Philosophy Is For Everyone!

Today is World Philosophy Day. WPD has been celebrated since 2005, when UNESCO institutionalized it. We read on its webpage:

By celebrating World Philosophy Day each year, on the third Thursday of November, UNESCO underlines the enduring value of philosophy for the development of human thought, for each culture and for each individual.

On this Day of collective exercise in free, reasoned and informed thinking on the major challenges of our time, all of UNESCO’s partners … are encouraged to organize various types of activities – philosophical dialogues, debates, conferences, workshops, cultural events and presentations around the general theme of the Day, with the participation of philosophers and scientists from all branches of natural and social sciences, educators, teachers, students, press journalists and other mass media representatives, and the general public.

Aeon published a piece recently on how the Western Philosophical Canon is Xenophobic, which I found interesting and wanted to weigh in with my own experiences learning and teaching Epicurean philosophy.

Upon getting a book contract from Humanist Press to write Tending the Epicurean Garden, one of the initial reactions I got when I first told about the book contract to a fellow writer for the student paper at Northeastern Illinois University was: “A Puerto Rican philosopher?! You’ll make a great Latino role model!“. I never really had thought about it that way, and it never occurred to me that upon hearing about my book or stumbling upon my content, some people would instantly consider my ethnicity as a defining feature of my writing, my intellectual life, or my content. I was instantly made aware of how non-diverse the world of philosophy is perceived to be.

Later, as I’ve written about the similarities and differences between Epicurean philosophy and Taoism and Buddhism, from time to time I’ve come across reactions to the content that show a high tendency from some people to use the label “Orientalism” or “Eastern thought / mysticism” to denote some things as foreign, useless, unscientific, or otherwise not worthy of being considered philosophical. I’ve come across triumphalist, nationalist Epicureans from Greece who sneer or bark at any indication that Epicurean philosophy could possibly be associated with anything non-Greek, but I’ve also come across others–like Christos Yapijakis, who graciously agreed to write the blurb that ended up in the back cover of my book–who expressed both surprise and gratitude at how I managed to coherently admit elements from so many global wisdom traditions into my own Epicurean wisdom tradition (following, of course, the instructions on innovation that were laid down by Epicurus himself).

One case that stands out among the wisdom traditions of the Native Americans for me, and which I mention in my book, is the sumac kawsay wisdom tradition of the Inca people of South America. Sumac kawsay translates as “the good life”, the details of which are codified in the constitutions of several South American countries with large aboriginal populations. Sumac kawsay is the product of the minds of a collective known simply as “the Inca elders”, and it appears to vindicate almost point-by-point the teachings of Epicurean ethics to such an extent that I was compelled to mention sumac kawsay when I wrote Tending the Epicurean Garden as a parallel ancient wisdom tradition, and I discussed it in a bit more detail in a Spanish-language interview I gave some years back to a Peruvian host.

The fact that sumac kawsay was preserved in oral form for centuries before being codified in order to be abducted into modern state constitutions demonstrates that–just as life in other planets may not appear “as we know it” here–similarly, philosophy in other cultures may take distinct (non-literary) forms. Philosophy also sometimes can be distilled not from single big-name thinkers like Nietzsche or Sartre, but by collectives of unidentified intellectuals reasoning together over generations, as in the Inca case. I find this to be a liberating insight, as it is easier to remain tied to Platonic forms of philosophy when philosophy is only understood as abiding in literature and in the head, in pure theory, in the clouds. Sumac kawsay, instead, is as vibrant and real as the culture it inspires and interacts with.

As for African wisdom traditions and shared memory, in my book I mention how they’re not just oral: they are completely embodied. They take the form of songs, of dances and other movement and forms when passed down. In my book, I mention the practice of “washing the head” as a therapeutic technique to facilitate the embodiment of the cool-headedness that is expected of a philosopher–coolness itself being a quintessentially African virtue that strongly resonates with Epicurean philosophy. Contemporary research shows the anti-depressant and calming effects that a splash of water can have on the neurological system.

I found that I had rightly intuited the importance of this concept of embodied philosophy that we find in Africa when I read about, and later wrote about Michel Onfray, and found him accentuating its importance, and the importance of connecting practice with theory. He used the example of Aristippus wearing perfume in the agora. In Counter-history of Aromas, I discuss Onfray’s (and Aristippus’) way of philosophizing, and conclude:

Smell is included in the Epicurean Canon: this means that nature has established that it is one of our connections with reality that can not be replaced by any other faculty, and furthermore that the sense of smell has sole jurisdiction over an aspect of reality that no other faculty may invade. No other philosophical system confers this kind of authority on an instinct as “base”.

One thing we find in African wisdom traditions is a full embodiment of how they relate to their creation of meaning and how they philosophize. Key metaphysical concepts are tied to specific points within the body, with a progression from the feet to the head. The feet in Yoruba cosmology are associated with the root of the tree, with each foot being associated with one parent’s lineage (because we are branches of our ancestors and because, as the Yoruba proverb says: “We stand on the shoulders of those that came before us“). Offerings to ancestors are therefore made to the feet of the devotee. The head, on the other hand, is associated with fate, destiny, and the future, because it’s where choices are made. It’s also tied to the gods, or higher self: one’s highest aspiration. And so we see the progression from past (roots, ancestors) to future (aspiration to become) that is anchored entirely in the body.

African wisdom traditions are immanent and give us ideas as to how we can fully embody and make fully tangible our own wisdom tradition, how we can be fully present in all of our instincts and faculties, and train ourselves to be better able to enjoy the immediacy of experience of all the simple pleasures that nature makes available and all the things that make life worth living.

There are other culturally-specific forms: the Lokayata school–aka Carvaka–of hedonist materialism emerged independently as an Indian parallel to Epicureans and Cyrenaics, and Yang Chu, the Taoist sage gifted us a treasure trove of literary wisdom that is Epicurean in all but name. One most pragmatic example of a locality-specific type of Epicurean lifestyle that is beginning to internationalize comes from Scandinavia and the hygge way of life, which involves comfort, friendship, conversation, food, textiles, and many other architectural and lifestyle details that give color to how we can imagine and make tangible a life of pure pleasure.

Epicureans were always a cosmopolitan bunch of friends. Today, Society of Epicurus has members in Spain, Finland, Greece, and the USA, and if we haven’t grown beyond the West it’s not for lack of trying. Epicurus says a lot of relevant things for the benefit of the world we live in. It is our intention to bring the wisdom of Epicurus to the entire world, and also to weave his kind words of encouragement and liberation into the various embodied, oral, and written wisdom traditions and ways of philosophizing that exist.

Advertisements
Posted in Philosophy, Politics | 1 Comment

Terror in New York: it’s what you get when you play the Green Card Lottery

The unplanned life is not worth living. – Norman DeWitt

The word lottery is typically auspicious. It usually means that someone who was poor or average suddenly has the chance to become rich, or win a prize.

But yesterday we learned that an Islamic terrorist and ISIS sympathizer from Uzbekistan who had entered the United States on a “Diversity Visa Lottery” decided to offer eight innocent civilians as human sacrifices to his God, and injured another 11 people in New York City while screaming “God is Great!” (Allahu Akbar). He later bragged from his hospital bed about the heinous crimes he had just committed.

According to this US Immigration page, the DV lottery:

… more commonly known as the Green Card Lottery, is … designed to ensure plenty of diversity in US immigration, so only individuals from countries underrepresented in US immigration are usually allowed to apply.

And according to this page, the quota to meet is 50,000 random, lucky souls annually. I suppose the idea behind the visa program is to allow people from all corners of the world to enter the U.S., and not necessarily those with a certain job experience, skill set, or educational background that may be in demand, or those with capital to invest, or those with a certain I.Q. or certain educational achievements (PhD, Masters or other degree), or even those with the greatest need or in the greatest threat due to violence or lack of civil rights in their home country. Trump says he wants “merit based” immigration, but that’s not a clear standard, and I for one would like to read a clear definition of what he means.

Lottery visas may seem justified and fair, but in reality it is not normal to give away “lottery visas” in most countries in the world, and on its face it does seem like a strange method of engineering a society–akin to reading the entrails of a sacrificial goat to determine who gets in and who doesn’t. Some countries are **very** particular about who they want in terms of skills or background. Israel, for instance, recognizes a “right of return” (right to make aliyah) for anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent. Japan is notorious for its strict immigration policies.

Every country, as a natural function of its sovereignty, has a right to plan who it will allow to immigrate–and should do so carefully since, once incorporated, immigrant populations will become forever embedded and interwoven into one’s society.

Our safety and security are not the only legitimate concerns raised by the lottery visa program. Isolation is a mental and physical health risk factor on par with obesity and smoking. We have no certainty that a person coming from one of the “underrepresented countries” that the lottery program targets will be able to easily adapt to American society, particularly if he speaks a language that is only spoken in his home country. Might it not be easier for that person to migrate to a country nearer to his home country, with a larger immigrant population from his land so that he can integrate more easily?

