What does the decay of a once-proud empire look like? If you are reading this on an I-pad in an airport, perhaps even the faint reflection of your own furrowed brow is not enough of a clue. The early warning sings are more clearly observed on the periphery, in this case the Caribbean, home of the world’s last, best colony. For over a month, students at the University of Puerto Rico have been striking against a regime of privatization imposed by a governor whose strongest ambition is to pursue a more perfect union with a body politic actively engaged in expelling his own people.
How many times have we seen this passion play before? The sight of young idealists, not yet hardened by the cynical realities of hypocritical compromise, being beaten, and in this postmodern age, tasered, followed by those shell-shocked elders, who never felt comfortable staying quiet, wheezing and choking from tear gas, fleeing a palace of luxury from which the propertied classes unleash their goon squads? Even the hardly progressive Anibal of our discontent could hardly believe what he was seeing.
In search of the family I belong to, the people of Puerto Rico, I have found myself embracing the artificial light of Plaza Las Américas. That’s why the students brought their plena politics up and down its escalators last weekend. But the University is the space where reality plays out, and this largest mall of the Caribbean, even with its new T.J. Maxx and Burlington Coat Factory, has become our diabetic coma of pan, tierra, and Yanquilidad.
Even La Comay knows better. Ese viejito, Jim Bunning, ostensibly a laughable representative (sorry, Senator) of America’s Greatest Generation decay, is in reality the same-o same-o that Basquiat died for. For those of you who missed it, the partial transcript from last week’s Puerto Rico “Democracy” Act hearings of this exchange between Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky and Rubén Berríos, the leader of the Puerto Rican Independence Party:
We get three Puerto Ricans together, we can get an argument anytime.
That’s what I mean about the cavalier, condescending attitude of Congress..
Well I happen to have lived in Puerto Rico for quite a while—
And I understand Puerto Rico pretty well.
In fact I played for Marianel and had the—
It was not Marianel, that was in Cuba, we played for Caguas, in Puerto Rico.
I managed Caguas. So I have a very strong affinity with Puerto Rico and I am troubled by self-determination…
Yes, troubled, we are all troubled by the pain on the periphery.
And, below the radar, of course, we are slowly undone by the chaos in the colony.