On today’s episode of Queering Left we will hear from Ricardo Jimenez and Jessie Fuentes, two activists from the Puerto Rican community.
To give a brief historical reminder, Puerto Rico was a territory of Spain that, in 1898, was taken by the United States during the Spanish American War. Since the US set foot on their soil, Puerto Ricans have been in struggle with the US colonial government.
The US government has attempted to strip the island and the people of their language, culture, resources, and autonomy while committing atrocities against the Puerto Rican people. Starting in 1941, the US military used the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a bombing target and testing site, destroying the sugar cane industry, fishing habitat, and ecology. US pharmaceutical companies have experimented on Puerto Ricans while polluting the waters and environment. Most recently, the US government turned its back on Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
Over 120 years of US colonialism, Puerto Ricans on the island and within the diaspora have fought in all sorts of ways to maintain their land, dignity, and independence.
Our two guests have had their own distinct relationship and roles in the fight for Puerto Rican independence. Ricardo Jimenez was born in 1956 and moved to Chicago as an infant with his family. He was captured in 1980 because of his involvement with the independence group Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional, or Armed Forces of National Liberation, and, along with 9 others, was convicted of “seditious conspiracy” in 1981. Ricardo was sentenced to 90 years in prison but President Bill Clinton granted him clemency in 1999. Soon after his release from prison, Ricardo came out as gay.
Jessie Fuentes is an activist and educator who came up through the youth programming of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center and is a graduate of Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School – the Puerto Rican Cultural Center’s very own educational institution. Fuentes has done work around empowering young people in the community, the release of Oscar Lopez Rivera, a former political prisoner, anti-gentrification activism, and organizing around the independence of Puerto Rico. Jessie began her political work as the Director of a youth organization in Humboldt Park called Batey Urbano, an alternative space for youth to creatively express themselves through theatre, poetry, hip hop, and dance.
Both Ricardo and Jessie are currently active in advocating for Puerto Rico’s independence and with efforts to address the devastation from Hurricane Maria on the island.