I am Puerto Rican, and I choose to sit alongside Kaepernick when the National Anthem of the United States plays. If you don’t understand why a Puerto Rican would say this, then you know nothing about the history of Puerto Rico. Let me explain.
Puerto Rico is actually part of the United States, for those of you who never stopped to think about it (racists who tell us to “go home” are a special breed of stupid).
I’ll let you in on a little secret – we were technically the very first “Americans” … like, EVER! See, back in good old 1492, when Christopher Columbus sailed all the way from Spain to find new land for his monarchy, he landed right smack on the shores of La Isla Bonita! Back then it was called “Boriquén” by the locals who had been living there for centuries, but whatever! Columbus changed our name to “Puerto Rico” (which literally means “rich port”) once he saw all the gold the natives had.
So in comes Columbus fresh from Europe, and says “Hey, I found America! And look over there, Americans!” And lo and behold, my ancestors went from being Tainos on the island of Boriquén, to being the very first oppressed minority in The New World!
Columbus and his crew brought disease, subjugation, rape, murder and overall genocide to those shores, all in the name of Spanish patriotism and expanding colonies. It became an ideal base for military operations (still is today). At some point, they realized they killed too many indigenous people, and no longer had enough hands to do all the dirty work, so they literally imported a bunch of people in from Africa to take over.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Like the Spanish American War at the end of the 19th century, when we were on the verge of gaining independence from Spain. Puerto Rico is instead sold off to the United States like a mail order bride subjected to the whim and caprice of a kinda gross old white guy (and did he ever). Did Puerto Ricans get a choice in that? Ha ha ha, that would be a Godzilla-sized level of nope. Less than 20 years later, Puerto Ricans didn’t have any say when they were drafted to fight in World War I. Puerto Ricans (alongside African Americans) were assigned to deadly ranks and tested and maimed for chemical warfare research – because, let’s face it, all the white people in charge thought we were more expendable. Puerto Ricans did not start the war, nor did they have a choice when they were sent to fight and die for it; we were literally cannon fodder for white men.
Colin Kaepernick is right.
In 1948 the US decided Puerto Ricans could no longer fly their own flag anymore, or have public displays of patriotism at all. Anyone heard of Pedro Albizu Campos? He was one of our inspired national leaders fighting to retain our cultural heritage from oppression and inhumane and illegal medical experiments. So the US put him in jail and conducted medical experiments on him (which eventually ended his life and his activism—convenient!). People who protested were summarily shot and killed. Did Puerto Ricans ever get justice for all these executions? Again, have another tall glass of Nope. Good ol’ USA can do no wrong (or else).
By the 1950s, it was a bloody fight on both sides – with Puerto Rico trying to stop the US from oppressing us, and the US trying to keep us down. Your typical abusive relationship, basically.
But wait, there’s more!
The US exploited poor Puerto Rican women into being guinea pigs for a birth control pill they were told was safe, but it was not. They were being used to test to see if it was. The women who survived that had life altering side-effects, but civil rights? That didn’t need no stinkin’ civil rights—that doesn’t jibe with Manifest Destiny—or what would today be known as “American Exceptionalism.”
Let’s not forget the bomb testing in Vieques that has riddled the island with military debris and radiation to this day, leaving Puerto Ricans with environmental devastation and bizarrely high cancer rates. By the way, Vieques was a military testing ground for decades before that. No Puerto Ricans had any say in any of this because – stop me if you’ve heard this one – the opinion of people with more melanin in their skin apparently just don’t matter all that much!
Even I remember the FBI agents who were exonerated for murdering an elderly Puerto Rican Nationalist in cold blood in his own home. They shot him in the stomach with his wife watching, and refused him medical attention until he bled out. Did the bereft family get any justice at all? Again, refer to previous levels of “nope.”
What about the fact that we have no representation in Congress? Well, we do get this adorable thing called a “Resident Commissioner” who can speak for Puerto Rico in front of Congress…but is not allowed to actually vote on anything, including what happens to Puerto Rico! At least the black residents of Washington, DC have a representative can only vote on bills when they come up in the House and Senate—just not when it comes to final passage. That would be a little too democratic. (Hey, we need to get us one of those license plates, por favor!) Talk about taxation without representation—isn’t that what the US fought the British about?
FYI, Puerto Ricans living on the island don’t vote for President, either! We are bound by federal law, but we are not allowed to vote unless we reside in any of the OTHER 50 states. We get a voice ONLY if we leave our land behind, thank you very much. And how about that tanking Puerto Rican economy! Lots of taxes and our second class status in the US government had a hand in that.
So no, the National Anthem of the United States does not speak to me, or give me a sense of pride or patriotism. To me, it is a lullaby of cultural amnesia, a little ditty to wash away centuries of blood and injustice. A testament to how far we haven’t come, since even today Americans are still censured for not pledging their allegiance to it. Mr. Kaepernick is a case in point.
Kaepernick made a choice because he knows the history of the black people in the United States. He also knows his current history, in the names that many hope will be forgotten. Names like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and Sandra Bland, among many, many more. He made a choice because in America, you do have the freedom to choose—it’s a little thing called the First Amendment of the Constitution that ensures Freedom of Speech. He made a choice, and true to form, his own country wants to silence him. You can’t force someone to be patriotic, especially if your definition of patriotic is limited to what one segment (typically a less melanin-skinned demographic) thinks it is. You can’t oppress them into forgetting their heritage. And you can’t whitewash (literally) the past by pretending the glory, riches, and opportunities the United States has received has been given to the black and Hispanic people that built it. Not even close. Because the truth is that #blacklivesmatter and #latinolivesmatter. And if you agree, then you’re being a brave patriot in my book; just not according to those who would rather sweep inconvenient historical facts under the rug of history.
This is my national anthem, and it is the only one I will stand for:
And for the millions and millions of my Boricuas out there, the songs that will forever pay tribute to our breathtaking heritage: