Thursday, June 25, 2009

an open letter to puerto rico...

Similar to Ramón Emeterio Betances y Alacán who nearly 111 years ago today spent his last days in Paris trying to liberate his beloved Island, I sit here now in the 1er arrondissement de Paris contemplating the fate of that little Caribbean Island- 4,281 miles away from San Juan...


There comes a time when you must stand alone. 
You must feel confident enough within yourself to follow your own path. 
To choose your own destiny. 
You must be willing to make sacrifices. 
Sometimes, familiarity and comfort need to be challenged. 

There is a time when you must take that extra chance and forge your own realities. 
Be confident enough to face the uncertainties of independence rather to bow down to the certitude of servitude. 
Be prideful enough not to simply continue settle for compromise.

Allow yourself the opportunities to grow and develop.
To find your true sense of place within a world of sovereign nations that has long thrown off the yoke of colonialism.

It is Fortune that favors the brave...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

it is whatever time you want it to be general...

It started as a twitter topic #iranelection...
I noticed individuals in Iran were talking about the experience of their election and questioning the outcome of the results. Complaints about voting irregularities...followed by reports of facebook being blocked in Iran and other Internet portals. Iran's supreme leader sought Friday to end the deepening crisis over disputed elections with one decisive speech — declaring the vote will almost certainly stand and sternly warning opposition leaders to end street protests or be held responsible for any "bloodshed and chaos" to come. 
But a first sign of possible resistance came shortly after nightfall in Tehran. Cries of "Death to the dictator!" and "Allahu akbar" — "God is great" — rang from rooftops in what's become a nightly ritual of opposition unity.
The sharp line drawn by Iran's most powerful figure, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, pushes Iran's opposition to a pivotal moment: either back down or risk a crushing response from police and the forces at Khamenei's disposal — the powerful Revolutionary Guard and their volunteer citizen militia, the Basiji.
This direct threat from "the State" and the agents of the State, in this case the Ayatollah, runs against the whole idea of the "social contract" that citizens accept in modern nation-states. "The State" does not exist completely outside of the people it governs, in fact it is supposed to represent "the will of the people" and act on its behalf. So when the State responds to the people claiming it has no other recourse but to respond with (deadly) force, it seems like an inherent contradiction of this principle. This State is not some abstract monolith, it is composed of real people, who makes real decisions that benefit their positions and the positions of their constituents. Its agencies, department, and symbols coalesce 
In any given State there are vast numbers of individuals all with different needs, desires, and motivations. Those needs and desires can drive people to bond together with others of similar views causing the rise of factions. The ideal political life states would uphold all rights of an individual and solve problems on the basis of collective national views and autonomously defined interests of nations and citizens. However, power seeks to increase its hold on power and the same revolutionary elements that sought to overthrow the Iranian government in 1979 are not open to the same ideas of change and social progress when the will of the people challenge their hegemonic hold on power...
...let's how many people in Iran will be beaten, "disappeared", or killed by a State acting "in the name of the people"!!!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

a 'posted note' for my mother...

i travel alot.

not often, per se, but when i do i travel far. at the bare minimum i travel 30,000 miles in order to keep my gold status on American Airlines and maintain the privilege of boarding first and using the express First Class/Business Class lanes at the security check...woo hoo!

At times, I travel without notifying anyone in my family. I mean I am 26 years old and a facebook or twitter update should suffice as adequate notification. Sure my mother would be notified if my plane never made it to its destination but what if nothing was every recovered of me if my flight went wrong? No piece of clothing? A laptop? No body? As we have seen by Air France 447 from Rio to Paris things don't always go as planned.

Since 2003, after a rough landing in São Paolo, I have maintained a ritual of touching the outside of every plane that I board. From large 747's to Embraer regional jets I always tap four fingers on the planes twice and then drag three fingers down below the four finger taps, for a total of 11 touches. Each touch of the plane represents a letter. 11 touches, 11 letters that spell out I-L-OV-E-Y-O-U-M-O-M. I figure the outside of an airplane is alot more resilient to fire and high-impact crashes than a human body.

So if one day, my flight takes off over the Pacific or the Atlantic, and never makes it to its destination she will always have the main cabin doorway with 11 of my fingerprints on it, even if their is no more physical me to speak of. One last momento to let her know that her son never forgets her no matter where in the world his passport takes him...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

lamento borincano...

I must confess...

I hate the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York many powerless Puerto Ricans gathering to celebrate Goya food products and bilingualism. 

How unfortunate it is that Puerto Ricans have not figured out how to create economic and political independence...

