Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Anthropologists Challenge New Arizona Immigration Law

In a strongly-worded resolution passed by its Executive Board on May 22, 2010, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) condemned the enactment of a new law in Arizona that would allow law enforcement to investigate an individual's immigration status even if the person in question is not suspected of committing a crime.

Arizona Senate Bill (SB) 1070, signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer one month ago, has proven to be controversial as it is seen as the broadest and most strict law on immigration enacted in generations. The measure, among other things, makes the failure to carry certain immigration documents a crime and gives the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Arizona has a large population of Hispanic immigrants, and critics of the law, including AAA, see the law as a movement to target and harass this group.

A recently-passed amendment to SB 1070, House Bill 2162, clarifies that a person's immigration status can only be investigated during a legal stop, detention or arrest, but the intent (and subsequent implementation) of the law was seen by the association leadership as problematic to the well-being of immigrant populations in the state.

"The AAA has a long and rich history of supporting policies that prohibit discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion or sexual orientation," AAA Executive Board Member (and resolution author) Debra Martin said in a statement issued today. "Recent actions by the Arizona officials and law enforcement are not only discriminatory; they are also predatory and unconstitutional."

The AAA resolution also pledges that the association as a whole will refuse to hold a scholarly conference in Arizona until SB 1070 is either repealed or struck down as constitutionally invalid.

AAA Arizona Resolution
Adopted by the AAA Executive Board May 22, 2010
Whereas, the American Anthropological Association has historically supported policies that prohibit discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, and sexual orientation; and
Whereas, the American Anthropological Association has a membership of more than 10,500 people, and an annual meeting that draws more than 4,000 members; and

Whereas, the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association takes notice of Arizona Senate Bill 1070 requiring all local law enforcement to investigate a person's immigration status when there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the United States unlawfully, regardless of whether that person is suspected of a crime; and

Whereas, the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association takes notice of Arizona House Bill 2162 that stipulates that person's immigration status must be investigated only during a lawful stop, detention, or arrest; and

Whereas, there exists more than a century of anthropological findings on the crucial social and political impact of discrimination based on race, national origin and ethnicity and a long history of anthropological concern for the well-being of immigrant populations, the American Anthropological Association considers these laws and the ways they may be implemented to be discriminatory.
Now, therefore be it resolved that the American Anthropological Association resolves not to hold a scholarly conference in the State of Arizona until such time that Senate Bill 1070 is either repealed or struck down as constitutionally invalid and thus unenforceable by a court; and

Be it further resolved that this boycott of Arizona as a place to hold meetings of the American Anthropological Association does not apply to Indian Reservations within the State of Arizona.

Founded in 1902, the American Anthropological Association is the world’s largest professional organization of anthropologists and others interested in anthropology, with an average annual membership of more than 10,000. The Arlington, VA – based association represents all specialties within anthropology – cultural anthropology, biological (or physical) anthropology, archaeology, linguistics and applied anthropology.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Of "Puercos" and the Punitive Turn: Facebook Threats and the UPR Student Strikes

A friend of mine from college getting her graduate degree at UPR alerted me to this story last week (Thanks Ria!).  Members of the police department have gotten into quite of bit of hot water since screen grabs of their facebook pages and status updates have started to surface in the media.  The officers have been boasting about beating students or complaining about the lack of opportunities to brutalize students.  

Some examples:

Alexander Luina: "Por fin puedo dar un macanazo en esta bendita huelga, despues de 12 dias."  ("Finally, after 12 days I can use my baton in this damn strike.")

William Concepcion: "Por fin di un macanazo Hoy, Pueneta q se ponga bruto pa vaciarle este rifle." (I finally clubbed somebody today, I hope things get crazy so I can empty out my rifle.")

