Chronicle of a Day in the Plaza

By:  Laura Olivieri Robles  and Mónica Ocasio Vega

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Giovanni sells lottery tickets from Monday through Friday at the Plaza. Not even a nasty case of the flu kept him from selling lottery tickets to his loyal customers. His friend, Kathy- who did not want to be pictured- kept him company to make time pass more quickly.

 

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While Gladys waited for the bus to take her home she went on and on about how she did not have any children. She was amused of how others had loads of bags full of Mother’s Day presents. “It is a holiday created by the commerce, why does everyone insist on buying presents for their aunt, mother in law and neighbor?”she added when someone was loudly saying all of the presents he had bought.

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Yesenia and Gerardo- who did not want to be pictured- have an on going business in the Plaza, selling a selection of flowers and medicinal plants. Gerardo, an engineer, is the one who cultivates some of their medicinal plants while all of the flowers are brought from big importers like Colombia. By the end of the day all of their gorgeous selection of roses, daisies, lilies and carnations were gone, bought either as a present for Mother’s Day or a nice pick-me up for the day.

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Edmarie Cordova, natural from New York, enjoying a walk with her uncle, Edgardo Soto, while waiting for her mother to come out of the hospital. They came for a short trip to Puerto Rico when her brother decided to come out of her mother’s womb. As a daughter of a Puerto Rican family she naturally has a big stew of English and Spanish in her little head.

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Miriam Acevedo and Carmín Torrellas share their shift at a Jehovah’s Witnesses booth at the Plaza. They nicely greeted anyone who passed by and made conversation with whomever was interested. “We are here to explain what the Bible really says” shared Acevedo, they count with pamphlets of diverse themes addressing questions about God and their religion.

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Julio and Sylvia Marrero, owners of the flower cart located at the corner of the Mayagüez Casino, nicely indicating the flower’s prices to their customers.The couple has been selling flowers for over 30 years. Their business is only open for Mother’s Day and Father’s day holidays

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Gustavo, a professional photographer, is filming the skies over the Plaza for a time lapse he is working on. He’s usually found around the Plaza filming skate videos for Mundorad.com. “I’m here doing the same thing you are” when asked what was he up to.

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Four Eugenio María de Hostos high school students (16 and 17) sit by the square’s fountain during their lunch break. The group said giggling “we’re here killing some time, we already had lunch”. This group of students is one of many that can be seen in the Plaza Colón during lunchtime, because high school students are allowed to have lunch outside of school.

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Santa enjoys a refreshing ice cream with her grandson, Jayron at the Plaza Colón. The boy shared that the treat was his grandmother’s reward for getting first place at a competition on his field day. The boy got comfortable with us rather quickly and started quizzing us on United States presidents.

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Kel, a writer, comes to the Plaza to admire beautiful days and put his thoughts together. Naturally from Ohio, he shared that in his long search for his true home, he found it in the island. “I’m getting the Puerto Rican flag tattooed today at 5:00 P.M., this place is just so wonderful”

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A student from the University of Puerto Rico- Mayagüez Campus, Fernando, opted to enjoy the sun while finishing an art assignment. He majors in civil engineering at UPRM, “an odd choice, I know” he added. All of his works looked beautifully detailed, he conveyed a great talent even though he said he had not taken much art classes.

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Enrique Maíz Torres, Interamerican University student, orders his regular double shot latte. Maíz began visiting Friends Café about two years ago, and knows well the baristas in the shift. “I always order a double shot latte because my best friend is a barista and he taught me that it’s the best way to get a rich coffee flavor” said Maíz Torres.

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Friends Café barista, Hernán Rodríguez Cortés, handing his speciality cappuccino to a customer. Rodríguez has been working at the coffee shop since 2007. He said “We brew an average of 60 to 80 pounds of coffee a week”

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Siblings Ricardo, 4, Natalia, 2, and Damián, 3, playing and bursting bubbles. The siblings enjoyed a day in Mayagüez, while visiting from Camuy, PR. The mother of the trio said “they’re discharging energy so they can sleep the whole trip back home”

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Humberto Rocio and Maria Jaime, UPRM students, taking a break from studying. Rocio is a computer engineering major while Jaime is a chemical engineering major. The couple of friends visited the café as a way to relax from final’s week at the university.

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Edgardo Gonzalez (red), Raúl Marrero (blue), Ulises Pagán (white) and Frankie Velez (stripes) enjoying an evening match of dominoes. The winning team at the moment was Marrero and Pagán. The gang chose to play dominoes at the Plaza Colón because “there is nothing else to do.”

