribbean right? Puerto Rico isn’t unique in this. What this island is particularly unique in, is that after centuries under Spanish rule, a mild skirmish between the Spanish and the British over ownership, the United States took over after the Spanish American War. With the Treaty of Paris on December 10th 1989, Spain ceded Puerto Rico. The island passed now into the ownership of a new head, a new banner, and a new culture. Are you seeing the thread here? Speed up a couple hundred years and here we are, still under the wings of the United Sates. At no point in our history, longer than a day, after the Europeans stepped foot on the island, has the people of the island been sovereign. If you sit and think about this fact, and about the repercussions this reverberates into a people, into the land, well, it’s quite something. It is crippling.
Nowadays, the political stability of the island teeters between bankruptcy and imperial interests. What we have now is a web of high bidders seeking to sink their claws into the land for the benefit of the few. This web is rife with corruption, lies, megalomania, and disregard. The land itself is sold to the highest bidder, beach fronts natural reserves, forests, non human persons, all are subject to this, to corporate interests, and again, to complete disregard.
The language we speak is not our own, it is a product of colonization, of course many other colonized people and places can say the same as well. But much deeper than this, we have never stepped out of the shadows of the greater powers. We have never flexed and expanded on who we are as a people sovereign.
As I saw the masses united this past Monday, my heart swelled, but this swelling emotion was intermixed with the deepest and inexplicable sadness. For a people immersed in general dissatisfaction, within a landscape of uncertainty, have openly found their leaders, those who have the keys to the palace, offering nothing but disappointment. Yet, what lies behind this dethronement? What lies behind the curtain? For surely, this particular governor, caught in his own web of lies, is only a symptom of the disease, an outbreak, not the nucleus of the disease. Nipping him will not cure the disease. As the cliché goes, he is only the tip of the iceberg. Who will stand in his place when he is gone? Moreover, what can we as a people do? What can I as one do?
Since I am a fortuneteller, I took out my cards while the march was underway and began to ask for clarity into what I could not outright see.
- What is the importance of the protest? Locating where the importance lies, and its function.
- What effects or possible outcomes of this uprising am I not seeing?
- What will the outcome of the protest be with regards to the people of the island?
As you can see by these questions, I’m concerned with what these upwellings mean at a deeper level, especially for us as a people. For us the disadvantaged, the displaced, the colonized. For us, lost in a web of mis-identities, incapable of verbalizing our displacement, our self in the landscape. And yes, this is all coming from one person, me. Me as the spectator. But there is also me as the self living in this landscape. The me that recognizes the paradox of identity that ripples just under the surface of my own culture. Most importantly, in my perspective, there is the me in relation to the land, which to be honest, is vital when thinking about the island of Puerto Rico. The land, the non-human persons that also inhabit this place, that have no voice, the ecosystems ripped apart, the flora and fauna subject to the raping and pillaging of corporate interests.
So what do the cards say?
The importance of the protest lies in the mobilization of forces under one act bringing tensions to a head. Confrontation and resolution. The king here is the major player, standing for the people, doing, embodying his force and capacity of shaping the moment. The 10 swords meet, confront, and resolve. There is a line of action here wherein what is vital is movement, shaping that which is unfolding, rising up and uniting to force a desired end.
Undoubtedly, these protests have as foundational the passions and the emotions. This is about desire, the expression and release of desire. It is as if a cauldron has simmered too long over heat and is now bubbling over, spilling outward. What does this overspill mean? The plate is served, now we look at the delineations that underscore us as a people and as a nation. In a way this ending allows for something new to be birthed. We are the king of cups here, we hold our heart simmering with boiling blood, looking at divisive lines. Now we see, potentially with new eyes, envisioning horizons and possibilities. Yet. Yet. Yet. I can’t help but look with apprehension at the vines surrounding the 7th cup, which the king espies. We uncover the poison that has simmered there for centuries, then what?†
The outcome of the protest brings it all back to mobility. What we are capable of doing as a collective. There is a sense of forward traction, caused by us as a collective apprehending what we are capable of doing when moving together. Yet there is no concretization in this mobility. We are moving, but what are we forming as we move, what are we creating?