And there are more screen grabs like this of cops expressing their intentions to do physical damage.   The cops are crying foul play.  Jaime Cruz Colon, the officer above who said that the police were going to beat up the students who didn't want to learn to make way for those who did, for instance is claiming that he is a victim of hackers.  Given that the police department's second in command, Col. José A. Rosa Carrasquillo can be seen in the picture below kicking a student while he is on the ground and restrained, I think it is fair to say that the kind aggression verbal and physical being displayed toward the students permeates the chain of command at many levels, and it is doubtful that hackers would have to invent something like this.  

The violent repression of students and workers struggles under the Fortuno administration illustrates what many theorists have argued about the neoliberal period -- the fiscal disciplining of the market necessitates the physical disciplining of the populations who are directly affected by economic and political restructuring.  They are two sides of the same coin.  In this case, the police are not trying to protect private property or quell crime, they are trying to facilitate the changes called for by public law 7.  

The students are fighting for more than just fee waivers, they are fighting for a new way of doing things.  They are protesting the punitive turn and the neoliberal policies that it is meant to protect.  They are fighting against the criminalization and punishment of the poor and working classes, and fighting against the use of youth as a scapegoat for societal ills.  They are calling not only for the transformation of the University, but also the radical reconfiguration of Puerto Rican society itself. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Rima Brusi: "Our Best Investment"

Originally published in the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, May 21, 2010

In his budget address a few weeks ago, Gov. Fortuño referred to public, affordable higher education as a “privilege” that Puerto Rico provides to its students at no small cost to its citizens. To reinforce the message, he compared University of Puerto Rico tuition prices to the much higher ones of other, private, higher education institutions in the island, and of colleges and universities in the United States.

In an “us vs. them” move seemingly designed to conceptually place responsible tax payers against protesting students, he stated that “tuition paid by students, when they do pay, is but a 3 percent of the university’s budget … the rest is paid by us taxpayers. Which is why our people, just and noble, yes, but also democratic and respectful of law and order, get upset when they see what we have all seen in the university these past two days.” As the strike grew bigger and more complicated, involving all of the 11 campuses, a number of public and private citizens have echoed the governor’s general message, portraying the students as selfish, privileged, disorderly, and “ideologically” driven. As I write this column, the president of the UPR’s Board of Regents is stating, on the radio, that the striking students are “breaking down the institution.”

At the heart of this image is the idea that the university is too inexpensive for the individual students and too expensive for the state, thus rendering student complaints about the elimination of tuition waivers, and their insistence that tuition rates stay low, as shallow. I propose we examine this notion. Is the university really “too cheap?” Is it a “cost” to the state? “Cheap” and “expensive” are relative terms, and they arise from comparing the costs of the UPR with other institutions. However, is the comparison with private institutions in the island, and with public and private universities in the U.S., an appropriate comparison?

Private institutions in the island have helped the country meet an increasing demand for higher education degrees, but in terms of efficiency and value, economic studies have shown that the UPR, with double the graduation rate, and producing 95 percent of the island’s research output, represents the best return on investment for public funds.

Universities across the U.S., a country traditionally known for its excellence in higher education, are experiencing problems that the states are concerned with. Two related ones are access issues faced by minorities and low-income students and the production of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, degrees. Access problems are in great part due precisely to increasing tuition costs in four-year colleges and universities. STEM degrees hover around 20 percent of U.S. degrees, at a time when the country desperately needs to increase the domestic STEM workforce. Mainland universities have an average of only 14 percent of their student body qualifying for need-based Pell Grants. A number of efforts in the U.S., including the intensive use of federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, are directed at increasing the number of underrepresented students and of STEM degrees.

In contrast, at the UPR, 40 percent of the degrees are STEM, and two-thirds of its student body qualifies for need-based aid. The UPR produces 16 percent of the Hispanic STEM workforce in the U.S. Historically, the people of Puerto Rico have viewed their public university not as a cost or as a burden but as an investment — the kind of investment most needed in times of economic crisis.
The governor is fond of the “family” metaphor. He often compares Puerto Rico and its current fiscal crisis with a family that needs to make hard choices to face periods of economic crisis, and wonders out loud about why the UPR cannot seem to be able to “tighten its belt” like so many families have done around the island. But even within the metaphor, choosing to take resources away from the public university in times of fiscal crisis would be akin to taking away children’s educational opportunities. Few families would agree with this choice.