Immigration has been definitely a defining feature of the American experience from the onset, but that does not mean that a mindless, unplanned visa lottery makes sense for this or any other country. People like Sayfullo Saipov, our terrorist villain of the week, clearly was not a good fit: he did not share our values or vision for a free society, had declared allegiance to a party that we are at war with, and did not fit the profile of those “yearning to breathe free” that America–the “Mother of Exiles”–intended to open its arms to. Some people come here seeking religious and other freedoms, but many religious people (and particularly many Muslims, and other orthodox and fundamentalist groups) are anathema to freedom.

Re-reading the Emma Lazarus sonnet The New Colossus might help to remind us that at our gates stands none other than Lady Liberty. She’s liberal, open, tolerant, but still she sets a standard for people who wish to enter: thirst for freedom.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

My solidarity and my thoughts are with the victims of yesterday’s attack, which include five Argentinians and one Belgian.

 Further Reading:
Finding a Rootless Life in U.S., Sayfullo Saipov Turned to Radicalism
NYC terror attack suspect sought to display ISIS flag in hospital room

Posted in Politics | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Happy Twentieth! Imagine No Religion!

I wish you all peace and safety on this Twentieth! Over the last month, we have witnessed the awful aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and many people have shown their true colors. As an update to my last blog on my own family’s difficulties: thanks to a kind flight attendant, my parents are safe in the states now with my sister and health services are being arranged for my father. I have heard from most of my uncles on my dad’s side. My mother’s side of the family lives in Quebradillas, which was near the Guajataca dam, but they were not in the way of the water flowing from the dam, as they live in high altitude.

One of the few fortunate repercussions of the storm is that thousands of mortals have demonstrated what an angel is. I do not believe in angels in the mythological sense, as winged Cupids playing their harps atop the clouds, or non-material beings perhaps inspiring good thoughts. But sentient beings in the flesh, dogs that aid the blind and give affection, random strangers that help others in time of need, those are the real angels.

One of my co-workers, upon asking me about how my family was doing, offered to donate $250 to the charity of my choice to help Puerto Rico. The money went to One America Appeal. Also, my kind friend David Tamayo of Hispanic American Freethinkers organized the sending of survival items, including 100 solar ovens which were acquired at a discount from Solar Clutch (thanks to another angel, Steve, who does a lot of work in Africa). Solar ovens provided by humanitarian organizations have helped thousands of women in Africa avoid being raped and abducted when they went out to gather wood for cooking, a problem that had become endemic.

People like Bethenny Frankel, of “real housewife” fame, earned her wings by tirelessly flying multiple private planes to the island with much-needed items, and then returning to the mainland with diabetic and other patients who needed medical assistance, as well as going to the scene of need and showing the world that the struggle was real. One can easily be fooled when watching frivolous reality shows, and forget that there are angels there, that anyone can gain their wings.

Journalist David Begnaud also was one of the people who were key to shining a light on what was really happening on the ground, and making sure that people who needed help got whatever they needed. In doing the magnificent quality of work that he did in the aftermath of Maria, he gained not only his wings, but national praise and prominence.

Jason Maddy also gained prominence after going with a few other former military guys, as a volunteer, to the most neglected towns in the western part of Puerto Rico to hand out food, water, and other resources to places where no one else went. Two strangers found a way to fly a charter plain to the island with medical supplies.

Then there’s Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and billionaire visionary who is planning a colony of one million people in Mars, who sent workers to the island to fix solar panels and install house batteries. His energy-related ventures and innovation should be incorporated into future electric infrastructure for Puerto Rico–where the grid was decimated–and the US Virgin Islands. His innovation is much needed, but also we need to emancipate ourselves from oil, the “devil’s gold”: it not only leaves us vulnerable to outside forces that we can’t control and create price fluctuations, but also finances evil, autocratic regimes that produce terrorists and oppress their own citizens. It’s time for Puerto Rico and elsewhere to work on autarchy when it comes to producing our own energy.

