Puerto Rico: Unveiling our collective silence

By Rossanna Echegoyén and Andrea Recarte

Puerto Rico, in English, Rich Port, is valued for its culture, landscapes and people. The island was claimed by the United States at the dawn of the 19th century, and has remained in the dark since then. Since 1917, Puerto Ricans can transit “freely” between their insular territory and the mainland of the US, however, this freedom is shadowed by their disenfranchisement. Doomed to a century of unincorporation and colonialism, Puerto Ricans are neither travelers nor owners of the land. 

Recently, vertiginous winds and storms battered Puerto Rico, The Dominican Republic and the United States. Fast and furious, Ian and Fiona once again instruct us about climate change and remind us of the damage we have inflicted upon the Earth and ourselves. These destructive winds teach us that our attempts to see ourselves as powerful and in control, are pointless when it comes to nature. However, the aftermath of our madness in the form of ruthless winds, also unveils vestiges of social injustice, poverty, class difference and lack of full citizenship on the island. Fierce and reckless, Fiona, and her predecessor María, both reveal the scarcity and suffering of the “commonwealth.” Furthermore, their remains contrast with those left in the United States’ “incorporated territory” given the fast and comparatively resourceful aid that those self-called “Americans” receive when tragedies occur. 

The contrast between the invisibility of Fiona and María, and the wide coverage that Ian, George and Andrew receive, can be a metaphor of a relationship between oppressed people and their oppressors. In a fashion very symbolic of their constant state of relative invisibility, habitants of the affected Puerto Rican areas remained in the dark for weeks, which mirrors their century-long path under the stronghold of the United States empire. The extended blackout signals that it is not only a natural catastrophe, but also an echo of colonization. Left to the realms of the unincorporated, Puerto Rico is really suffering a man-made disaster, inflicted not by Fiona and Maria, but by colonizers and white supremacists. 

As a result of the colonialism of the United States, Puerto Rico has been owned and simultaneously disowned, with its connections rendered dysfunctional by many years of scarcity and injustice. Powerful, settler-colonialists make efforts to have these powerless cities remain obscure, so they can continue to take advantage of this valued land. In other words, they devalue Puerto Ricans to remain in power. 

In the last months, in our collective communities as psychoanalytic practitioners, the silence on our Section 9’s listserv and elsewhere about the acuity of colonization in Puerto Rico rings loud of complicity with the oppressors.  As we watched and witnessed the news, especially in New York where there is a large population of Puerto Ricans in the city, we were silent.  We would like to interrogate this silence that perpetuates the marginalization of people that we share offices with, classes with and who have families who suffer without electricity, gas or potable water.  Why is Puerto Rico not part of the discourse of oppression, racism, marginalization and colonization? We speak of colonization, many times, as a past trauma, yet we are witnessing it right before our very eyes and doing nothing.  The Puerto Rican people are being abandoned, an experience they share with hurricane victims in New Orleans.  As we bear witness to the people of Puerto Rico experience collective trauma of not only being abandoned, but not being rescued, being forgotten, but overall being silenced due to their lack of full citizenship.

What is this collective silence when it comes to Puerto Rico and their ongoing struggle to emerge victoriously from an imperialistic society? 

How can we, as socially responsible practitioners and teachers, include the traumatic narrative of Puerto Rico in the discourse of anti-oppression? 

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