The Constitution of Puerto Rico (section 5, art.2) provides for a free public education system, covering first-grade through 12th grade. This was in 1952, when a high school diploma brought a certain amount of prestige and a number of job opportunities. It could easily be argued that what a high school diploma meant in the ’50s, the college degree means today.

Affordable, public higher education cannot be seen as a cost or expense, but as value. It is one of those things where Puerto Rico consistently “lo hace mejor,” or “does it better.” It is one of the best investments we have made as a collectivity, as a society. Let us protect it.
The author is an associate professor at the University of Puerto Rico’s Mayagüez campus. She regularly blogs in

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Professor Sandra K. Soto Gets Jeered at University of Arizona Graduation

Queer Chicana Professor (and all-around awesome academic) Sandra K. Soto got booed at the University of Arizona's Social and Behavioral Sciences commencement.  Professor Soto was attempting to discuss the ways that the anti-im/migrant measures known as SB1070 would marginalize Latinos/as.  Before she could get a sentence out the crowd jeered her. Twitter drama ensued.  Most people said it was inappropriate for Professor Soto to use the event as a "political soap box" further highlighting the success of the conservative right in advancing the idea that Universities and institutions of higher education should be depoliticized places where one goes to learn objective truths.  Meanwhile, if you ask me, it's pretty inappropriate for an audience of presumably educated adults to boo a woman of letters.  

Of course, what happened to Professor Soto is just another example of what so often occurs to queers, women, and people of color (or people who inhabit all of those identities) within the academy, they get shouted down and told that they're advancing a narrow agenda or only telling half the story.  The events that transpired were truly shameful, but unfortunately are becoming more common than not on college campuses.  I applaud the stand that Soto and other educators in Arizona are taking despite the attempts to silence them.  As Professor Soto urges us...we must fight for public education.

Palante, Siempre Palante

*tip of the fitted to: The Arizona Daily Star

Lowell Fiet: “When State Governments Go Bad”

Governments go bad in different but interestingly similar ways. In Arizona, racist anti-immigrant legislation has been signed into law, and police and citizen vigilantes join in the unwarranted persecution of legal and illegal Latino residents. In the US territorial Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, an equally “tea-party” --evangelical statehood advocates in this case-- Republican Governor and Legislature, albeit “Latino,” have turned on State employees, firing between 20 and 25 thousand in the past year, and now proceed to disarticulate and privatize the Island’s most prestigious, functional, and liberal public institution, the 11-campus, 60 thousand-student-strong public university system.

In Arizona, the “brown rats” (a reference intercepted online in an exchange between full and part-time Arizona residents) are illegal Mexican and Central American immigrants but also Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, and other legal Latino residents. In Puerto Rico, the “revoltosos” (disruptive rats to the current University administration and State government) are liberal, independence and/or social democratic-leaning students, professors, non-teaching university employees, and the growing number of non-statehood and (increasingly) statehood parents, general citizens, unions, and political organizations that support them.

Perhaps the comparison seems far-fetched, yet the issues involved are not just racism, on the one hand, and the right to and funding of education, on the other hand. In both Arizona and Puerto Rico, one whose current government is openly anti-Latino and the other a government obsessed with muzzling and suppressing all opposition to become the first Spanish-speaking US state, elected and appointed officials willfully bend the law (and abuse protected democratic rights) to their ideological wills, regardless of the consequences, and if existing laws do not serve their purposes, new ones are passed that do. It is the point where white supremacy and the class supremacy of a ruling elite meet eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart.   

