10/18/09

¡El Paro Nacional y los QUEERS!

As I have grown older, I have become more comfortable with my identity (thank the spirits) even as that identity continues to complicate itself. I remember the good ole days (do you see the sarcasm dripping from my words?) at my bourgie boarding school Milton Academy, when I used to agonize over being one of a handful of scholarship kids and being one of an even smaller handful of people of color. I evaded questions about what my parents did for a living and didn’t talk about what I was doing over vacations—because, clearly, my ass wasn’t going skiing in the Alps or scuba diving in the Yucatan Peninsula. That, however, wasn’t really an identity struggle as much as it was an experience in displaced-working-classness (i.e. what the fuck do I do with these people who don’t know a damn thing about work?) Some of the people I went to school with had farms and they understood what physical labor meant. But they weren’t the farmers who grew food to live; they weren’t the farmers who worried about Walmart and Costco and not being able to compete with lettuce grown in a place they have never had any reason to look for on a map. My classmates had big farms but even bigger cushions to fall on if something went wrong. They had second houses in the city where they escaped to when it got too cold and complicated in the country.

What I really struggled with as a teenager was the combination of my sexual and my ethnic identity. When I came out as bi (back then, I didn’t have the consciousness or vocabulary to be able to come out as queer), I immediately felt the awkward stares from the vast majority of the students at Milton. Whatever. That didn’t matter. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I really enjoy making people feel uncomfortable. Yet I felt alienation from the other students of color and that mattered big time. Suddenly I was faced with a really fucked up question: How can I be happily Puerto Rican and happily enjoy women at the same time?

In college, this was not a problem. Hybridity was hot and I found myself at home in a community of queer folks of color. Yet in 2003, when I started to spend more time in Puerto Rico, I felt the absence of a proud queer identity, especially that of Puerto Rican women. Gay boys were everywhere to be found (well not everywhere but at least they were visible), yet the gay women remained under the radar. This I contributed to the presence of a fierce machismo that all but silenced the vocalization of an alternative female sexuality, one that had nothing to do with men. I mean, God forbid a woman gets off without the help of a dick!

Which is why it is dope to come back to Puerto Rico and see a full-fledged queer movement fucking shit up. This Thursday, Puerto Ricans from all over the island took part in the Paro Nacional. Organized by students, labor unions, and civic groups, including the umbrella organization, Todo Puerto Rico Por Puerto Rico, the national strike was a success because of the approximately 200,000 people that took to the streets. Generally speaking, the demonstration was designed to bring the economy to a standstill, as a way of protesting the recently passed Ley 7. In March, Governor Luís Fortuño announced his Fiscal and Economic Recovery Plan, also known as La Ley 7, as a means of reducing the island’s massive debt. The law led to the layoffs of about 8,000 government workers in May and 16,470 in September. Those layoffs will leave us with an unemployment rate of about 20% yet somehow Governor Fortuño thinks this piece of legislation will help stimulate the economy.

Perhaps the most problematic facet of the legislation is the fact that it gives the government the power to suspend any agreements established through the collective bargaining process, thereby taking power away from workers and placing it solely in the hands of those of the privileged ruling class. It also paves the way for the further privatization of government services since those jobs that are being eliminated in the public sector are now being redeveloped by private industries. For sure Puerto Rico has not seen the end of the destruction of La Ley 7. Hundreds of millions of dollars still have to be saved and that will probably mean that the Fortuño administration will attempt to layoff more workers.

