A Breath of Fresh Air

​After a year where I was able to go to travel to various places across 4 different continents I thought it was important to understand the nature of travel and the things we are often blinded to during those travels. I hope this poem captures that a bit:

A breath of fresh air

A saying that goes without saying
Goes without words indicating
That it is a positive in the life of the person in which it’s permeating
But how different this breath can be

You step off the 747 plane and onto the island of which it’s inhabitants you know nothing of
Fuck do you care you just trying to soak up the sun
Vacation, your breath of fresh air

I wonder how the fuck I’m going to pay my rent this month
Landlord beating down my door
Unemployment rates sore
My son wonder why I never take him to the store
Why the gift flow has slowed
Does daddy not love him no more?
I light up my spliff hoping to mend my soul, it’s torn
Take a breath of fresh air

You lay back on the beaches soaking in the sun
See a cutie wearing little to none
wink your way as she takes her morning run
You smile and take a sip of that pineapple rum
Breath of fresh air

I demean and destroy myself everyday
Not sure how it got here, shit we don’t own no boats no planes
At least with this my happiness is feigned
The only time I’ve seen this much white is when I look at those in power
I pull that powder so deep I can barely see
Through my nose I breath my breath of fresh air

You come back from jet setting
To invest heavy in the oppressed deadly addictions
Fast food, consumerism, and television
Check your accounts and realize that you are set for life
You can retire early and your kids can take their time and find themselves
You done enough dirty to take care of them till they are past thirty
You lean back in your leather chair overlooking the skyline of the city you tear
And take a breath of fresh air

I fight and scrap because that’s the only way I know how
Shit I’ll fight my brother if it means we can move up out this town
Swollen fists, bloody noses, guns, knives are my tools chosen
It’s how I express my intent to live
By any means necessary
My mean is necessary to survive
My cope is so dope no lyric heard, read or spoke could give you this feeling
So I’m leaning back feeling it flow through our veins forgetting all the pain, all the pain,

I breath my last breath of fresh air

– Written from the perspective of Jose Cosme, Jaime “Jimmy” Cosme, and Juan “Lefty” Rivera.

Nuyoricans lost to the system too soon.

RIP

Advertisements

(In)Dependence Day For Puerto Ricans

On July 4, 1898, in the Central Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, the Reverend J. F. Carson read from the Holy Bible, “And Joshua took the whole land, and the land rested from war.” He sermonized that “the high, the supreme business of this Republic is to end the Spanish rule in America, and if to do that it is necessary to plant the stars and stripes on Cuba, Porto Rico, the Philippines or Spain itself, America will do it.” That same night, in the Presbyterian Church of Fifth Avenue, the Reverend Robert MacKenzie prophesied, “God is calling a new power to the front. The race of which this nation is the crown . . . is now divinely thrust out to take its place as a world power.” Senator Albert J. Beveridge also saw a divine plan. “God has not been preparing the English-speaking and Teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing,” he declared. “He has made us adept in government so that we may administer government amongst savages and senile peoples.”

On July 21, 1898, the US government issued a press release stating, “Porto Rico will be kept. . . . Once taken it will never be released. It will pass forever into the hands of the Unites States. . . . Its possession will go towards making up the heavy expense of the war to the United States. Our flag, once run up there, will float over the island permanently.” On the floor of the US Senate, Republican Senator Joseph B. Foraker declaimed, “Porto Rico differs radically from any other people for whom we have legislated previously. . . . They have no experience which would qualify them for the great work of government with all the bureaus and departments needed by the people of Porto Rico.”

This is what “independence” means to a 2016 colony, the last colony in the world, Puerto Rico.

People may be aware of the recent news that has been highlighting the Puerto Rican economic crisis, 73 Billion US dollars of debt hanging over the head of the Puerto Rican people.  That is over 20,000 US dollars per person living on the island.