A national uproar follows the new law in Arizona that permits ethnic profiling in search and detainment procedures and, by extension, proposes the elimination of courses in bilingual education and ethnic and multicultural studies from public school curricula. In contrast, Puerto Rico remains a well-kept political secret for most US citizens. Political news, except for hurricanes or other phenomena that affect the tourist industry, usually receives attention only in the fringe media. On this island of nearly 4 million inhabitants, where the majority lives below the US poverty level (the per capita income is less than half that of Mississippi, the poorest US state) and the government annually receives hundreds of millions of federal dollars to administer food stamp, social services, and, particularly, educational programs, politicians get away with just about anything without raising the eyebrows of oversight committees or gaining the kind of attention now being devoted to Arizona. From the North looking South, it is easy to forget that all Puerto Ricans are US citizens and are supposed to enjoy the same constitutional protections as all other citizens.

In early 2009, the newly elected statehood Governor Luis Fortuño declared a financial crisis, and the Legislature, controlled by his party, passed the controversial Law 7, an emergency bill that suspends existing public employee and union agreements and contracts, permits the radical revision of institutional budgets and funding formulas and the firing of personnel, levies new taxes, and penalizes resistance to its provisions. For that reason, last year over 20 thousand untenured and tenured public employees could be summarily dismissed. In the face of the crisis, the members of the Puerto Rican Senate and House of Representatives have annual salaries and excessive expense accounts that surpass those of the great majority of their homologues in the 50 US states.

As an autonomous educational institution, Law 7 should not apply to the University of Puerto Rico. The University of Puerto Rico, with its main campus in Río Piedras (San Juan), has been a beacon of intellectual and scientific endeavor for decades. This  Casa de Estudios  has been home to the exiled Spanish Nobel Laureate Juan Ramón Jiménez, the gateway to recognition in the US for countless Latin American artists and intellectuals, and the training ground for generations of writers, doctors, teachers, scientists, artists, lawyers, social workers, urban planners, accountants, journalists, and communications, media, computer, and business specialists, etc. --the entire professional infrastructure of Puerto Rican society. It is the one remaining public institution of national and world prestige and, although tarnished by decades of Government interference, is the only unbroken sector of an otherwise dysfunctional bureaucracy mired in party politics and financial corruption.

However, a campaign has been mounted to severely undercut its services and programs. The 2010-2011 budget will be reduced by 100 million dollars. 23 million will be sliced from the flagship campus in Río Piedras. The Governor mandates the composition of the University’s Governing Board ( Junta de Síndicos ), which recently installed a new President in a process directly influenced by the Governor’s staff. Unfortunately, the academic senates of the UPR campuses acquiesced to the politics-as-usual appointment. Then, behind closed doors and without consultation with academic and administrative deans and faculty representatives, the Governing Board began to dictate the terms of the new budget measures through their mouthpiece, José Ramón de la Torre, the new UPR president.

The UPR faculty knew something of what to expect: no academic promotions (with accompanying salary-level changes) were awarded and no cost of living increases were assigned in 2009-2010 (that will no doubt continue in the near future); no sabbatical leaves, heavier teaching loads, less or no funding for travel and research, no new faculty hiring, reduced technical and clerical staff, with no possibility for hiring new non-teaching personnel, no improvement of physical facilities, and cutbacks on academic services, etc. will probably prevail as well. Whether or not non-tenured and tenured faculty will lose their positions in 2010-2011 because of budget cuts is still unknown.

But the new and immediate restrictions were directed at the student body -- a reduction in tuition waivers for academic, artistic, or sports excellence; no Pell grants for those who do receive tuition waivers; a severely limited summer school offering and, in general, reduced course offerings in the future; the continued privatization of campus services; the rumor of the sale of regional campuses to a local mass-education community college chain; and of course, no student input in these decisions and no transparency in terms of how and by whom the decisions are being made. In fact, measures such as the elimination of tuition waivers, which the UPR administration insists upon with the bellicosity of a playground bully, would result in only miniscule savings. The greater issue is the patriarchal structure of authority: the Governor, the UPR’s Board and President, and the Interim Chancellor of the Río Piedras Campus are not to be questioned. Good children obey; bad children who do not are severely punished.