What does this have to do with the burgeoning queer movement here in Puerto Rico? Everything! At the national strike on Thursday, I was pleasantly surprised by the presence of radical queers spray painting phrases like “Cambio de Sexo Legal y Gratuito,” “Dile No al Discrimen por Orientación Sexual,” and “Los Gays También Somos Obreros.” Thursday’s strike, and all the organizing that led up to it and will follow it, was not just a manifestation of class struggle. It was also an expression of the desire on the part of many different kinds of Puerto Ricans to take back Puerto Rico and redefine it in radical terms. And the government knows that. That’s why Marcos Rodríguez Ema, the Secretary of State, called those who participate in the protests “terrorists.” He said of workers’ threats to close Puerto Rico’s ports: “Ya esto se está tirando hacia una anarquía, hacia los sabotajes del pasado.” Rodríguez Ema is equating grassroots organizing with terrorism because he knows the power that that label holds. He is criminalizing the ordinary Puerto Rican, pissed off with the way shit is going down, calling us anti-Puerto Rican when really we are defending the Puerto Rico we want for the future: A Puerto Rico that doesn't give in to corporate interests; a Puerto Rico that is anti-racist, anti-homophobic, and pro-woman; a Puerto Rico where everyone has a job and can support themselves and their families. Terrorists? Really?

The police know it, too. The superintendent of police, José Figueroa Sancha, attempted to dismiss the actions of students who blocked one of San Juan’s major highways, el expreso las Américas, by saying, “[el grupo de estudiantes universitarios] no representa al estudiantado porque son unos pocos.” Additionally, he tried to paint those students not just as enemies of the police or the government but enemies of the entire country: “Estaban preparados para hacer daño a la Policía de Puerto Rico y a personas que estuviesen ajenas allí. Incluyendo la Prensa.” Of course activists are going to disagree on how to bring about change. Maybe not every student or every union leader would have laid down in the middle of a highway to protest a law that attacks people in a time of fiscal crisis instead of helps them. The bottom line is, however, that the students of the University of Puerto Rico have been organizing for quite some time against the privatization of the university and have placed their fight clearly within the working class struggle. To say that the students were “unos pocos” is to ignore the purposeful association between student activist groups, unions, and civic organizations.

But back to the queers…

It is significant to me that the queer community had such an active and militant presence at the march on Thursday because it made the struggle for queer rights part of the national struggle. Suddenly, just like every Puerto Rican has the right to a free and public education or the right to join a union, every queer Puerto Rican should have the right to adopt a child, marry whomever they wish, or identify with whatever gender they wish. On Thursday October 15, 2009, queer politics were put on the national agenda in a loud and visible manner and it was dope. On that day, activists proclaimed that being queer was just another way of being Puerto Rican.

My good friend and roommate, Leona, used the occasion of the national strike to make a statement about President of the Senate Thomas Rivera Schatz, gender, police brutality, la Ley 7, and the current state of Puerto Rican politics in general. Leona decided to protest while all dolled up in a military-green dress, a Hitler mustache, and a red armband with a swastika. Yes, it was shocking. No, I wasn’t completely comfortable with the image but yes, I totally supported the act of parody. She walked around proclaiming that she was wearing “one of Rivera Schatz’s uniforms!” For Leona, the act of vistiendose, of dressing up in drag, is intrinsically a form of protest. And a drag queen Hitler/Rivera Schatz, representing both the turn of the Puerto Rican government to the extreme right and the increase in violent acts committed by the Puerto Rican police...well that just brings that protest to another level, huh? Leona was just one representation of the growing visibility of Puerto Rican queerness at the general strike. I have a feeling that one day soon (very soon, keep your eyes peeled), Leona will be back and a hope that this is only the beginning of the inclusion of queer politics on the Puerto Rican activist scene.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

we dont learn spanish in australia! translate please!

lechicbatik said...

Raquel, i am loving your blog

-Rio

Kiki said...

Hola
Esta cuir quiere saber: ¿Vas a seguir escribiendo sobre los cuires puertorros o tendré que esperar a mi próximo viaje para enterarme donde puedo salir a bailar con mi gente?
desde nola pa lola,
-c

Anonymous said...

hola....soy queer originalmente de mayaguez, pero he pasado los ultimos diez anos en los estados. pienso regresar en un mes, pero no conzco a nadie queer por alla-menos a queers radicales....
apreciaria cualquier informacion sobre donde/como encontrarlos, o colectivas, etc.
si tienes un break :)

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