On Jan. 20, 2021 Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were sworn in as President and Vice President of the United States of America. Former Senator Harris is now the first woman in a presidential seat in the history of the United States, and the first woman of color in a presidential seat. Madame Vice President Kamala Harris has a very nice ring to it.
Regardless of what your personal sentiments on the new president and vice president of the United States may be, within their first full week of work, several discriminatory and racist executive orders have been overturned, including the globally criticized Muslim Travel Ban that Donald Trump implemented during his term as president. Both President Biden and Vice President Harris have shown the United States public that they are dedicated to implementing positive change, and the work in their first week indicates that they will follow through on the promises they made on the campaign trail. However, I am not going to dedicate the contents of this column to a full political analysis on their work so far. I am, however, going to focus on Inauguration Day.
Jennifer Lopez … Jenny from the Block, JLO … from one of New York City’s infamous boroughs, the Bronx, was chosen to sing a medley of the United States’ most coveted patriotic songs, “America the Beautiful” and “This Land is Your Land.” Taking into consideration all of the social justice movements that have been getting attention from major news sources in the past five years, let us analyze the implications of having a proudly Puerto Rican woman sing a song that celebrates the colonial and imperialistic legacy that the United States continues to carry on today. Many activists from the First Nations of the United States have consistently demanded change from elected officials, both locally and federally, for decades. Indigenous activists have most notably called attention to private corporations attempting to drill for oil in native lands or to build massive pipelines to carry oil from one end of the country to another (ex: Dakota Access Pipeline). The Black Lives Matter movement has called attention to racism, police brutality, economic inequities, racism in the medical field, mental health issues, women’s reproductive health, voter suppression, etc. Latinx activists have illuminated, for the United States public, the inhumane practices that are adhered to and enforced by ICE officials and the inequitable and discriminatory immigration laws, programs and policies that the United States has. Puerto Rican activists on the island and in the diaspora have started hashtags like #endthecolony, referring to the fact the island is still a colony (yes … a colony in the 21st century … ). In the beginning of the 20th century, second-class United States citizenship was imposed on Puerto Ricans, and even though they are “American Citizens,” Puerto Ricans are not allowed to vote for the president of the United States. Additionally, the congressional representative that represents Puerto Rico on Capitol Hill does not have a vote either and merely serves a symbolic role. The island of Puerto Rico is still managed by a committee made up of white men, and the occasional white woman for a splash of diversity *eye roll.* The fact of the matter is that the political and economic positions of islands like Puerto Rico have not changed since these lands were first colonized in the 15th century (be that by the United States or another colonial imperial state). These cries demanding systemic and institutional change have been stifled and ignored by the United States’ local and federal governments for a very long time. There is a difference between symbolic change, such as having a congressional representative represent a people with no voting power of their own, and institutional change that would give the island of Puerto Rico and its people sovereignty (just an example :) ).
Considering the experiences that many Black, Indigenous and other People of Color have to endure in this country, having a non-white woman sing songs that celebrate the ways in which the United States federal government has continued to be a perpetrator of colonial violence against the Puerto Rican people JLO claims to represent lets me know that the “America” many on Capitol Hill celebrate is a version of America that supports and perpetuates colonial violence, white privilege and the continued involvement of the U.S. in governments in Latin America and the Caribbean (which have often resulted in the destabilization of entire governments and economies). The United States is just beginning to embark on its journey toward real change on every level, but every time the United States makes a step forward, it makes a horrible step backwards. Having a colonial subject, JLO, sing a song praising the very violent colonial endeavors of the United States, a song that praises the violent, racist and gory history that the United States refuses to address is ironic to say the least. If it is anything that Puerto Ricans have come to know is that our land and our people do not belong to us but definitely belong to the United States government to continue to exploit for their economic gain. Upon seeing Jennifer Lopez sing these songs that ultimately celebrate genocide and violence, it hurt to watch what was a moving performance for many actually serve as a reminder of the violence that many of us still endure.
Many of us still dream of our land being our own and our people living safely. #endthecolony #givethelandback #realchange
Carmen San Diego
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