Death by Colonialism

2014YasminHernandezArtFreedomFetish
“Freedom Fetish” 2015, Yasmin Hernandez Art, Mixed media on board, 11″ x 14″

“…you be colonial man
You done be slave man before
They done release you now
But you never release yourself”

-lyrics from “Colonial Mentality” by Nigerian musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti

My people are yet to be released. We are three times colonized: by Spain, by the United States and by our own selves. Colonialism is a disease that spreads like cancer. It infects the body and the mind. At times I feel literally sickened by the effects of it. Like grieving, for those of us who have suffered a tragic loss, there is this tendency for the emotional weight of it all to manifest physically, causing actual pain. Such is colonialism. It blinds the eyes. It weakens the mind. It deafens your ears. It squeezes your chest, stresses your heart. The cells in your body slowly are reconfigured to function smoothly only when you agree to go along with it. To consciously choose to decolonize, starting with yourself, is to consciously choose to live at odds with society, with the power structure man has crafted on this planet. It is to choose to fight daily when all you ever hope for is peace.

I live in a perpetual state of grief. I live in perpetual conflict. I live in perpetual pain. I know the fragility of life. I have watched loved ones die. There is a humbling, gut-wrenching, beautiful, empowering element to bearing witness to the exit of a loved one. I know the raw intensity and magic manifested in pushing life into this world. I know what it is to have everything they said we should ever have and be empty inside. I know the laughter of those who bring jokes and good times to the table but are crippled by agony inside. I sense all that is left to be achieved in the road towards liberation, man-made borders and the capitalist constructs of countries aside.

Today’s pain comes from recent events affecting my people. Only colonialism can be responsible for a people perpetually putting their own on the stand. Making accusations and guilty verdicts for those who have already served their time. Only colonialism can be to blame for those who are blinded to any of their oppressor’s wrongdoing but live ready to jump at the chance to condemn their own and serve their head on a platter to their master. Colonialism is what is to blame when you throw yourself away only to reappear masked in the oppressor’s identity. Colonialism teaches you to confess your sins each Sunday for redemption and re-condemn time and time again, your people for whatever they did and didn’t do that you refuse to forgive.

Colonialism is what teaches you to fear bombs while simultaneously overlooking the statistics that those who taught you this fear have probably dropped the most bombs on most places on this planet. Colonialism has our schools teaching the colonizer’s history while our own history is a two-time class during a 13 year education. If you missed that grade because you moved from another place, then you missed your one chance at knowing your past.

Colonialism is what gives people the audacity to question their elders on their whereabouts and what they did. Disrespectful demands that they give up hopefully incriminating information for a crime they were already tried for and not found connected to or guilty of, but to lock them up anyway they were sentenced for something else. Colonialism imprisons people for seditious conspiracy which, regardless of their definition, basically means “guilty of wanting to be free.”

Colonialism is flying another’s flag while yours is faded and raggedy in a draw. Colonialism is going out to vote with other colonized friends to beg that the colonizer lets you be a part of them. When it fails, colonialism has you running out to try again and again. Colonialism is charging students for a debt you won’t audit because it might incriminate you and the colonizer you hope to be a part of, then spending $10million for that plebiscite to ask the oppressor to let you in. Colonialism is thinking from afar that all the US is made up of money-moguls like Trump that you want to rub elbows with. Colonialism is wanting to be a part of the United States but not wanting to be neighbors with Compton, Baltimore, Detroit or the Bronx. Colonialism is complaining about Dominicans in your country, calling Mexicans illegal and convincing yourself that you’re white. Colonialism has you denying half of you living in the Diaspora. Colonialism has you denying those in “the island” (there’s more than one) drowning in debt and disillusion. Colonialism has you taking your intelligence and skills to the states to work for the colonizer. Colonialism keeps you there working for the colonizer. Colonialism has you working to free a place that you refuse to ever live in. Colonialism got you relegating your connection to la patria to a beach vacation with cool refreshments served by the corporations you claim to abhor.  Colonialism got me writing in English. Colonialism got us all fucking confused.

Colonialism says it is a sin to question anything that the colonizer does, has done or will do. Colonialism has you doubting everything you did to the point that you are incapable of doing anything else. Why do the masses hate on our freedom fighters? People love to hate on those who have done what we would love to do but lack the courage to actually do it. We hate on those who remind us of our deficiencies. How dare a Puerto Rican be self-determined? How dare a Puerto Rican challenge authority? How dare a Puerto Rican not know their place? How dare a Puerto Rican do anything other than strive to be the best colonial subject–submissive, docile and grateful? All perfect prerequisites for being denied entry into a union that will never want you. No matter the packaging, all colonialism hurts.

The pain colonialism has caused me is that good pain. It’s that labor type pain that starts off slow and builds in a crescendo. It comes and goes and gives you a break in between. It signals what works and doesn’t work. It tells you when to lie still and when to get up and move. It tears the life out of you and simultaneously animates you. You are convinced that you will straight up die. Just then it alerts you to the release as you prepare to rebirth yourself: liberated!

5 thoughts on “Death by Colonialism

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  1. I am so impressed with your writing not only because it is flawless but because it is what I wish I would have written as well. I am organizing a seminar about “colonial mentality”at the Universidad del Turabo in august, where I have a part-time job. It is going to be a panel about the three classics: Memmy, Fanon and Césaire hoping to make it the first of a series of such activities. I will be moderating. But now I would like to ask your permission to read this post translated into Spanish as an introduction to the seminar.

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    1. Thank you Ivonne for your positive feedback. It means a lot, especially coming from you. I would be honored to have this work or an excerpt included in your panel. I apologize for not making my work available in both languages. It is something I have been contemplating for this blog/ how to best go about it. I can be reached at yasminhernandezart@gmail.com to further discuss a translated version. Again many thanks, for this and for your important contribution to this hidden history of ours. Abrazos solidarios, Yasmin

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      1. You do not have to apologize for not being fluent in Spanish, I have many members of my extended family in the Diaspora who speak mostly English or Spanglish. I will translate your post in order to read parts of it at the seminar as an introduction. I may need some description of you to start with, you can send it to my email : ivonnesacosta@gmail.com.

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  2. Hola Ivonne, Actually I am fluent in Spanish, however I developed this blog to share my experiences as a Puerto Rican from New York, having moved here. Essentially I developed the blog with the Diaspora in mind as my audience. But it is necessary to make the message available in both sides. There are certain thoughts/ sentiments that arrive in English/ others in Spanish. Interesting dynamics of the bilingual mind. I will email you. Many thanks,
    Yasmin

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