Currently there is a bill that was signed by President of Obama called PROMESA that was supposed to help with the restructuring of the debt for the people of the island of Puerto Rico.  Here are some highlights of the bill:

  • No clear path to restructuring the debt, no clear bankruptcy or restructuring protocol or procedure is outlined.
  • The installation of a Financial Control Board of the island that can overrule any financial decision made and voted on by the people or governmental bodies of Puerto Rico.
  • This Financial Control Board is allowed to receive “gifts”, no description on what is meant by “gifts”, on the bill though it is obvious this creates the inherent conditions for bribery.
  • The people of the Financial Control Board are to be selected by the US Senate, where Puerto Rico has no voting representation at all, and approved by the President. Not a single one of these people have to have any ties to the island.
  • The minimum wage of the island will be reduced to $4.25 for workers under the age of 25 on the island, a place where Cost of Living is already drastically higher than most other places in the US.

This bill obviously exerts the colonial rule of the US over Puerto Rico in 2016.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Other things are contributing to the miserable human and social conditions of the island.

  • Puerto Ricans pay the same amount for Medicaid as any other state or US territory but they only receive 50% of the Medicaid benefits that other states and territories receive. This coupled with the economic crisis has helped contribute to the closing of hospitals and clinics throughout the island creating a health crisis on the island that is already experiencing the Zika virus scare and the possibility of poisonous gasses being sprayed on the island to kill the Zika virus at the detriment to the health of the Puerto Rican people.  That gas spray is being protested by the people of the island.
  • Schools are being closed and privatized due to lack of funds. University of Puerto Rico has raised its tuition again making educational attainment ever more difficult for people already struggling to meet high tuition costs.
  • Public Beaches are being sold and privatized to pay for the debt. Obama also announced the “Promise Zone” which favors US developers to build resorts, entertainment, and high end real estate on the eastern part of the island.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will no longer monitor water resources in Puerto Rico because the island’s government owes it $2 million

The slow death of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican people through an economic and colonial chokehold has gone mostly unnoticed and unchecked.  The reason why it has gone mostly unnoticed is because most people don’t know how it got this bad or that it really is this bad.  Until the debt crisis and PROMESA no one really knew anything about Puerto Rico outside maybe Jenifer Lopez and Marc Anthony.  Even many people within the Dream Defenders organization know little about Puerto Rican people or the history of US oppression in Puerto Rico despite the use of the Young Lords in the DNA development.  DD is no outlier here, many Puerto Ricans don’t even know the history of the island that led to these conditions.  That is due to the incredible refusal of US media to cover things pertaining to the island and, until recently, a scarcity of educational resources detailing the progressive destruction and now, in my opinion, a guided gentrification of the island and slow murder of the Puerto Rican people.  It would take too long for me to detail these things but if anyone is interested in taking a deeper dive read War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson Denis.

Now why have these oppressive forces gone unchecked?  There are many factors that have contributed to the inability for Puerto Rican Freedom Fighters to do so through legislative or political means.

  1. Puerto Ricans on the island are unable to vote for the President of the United States.
  2. Puerto Ricans have no vote in congress, only an elected representative who can speak to the issues on the island but has no voting power at all.
  3. The Supreme Court ruled that Puerto Rico is in fact a “Territorial Possession” of the US and therefore any law or decision made by any governmental faction of the island can be, and usually is, superseded by the United States Senate.
  4. Puerto Rico was not allowed to vote for any government representatives on the island until 1941. Electing their first governor Luis Munoz Marin.
  5. 1953 Gag Law made it illegal to outwardly show any support for any Puerto Rican independence movement, which included even owning a Puerto Rican flag.
  6. 1917 US Citizenship granted to Puerto Ricans, only months before World War I draft is initiated. This allowed the US to exploit the people of the island for military means as well as recruit island people to the mainland to serve as cheap labor in industrialized cities in the US guised as the “American Dream.” This creation of the Puerto Rican diaspora has created a rift between mainland Puerto Ricans and island Puerto Ricans especially through language.

