Originally published in LatinTRENDS Magazine
Article and photo by Damaly Gonzalez
As I walk down on the right side of 116th Street towards Second Avenue in El Barrio, on my way to Camaradas to talk to one of the founders of Defend Puerto Rico, I spot a replica of the Puerto de la Bandera, a landmark in Old San Juan, across the street.
The door was recreated by an all-female artist collective, Moriviví from Puerto Rico. Although now painted gold, the flag was once black and white as a symbol of continuous mourning after the PROMESA bill was passed in June of this year.
The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act is the United States Congress’s resolution in response to the $72 billion debt crippling the island, in an overhaul to completely take over Puerto Rico’s finances.
The Act’s ironic acronym meaning, “promise,” should be meant as a positive solution from this disastrous situation. But what PROMESA really promises is: lowering minimum wage to $4.25 an hour for workers 25 years old and younger, a push to close institutions like schools to pay off the debt quickly, increasing the poverty and crime rate and much more, all while being managed by Congress-appointed officials, none selected by the Puerto Rican people.
The most depressing part is that the Act was backed by U.S. President Barack Obama, Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and Puerto Rican governor Alejandro García Padilla. In addition, more Democrats voted for PROMESA than Republicans.
Puerto Rico is currently in a humanitarian crisis. According to Mic, “58.4% of Puerto Ricans under 18 are in poverty and live in families that make less than $20,000 annually. One third of Puerto Rico’s public schools have closed and doctors are leaving at a rate of one per day.”
Understanding the serious political problem, the people of Puerto Rico and of the diaspora are creating initiatives and coming together to express themselves, demand change, and protest against PROMESA and its administration.
One of the initiatives, born out of the necessity to tell the stories of the struggles from the people’s own mouths on the island, is Defend Puerto Rico, a multimedia project designed to document and celebrate Puerto Rican creativity, resilience, and resistance, started by four male artists from New York City.
“Our message is to show unity. Bringing the Puerto Ricans of the diaspora and the island and trying to do something positive. Interview the people on video that are living there, struggling and going through this fight but also doing positive things amongst this crisis,” says co-founder, artist and educator, Adrián ‘Viajero’ Román.
Unity is the right word to use in defending Puerto Rico and in the fight against re-colonization.
On August 31st, the same day I spoke with Adrián, Puerto Rican activists were successful in shutting down the first scheduled PROMESA Conference in San Juan. Defend Puerto Rico recorded the event.
“Educate yourself about the issues. People need to know what’s happening before they can know how to help, figure out how to do something, or even figuring out how others can allow you in, to see where you fit,” says Adrián when asked about a call-to-action for the people.
Watch Defend Puerto Rico’s videos on Facebook.