The angels are too many to mention, most are anonymous. They remind me of the words of Jesus: “When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was in prison, you visited me”. Hands that work are worth so much more than lips that pray. Speaking of which, a new facebook group–Epicurus and the Lamb–was founded to explore the connections between Epicurean philosophy and the Christian tradition, perhaps as a supplement to Epicurus in the Lotus, which explores the intersection with Buddhism. My first thought went to Thomas Jefferson, who was both an Epicurean and a Unitarian, and who edited the supernatural claims out of the Gospel and re-published it as the Jefferson Bible, a sort of Gospel according to Humanism. Humanist Press published an expanded 21st Century version of the Jefferson Bible with portions of the Quran, Book of Mormon, Bhagavad Gita, and Buddhist sutras, as well as “best of” and “worst of” selections from them in order to encourage critical reading. More contemporary atheists, like Richard Dawkins, have also come out as Atheists for Jesus and supported the movement by that name, and more recently Tom Krattenmaker authored Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower in order to make the case that one need not believe in God or in the supernatural to adopt Jesus as a role model or as a Western culture hero.

Another facebook group has been created to discuss politics from an Epicurean perspective. In keeping with the verbiage used in the Principal Doctrines, the group is called Epicurean Natural Justice.

October marks the nativity of John Lennon, who gave us one of the most celebrated and enduring secular anthems: Imagine. I am posting this song in his memory. Enjoy it! And imagine if instead of “believing in” angels, messiahs, and saviors, people everywhere decided to become the angels!

Further Reading:

Atheists for Jesus

Secular Jesus Follower

Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower: Finding Answers in Jesus for Those Who Don’t Believe (Amazon Link)

Last Year’s Twentieth of October: The Goal of True Spiritual Practice: Pure, Effortless Pleasure

Posted in Christianity | Leave a comment

Janet Jackson’s Islamic Honeymoon Nightmare

It is official: Janet Jackson is divorcing her husband after having her firstborn child in her early fifties. It had been reported that she had not converted, but had adopted the dress and traditions of Islam for the sake of her husband and of her marriage, only to by brutalized, humiliated, and treated like a prisoner during her pregnancy. According to the report linked above:

Janet’s family noticed she was “not speaking out of turn when in the company of others. [Wissam] took the lead.”

I suspected this was coming. This is the Qur’an verse that orders men to beat their wives (Abdul Majid Daryabadi translation):

Men are overseers over women, by reason of that wherewith Allah hath made one of them excel over another, and by reason of that which they expend of their substance. Wherefore righteous women are obedient, and are watchers in husbands absence by the aid and protection of Allah. And those wives whose refractoriness ye fear, exhort them, and avoid them in beds, and beat them; but if they obey you, seek not a way against them; verily Allah is ever Lofty, Grand. – Qur’an 4:34

Different translations of the Qur’an express this differently in English. This version says:

As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).

Hence the many videos on youtube of imams who defend the practice: for them the argument and point of controversy hinges on when, and in what way, are men allowed to physically attack their wives. There is no question that wives must obey their husbands and that they are inferior in Islam. This is the reason why the epidemic of domestic violence in Middle Eastern households will never subside or be confronted with honesty.

What shocks me is how so many Westerners fail to defend, or even appreciate, the importance of the secular values and freedoms that we enjoy in the West. This, to me, is a quintessential Epicurean question because our philosophical tradition is at the roots of Western civilization, and yet so few people know of it, while rendering legitimate Middle Eastern religions that–no matter now entrenched they may be–are antiquated and deeply foreign to our real way of living. One has to consider, for instance, practices like polygamy in the Old Testament, or the claim that wisdom starts with fear of God. Our laws and mores today do not take as their foundation the need to appease and live afraid of a divinity.

Janet Jackson was one of the most emancipated and wealthiest women of her generation in the West. She had been raunchy, sexy, and proudly all-American before allowing her husband to hide and brutalize her, all the while shaming her about her American ways.

She managed to get a divorce from her husband only because she was able to leave the Middle East with the help of family members. Under sharí’a law–which decrees that a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man–she would have likely found it impossible to divorce her husband. If she had lacked fame or money, she would have in all likelihood had to remain in her degraded situation the rest of her life.

I love Janet. She’s one of my generation’s pop idols. In celebration of her release and return to safety, I am sharing here one of the videos that best exemplifies the freedom, the raunchiness, the art, the beauty, and the sexiness that is Janet Jackson.

Posted in Atheism, music | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

After the Storm

The last few days have been a test of my patience. My father was recently diagnosed with dementia, which was exacerbated by a resistant strain of urine infection that was making it worse. He lost his mind last weekend and pulled out his catheter, prompting his ending up at the emergency room. My brother flew into Puerto Rico and was staying with my dad at a hospital. They were going to ride the hurricane there, my main consolation being that hospitals are considered high-priority by government and they usually have generators for whenever electricity fails. The last time I spoke with my father and brother was on Wednesday. My brother was able to text me yesterday somehow–95% of cell phone towers on the island are down after Hurricane Maria–and tells me that they’re okay, but my dad has some complications with cough. I have not heard from my other brothers, or my mother.

