How to not discuss Puerto Rico…

The American Studies Association, of which I am a member, had a statement on the situation in Puerto Rico, and for me, to be honest… It was not a good statement. I’ll paste here and edit something I posted previously on social media:

With some very good scholars on the Executive Committee, no one apparently thought about directly naming the problems. Furthermore, it was not clear, unfortunately, if they consulted Puerto Rican scholars about this, since I don’t think –although I could be mistaken– that anyone on the Exec Committee identifies as Puerto Rican.

In the statement, there is no mention of the unaccountable and un-payable debt or the Junta government; there are also euphemistic terms like “acquisition,” as opposed to military invasion or occupation. And then, this very baffling point: “nor have they [Puerto Ricans] ever had sufficient representation in Congress.” To be clear, Puerto Ricans have no vote in Congress. None; at all. So “sufficient” sounds like another euphemistic wording. The American Studies Association has a responsibility, given that the membership includes some high school teachers and mostly higher ed faculty, to be much more precise, since I assume this will set some direction of what is taught in classrooms. But furthermore, Puerto Rico’s problem is not one of simple political participation or representation. After all, just look at Hawai’i or Alaska, as fully incorporated non-contiguous U.S. “states” where colonization is very much an ongoing process left unaddressed and unresolved by Congressional representation (and this obviously can be seen within the territorial “mainland” too, no doubt). Why not, if you’re the ASA, shift the discussion to decolonization?

What’s worse, from my perspective, is the perpetuation of a problematic myth that the aftermath of the hurricanes is a symptom of, in their word, “abandonment” and not specific colonial policies of austerity and privatization. (Did the Whitefish scandal seem like a case of abandonment?) In fact, the statement is short and it does not even make clear at first what they are addressing (hurricanes? climate change? colonialism?), until the next-to-last sentence, that is — but it comes with the same mistaken point about abandonment: the “doubled effects of the hurricanes and insufficient federal governmental attention.”

The statement is a meager two paragraphs long and some loose change, calling for donations and this very lazy, chilly line: a call “to continue both to illuminate the histories underlying and the effects of the current U.S. government’s relationship to Puerto Rico, and to mobilize resources for relief efforts toward recovery.” Isn’t that what many in the ASA are trying to do anyway: teach and mobilize efforts? The problem here is that the ASA, with this “abandonment” thesis, among other issues in the short statement, is making that work, in fact, much harder.