This also doesn’t directly account for the 1943 proposed Tydings bill that outlined a path to independence for Puerto Rico similar to that given to the Philippines that was blocked by then governor Luis Munoz Marin, who ran on the platform “Pan, Tierra, Y Libertad” (translated: Bread, Land, and Liberty).  Why would someone running on that platform vote against the bill.  FBI files show that J Edgar Hoover, a familiar name to Black Liberation movements in the US, had evidence that Marin had made an FBI case against him for drug trafficking and use “disappear” and J Edgar Hoover threatened that he would pursue not only the drug charges but federal fraud charges as well.  This was all the “incentive” Marin needed to betray his people and convince Congress that the Puerto Rican people were uninterested in independence. This wouldn’t be the last time that Hoover would be involved in infiltration and disruption of Puerto Rican independence movements.

Beyond the legislative pursuit, there also have been many different independence movements on the island that have sought to free the people of the island by “Any Means Necessary” if you will.  The US, at every turn squashed all movements towards independence created outside the US corrupted Puerto Rican political system.  Some of the main incidences are listed below.

  • 1937 The Ponce Massacre, the Puerto Rican Insular Police murder 19 peaceful marchers for Puerto Rico independence, including a 13 year old. They would later use photography and media to create the appearance that the independents instigated the shooting though it was later discovered that none of them were armed.
  • Pedro Albizu Campos Nationalistas bombed in Jayuya, PR by US Air Force in 1950. Shortly after Pedro Albizu and others would be arrested on charges of conspiracy.  Albizu Campos would be used for radiation testing while in prison causing him to get cancer and leading to his eventual death.
  • The Young Lords, a more household name stateside, were riddled with FBI infiltrators, fictitious arrests, and trumped up charges similar to that of the Black Panthers.
  • 1981 Oscar Lopez Rivera is arrested for seditious conspiracy for his involvement in FALN, a Marxist-Leninist Puerto Rican independence movement organization. At 35 years he is among the longest held political prisoners in the history of Puerto Rico and in the world.

This culture of infiltration and subjugation by over policing, AKA “The Trap”, has been existing in Puerto Rico since the beginning of Puerto Rico’s pursuit of independence.  As recently as 2012 the ACLU and the DOJ completed an investigation of the Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD), which was founded in 1898 the year the US occupied the island of Puerto Rico.  The systemic use of the PRPD to subjugate the PR people into docility and fear is apparent through this report. Below are some highlights.

  • Use of excessive and lethal force against civilians, especially in poor and Black neighborhoods and Dominican communities, often resulting in serious injury and death.
  • Violent suppression of peaceful protestors using batons, rubber bullets, and a toxic form of tear gas that was phased out by mainland U.S. police departments in the 1960’s.
  • Failure to protect victims of domestic violence and to investigate reported crimes of domestic violence, rape, and other gender-based crimes.
  • Between 2005 and 2010, more than 1,700 police officers were arrested for crimes including murder, assault, and drug trafficking. That’s roughly 10 percent of the force.

The similarities between the current state of Black America and the trap used to subjugate black communities through economics, gentrification and disruption of black communities, and the use of the TRAP are eerily familiar.

Don Pedro Albizu Campos once said “[US] cares more about the cage than the bird.”  Our cage is physical, mental, and spiritual.  Colonialism has infiltrated our very veins through the 118 years of US rule over Puerto Rico. Now as the conditions have worsened for the people on the island to a breaking point independence movements and solidarity movements have begun to take form. It will be a long and difficult road but what more could be worth fighting and dying for than Freedom?  Vive Puerto Rico Libre!

 

Elsewhere 

I lay in bed after a long day Hoping you would come 

Hoping I won’t have to say

When you come I want you to come to stay

Delusions flooding through my brain 

Thinking my touch can raise 

Feelings in you no other man can attain 

Areas of your mind areas of your frame

I plant my flag and let it wave

How fragile the ego

She straps her six inch heels

That she wears for the appeal

Conceals her heavenly essence

And takes her blessings

Elsewhere 

“What Are You? Confusions of the Racially, Ethnically, and Culturally Ambiguous”

“What Are You? Confusions of the Racially, Ethnically, and Culturally Ambiguous”

 

“What are you?” is a question I have heard all too often throughout my life. You would think that, after being asked it so often, I would by now have more clarity on how to answer it. But it seems the more it is asked the murkier the waters get.

