The Tisch event on Puerto Rican politics is the first in a series of speakers entirely in Spanish
The Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life virtually hosted its first-ever all-Spanish speaker series event on October 13 during Hispanic Heritage Month. The event, titled “The Oldest Colony in the World: Perspectives on Puerto Rico’s Political Future,” Featured international human rights lawyer Annette Martínez-Orabona (F’08) and Ed Morales, journalist and lecturer at Columbia University. The discussion offered a live translation into English.
Alberto Medina, Head of the Communication Team at the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tisch College (CIRCLE), who moderated the event, explained the importance of discussing Puerto Rico in the language most accessible to the inhabitants of the island.
“I think there was a compromise we were making”, he said. “I think I explained in the introduction to the event why I thought it was important to do it in Spanish for the sake of equity and inclusion of the community we were talking about.”
Medina added that Tisch had decided on the live interpretation for the event to allow non-Spanish speakers to more meaningfully follow the discussion.
“Our original plan was to do live captions,” Medina said. “Instead, we thought it would be more engaging for people to be able to listen to someone’s voice and then have simultaneous interpretation, instead of just having to read the whole event. [in English for] people who didn’t speak Spanish.
Guest speakers engaged in a variety of political issues facing Puerto Ricans today, going from historical context of the current territorial government To climate change and economic crisis.
Porto Rico, who has been an American territory since 1898, has faced ongoing questions about his future, including whether to pursue US statehood or independence. Many on the island, according to Medina, do not think the status quo is acceptable.
Martínez-Orabona told The Daily that additional tensions have built up in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria hit the territory in 2017.
“There were points of inflection which made emerge a feeling, a collective feeling, that something must change”, she said. “Certainly after Hurricane Maria, things became untenable for us in our daily lives. It’s just difficult. It was difficult before, but it’s getting worse and worse.
Valérie Infante, founder and president of the Puerto Rican Association, echoed Martínez-Orabona reflections on the impact of Hurricane Maria, given Puerto Rico’s current territorial status.
“The effects of Hurricane Maria really exacerbated the colonial status of Puerto Rico due to the lack of aid from the United States” Infante, a junior, said. “This point of view is often silenced, whether through political parties, the elderly or the United States itself.”
Martínez-Orabona said there was currently a human rights crisis in Puerto Rico, with little help from the US government.
“People don’t know if they will be able to pay for their retirement or basic services like housing, energy, electricity or water” she said. “Puerto Rico is one of the jurisdictions in the United States with the highest prices for electric bills.”
Infante said that the perspectives that Martínez-Orabona and Moral brought to the conversation contrasted the most commonly heard tales about Puerto Rico.
“I think that was a very critical lens of the United States that I think needed to be expressed in a university like this, a predominantly white institution that has a broad international relations program,” she said. “I think that was making a statement.”
At the heart of these issues is the complicated relationship Porto Rico has with the United States. The the speakers of the event cited the territorylack of self-determination and lack of commitment from the US government hampering Puerto Rico’s ability to build a prosperous future. Martínez-Orabona identified Puerto Rico’s legal status as a contradiction to the values of self-government at the heart of the United States Constitution.
“We don’t even have, in my opinion, a valid, self-elected government in Puerto Rico”, she said. “What we have is a board of directors, made up of seven people who are appointed by the President of the United States… and they make these decisions for us on our behalf.”
Despite these feelings, Martínez-Orabona says some Puerto Ricans are still wary of a future divorcee from the United States.
“You know you hear it from your parents, from your grandparents and … there are even phrases that have been popularized with it like: ‘Que nos haríamos sin ella’ – ‘What will we do without this flag’ – referring to the United States, ” she said.
Medina sees a bright future for Puerto Rico if the international community comes together to promote the best interests of the island.
“I think we need a bit of everything”, he said. “Puerto Rico goes to the United Nations every year and pleads for its case to be seen, not only by the Decolonization Committee… but by the General Assembly. Because the truth is that the United States went to the General Assembly in 1952 and removed Puerto Rico from its list of Non-Self-Governing Territories. The international community therefore had a role to play at that time. Maybe he should have a role now.
The best solution for Puerto Rico, according to Martínez-Orabona, is a country in which Puerto Rico has sufficient stability to make a decision about its future regardless of the pressures exerted on it by the century of occupation.
“The occupying state is supposed to provide, facilitate and engage with the territory, to ensure that this territory has sustainable means to leave and support itself” she said. “And once you have that, you can ask, ‘Do you want to keep this relationship? Do you want to integrate into the United States or do you want to become an independent state? “