I’m increasingly concerned about my uncles and cousins, who have built two- and three-story houses hanging from the sides of mountains in Utuado, on the big island of Puerto Rico. One of them built his house next to the river, and in past hurricanes the authorities have removed them from their home due to unstable foundations. But the greatest danger is the dozens of landslides that will have happened. Already, three elderly sisters have died due to landslides. The terrain is easily saturated when it rains heavily, and the next town is higher than Utuado, which means that the waters that flow from those higher mountains must cross Utuado before getting to the ocean, passing by Arecibo–which was utterly flooded, last I heard. Arecibo has more than one river delta, so much of the water from the mountains ends up there. Bridges collapsed, and entire communities disappeared under the water. My parents live in Arecibo, but my mother decided to stay with my brother in Caguas for the hurricane, so am hoping they’re okay.

I visited my three uncles in Utuado last time I was there, less than a month ago. There’s something very innocent about people who have lived in rural parts their entire lives. My aunt Marlin, who is one of the sweetest, most loving souls I’ve ever met, is also a great cook. She doesn’t let a guest leave until he’s been fed. She made rice, beans, and a steak dish with vinegar and onions that came out so tender, that I kept asking her what her secret was. She smilingly told me that she had steamed it to get the meat to tenderize, but I suspected she had more secrets under her sleeve.

The island has lost 100% of its grid, which was already in fragile conditions prior to the hurricane due to lack of repair, as PREPA (Puerto Rico’s electric authority) filed for bankruptcy in recent months. My latest blog post in Puerto Rico’s daily paper El Nuevo Dia is actually a call to reinvent the electric grid on the island using public-private partnerships and innovation: not just solar and wind power, but things like house batteries, and the government can also provide tax-breaks and other initiatives and incentives to help people to profitably and easily produce their own energy and sell energy back to the grid in order to decentralize the production of energy and increase island resilience every hurricane season.

Please do not pray for Puerto Rico! Hands that work are a more genuine prayer than lips that pray. If you want to do something useful, please donate money to relief agencies or send drinkable water, canned food, solar ovens, electric generators and other basic-need items. Also, you can pressure our political leadership to trust our scientists and reconsider the dangers of global warming.

The wife of the island’s governor has set up the page United for Puerto Rico to help with the relief efforts. Alternately,  is a vetted charity with a “Caribbean Hurricane Maria & Irma Relief Fund”.

Image may contain: stripes

Posted in Naturalism | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Happy Twentieth: Epicureans in the Lotus

As the world sadly witnessed the distress, powerlessness, and suffering of thousands of souls due to the recent hurricanes in North America, many men and women of God on social media encouraged others to “pray” for the victims. We have yet to see evidence of how prayer has any effect on hurricanes, but keen-minded Lucretius encouraged us, instead, to learn about the nature of things, including the nature of hurricanes. In De Rerum Natura, while artfully using Bible-like beautiful and poetic language, Lucretius observed how the sun dries our clothes, how water seeps through soil back to Earth, and how our streets dry up within a day after it rains, in order to account for the cycles of rain and condensation, which he accurately described in detail 2,000 years ago. You can read the relevant portion towards the end of the essay “Lucretius Against the Creationists”.

We recently remembered Herculaneum Day, and encouraged students of Epicurean philosophy to delve into the Philodeman Scrolls. Speaking of great literature, I’m currently reading The Moral Animal by Robert Wright, and will be reading more works by this highly-acclaimed author, and perhaps writing a few blogs inspired in his brilliant work. The book reminds me so far of The Bonobo and the Atheist, and at times reads like De Rerum Natura for its insistence on demystifying and finding various natural explanations for phenomena and behavior seen in nature, in this case for morality. It is a very successful and research-based series of theories concerning naturalist morality that relies on Darwinian theory, genetics, and studies by sociologists and anthropologists.

Wright’s most recent work is Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. I anticipate I’ll have similar disagreements with this book as I did with Sam Harris’ Waking Up, but I’ll read the book first with an open mind and then opine. In the meantime, as a result of recent conversations in the Epicurean Philosophy facebook group as well as a long-standing interest in the intersections between Buddhism and Epicurean philosophy among many people, the facebook group Epicurus in the Lotus was created as “a welcoming group for those exploring the similarities and differences between the dharma and Epicurean philosophy”.

