Oscar Lopez Rivera gave what will certainly be looked back upon as a historic speech a few hours ago at Hostos Community College, CUNY. There will be plenty of press covering this speech and so I'll spend time here reflecting on the ways I understood Oscar Lopez Rivera's position on reframing colonized peoples' resistance to exploitation. More specifically, the ways that we should reimagine our resistance to exploitation through love and home and how that all ties into him giving us a loose frame for new masculinities.
"Love Puerto Rico and decolonize Puerto Rico. We can do it."
There are many ways to resist and react to being a colonized person or being a person in a diaspora due to colonialism. We know that Oscar was/is being painted as a terrorist and rumored of being a violent person by a few media outlets and groups (like the one I got the picture from). I think that violence is a reasonable reaction to being attacked with bombs and depleted uranium and forced sterilization and fiscal control boards for hundreds of years. I don't think anyone would say that is unreasonable. I don't think the US would stand for any of that without reacting very violently. In fact, we'd likely call it anti-terrorist efforts. Sounds familiar? Anyway, rather than talk about the use of physical force or the need to fight back, as we've heard from some revolutionary voices in our communities, he focused on the power to harness our love to radically transform our situation.
I think this becomes exponentially important considering his identity as a man who is a freedom fighter that spent decades in prison and even refused to accept an offer to be released because he didn't want to leave others behind. That person is someone who we'd maybe expect a more rough version of resistance. He flips the narrative on its head for us allowing us to re-imagine power and activism through love.
"Love for Puerto Rico is the solution to the decolonization of Puerto Rico. If we really love Puerto Rico, we can come together. The common denominator... is love for Puerto Rico."
Oscar spoke in response to the ways that colonization has had a deep affect on us. We know about divide a conquer as it is a common tactic that we know is at play in our communities. We see arguments over skin color, language barriers, and more - all efforts to seek out the "true" Puerto Ricans.
Tonight, he reminded us that we all just want to have a homeland and we all want to be in our homeland. That felt so primitive for me. I felt like we must be evolved beyond wanting that and then I had to remind myself that being a colonized person has real implications for the way I think about myself and my feelings. He talked so much about love that I had to check the way that I thought about resistance and revolution. I found myself half wondering if he was just beaten down so much by the system that he didn't want to fight anymore but no.
What he is saying is this is how we fight. Love is the way to actually reconstruct our colonized selves. We have to regain our capacity to love infinitely and then we will, as he said, come together and decolonize ourselves and our homeland. Again, the important thing to remember is how we don't quickly associate love with strength and especially masculine strength. I do wonder if my reaction would have been any different had he been a woman talking about love. I can take a few guesses.
"To love Puerto Rico will cost nothing."
And finally, he shared an anti-capitalist framing of love, reminding us that we have the capacity to love for free. And not only is it free, but it will make us free.