Monday, November 11, 2013

pr travel journal, 10/31: for a small fee in america

10/31, Thursday

1. life of oh my

The last part of our day in Esperanza was a kayak tour of Mosquito Bay (not to be confused with Mosquito Pier), a shallow lagoon inhabited by microorganisms—three hundred thousand per gallon—that glowed when anything touched them. After a bumpy van ride to the water, our guides,  Carlitos and Joshua, led seven kayaks of tourists—mostly Californians—into the dark bay.

We all had blue lights clipped to the front of our boats, and Carlitos had a green light in his springy pontyail (guys with would-be Afros can rock the ponytail look so much better than guys with thin, silky hair). When we dipped our paddles in the bathtub-warm water, they made bluish white trails, like glow-in-the-dark bubbles. The kayaks across from ours had thin glowing lines at the spot where yellow plastic touched water, like Hondas bound for a late-night racetrack. Zigzagging fish became bolts of lightning. When we cupped our hands, we cradled stars.

I decided Ang Lee must have visited this place before directing Life of Pi.

Like this, but with less tigers.
I lay back in our kayak and stretched out my-crunched up back. The stars looked like the bay. We paddled close to trees whose roots arched into the water and made shelters for fish. We paddled back out, where Joshua had turned his kayak into a stand-up paddle board. He played eighties songs from his phone, changing the lyrics to “I hope that Carlitos will get my message in a boootle….”

“That song’s old, yeah?” he said.

“It’s a classic,” AK said.

“From the eighties,” Joshua agreed. “I was born in the eighties.”

Earlier he and Carlitos had told us they were hundreds of years old, but tha the water in this fountain of youth kept them young.

2. message unbottled

The California kayakers included Kelly and Danny, white kids from Oakland. Kelly had a long braid and was a lawyer. Danny was kind of genderqueer, biologically male with short blond hair, Capri pants, strappy flip flops and big gold hoop earrings. He worked as a community organizer. They’d been in San Juan for an annual Lawyer’s Guild conference, the theme of which was Puerto Rican independence, especially as it pertained to some recent university protests. Danny was friendly and passionate and a little hard to follow, throwing out anti-colonial buzzwords as if we were all planning a protest together.

“Do they pay y’all good?” he called to Carlitos from his kayak.

“Yes, they do,” Carlitos assured him. It was probably a good gig by Vieques standards, and a fun one, but would he really have said so if it wasn’t? Did it occur to anti-colonial Danny that a colonial, tourist economy came with a need to present oneself as happy, laidback, taking genuine joy in pouring you a glass of rum punch or whatever?

I mean, maybe it did occur to Danny, but I found myself thinking about how young people sometimes have more community spirit and older people have more empathy. Sometimes.

We crowded in the back seat of the van and Danny talked more about the Puerto Rican independence movement, which he admitted was small.

The movement is at least big enough to fill a page of Google image search results.
“It seems like it would be challenging to gain support for,” I said, feeling conspicuously right wing, “when there are so many advantages to being an American citizen—”

“But they aren’t citizens,” Danny interrupted. “They can’t vote, but they can still get drafted. Puerto Rico is literally a colony, but we can’t call it that because colonies are illegal under international law.”

Agreed, it’s thoroughly fucked up that PR and Guam and American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands have no representation in congress. The remnants of colonialism are everywhere, and they’re not just remnants—the Spanish fort at the top of the hill, the poverty below it.

Fort in background. But if you tried to ride these horses into battle, they'd be like, "Um, take your colonial ass elsewhere."
But Danny reminded me of the people who, in 2000, claimed George W. Bush was exactly the same as Al Gore. There’s a luxury in dismissing or equating everything that’s not radical. Sometimes radicalism comes from people who are so oppressed they have nothing to lose, and sometimes from people who are so privileged they have nothing at stake.

I suspect Daniela’s family would love to be “non-citizens” of the Puerto Rican variety. Then they could go to school, get jobs without a fake social security number, visit Mexico again. I suspect the majority of Puerto Ricans would take opportunity over independence. Maybe that’s a problem. Maybe that’s how you get China. I genuinely don’t know. Freedom without stability and stability without freedom both kind of suck.

Danny talked about America’s secret political prisoners. I suggested Craig Santos Perez’s poetry to him and thought about how Craig would make a much more convincing case for Puerto Rican independence if he were here, and how I’m such a snob—wrap any idea up in a bow of complexity and intelligence and I’m in. Approach it ham-fistedly and I’ll take you down in a blog entry weeks after the fact. (Take that!)

Danny said something about forced sterilizations in Puerto Rico at some unnamed point in history.

“That happens so many places,” I said, thinking about the poor whites Matt Wray wrote about. And, always, my own little ovaries, how I’d signed them away, how I had no one to be angry at but myself and the genetic lottery.

I know it’s fucked up to say this—I know better than to think I even mean it, really—but every now and then I long for something so simple as oppressor.

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