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Not a Conventional Woman

By Laura M. Olivieri Robles

10:30a.m. on a recent Wednesday, morning classes have just ended at the University of Puerto Rico- Mayagüez and you can see how the green campus is bustling to life as students walk out of the main buildings.

Amidst all of the familiar faces, a student dressed in cargo shorts, oversized hoodie, flip-flops and a cap walks through the campus. If you don’t take a second look you might think she is a good-looking guy.

Margie Muñoz, 20, a philosophy major, is committed to challenging stereotypes.

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Margie Muñoz, in her usual attire, ordering at La cueva de Tarzán, the student coffee shop at UPRM.

 

The UPRM student has identified as a lesbian since she was 14. “As far as I can remember, I have always liked girls,” she said. Her parents were not as sure as she was; it took her family three years to accept that she was not just confused about her sexuality.

Margie is a very driven person who is clear about her life plans. She has been independent since she graduated high school. “I pay my taxes!,” she jokingly said. In order to pay the rent and put food on the table this full-time college student works as a bartender and is part of the U.S. Army.

Her life is challenging but she does not regret her independence. All of adulthood’s headaches are worth it at the end of the day, she said.

Academically, however, she admits that her path was not always so clear. She entered the university thinking science was her future but she was quickly disappointed when she found out that in science “you have to swallow things that are already given.” Margie believes that in order to learn she must question, investigate and discover– she could not exactly debate Newton’s gravitational law.

That is one of the reasons why she loves philosophy so much: “it’s all about asking the right questions.”

This revelation took place on 2012, when she was forced to take a year off from college in order to complete her training in the U.S. Army. She may have stopped learning classroom lessons during that year, but she never stopped thinking. It turns out that as she was kept from school she found herself thinking and analyzing more. Margie came back from her training very sure of what she wanted in life.

During that year she learned that practicing a lucrative profession was not what life was about. So, casting aside societal expectations about professional success, she chose to pursue a much desired career in philosophy. Her major is just another way she has chosen to challenge societal norms.

Society’s norms are not really something Margie Muñoz gives much thought about; as she does not mind having more muscle mass than is socially acceptable for young women in Puerto Rico. She also does not give much thought to the clothes she wears and she challenges societal expectations about female body image by refusing to shave.

Not putting much thought to her outfits and choosing comfort over all may be read by others, as careless or sloppy but as she puts it “The way I dress is not a priority for me, I simply don’t catalogue doing my hair as a top priority.”

Her transgression of societal expectations for young women is unusual and often makes her the target of judgment. Whether she is mistaken as a guy or is looked at with disgust because of her hairy legs she simply does not take it seriously. She understands that people come with their own thoughts and ideas and that many are simply not used to her reality.

Her body image is another statement of her transgressions. Her biceps are as sculpted and hard as David, Michael Angelo’s sculpture. Considering her training of choice is Crossfit, her whole body is sculpted, having more muscle mass than what is socially expected of women. Crossfit is an exercise philosophy that focuses on strength and conditioning, where those who practice it test themselves on every session.

Having a crossfitter physique may give her a rough appeal but in thruth “She may seem tough and rough but she is the most positive person I know,” said Emylette Cintrón, a friend of Margie who is a fellow UPRM student.

When Margie first practiced it, it was like love at first sight, it became a place where she challenged her body and mind.

Excersice is her ultimate relaxer when she’s stressed about classes or financial situations.  Margie’s schedule is packed but she astutely got the hang of it, otherwise the pace of her everyday life would run her over. Believing harmony is the key to everything, Margie organizes her time with that in mind, and makes the most of every minute she has at hand.

Margie catching up on assigned readings at her usual hang out spot between classes, Café Colegial.

Margie catching up on assigned readings at her usual hang out spot between classes, La Cueva de Tarzán. 

The barista at La Cueva de Tarzán, Ricardo, describes Margie as a very caring, hardworking and direct person.

Her ultimate goal in life is to land a job related to her philosophy major, going to work because she loves it and not because she needs the money, and owning a house.

In Puerto Rican society Margie knows that she is considered unfeminine. However, she is clear that she is a woman. Following the philosophy of her role model, Simone de Beauvoir, she says: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”

Margie is an unconventional woman, and proud of it.

 

 

Cuban Yoe

By: Mónica B. Ocasio Vega

More than 10 people came into Galaxy Video Store in Cabo Rojo looking for movie rentals between 7:00 and 7:30 pm on a recent Friday night. They all share a common denominator: Yoemir assisted them.

During that evening, in a store full of movies, Yoemir Rodríguez greeted everyone with an ample smile and a cheerful “good evening.” He knew most of the people that came in because they frequent his video store. He knew even the children that came in with their parents to rent their regular Friday night movie.

