Monday, September 24, 2007

Revisiting September 23, 1868: Crushing or Sowing-the-Seeds of a Liberation Quest?

By Hiram José Irizarry Osorio, Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

In my college student days in the early 1990s I did not miss a Grito de Lares celebration. I understood it as part of my political awakening and education, trying to reconnect with the events that took place on September 23, 1868. While most of my colleagues enjoyed a day without classes, going to beach and mingling (perfectly understandable), I joined one or two friends and drove inland to Lares, to the Revolutionary Square. The day was packed with political discourses and musical events (morning until night). The day was divided into two distinct celebrations: morning and early afternoon vis-à-vis late afternoon and early evening. This partitioning is due to frictions within the Puerto Rican movement for independence. It has been a while since I have been to Lares or Grito de Lares celebration, but what does it mean? What does it represent?

I view it as an important historical event. It was the first time that, as a collective, a section of the inhabitants of the Puerto Rican archipelago mobilized against the imperial power of the time: Spain. The movement was crushed, but it sowed the seeds for future generations to oppose colonialism (Spain and the U.S.). As I underscored, fragmentation and frictions exist within the movement toward independence and among other different political groups in Puerto Rican society. But one thing could be stated definitively; although differences exist of how to best relate with the U.S. and how to best preserve, fulfill, and project Puerto Rican culture and identity into the future, nobody today questions the existence of a people labeled as Puerto Ricans. And that fact is owed to the men and women that courageously took the leap of faith to rebel and shout against an imperial power for its liberation. Furthermore, and constitutive of the movement crushed on September 23, 1868, was a joint effort for independence and slavery’s abolition. Thus, five years later (1873) slavery was abolished in Puerto Rico, partly due to the efforts of these revolutionaries.

Nevertheless, the struggle is not over. The liberation quest is on the march and it should mean something deeper than mere nationalism or independence for independence sake. Therefore, I close this entry with a quote from Franz Fanon:

“A bourgeoisie that has only nationalism to feed the people fails in its mission and inevitably gets tangled up in a series of trials and tribulations. If nationalism is not explained, enriched, and deepened, if it does not very quickly turn into a social and political consciousness, into humanism, then it leads to a dead end. A bourgeois leadership of the underdeveloped countries confines the national consciousness to a sterile formalism. Only the massive commitment by men and women to judicious and productive tasks gives form and substance to this consciousness. It is then that flags and government buildings cease to be the symbols of the nation. The nation deserts the false glitter of the capital and takes refuge in the interior where it receives life and energy. The living expression of the nation is the collective consciousness in motion of the entire people. It is the enlightened and coherent praxis of the men and women. The collective forging of a destiny implies undertaking responsibility on a truly historical scale. Otherwise there is anarchy, repression, the emergence of tribalized parties and federalism, etc. if the national government wants to be national it must govern by the people and for the people, for the disinherited and by the disinherited. No leader, whatever his worth, can replace the will of the people, and the national government, before concerning itself with international prestige, must first restore dignity to all citizens, furnish their minds, fill their eyes with human things and develop a human landscape for the sake of its enlightened and sovereign inhabitants.”

What do you think?

The True Meaning of Racial Integration, Then and Now

By Andrew Grant-Thomas, Deputy Director of the Kirwan Institute

On Monday, September 23, 1957, more than 1,000 white residents of Little Rock, Arkansas gathered in front of Little Rock Central High School and screamed their rage at the nine children who would soon become its first black students. Police secreted the nine into the building through a side entrance, but the threat of a riot later compelled the students to flee.

What was the meaning of racial integration that provoked these white citizens of Little Rock to such a hateful response?

Much has changed. Today, the Little Rock Nine are widely hailed as heroes of the civil rights movement their courage helped catalyze. Whereas in 1956 only two in ten white Southerners with a high school degree supported school integration in principle, by 1986 nine in ten did. This is good news.

Sadly, the distinction between now and then fades as we move from questions of principle to practice.

Most black and Latino students today attend majority-black and majority-Latino schools, respectively. In many large metropolitan areas like Cleveland, New York, Detroit, and Chicago, large majorities of nonwhites or whites would have to change neighborhoods for the groups to be equally distributed across the region.

What, then, is the meaning of racial integration for us today?

Many of the answers to that question are well-known, even if we hesitate to acknowledge them. Many whites fear that an influx of minorities will precipitate declines in property values; school overcrowding and deterioration; increases in crime, noise, and untidiness; and so on. Such fears have led many whites to avoid, or leave, neighborhoods and schools perceived to be integrated or integrating.

In turn, anticipated and actual hostility from their would-be neighbors can leave racial and ethnic minority group members reluctant to enter neighborhoods and schools in which whites comprise large majorities.

We cannot and should not discount these concerns. But we must recognize that the skepticism expressed by many attaches only to the very thin expression of integration typically found in some neighborhoods, workplaces and schools. There is an alternative vision of what integration might mean. We might call this vision “true integration.”

In the context of our schools, true integration moves beyond desegregation – beyond removing legal barriers and merely facial alterations in the racial make-up of schools – to implementing the founding ideals of this country.

