April 19, 2016

ZUMBA | I’m Colonized

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Colonization is often thought to be an issue of the past. It is heavily associated with what we’re taught in basic U.S. history courses throughout the United States. The most notable colonizer that has a whole holiday dedicated to him is the lovely Christopher Columbus. We’re taught that he “discovered” the Americas, which is a lighter way to say that he colonized native lands through horrible acts of genocide. He is a deeply rooted image in U.S. history, which is why the idea that colonialism is an act of the past exists. 1492 seems so distant that there cannot be any acts similar to what Columbus did because we, as a society, have progressed so much since that time. The constant focus on the Western hemisphere, emphasizing  the United States, also contributes to a limited worldview that does not seem to exemplify the colonization in our history textbook. It’s the assumption that nothing like what Columbus did is still happening, so there is no genocide or colonization anymore. It’s kind of like believing that we’re living in a post-racial society: a delusion only believed by the privileged.

Not a day goes by where I do not think about how I’m a result of colonization. I mean, most Latinxs can trace their ancestry back to colonization; most people of color can. My “racial” ambiguity is due to the large amount of suffering people had to endure in order for me to be alive today. My light complexion is because of Spain, because of people like Columbus and Cortez. Within my blood there’s a story that I won’t ever know, but can feel. I know there’s pain there. There’s killing, raping and enslavement, too. I think about it a lot because it’s my past I can’t help it when I look at myself.

But as a Puerto Rican, I’m lucky enough to experience first-hand the continued colonization of my people. Puerto Rico is known as a “self-governing commonwealth” of the United States. They have their own governor and representatives, but have no representation in  U.S. Congress and are met with constant limitations that come with being considered a commonwealth, such as the inability to vote for the President of the United States. Despite this idea of Puerto Rico still retaining some sense of independence, it is extremely apparent that the United States holds control over the island; thus upholding colonialist ideals that are thought to be in the past. Colonization can be defined as the domination of a group or territory through some form of overall control over the place. So as long as the United States is occupying, using and exploiting that space, it is a form of colonization to me.

A major issue is that Puerto Rico is met with as a result of the U.S.’s control is that the island is in crisis and does not have the resources in order to handle it. They are facing environmental, violence and population issues from coast to coast. At this point, the island is basically bankrupt, but cannot file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy in order to receive help due to being a U.S. territory. It’s a very specific limitation that leaves Puerto Rico to fend for itself without any possibility of accessing aid. As a result, many Puerto Ricans are losing jobs, experiencing higher taxes and cuts to their pensions. The U.S.’s involvement complicates this issue, making it more difficult to solve, which alludes back to the over 100 years of control that the U.S. has over the island. Its constant colonization and exploitation contribute to all the issues the island is facing today as its government is making more gains towards aid from the U.S. government.

Colonization may take on different forms, similar to how genocide is more than just killing an entire group of people, but it does not change the fact that it is still colonization. The Tainos were colonized and subjected to genocide from the Spanish and Christopher Columbus, and now that has transformed into the United States’ current control on the island. They still are not given their freedom. This isn’t even the only territory that the U.S. has control over and it is not met with as many difficulties as others, especially considering that Puerto Ricans are considered citizens of the United States, not by choice. I know that whenever I visit the island, I don’t have to look hard to find evidence of U.S. imperialism spread throughout its land and throughout its people. That still doesn’t change the sense of pride people have for this control and the amount of kindness and love they have. Thinking about the way I’m colonized, whether it’s somewhere in my ancestry, the current U.S. control of Puerto Rico, or general colonizer thoughts that I may have assimilated into, I remember the amount of power that my body serves to represent. Through everything that my ancestors may have faced, not only on the Puerto Rican side of my family, and reflect on how my body represents a sense of resilience. I exist because someone fought for me to; and I’m definitely going to continue to exist and through fighting for myself and for others as well.

Sarah Zumba is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at sez29@cornell.edu. Zumba Works it Out appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.