The student protests, teach-ins, and requests for dialogue in early April went unanswered. A large general assembly elected a negotiating committee and voted in favor of a two-day class/work stoppage, during which they would occupy the Río Piedras Campus. That stoppage, it was decided, would become an indefinite strike only if the UPR administration refused to begin a serious dialogue with the negotiating committee over student issues. On the morning of April 21 st , the first day, the administration gave its “full-metal-jacket” response: an estimated 250 state police officers, including helmeted and armored tactical operation forces (shock troops) at all campus gates, virtually guaranteeing a full-scale student strike. The situation has only worsened in the past three and a half weeks. The administration has made, at best, only half-hearted attempts to meet with the negotiating committee and broke off dialogue in the one meeting in which some progress seemed to be made. The students held another general assembly --this time off campus to permit full and free participation-- on May 13 th  in the large San Juan Convention Center. Now an overwhelming majority --greater than the initial assembly-- voted to continue the strike.

The following morning the Interim Chancellor, Ana R. Guadalupe gave the directive that no one and nothing would enter the Río Piedras Campus, and the state police beat and arrested a father who tried to deliver food and water to his son. During the rest of the day tension and flurries of violence continued as parents, professors, local artists, and supporters arrived with food and water and defied the police and the chancellor’s directive. Again, the administration responded, this time by officially closing the campus, first for a maximum period of thirty days, but then for a definite period until the July 31st.

The administration has done virtually everything in its power to provoke the students camped inside the UPR Campus to become the “revoltosos” they have tried to characterize them as being. Yet, with the exception of one incident of self-protection with mustard or pepper spray on the first day (April 21), the striking students have committed no incidents of violence, no trashing of facilities, no vandalism. They separate their garbage for recycling and pass it out of the campus where municipal garbage trucks pass to pick it up. They read --in an early act of solidarity, professors handed copies of their own books and those of others to them through the campus fences--, play soccer, listen to music, and have established their own radio station, websites, and blogs that originate from the campus. They paint posters, create and stage plays and acts of performance, and although they sleep in tents, they have all found ways of slipping out and back on the campus virtually unnoticed by campus and state police.

The UPR faculty is united for the first time in years in its support of the student demand for dialogue. The professors’ association (APPU) is particularly active, but non-affiliates also participate freely. Scheduled academic symposia and conferences have also taken place without incident off campus. Students and faculty from the regional campuses of the UPR support the strike. Although late arrivals on the scene, five academic deans from the Río Piedras Campus recently wrote a letter urging a negotiated settlement that includes all sectors of the university community and not just the unilateral decisions of the Interim Chancellor, the President, and the Governing Board. Popular support continues to grow. As well as artists, intellectuals, and opposition politicians, island labor unions are supporting the students by staging a general strike --the second in less than 8 months-- on May 18 th . Is there an end in sight? The main Río Piedras Campus of the University of Puerto Rico remains officially closed until July 31 st , yet it is active, creative, dynamic, and productive because it is occupied by the best representatives of Puerto Rico’s democratic future, a future the current government in its fanatical authoritarianism wants to negate and silence.

Students ( revoltosos ) in Puerto Rico and legal and illegal Latinos (“brown rats”) in Arizona: both groups represent the future and the promise of a better, more democratic and egalitarian society, not only in their respective states but in all of North America and the Caribbean. Obviously, those who oppose them with such obsessive rigidity and prejudice hold the power and the wealth and are willing to use violence in their attempt to block that future.

 *Lowell Fiet has been a Professor at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus, since 1978 and currently directs the Interdisciplinary Studies Program of the College of Humanities. He was the Director of the English Department on three different occasions, founded the academic journal  Sargasso , co-authored the PhD Program in Caribbean Literature and Linguistics, headed the Rockefeller Foundation-funded Caribbean 2000 Project (1994-99), and has directed National Endowment for the Humanities summer seminars and institutes at UPR-Río Piedras. He is also a leading critic of Puerto Rican theater and performance and has been the critic for the weekly newspaper  Claridad  for the past 18 years.