In our society “what are you?” is how we ask about racial, ethnic, and cultural identities. But how do I even begin to answer this question? Sometimes I want to say “a humanoid” but I know that answer will only beg further questioning, so I resist.

In America racial, ethnic, and cultural identities have always held tremendous weight in regards to status, achievement, and perceived value. With so much weight placed on this one single question, I better get it right.

Both of my parents parents have roots in Juana Diaz–a city in Puerto Rico–but they both grew up in New York City so most would refer to them as “Nuyorican”.

My mom (and all her siblings) gives the outward appearance of white and she associates as a white Latina (I believe but I honestly have never asked but we will operate on that assumption). Though she is 1/8th Taino Indian and embraces those roots as well. So I guess that would expand her identity to White Taino Rican. Still with me?

My dad is dark skinned. His African roots are very apparent in his features and All his family is very melanated. The history of my father’s family I am not so clear on since I was not raised by my father and have limited interaction with my dad’s side of the family. The last name he passed down to me is Cosme. Its place of origin is France.  “Saint” Cosme brought the name to Brazil while doing missionary work to spread Christianity. Saint Cosme was actually the inspiration for the Christ the savior statue in Brazil. I’m unsure of how this has stretched to Puerto Rico and if I have French or Brazilian heritage or Cosme was simply the name of a slave owner that held the rights to the livelihood of my paternal ancestors. Whew!! That was a trip! Did I lose you yet?

Now, if I just go by that I would answer the “what are you?” question as follows: “Racially I am black, white, and native.  Culturally I am Nuyorican. Ethnically I am Taino, and possibly Brazilian, French, and/or Moorish.” Wow that’s a mouthful. Now what does all that mean?

These identities are important to who? No really to me. I could care less about answering the question of “who are you?”.  I feel these identities limit who I am. I feel my being expands much further than these identities. So who cares about these identities? I mentioned earlier that it is society who cares. Society defines these identities and enforces them. If that is the case and all these identities are defined and reinforced by society does that mean these identities are agreed upon by society, and what metrics does society use to place people in each designated identity? Let’s explore this last question further.

For race I will use my two favorite formal definitions according to dictionary.com because I want this philosophical delve to retain a sense of scholarly repute. At the same time I want to have a little fun here, if you’d be so kind as to indulge me.

Race formally defined below:

  1. an arbitrary classification of modern humans, sometimes, especially formerly, based on any or a combination of various physical characteristics, as skin color, facial form, or eye shape, and now frequently based on such genetic markers as blood groups.
  2. a socially constructed category of identification based on physical characteristics, ancestry, historical affiliation, or shared culture.

In my opinion, these two definitions do well enough to encompass the totality of what is used in America to classify someone based on Race.

Now let’s define culture and ethnicity.

Culture

  1. Anthropology. the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.

Ethnicity

  1. an ethnic group; a social group that shares a common and distinctive culture, religion, language, or the like: Representatives of several ethnicities were present.
  2. ethnic traits, background, allegiance, or association.

Ethnic

  1. (of a human being) displaying characteristics, as in physical appearance, language, or accent, that can cause one to be identified by others as a member of a minority ethnic group.

After reviewing these definitions it becomes apparent why I have been unable to feel comfortable identifying solely with one cultural, ethnic, or racial group. Based off my racial makeup I cannot associate only with one racial group.  The wildcard then becomes historical affiliation and shared culture.

Nuyoricans, in general, have historically affiliated with and shared culture with black Americans much more than any other American racial group. That being said I think one thing missing there is acceptance by said group of black Americans in order to identify and that is something I’ve never been able to obtain by any racial group.

