The British Professor Raymond Carr in his book, Puerto Rico A Colonial Experiment (Vintage Books, 1984), with the supposed objectivity of someone not involved, describes us with a not very generous appraisal of how we are.
“Such pessimism can be seen as characteristic of the exaggerated general discomfort of the West in recession, another symptom of a Puerto Rican illness; the insistent importance of their singular problem, perversely ignored by the world in general and the United States in particular…
The national political status divides the claustrophobic world of Puerto Rico into three areas of discourse, each propelled by its own myths, its vision of the past and specific recommendations for the future.
The obsessive and byzantine discussion may rise to provide an innocuous occupation for academics and for the politically minded with a legalistic bent. But for Puerto Ricans, national status doesn’t just involve a concept of their identity or a vision of their history; it appears to interfere with job prospects, income level and life options…
For the residents of the community in this tiny, politically introverted island, the matter is of supreme importance.”
As a Zocotroco educated in behavioral sciences, I do not find it flattering to refer to our most disturbing cultural issue as an illness, it belittles the indignation of our imminent problem proposing it is a pathology. More so when he labels our world as claustrophobic, our discussions obsessive and byzantine, and our debate as innocuous. I will not debate the truth in his opinion; I do regret his choice of words.
The documentary The Last Colony written and directed by Juan A. Márquez (now showing in theaters) confirms the crucial importance of status for Puerto Ricans. A most welcome effort to put in current perspective the lasting issue; an attempt to break with the claustrophobic introversion and advance dialogue with the people up North, a fair and representative sample of how we think and feel about the status.
Márquez is a Puerto Rican documentalist, living in L.A. with previous credits in 100,00 Dogs and Los 17, both winners of EMMY awards. The title of the documentary brings to mind the book, Puerto Rico, the Trials of the Oldest Colony in the World, by José Trías Monje, an accomplished jurist and architect of the Constitution of the Commonwealth (Estado Libre Asociado), where he passes judgment on the status of the Island. Professor Carr is right, the status is crucial for Puerto Ricans.
The effort of the filmmaker to focus on the facts is noteworthy. Passion is provided by testimonials, incipient to the circumspect sobriety portrayed by all the characters interviewed. Cancel Miranda is the only one who speaks in Spanish, with the conviction provided by his courage and sacrifice. One of many voices that put into context the relation between Puerto Rico and the USA, in a fluid movement of statements, leading to the 2012 referendum, including the reaction in the Island as well as up North.
As testimonials accumulate, it is clear that none of the political parties are satisfied with the prevailing formula. The Populares procure enhancement of powers for the Commonwealth, concerned with a certain loss of identity and language if granted admission to the union. Pro statehood followers caress the ideals of equality, counter arguing that identity is not threatened, facing the challenge of acquiring a super majority of 75%. Pro independence advocates promote the dignity of sovereignty and the political, legal and ideological contradictions involved, and they predicts separatism in case statehood were granted.
Who is who in Island politics delivers their personal view; to name then all would require an unreasonable amount of limited space. Let it be said that they all present vibrant conviction in their interpretation of what we are, are not, what we could and want to be. Not an easy task, made confusing by the power of our emotional convictions. The conclusion is: Burundanga. To the eye of this beholder, the diversity of opinions, together with the results of the plebiscite leaves me with more uncertainty and ambiguity, not because of the filmmaker but because of the subject matter; since ever riddled by contradiction and confusion. What is imminent and irrefutable is that the U.S. President has appropriated $2.5 million for a referendum in 2016, the fifth one, this time supported by the Federal Government.
The Last Colony is the product of three long years of labor and dedication of a talented filmmaker, committed to contribute to a better understanding of our political culture. A spark to initiate or continue a dialogue, preferably outside of party lines, to think about the future of the Island. Perhaps this is the time to feel optimistic, the path to break with our obsession, to solve the excruciating problem of status, and move to other obsessions that free us from stagnation. Bravo Juan!
Copyright 2015 by José M. Umpierre.