Humans are creatures of contradictions; I’m no exception.
For instance, I’ve been anti-war and pro-military. I’ve advocated (both non-violently and “by all means necessary”) for the independence of Puerto Rico, and also written in favor of Puerto Rico becoming a state of the Union. Some might say that this is the reflection of a colonized mind, who sometimes loves the master and sometimes sees him for what he represents: bondage. (I would’ve argued similarly when studying Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth.) Yet, I now see it differently. I see contradictions as a reflection of our ability to see positive aspects in every person and circumstance. In this world of dualities, perspective is king.
I was the only Puerto Rican appointed to the United States Air Force Academy in 1992, and I treasure my time there. After an issue with the Confederate flag (much before it became fashionable to oppose its display and what it represents), I decided to leave the Academy in 1993. This principled decision would impact my life in unexpected ways.
I then became a student activist at the University of Puerto Rico, advocating for the independence of Puerto Rico. Though I never partook in armed attacks, my political views were shaped by my association with one of the founders of an underground armed movement. My activism heightened during the struggle to oust the U.S. Navy from Vieques in 1999. At the time, I was transitioning from Columbia University to Dartmouth College to pursue doctoral studies in mathematics. My political activism would drag me back to New York City in 2001.
On May 5, 2000, I was arrested at Yankee Stadium for participating in a direct action protest with six comrades (see picture below), for which we were charged with several misdemeanors. However, this was the only case in the history of the Vieques struggle (which spanned decades and involved hundreds of arrests in Puerto Rico, New York, D.C., and other places) where the charges were dismissed “in the interest of justice.”
I also performed a seven-day hunger strike in front of the White House in June of 2000. Here’s a letter I wrote to President Clinton during that episode. Here’s a clip of my interview with Amy Goodman in 2000, announcing the hunger strike. (I stutter so much that I couldn’t finish hearing it when I found it!) I also helped organize Tito Kayak‘s protest atop the Statue of Liberty on November 5, 2000.
I abandoned political activism in 2005, after an intense anti-war struggle at the University of Puerto Rico in 2003-2004 that led to a six-month suspension of employment and salary, riposted with a 12-day hunger strike in front of El Capitolio in San Juan. This event inspired hundreds of students at three different UPR campuses to completely shut down their academic institutions for more than 24 hours. In attempt to have my suspension revoked, the Archbishop of San Juan, Roberto González Nieves, whom I did not know at the time, intervened. He negotiated an offer to allow me to retain my salary in exchange for not returning to the classroom until the end of the sentence. I rejected the offer because I could not accept payment without being allowed to teach. My counteroffer was rejected: To teach without pay. Not surprisingly, this principled decision had serious financial consequences.
The contradictions I witnessed, both within me and in the political movements that I had embraced, compelled me to focus instead on my family and my spiritual life. I am much happier as a result.
I continue to be passionate about what I devote myself to, perhaps more than I’d like to admit. Those issues, however, mostly revolve around education, farming, and spirituality. I welcome kindred spirits who want to share this adventure!