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The Puerto Rican Radical Tradition

The Puerto Rican Radical Tradition

Location: The Silberman School of Social Work

Event Organizer: Center for Puerto Rican Studies

Cost: Free

Friday, March 1st, 2024 at 10 AM ET

On March 1, 1954, Lolita Lebrón led a group of four members of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party in an armed attack on the U.S. Congress, to dramatize the ongoing colonial nature of the territorial relationship, in the wake of the “Commonwealth” constitution of 1952. Seventy years later, while perspectives on the preferred solution may vary, there remains little doubt as to the colonial nature of that relationship, especially following the imposition by Congress of an unelected “fiscal oversight” board in 2016.

The political landscape in Puerto Rico seems to be shifting in dramatic and previously unexpected ways since then. In August 2019, then-governor Ricardo Rosselló was forced to step down, following a two-week uprising that reflected a heightened disposition to engage in confrontational protest tactics, especially by the younger generation. Developments in the 2020 elections, and in the build-up to the 2024 elections, seem to portend dramatic reconfigurations of the electoral arena, even as global dynamics raise new possibilities and challenges for decolonization. Enduring structural violences and the rise of far right politics in the U.S. also present challenges for an expanding Puerto Rican diaspora no longer concentrated in its traditional political enclaves.

The shifts can be explained, to some degree, by the convergence of a series of factors seriously eroding living conditions (in ways that are highly uneven by class, race, and gender, but also widely spread across the social spectrum) as well as the legitimacy of the political elite. However, the specific form and timing of these changes have been surprising, and their eventual outcomes (even in the near future), remain unpredictable. Some scholars, including Centro Research Associate José Laguarta Ramírez, argue that the growth of explicitly anti-colonial and progressive politics in the electoral arena, and the relative acceptance of confrontational means of protest beyond it, can only be grasped by accounting for the dynamics of a marginalized and relatively small, militant Left that has remained active and vocal through times of apparent stability.

In turn, the various tactical, discursive, and affective practices of such groups are nurtured by a long tradition of anti-colonial and anti-capitalist politics, in the archipelago as well as the diaspora. While in constant relation with ideas and struggles generated by other communities elsewhere, this tradition is steeped in internally contradictory yet distinctive experiences that give it singular Puerto Rican intonations. This symposium seeks to cast new light on this ever-evolving “selective tradition” by effacing artificial barriers between archipelago and diaspora, pasts and present/futures, activists and scholars, and particular struggles within this expansive and dialogic radical movement space. Borrowing the phrase from scholars of the U.S. and Atlantic Black Diaspora—with which the spaces of Puerto Rican struggle have always existed in intimately overlapping and intertwining (if not always acknowledged) relation—we can speak of a thus recast “infrastructure of feeling” as a Puerto Rican Radical Tradition.

Panel 1: Nuyorican Socialists in the 1970s- Roundtable with Authors/Activists

10:15 AM – 11:45 AM

Panelists: Victor Quintana, Andres Torres, José Velázquez and Iris Morales
Moderator: Saulo Colón Zavala

The Puerto Rican Socialist Party, Young Lords Party, and El Comité-Movimiento de Izquierda Nacional Puertorriqueño were the three major socialist pro-independence Puerto Rican political organizations in New York and other U.S. cities during the 1970s. This roundtable will bring together activists from each of the three groups who have authored books and/or films documenting the organizations’ histories as well as their own and others’ experiences within them. Moderator Saulo Colón Zavala, who has been active in student, labor, and other radical movements in New York and Puerto Rico from the late 1990s until the present, will converse with panelists on various topics related to their work and experiences in the context of a broader Puerto Rican radical tradition, including the relationship between grassroots organizing and long-term strategy, race and gender politics, diaspora-archipelago connections and relations, and intergenerational dialogues.

Panel 2: A Radical Archive? – Historiographies of Puerto Rican Radicalism

1:30 PM – 3:30 PM

Panelists: Sandy Placido, Jorell Meléndez-Badillo, Jorge Matos-Valldejuli, and Cristina Fontánez Rodriguez
Moderator: Cristel Jusino Díaz

In the words of Ruth Wilson Gilmore, radical traditions are transmitted across generations and geographical spaces as/through “infrastructures of feeling” that entail a process of constant selection and re-selection of political ancestors. This panel seeks to bring together authors and archivists who are taking new directions or casting light on previously little-known figures and voices in Puerto Rican radicalism. Panelists will address a wide range of topics, including the life and work of Puerto Rican Marxist internationalist and grassroots organizer Ana Livia Cordero; the archival practices and silences of Puerto Rico’s early twentieth-century working-class movement; the diverse less-known movements, organizations, and publications featured in the collection “A la Izquierda” within the Centro Archives; and the relevance of radical archival practices to the study of radical movements. Each participant will give a brief presentation of their work, followed by a conversation led by Centro Director of Research Programs and Public Humanities Cristel Jusino Díaz, on the transnational/diasporic legacies of their subjects, their own research experiences, and the importance of challenging dominant historiographic and archival paradigms in this kind of work.

Panel 3: ‘Cultura(s) de Lucha’- Arts, Community, and Activism from Loisaida to Santurce

4:00 PM – 5:30 PM

Participants: Jorge Díaz, José “Pepe” Flores, Libertad Guerra, and José Laguarta Ramírez

This conversation brings together scholars and activists from the diaspora and the archipelago, and across different generations, to talk about their experiences in popular education, community organizing, diaspora, and the relationship between the arts, culture, and radical politics. The dialogue between longtime Lower East Side resident and activist José “Pepe” Flores (of La Sala de Pepe) and longtime Santurce resident and activist Jorge Díaz (of AgitArte/Papel Machete) will be the main focus, with reflections on the significance of these themes for the broader Puerto Rican radical tradition.

Image credit: José E. Velázquez Papers. Demonstration at City Hall for the Nationalists Prisoners. Center for Puerto Rican Studies Library & Archives, Hunter College, CUNY

This event is produced in collaboration with The Clemente Center, AgitArte, and La Sala de Pepe.

Hybrid Hybrid Event

March 1 @ 10:00 am 6:00 pm EST


(212) 772-5688

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2180 3rd Ave
New York, New York 10035
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