Over 80,000 people marching, and close to 3 million more lining the parade route for a major Puerto Rican love-fest. Showing love to an Island many have never been to; an Island that speaks a language they can no longer understand. La Guagua Aérea has a flat tire and there is no more circular migration back to the Island. Abuelita is long dead and no one in Ponce can claim you as kin. 

I don't partake in these celebrations. I don't put my ethnicity on display in order to chase barely legal females dressed in PR flag tubetops and little skirts. I don't salute parade floats sponsored by the U.S. Army or the NYPD Corrections Department. 

I've been to Puerto Rico. I have shed tears for it while on the Island. I have stared at the American flags flying over San Juan with the intensity that only centuries of colonization can conjure up. I have visited Spain and its monuments to the Conquest and its cohorts. I have studied the Spanish character and its Empire and have wondered "why?" I have travelled to Washington D.C. and walked around the U.S. Capitol building and pondered how these 99 white Senators and 1 "fast-talking, hustla' preacher voiced" black senator have the legally recognized power to change the political conditions on the Island. 

I pray for the souls of my relatives who first tried to free the Island from the Spanish and then the Americans "by any means of necessary". I shake my head and those who have accepted the certainty of servitude over the pride of self-determination. I have wondered from what corner of this greeen Earth will a Puerto Rican Frantz Fanon come from? A Ponceño Partice Lumumba?

There is someone a little fake about being proud or acknowledging what you are for only one weekend a year. I could do without standing up for hours, subjugated to second-hand weed smoke next to people from the old neighborhood whom I have long left in the past. I'd rather head out to the Island. To see people suffering so far below the poverty level, you could mistake the state of Mississippi for the Principality of Monaco.

I don't do the Puerto Rican parade. It's not worth it. And I am no less Puerto Rican for it. The parade will go on...even if it is 3 million minus 1 this Sunday...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

am so f-ing brooklyn sometimes...

You know your were a colored child of the American inner city during the 1990s when Spike Lee Films were your primary interaction with white people besides your school teachers. Films such as Do The Right Thing and Jungle Fever were important statements of race relations, gender and class whose content was largely underrepresented and taboo in contemporary U.S. social discourse. So I was definitely excited when my friend Aja-Monet (at the last minute...haha) put me onto this honorary Spike Lee festival they are having out in Brooklyn at the end of this month that includes poetry, film, and art. 

So i put together the following three paintings in three days before the submission deadline:

The first work is entitled "Jungle Fever circa 1960" is a re-work of the print advertisements of the film Jungle Fever depicting the intertwined hands of Barack Obama, Sr. and Ann Dunham, the parents of President Barack H. Obama. Though the actual film is a product of the 1990s, its subject matter (interracial unions, especially black male/white female couples) had been largely taboo in American social discourse and in some eras of U.S. history, outright banned through miscegenation laws. The painting is a critique of the naivete of such thought and the implied inferiority of children of "mixed blood".

The second work "Black Cliffnotes" (2009), below, resulted from a discussion with a White friend who commented that his understanding of the "black experience" could be achieved through mass mediated culture, BET, and black films and depicts some of Lee's films of the last 20 years. Originally the painting was supposed to resemble an evolutionary chart beginning with a small drowning hand representing the Hurricane Katrina documentary "When the Levees Broke" and finishing with Spike Lee dressed as Mars Blackmon/Kobe Bryant (from the documentary "Doin' Work) but it did not come out the way I envisioned it.


Since, we were allowed three submissions so I decided to recycle an old painting from 2005 entitled "Joker Sambo", below, which was a critique of the contemporary black condition in the United States as well as my realization that my business degree taught me how to be a well-dressed 9-to-5 slave rather than an independent thinker. The plantation has been replaced by 40 foot skyscraper and check-to-check living because it is cheaper to make a man fend for themselves and voluntary join the field than to provide their sustenance while working on it...

let's see what the judges think about it June 16th...

Friday, June 05, 2009

in the shadow of the pharoahs...

When President Barack Obama finally announced the location of his much-heralded speech to the Muslim world, the news came as a surprise. As a candidate, Obama had promised to give such an address during his first 100 days in office, as part of an urgent campaign to repair relations between the United States and Muslims. Observers wondered where Obama would go for the potentially historic occasion. Many believed the U.S. president would choose a democratic, Muslim-majority country for the event. Favorites included Jakarta, where Obama lived as a child. Turkey, a U.S. ally, also seemed like a good choice. Even Morocco, one of the more open Arab countries, was considered a longshot.