Democracy Now!: Student Strike at University of Puerto Rico Enters 28th Day

In Puerto Rico, an ongoing strike by students at the University of Puerto Rico is coming to a head. Riot police have surrounded the main gates of the university’s main campus and are trying to break the strike by denying food and water to students who have occupied the campus inside. The strike began nearly four weeks ago in response to budget cuts at the university of more than $100 million. On Thursday, a mass assembly of more than 3,000 students voted overwhelmingly to continue the strike. The next day, riot police seized control of the main campus gates. We go now to Puerto Rico, inside the occupied campus at the university.

Saturday, May 15, 2010



Just yesterday, May 13th, the students of the Rio Piedras’ campus of University of Puerto Rico ratified the 22 day strike with an evident majority of votes in favor at a General Assembly that was proposed and organized  by the institution’s own administration. Today that same administration backed with full government support have intensified and reinforced their represive schemes against the student movement stepping over our constitutional right to protest. We condemn rector Ana Guadalupe’s decision to activate the police forces against us and we reiterate yesterday’s vote demanding her resignation as well as president Jose Ramón De la Torre’s. Since 4am there has been heavy police presence around the campus; different police units have been brought to guard all possible entrances and to restrict access of students and those in solidarity.

We wish to publicly alert the national and international media that up until now they have prohibited not only the entrance of civilians, but also and more alarming, the entry of food donations and supplies needed by the hundreds of students that are currently occupying the campus. The students that reside on campus are being forced to move out and are being threatened with the nonrenewal of housing contracts. We also expect water and electricity on campus to be cut off by 1:00pm.

We exhort all students, professors, workers and civilians; every member of every community, to surround the university gates as they have done themselves. We exhort everybody’s presence here today; we need everyone’s solidarity and support if we are to endure this struggle.  We want to let the administration know that their attempts to intimidate have been not only represive but exagerated and unnecesary. We will not allow that the democracy the university’s administration proclaims to practice be arbitrary and partial. Those who participated in the General Student’s Assembly yesterday, experienced a real democratic process in action. The assembly is sovereign and in assembly we voted to continue the strike. We are here to defend the right of all puertorican students to a public education and here we will remain until the administration decides to cooperate and negotiate.
We need everyone’s solidarity and support. Ten out of the eleven campuses that make up the UPR system have declared themselves on strike. All are participating of the same struggle. The same struggle being fought all over the World.

United we stand, divided we fall.

Humanities Action Comitee,
University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Message from the Puerto Rican Studies Association about Student Strike at UPR

Como agrupación de profesores, investigadores, activistas y estudiantes comprometidos con las causas progresistas y con el más amplio acceso a las oportuniadades educativas, la Puerto Rican Studies Association apoya a los estudiantes de la Universidad de Puerto Rico en su lucha por hacer de la educación un derecho para tod@s. Al igual que en tantas ocasiones en décadas pasadas, el estudiantado de la UPR se moviliza a favor de las causas sociales y democráticas, en este caso el esfuerzo por contrarrestar el alto costo de la vida. La educación para todos es la base de un mundo donde la igualdad social pueda ser posible. Nuestro respeto a los estudiantes que luchan por el derecho de todos y no por los privilegios de algunos.

As a group of professors, researchers, activists and students committed to progressive causes and wider access to educational opportunities, the Puerto Rican Studies Association supports students at the University of Puerto Rico in their struggle to make education a right for everyone. As has often occurred in past decades, students of the UPR have mobilized for social and democratic causes, in this case the effort to offset the high cost of living. Education for all is the foundation of a world where social equality can be possible. We respect the students in their fight for the right of all and not just the privileges of a few.

Gladys M. Jiménez Muñoz, Presidenta

Roberto Márquez, Vice-Presidente

Puerto Rican Studies Association

El Velorio Redux

Bet you didn't know Puerto Rico is at the cutting edge when it comes to wakes.  The funeral home is apparently under investigation now because embalmed bodies are supposed to be shown in caskets because they emit dangerous gasses.  Either way, I think this is a super interesting practice and says a lot about masculinity and the precarious nature of life for many young men in Puerto Rico. 

Francisco Oller would approve. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Adios Amigos