I’ve explored similar intersections, similarities, and differences between Epicurus and Nietzsche in the past, and with Michel Onfray. Wright’s intellectually stimulating literature will likely add to my ongoing similar exploration of Buddhist traditions, particularly with the growing secular-humanist Buddhist trend, and also with anthropology and other fields of scientific research and speculation.

Some Resources:

Epicurean Reasonings on the Lotus Sutra

Parallel Sayings Buddhist Meme Series

SecularBuddhism.org

SecularBuddhism.com

Last Year’s 20th Message: On Passing By

Posted in Atheism, Buddhism, Humanism | Tagged | 1 Comment

Puerto Rican Citizenship: the Odd Case of Juan Mari Brás

FILE – In this Sept. 6, 1979 file photo, Puerto Rico’s pro independence leader Juan Mari Bras speaks in Havana, Cuba. Mari Bras, who gave up U.S. citizenship in an act that was nullified by Washington after it inspired hundreds of other activists, died Friday, Sept. 10, 2010 at his home in San Juan, Puerto Rico, at age 82. (AP Photo/File)

I’m writing this blog on the anniversary of Juan Mari Brás’ death on Sept 10 of 2010. Mari Brás was a prominent socialist and independentista from Puerto Rico. He had also been a wealthy business owner, and was reputed to have treated his workers very well.

Puerto Rico had been annexed to the U.S. in 1898 and everyone born there made an American citizen in 1917, exactly 100 years ago. By the time the Nationality Act of 1940 was passed, the territory was, for all legal intents and purposes, part of the United States and not different from a state of the union for citizenship and nationality purposes. Section 302 of the Act states:

… All persons born in Puerto Rico … are citizens of the United States at birth.


Today, less than 3% of the island’s population votes in favor of independence. In previous decades, there was a vibrant independence movement and activists tried by various means–sometimes even by violence–to advance their cause. But Mari Brás stood out among the rest and gained international fame by attempting to prove his theory that there was a Puerto Rican nationality and citizenship that was distinct and separate from American nationality and citizenship.

This he argued by various methods: first, he cited the fuzzy legal framework from before 1917, which is the year when Puerto Rico residents became American citizens. Prior to that, Puerto Rico had been occupied by the United States since 1898, and its residents were considered “Puerto Rican citizens”, argued Mari Brás. They were no longer subjects of the Spanish crown, and not yet American citizens. Therefore, this stage in history proves the existence of Puerto Rican “citizenship”.

Another way to argue this is within the U.S. constitutional framework, which states that residents are citizens of both the United States and the state of their residence. But this did not appeal too much to Mari Brás, who wanted to argue nationalist ideas into his claim to Puerto Rican citizenship.

So one day (I believe this was in the 1990’s), he went to Venezuela, and once there he visited the US Consulate and gave up his American citizenship. He was hoping to build a movement of nationalists giving up American citizenship in order to start gaining recognition for his citizenship by other nations, and in fact hundreds after him gave up their citizenship, although nothing came with it. Puerto Rican citizenship, for all purposes, is a kind of American citizenship. There is no PR visa or passport, so no one can travel with this citizenship. No country recognizes it. It is only a symbol.

But the whole world was watching. Consider the Pandora’s Box that this would have represented, had it been allowed to go on. Not only did hundreds of people in the island territory give up their citizenship as protest against colonialism: if some form of recognition of their PR citizenship took place, perhaps other states or territories might begin to use the same tactic and attempt to build in the public imagination the idea of a “Texan citizenship” for instance, and perhaps even prop it up with benefits or incentives.

So within a few weeks of what went down in history as no more than a media stunt, Mari Brás received a letter from the federal government which restored his American citizenship, and so did all the other activists who followed in his footsteps. It turned out that, in order to give up American citizenship, one had to become a citizen of another nation, and since Mari Brás had not become a citizen of Venezuela, or Spain, or any other nation, he was still an American citizen.

The weeks when he thought he was only a Puerto Rico citizen seem to have been among the happiest in his life. He was constantly cheerful. When asked if he feared what would happen, should he be unable to return to the island from Venezuela, he laughed and said: “Where are they going to deport me to? Mayagüez?”, referring to the city of his birth.

Further Reading:

Puerto Rico and the Right of Accession

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , | 1 Comment