Ahead of Rosselló’s resignation, hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans reportedly participated in the national strike, shutting down the island’s major highway. The outrage was due in part because of massive leaks of private messages between the governor and members of his cabinet and closest aides. Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism published the 889-page chat, filled not only with what appear to be details of corruption but also with misogynistic and homophobic messages, mostly led by Rosselló. It was the last straw for an island that has endured so much, almost two years since Hurricane Maria caused devastation and left so many still struggling.
Puerto Ricans living in the States, like myself, followed the hashtag #RickyRenuncia and shared our outrage online while others booked tickets to join those fighting. We all felt the same way: This isn’t an isolated incident happening on our island. It is a blueprint that can easily be translated here in the States — the spark needed to ignite change.
Protesters were unrelenting and empowering in the various ways they made their voices heard. The 25-year-old reggaeton mega-star Bad Bunny joined outspoken rapper Residente and singer iLe in releasing the scorching protest song “Afilando los Cuchillos” (“Sharpening the Knives”). Yoga protests were held in front of the Fortaleza n San Juan; others read the 889 pages of texts aloud. And then there was the most glorious of all protests, incorporating the Latin American tactic of the cacerolazo: Every day at 8 p.m., people throughout the island banged pots and pans in solidarity from their balconies, windows and streets.
Back in Washington, President Trump repeated his lie that the government has given Puerto Rico $92 billion in aid. (The real figure is closer to $14 billion.) He claimed, “I’m the best thing to ever happen to Puerto Rico,” before mentioning the pageants he previously hosted there. To the president, Puerto Rico is nothing more than an inconvenience, a place to sip piña coladas and ogle at pretty things. Perhaps it’s not all that surprising that, when Trump toured the island after Hurricane Maria and famously tossed relief supplies to desperate Puerto Ricans, Rosselló took selfies with him.
Last December, I traveled to Puerto Rico. Every person I spoke to only wanted to tell their story — what happened in the days before Hurricane Maria as well as what happened during the storm and the months afterward. My uncle spoke of desperately holding on to a tree when the hurricane passed his house as he tried the save the animals on his land. Others spoke of waking up at 3 in the morning in the hopes of getting gasoline and, after waiting for 18 hours, leaving empty-handed. Another of the months on end of living in the dark, without electricity. They spoke of schools being closed down. Of jobs being lost. And of debating whether to leave the island.
In a crowded dance hall, a young woman in her 20s told me: “We just want to be heard.” And they have. It is fitting that their actions culminated on July 25 — 121 years since the United States invaded Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rican revolutionary Pedro Albizu Campos once said, “Young people have a duty to defend their country with weapons of knowledge.” I can’t imagine a quote more suitable to capturing this moment. This is the “Generación del ‘Yo No Me Dejo’ ” — the “I Will Not Allow It” Generation. The young in Puerto Rico are showing the rest of America how to do it. The suspicions of corruption can be found in the highest levels of this current administration. There’s no need for 889 pages to be published. We’ve had an abundance of proof of misogyny, racism and homophobia, witnessed on a daily basis.
The time to make noise here in the States is now. Open the window, pull out the pots and pans, and start banging.