At Egypt's Cairo University, Obama quoted from the Qu'ran as he expounded on Islam's glories and rights, the legitimate rights of Israel and the Palestinians, Iranian nuclear aspirations, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, women's rights, economic development, and religious rights and democracy in the Muslim world. The address, billed as a fence-mending mission between the United States and Islam, urged those present and the people across the globe viewing the speech on television to enter a new, productive and peaceful chapter in their relationship. Some of the critical comments on President Barack Obama’s Cairo speech to the Muslim world neglect this obvious consideration. Conservatives will naturally be irritated by his apologetic tone over Guantanamo and his self-praise for “unequivocally” forswearing torture as U.S. policy. His defense of the right of Muslim women to wear the hijab against (I suppose) Western authorities, such as the French government, which restrict it was a cheap shot. Some governments of Muslim countries also restrict traditional dress, such as successive Kemalist governments in Turkey, and others such as Saudi Arabia insist on sartorial anonymity for women.

The estimated 2,500 in attendance at Cairo University rose to their feet with cheers and sustained applause when Obama entered the Grand Hall of Festivities, and they cheered loudly when he said in Arabic: "Salam aleikum", meaning "peace be upon you". He also mentioned the contentious Israeli-Arab conflict and called for an end to Israeli settlements and Palestinian violence, and a solution that would result in peaceful, co-existing Israeli and Palestinian states. This was an historic and massive direction change in America’s foreign policy. I hope and believe that this speech can positively impact the Muslims’ perceptions about America and Americans’ perceptions about Islam. Just imagine: After a thousand years during which Islam and Western civilization have trod opposite paths in philosophy, science, and the most basic attitudes toward relations between the sexes and the role of work in life, suddenly a young American seems to believe he can conjure up a "new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world".

Thematically, the speech contained important ideas that, with the power of the U.S. presidency behind them, could just take root enough to matter. He offered to help Muslim communities around the world raise up and empower their women and educate their children in very concrete terms. He sought to equalize the playing field for minorities in Islamic countries whose persecution at the hands of extremists is one of the greater blights on its record as a great religion. And he planned to do all of this from an America that does not dictate any longer its brand of democracy but rather seeks to support governments that reflect the will of their people- governance born through the power of consent.

Islam's worst enemies are within it. If wealthy Gulf Arabs want peace for Palestinians with Israel, why don't they take a fraction of their profligate spending (in nightclubs in Geneva, at bars in London, at boutiques in Milan) and redirect it to rebuilding Palestinian enclaves with schools, hospitals, food-production facilities, and manufacturing plants? We might then have durable peace possible in the Middle East...

Monday, June 01, 2009

canada, eh...

I read somewhere that only 10% of U.S. Citizens have a passport, and was shocked to learn it. Yes, it's odd to need a passport to go to Mexico and Canada, but not having a passport means the doors of the rest of the world are shut to a person.

We live in very interesting times, and maybe having a passport, instead of being about stricter rules, could be about a nearly literal broadening of horizons.
 It's always been a bit of a misnomer- the "world's longest undefended border" is actually pretty well defended. But what was true before will be even more so come Monday, when the modern-day imperatives of homeland security will require Canadians and Americans alike to carry a passport in order to cross the 9,000-kilometre frontier and enter the United States.

According to Passport Canada, about 54 per cent of Canadians have a passport, compared to just 30 per cent of Americans. The long-awaited and oft-delayed measure has prompted a great deal of hand-wringing in both countries, mostly by federal and provincial officials in Canada and in the border states who fear the lingering effects of a deep economic chill.

The chaos is a bit overblown and yes, it's a new requirement, but it's requirement that has some practical value...better identification was inevitable. After four years of false starts and some minor concessions to opponents, the Bush-era Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative officially kicks in Monday, affecting travellers over the age of 16 in Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda, and Americans returning from abroad.

All of those travellers will now be required to have a passport or some other form of enhanced, U.S.-approved documentation. Most Americans don't hold passports - an estimated 70 per cent of them, according to U.S. State Department figures for 2008. That's raised concerns that those Americans won't bother visiting Canada, or entertain doing business north of the border, if they're now required to dole out the cash and endure the bureaucratic hassle of getting one.
It's always been a bit of a misnomer — the “world's longest undefended border” is actually pretty well defended. But what was true before will be even more so come Monday, when the modern-day imperatives of homeland security will require Canadians and Americans alike to carry a passport in order to cross the 9,000-kilometre frontier and enter the United States.

The long-awaited and oft-delayed measure has prompted a great deal of hand-wringing in both countries, mostly by federal and provincial officials in Canada and in the border states who fear the lingering effects of a deep economic chill. 
These days, the Canada-U.S. border faces worsening challenges, as a plethora of new charges, regulations and red tape, mostly imposed by Americans in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, amount to the equivalent of a new tariff on goods and services. Now we are two separate countries, and it feels rather strange. The "longest undefended border" in the world has now slammed its doors shut on its Canadian cousins...