My awareness of race and feelings about it have changed and developed throughout my life. These changes have been influenced by how racial groups have treated me, which has varied over time depending on my age and/or the environment I was in. Anytime I would come to a new basketball court black folks would always refer to me as “the white boy”, “the Spanish kid”, or simply “chico”. All evaluations being quarter or half truths. I honestly never had much interaction with white Americans beyond the age of 8. At that young age and because of my racial ambiguity I was not fully aware of race or how people viewed me racially. While interacting with white identifying Latins they made it clear to me that I was different. I was never called black by them but I was always considered “non-white”. Then, when I got to college I began interacting with white people in an environment where they felt comfortable expressing their interpretations of my racial, cultural, and ethnic designations.  I had a slew of classifications given to me, most being “half and half” as in being half black and half white. I’ve never had a situation where my native racial designation has been guessed or assumed by others. That and my lack of historical affiliation with native culture makes it hard for me to stand behind that affiliation. Racially I’ve always felt I’m too black to be white, too white to be black, and too black, white, and americanized to be native/indigenous.

Culturally things are just as confusing.  I definitely associated strongly in my childhood with black culture growing up around black people early on in NYC and having firm roots in black american and black Caribbean culture once moving down to South Florida at the age of 8.  But I would say even in those cultural associations I always felt like an outsider looking in.  The same applies for Puerto Rican or Latin American culture especially because I have never been fully fluent in Spanish, my mom’s main dishes that she cooked were Lasagna and Baked Ziti, and I spoke very “White-American” English.  My

I feel all these things drive home the point well enough that culturally, racially, and ethnically I do not fit into traditional categories laid forward.  Currently, the reality of our society is that these identities that others place on me has put in positions of disadvantage, privilege, and confusion based on various circumstances, especially in the context of our current era of increased consciousness towards racial issues and even more so in activist/organizing/movement spaces.

For those who are unfamiliar with activist/organizing/movement spaces a lot of these spaces are very race and culturally conscious.  In this consciousness there is often an emphasis on uplifting groups that have typically been oppressed or silence, rightfully so.  If you are of a group that is typically the privileged group than you should be more of an observer and learner in spaces that focus on the group traditionally silenced and/or oppressed.  This is easy to decipher for me in groups based on gender because I identify as male it is obvious I am the most privileged in these spaces and am able to decipher my role clearly.

This becomes complex when you have people that don’t fit as cleanly into the designations and classifications as I have shown I do not when it comes to race, culture, and ethnicity.  An example that captures this well is from a movement conference I attended previously. It was an amazing conference with incredible movement people from across the US.  In this conference we had some breakout session.  One of these breakout session had a topic that was deliberate and intentionally about blackness.  I can’t necessarily remember the name of the breakout session but it was something along the lines of “What does it mean to be Black?”  After we all reconvened from the breakout sessions it was brought up by the group that held the “What does it mean to be Black?” session that only black people attended the session and that they felt this was in itself a lack of acknowledgement of blackness in these spaces.  I had not attended that session either and what followed was a very frank conversation where people were very open and honest about a lack of acknowledgement of blackness by “non-blacks” in the group.  This whole situation was very confusing to me because I don’t know what I qualify as or fit into.  Does the critique pertain to me?  Had I attended would I have been counted as a “non-black” individual who attended the session?  Or had I attended had the same response occurred?  Even after the fact speaking to the woman who voiced the group concerns I was still unable to gain clarity.  I told her my feelings through the experience and she replied by asking me “well, do you identify as black?”. I tried both times to remove egocentrism from the critiques and comments to take in the feelings and emotions of her words.  It has been something I have learned greatly from.

These type of situations happen often.  I have certain people who I feel highlight and want me to claim my blackness more while I have others who want to constantly remind me that I am not black at all.  When we have dealings and interactions with police officers this becomes the case as well.  I am told since I am white I should be the one to talk to officers.

This lack of identity leads to heightened criticisms of what causes I support.  I feel I support the causes of oppressed people in my community and try my best to maximize my efforts to causes that are most needed and most winnable, but I have been criticized strongly.  The main critique being is that I should “stick to my own kind” when it comes to helping them attain equality and justice in our society.  As stated above “my own kind” can become a very confusing alternative as “my kind” changes depending on the angle you look at it from.