A couple ending notes on this spread here, I notice that almost the whole court of batons presented themselves in this reading. A force was and is being exerted here to push boundaries and move beyond what has been established. A collective labour of pruning and clearing what is unnecessary has begun. I emphasize collective because there have always, always been those who have fought against the tyranny of imperialism and colonization, except that most have been squashed into the recesses of memory, lost in the shores of forgetfulness, killed and silenced.
Now I want to look at something that is simultaneously occurring during the dethronement scandal. On Sunday, one of the major newspapers in the island publishes an article detailing the restructuring the use of land and of the districts, initiating a comprehensive set of land redistribution and zoning changes. This is being done by a Committee set to the task after laws set in place by this same governor in question. The aim is to make land more salable to the right kind of people. The entire project was kept relatively hushed as the public was not overtly notified. As these things go, typically the public is notified of happenings of this nature to allow for around 90 days of input and commentary. Many have already descried this move as disadvantageous to at risk areas, natural reserves, forests, you get the picture. Change the name of a thing and the apprehension of said thing changes along with it. There are always hidden moves in play, things never occur alone, disconnected.
So why do I say all this? Honestly, my intention is not to get into the ins and outs of the politics in my island. And if you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering what my point is here. First, I want to sift through my feelings in the middle of the polemic. Second, as this whole upwelling is not occurring in a bubble†, I want to locate agency, my self within the bigger picture. This is the land I returned to, the land that was calling me from way up there in the North where I was enjoying myself. I can certainly move onward with the narrative by deconstructing the words, and what even is this spectacle. But I don’t want to deconstruct here, I want to weave, and thread, and create, and through this creation, enchant. Extracting myself outside of these polemic narratives, I walk this land, I feel the pain of forced changes, of shameful subjugation and destruction. Yet, I also feel the persistence, and perceive the cycles upon cycles of movement. How we participate in created truths in order to keep going.
In the throes of unrest and disillusion, one must ask one’s self two things. First, is there a desire in me to act/do something about it? If there is desire, the second question is, what is within my power to do? After these questions have been answered, then the task is to begin the weaving. Weaving as enchanting, a way of giving shape and narrative to your story in the middle of the chaos. I cannot stop chaos, I cannot stop destruction, there are insurmountable things I cannot stop. What I can do is act with what I have on hand, what is within my capacity to do. I braid my story with that of this land by looking at the micro, the local level, instead of focusing on the panorama and being shocked by the disclosed and undisclosed hands playing their part on the card table. This should go for all of us. We locate our agency within what we can do at the local level beginning with our selves and our lives as lived immersed in landscape.
Perhaps all these protests facilitated was movement, like a teapot left too long on the stove, the water needs to spill outward and release. We are the water inside the teapot and this is us as a collective spilling outward our unnamed rages. Yet, me as a person can continue weaving stories of healing, with the land, with the flora and fauna, and with the dead. Even though the me as one doesn’t get to sit at the table where the big boys play, I still have the land, the landscape, and how my self and my body engages at this local level has potential. There is agency and power here with the me as one.
Further reading along similar (not same) lines:
- Gordon White Borrowed Landscapes
- Crowess Out of the Shadow: Eclipse Experiments
- J.R.R. Tolkien Mythopeia
†My point of view has its obvious limitations since I am no history scholar, nor am I learned in the nuanced craft of socio-politics. I am only a Puertorrican woman writing from her own experience.
†That the island was discovered by the Europeans is laughable. As if the island hadn’t already been part of a wide network of indigenous voyaging, while also inhabited by indigenous people.
†I pulled this card because I wanted to see what the king was looking at which was outside the frame.
†There are plenty social/political/cultural upheavals going around, both within the US and internationally.