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Letter to a Puerto Rican Friend

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Message mahdi ibn-ziyad
My Friend:

Thanks for sharing your ideas and concerns about Puerto Rico and its day in the sun, re: the presidential primary visit of Senator Barack Obama and Senator HillaryClinton. I think it's just great that Puerto Ricans get to have a huge say in the primary race for the presidency. I know many (who advance the idea of statehood) may wish that the same was true for the general election in the fall.

But because of Puerto Rico's peculiar status as a commonwealth (some would hold as America's colony) there's no chance for a general election vote. A re-evaluation of the island's status, via plebiscite must take place before this happens.

As an outsider I must be careful here, but I think there are benefits to the commonwealth status that may not happen if statehood were to be achieved. One such benefit concerns the continued promulgation of the Spanish language and teaching of Spanish culture that may be hurt with a move to statehood. Voting in presidential elections is a benefit but not the huge benefit that some may think.

On the other hand, many islanders and folk here on the mainland still have the spirit of independence in their hearts. The call for Puerto Rico Libre is still there and just will not die a happy death because at base many still desire a liberty that was snatched away in 1898 when the U.S. flag was planted at El Moro.

I lived in Puerto Rico for 3 years while stationed at Ramey Air Force Base in Aquadilla back in the late 1960's. I attended college classes at Inter-American University in San German where I studied Latin American history and the history of black enslavement and gross Taino Indian genocide (both true crimes against humanity of the gravest sort) in the early American adventures of the Iberian conquistadors.

I learned a lot about the meaning of African enslavement by studying the histories of cities like Ponce, P.R., Santo Domingo (in the Dominican Republic), and Santiago de Cuba --- all huge slave ports where blacks were imported from West African kingdoms and re-sold throughout the Spanish Main. I remember reading about El Grito de Lares and the fight to end black enslavement in Puerto Rico which also became a fight for general independence from Spain - an effort led by such heroic leaders as Lola Rodriquez Tio, Ramon Betances, Eugenio Hostos and others who may have remembered the inspirationfor liberation of Rafael Cordero.

Later, after the 1898 American imposition and imperialist takeover of Cuba, the Philippines and Puerto Rico --- under the independista leadership of El Maestro, Don Pedro Albeizu Campos (who was a mulatto of mixed black and white heritage), the struggle for self-determination proceeds on to this day.

Meanwhile, the magnificent work of the Afro-Rican bibliophile of Harlem, NYC --- Arturo Schomberg --- has left its mark on Black American History celebrations across America and has, at the same time, reminded black Americans that black history is not confined to continental USA. So you see Don Pedro Albeizu Campos and his Cuban counterpart Antonio Maceo are true heroes to conscious black Americans who are aware of how our own black history transcends national boundaries and must include the Afro-Spanish, Afro-Brazilians (and Afro-Dutch, Afro-French and others of the African diaspora) who number over 200 million souls all over Latin America. That the Chicano population is much larger than the Puerto Ricans is a fact long known.

Of late, the arrival of more and more Mexican immigrants and guest worker (documented or otherwise) has added to any inter-ethnic (Hispanic) tensions that may have accumulated over time. This is not merely a matter between Puerto Ricans and Mexican American. The resolution to this question must also be part of the larger dialog on inter-ethnic, inter-racial and inter-class relations in America.

That America is a multi-national and multi-cultural state has not yet made much of an impression upon official thinking, at least as regards inter-tribal power sharing on any equitable basis. On the one hand, the old guard white or Euro-American power elites have not yet seen fit to engage in the face to face that will lead to a more expansive and inclusive tomorrow's tomorrows. The institutional levers of all-around societal power are still monopolized by those predominately white, English speaking Americans of European ancestry who set the rules over and control the major means of national survival: the industries, finance capital, technology, the military, media, scientific production and all other social control institutions that make up this North American nation-state.

But change is on the horizon and it may be within our more immediate grasp. With the Obama (and Clinton) presidential campaign, and its necessary discourses on race, ethnicity and gender issues, the status-quo ante may be changing before our eyes. The fact that the Democratic presidential field early on included a Chicano Hispanic (Governor Bill Richardson) hopeful in the primaries, suggests a loosening up of long held attitudes and traditions that have tended toward the of exclusion of minorities, women (and the LGBT community) from serious leading roles in the shaping of America's political landscape.

Latter day demographics among a broad sweep of the white middle to upper class electorate have shown that there is in fact a willingness to break through some of the lingering social divisions that have hampered America's real prospects for being an all-people's democratic state, rather that a limited arrangement for some long privileged racial majority. Even working class whites may be more open to power inclusion and sharing strategies than we have been led to believe by forces in the Clinton primary campaign.

If the Democratic presidential nominee proves to be Obama one thinks that this class will vote its class, peace and economic interests which will likely be discounted against any amount of latent or manifest racial and cultural chauvinism some elements of this class of the white electorate may hold. It is my hope that his campaign has opened up a new front for more fruitful interactions about the mutual concerns we have. Let this be our prayer as he and Senator Hillary Clinton push forward in Puerto Rico. For justice and peace before dawn ...

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Dr. Ibn-Ziyad has demonstrated an abiding concern for racial justice, humanitarian and environmental issues and has been active as a member or leader (1988-present) in the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (Washington, DC), the (more...)
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