Rather than erasing racial and ethnic differences, true integration legitimizes the historical, intellectual, and cultural contributions of all groups. It recognizes that identities are constantly evolving and need to be embraced, rather than threatened. Truly integrated schools equip students with the tools they need to participate in our increasingly pluralistic democracy. True integration celebrates the very diversity that segregation tries to contain and assimilation tries to negate.

Something akin to this vision of integration is well worth the struggle.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The 11th Hour, No end in sight, and El cantante

by Hiram José Irizarry Osorio, Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

Is there any commonality among these three films besides the fact that the author of this blog entry recently watched them? Many people have watched these films and among those, many have written reviews praising or criticizing these films. I think this business of writing reviews is a worthwhile endeavor, but not the one I undertake here. My purpose is to underscore, however limited, salient points that came to my mind when (and after) watching these films.

The first two films (The 11th Hour and No End in Sight) would seem more relevant to U.S. audiences because they deal with world-wide issues that need to be addressed. Although this is true, I would underscore that these are issues that should concern people beyond the U.S. This is somewhat obvious regarding The 11th Hour, which underscores the human causes of change in our environment (or as it is emphasized throughout the film, our home). The topic addressed in No End in Sight is the latest Iraq war and its mismanagement from the get-go until the present. The people interviewed in this film were not “outsiders”, but individuals involved with the current administration that became disenchanted and disillusioned by how the current Bush administration handled (handles) the enterprise of going to war and its aftermath.

In regard to El Cantante, the appeal is more personal being a Puerto Rican and seeing in the big screen homage being paid to one of the great salsa singers: Héctor Lavoe. Many people have criticized this film for focusing too much on Mr. Lavoe’s drug use, others have underscored that there was not enough character development for people to get to know the story of Héctor Lavoe. These are all pertinent criticisms; however, they depend on how we choose to watch or pay attention to in the film.

I am not presuming to know what was in the mind of those that put the film together, but what I can state is how I interpreted this film. I think that although Mr. Lavoe and his wife’s life could be interesting, the most important issue is what they represented-the reality of Puerto Ricans after mid-20th century. They represented that cleavage in Puerto Rican society between “the real” Puerto Ricans (e.g., represented by Héctor Lavoe) and those diasporic Puerto Ricans (e.g., Mr. Lavoe’s wife and Willie Colón). The film also underscored the reality of those Puerto Ricans that migrated to New York City looking for a better life. Mr. Lavoe made it (or did he?), but what about thousands of others (like his brother) that get lost within the marginalizing tentacles of U.S. society? Thus, I think that this film is worthwhile to watch for the statement it makes within U.S. mainstream about those that have been labeled as Puerto Ricans and their history.

Hence, what do these three films have in common? I would venture to state, the fight for survival of the human species at different levels and scenarios: global environment (The 11th Hour), national-global war (No End in Sight), and colonial reality (and its struggle) within the streets of the U.S (El Cantante). What do you think?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Which “team” are you on?

by Annette J. Johnson, Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

Over the last several months I have been analyzing the speeches, debates and statements of the Presidential Candidates, as well as their political party on how they “Talk about Race”. As I am reading through the speeches, debates and looking at the Republican and Democratic websites, several themes started to stick out. These themes included “unity” and the “inclusion of all Americans”. Listed below are a couple of excerpts from statements made by both political parties.

“The leadership of President George W. Bush provides an opportunity for us to work together and better include everyone of all backgrounds in the Republican Party.”

“The Democratic Party is committed to keeping our nation safe and expanding opportunity for every American. That commitment is reflected in an agenda that emphasizes the security of our nation, strong economic growth, affordable health care for all Americans, retirement security, honest government, and civil rights.”

Across the United States, there are many “naïve” voters like myself who are suddenly thrown into the world of politics due to the upcoming elections. From the surface, both the Democratic and Republican parties look as though they are committed to these themes of “unity” and “inclusion”. To show their commitment, both parties have constructed “teams” based on race, ethnicity, gender and ect. to deal with issues affecting each group. They have the African American team, Catholic team, Entrepreneur team, Faith/Values team, Hispanic team, Senior’s team, Youth team, Women’s team, Asian/Pacific Islander team, Disability team and the Native American team. I started to get a mental picture of the different teams in my head. I became disgusted because to me both parties were starting to resemble our school districts and neighborhoods- SEGREGATED.

I fail to understand why we need different “teams” to “expand opportunity for EVERY AMERICAN” and if we are going to have “teams” why do we not have teams that represent EVERY AMERICAN. On neither website, did I find a Muslim team or Somali team and of course there are many more groups who have not been represented. What team should they join? Lets say that you’re an African American woman, should you choose the African American team or the Women’s team? If the political parties and their candidates are really concerned with EVERY AMERICAN, shouldn’t we have an American team which represents America’s diversity? It is unclear to me how we can “join” together to “expand opportunity for EVERY AMERICAN, when the political parties do not give us an opportunity to “join” together by separating us into “teams”. Furthermore, like many other areas of our life, they have once again found a way to categorize and separate us into groups. It does not surprise me that our state and local institutions can not figure out how to desegregate our schools and neighborhoods when their mentors can not figure out how to desegregate their political parties.