Recently I had the privilege of traveling to Denver, CO and while staying in an AIR BNB there I stepped outside for a smoke.  I met an older black couple from Chicago.  I introduced myself to both of them and we began talking. As usual with me small talk turns into deep conversation about race, ethnicity, oppression, and revolution.  The man began speaking to me about Islam and the type of work he has done to help the black community in Chicago.  When he talked about the black community and things that needed to be done he kept using the pronoun “we.”  At first I wasn’t sure if he was including me in this “we” but it seemed so the way he was speaking directly and passionately to me as if he was convincing me to take up his cause.  Then he started speaking directly about the things the black man needs to do to uplift the black community and I was shaken out of the daze I had entered from listening to his patriarchal rhetoric by him directing action now towards me specifically and saying that I “as a black man” need to take ownership of these things to uplift the black community.  This took me back a bit.  It was the first time I was included in the “our kind” category by someone who identified as black.  This confused me before it began to provide clarity.

Through all these frustrations and confusions though it is very easy for people who are racially/culturally/ethnically ambiguous to forget just how privileged they are.  The fact that I even have the autonomy to share in mostly if not all “black spaces” and be somewhat accepted and still be able to be viewed by whites as acceptable to a certain degree as well affords me incredible amounts of range in terms of my experience and understanding of the world as well as just sheer greater volume of opportunities.  Not to mention the ability to blend into Latin communities.  Though my Spanish speaking is mediocre, my ability to speak fluent Latin American slang English and relate to cultural experiences affords me higher levels of success within the Latin American community than most.  These are in themselves huge blessings.  To have various groups of people from very different backgrounds feel very comfortable around you to let their guard down and allow you to see into their world.

I can tangibly say that this has affected many things that have accounted for my perceived “success” in the world.  My name being very ambiguous I am sure has resulted in more callbacks for interviews as many studies have shown.  My current profession is as a sales person.  My ability to sell has been impacted greatly by this ambiguity. I can sell anywhere from Miami to West Palm Beach because I can blend into most, if not all, environments.  Now I might not personally feel comfortable in all environments but that doesn’t change the fact that I can blend in to them if I so chose.  There is a lot of power in that choice.  Very much like Rachel Dolezial and her Transracial claim.  Whether or not you believe her to be truly to be transracial or whether or not you believe that the designation is even a valid one, it goes without saying that people who can blend in with whiteness as well other racial/cultural/ethnic groups have a strong amount of privilege afforded to them that many others who have what America deems as “more prominent” black features do.

In the exploration of my ethnicity, culture, and race I seem to have come full circle. I sit in a room and watch Diane Nash, a very white passing woman who led SNCC on some of the toughest campaigns of racial justice fighting for black people, owning her blackness.  I come to a bit of an epiphany.  Who does care about my racial and cultural designations?  Society does, but to pretend that societies designations and validations of my various doesn’t affect me is naïve and if I refuse to own my identity the world will surely own it for me.  In the world we currently live in these designations are important and we have to own them, embrace them, and understand them so that we can use them in the most appropriate ways.  Yes I am diverse, yes I can claim many designations, yes others can place their perceptions of my race, culture, and ethnicities on me, but through this exploration I have decided to take more ownership over this designation.  I acknowledge my privilege and I acknowledge my ambiguity.  At the same time I cannot deny the parts of myself that identify most strongly with.  I am black and I am Nuyorican.  I once was lost … now I may have found a bit of clarity.

 

 

Love the biggest troll

How can I discover so much and still be so fucking lost?

So little I need, yet so much cost.

Every rebirth feels like another death sentence,

As I delve into new dimensions, losing each frame of reference.

Missing my totem since the inception,

Making investments while working towards capitalism’s divestment.

Decrepit in my methods

To battle the wretched.

Even in my best,

I can’t say I’m not just making more of a mess.

I text her to get it off my chest.

“I want to change the world”, I express.

Love, I think I need your help. 

Revolutionize the world, revolutionize yourself.

Collective conscious can’t be quelled,

Enlightenment can be felt, 

In every space and time you dwell. 

But love I’m scared, every step towards the light I feel I’m losing what’s mind/mine?

And love what about the people when is it their time?

Ellipsis is how she kissed me,

Told me without saying goodbye.