Dorothy by Tamara Cedre

Dorothy is a promising graduate student at LaUPI (University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras.) Her powerful writing has been published across several media outlets, exploring the intersections of race and class on the island. The colonial trauma she often writes about surfaced during the hurricanes, when her studies were disrupted and she found herself without campus housing and little support from the administration. Classes were suspended for months and some parts of campus were completely inaccessible.

Many stateside colleges offered La UPI students an opportunity to continue studying at their campuses in the short term. Although these initiatives might have been helpful to a portion of UPR’s student body that could afford the related expenses of transplanting to a new campus, it left many, like Dorothy, without those choices. This is contributing to a brain drain where the existing campus suffers as the student body dwindles. Funding from tuition is needed to address power outages, closed research centers, damaged classrooms and mold problems. 

The disruption the hurricanes caused came on the heels of earlier student and faculty protests, as extreme budget cuts significantly disrupted the university’s operations during the spring semester. The fiscal control board  implemented more cuts to the uni with a 50% tuition hike, creating deep hardships for most of the student body. Dorothy told me many students and professors will be effected by the downturn over the next few months, as they slash wages / retirement benefits for instructional staff and close campus access to rural areas where students must overcome tremendous adversity to attend. For students like Dorothy, the future is unclear. 

What is the future of the university system when it is inaccessible to the most vulnerable populations? How will this shape the research? 

Amado by Tamara Cedre

Amado is an activist and artist living in San Juan with his wife and son. We first met each other at protest rallies against the fiscal control board in Hato Rey. The fiscal control board was installed by U.S. Congress for the process of addressing the island's failing economy. The island's debt, accumulated by unscrupulous investments and predatory lending, was never audited and no vote ever took place on how to restructure it. Instead, the U.S. president of the time, Barack Obama, appointed the members of the board, most of whom were chosen from a list of individuals recommended by congressional leaders and had previous ties to profitable industries in Puerto Rico. This oversight board has broad powers to overrule decisions by all of Puerto Rico's elected officials. On it's agenda has been to slash public pensions, close public schools and lower wages. 

Austerity measures have left working families with little in the way of employment security or educational opportunities. Jobs have become more demanding for less pay and lottery systems determine placement in the best schools as public education faces the worst downturn in history. Amado told me of the difficulties he's had in trying to secure a safe, affordable school for his son to attend. 

"We make incredible sacrifices to put our child in private school. If I want my son to attend a good public school, we have to win a lottery, because the openings go to those with high position in the community—like professors or doctors or whatever. It's like 'you can afford to send your child to a private school, why do you choose to take the spaces away from people who really need it?"

As we continued to talk, Amado asked to speak in Spanish, because he sees retaining language as a form of resistance, preserving a way of life on the island that is slowly dying. He views the U.S. as a colonial oppressor that has held his nation in bondage for 120 years. Amado says that public schools don't often teach that history.

As the local government encourages foreign investment and privatization to rebuild the economy, some on the island have called on the U.S. to make Puerto Rico the 51st state. But, many Boricuas feel American citizenship was thrust upon them against their will. There is a deep mistrust that, like Hawaii, residents will be pushed to the margins and they will lose their land and culture.

On the fourth of July, he writes:

"No hay nada que grite colonizadx mejor que celebrar la independencia del país que nos tiene esclavizadxs. Pero claro, todo animal que nace en cautiverio también cree que su parcela enrejada es el mundo entero y que la comida que recibe es un obsequio."

"There is nothing that screams colonized better than to celebrate the independence of the country that has you enslaved. But of course, every animal that is born in captivity also thinks that their caged plot is the whole entire world and that the food they receive is a gift."