But they might not know him as well. They might not even know that he’s a Cuban immigrant.

“I left Cuba when I was 21-years-old,” says Yoemir Rodríguez now 32. “I left mainly because of the lack of freedom of speech and I wanted to see a different lifestyle.”

When clients look at Yoemir, they might only see a tall, dark-hair young man who enjoys triathlons, works late and has an “average Joe” daytime job. But beneath that surface appearance stands a man whose life has been full of adventure.

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Yoemir Rodríguez, 32, thinks back to his days living in Cuba.

“When I first left Cuba, I moved to Spain. Then I went on to live a couple of months in the city of lights, France,” says Yoemir. After France he moved to Miami, “the second Cuba,” and then finally arrived in Puerto Rico in 2005. He currently works for the city of Cabo Rojo as its Federal Programs Office Director. He also owns Galaxy Video Store in Cabo Rojo.

The journey that predated these accomplishments is not ordinary. Rodríguez left Cuba without any higher education degrees. However, his current job with the city of Cabo Rojo challenged him to further his studies. He attended Interamerican University in San Germán, where he obtained an accounting degree and graduated Magna Cum laude.

Moving from Cuba to Spain was a significant transition in his life. Moreover, relocating in Puerto Rico entailed confronting new challenges. “Coming from big cities I came to find out the contrast between the citizen treatments here in the island and the places I lived in. In Europe I could walk everywhere; here I had to have a car if I wanted to get anywhere,” says Yoemir. “I did like the warmth of the  people in the island and also their humbleness.”

Yoemir’s life has also been marked by discrimination, even in a fellow Caribbean island like Puerto Rico. When he lived in France people discriminated against him for speaking Spanish, but when he moved to Puerto Rico people discriminated him for being Cuban.

His first job in the island was in a factory. He recalls noticing that his co-workers kept him at bay, so he asked a friend about it. “They’re mad because a close relative of them could have the job you have,” his friend said.

He also struggled to challenge people’s stereotypes about Cubans. “There is this idea that all Cubans are proud and loud, sometimes people see me this way even though I’m not.”

As all people, he has missed his home in Cuba, especially his family. “I grew up in Holguín, which is on the oriental part of Cuba, opposite to La Habana,” said Yoemir as he remembered a very special occasion while living there. He also said there will be memories of times he will probably never live again.

One such memory is of a family holiday party at his grandmother’s house.“She had a “burén” in which cassava could be made. It was a tradition, the roasting of a pig manually, and all of us playing dominoes. Our deal was that whoever lost at the game had to take a turn at roasting the pig.”

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Rodríguez Rodríguez practiced swimming in Cuba, and now practices triathlons in Puerto Rico.

Even if he is away from Cuba, he still cultivates some of the disciplines he learned in his dearest motherland, for nowadays Yoemir is a triathlon athlete. “When I lived in Cuba I went to the sports school where I practiced swimming until the twelfth grade,” he says. “Now I run triathlons.” With this sporting practice Yoemir has been able to create strong friendships and meet people that make him grow closer to his new home. René Torres, a fellow friend and athlete regards Yoemir as a “unique person.”

After his unusual journey, at t 32, Yoemir still has goals to accomplish in his professional and personal life. “I would like to continue on growing in my job and find more ways to challenge myself,” he says.

“Yoemir is an example of perseverance and he’s a good man,” says close friend and town worker Enrique Maíz. He’s indeed a persevering person. He has been able to live in various places, all different from one another, with no one to look over him or anyone for him to rely on for help and has still been able to become a successful business owner that looks constantly for ways to improve professionally and personally.

The “Moisés” behind Dr. Orengo Avilés

By: Grecia Santaella Méndez and Diego Delgado Tamariz

Those daily 30-minute walks to school became a particular adventure for six year-old Moisés Orengo Avilés, especially when it rained. Going to school was a privilege at that time, and the opportunity of having an education was not to be taken lightly. That’s why walking barefoot in the mud in order to preserve his shoes was not a problem for the boy, who was taught by his mother, from a very early age, that education was primordial.

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Orengo Avilés sips coffee at home as he narrates his life with a peculiar sense of humor.

The eleventh of the 13 children born of the Delfina Avilés Galarza and Diego Orengo Torres marriage lived in Algarrobos, an isolated and very humble neighborhood in Yauco, near the Luchetti Dam. Playing near the river and being forced to make his own toys as a kid was fundamental in the development of his creativity. “My childhood was very creative and imaginative,” recalled Dr. Orengo Avilés as he sat casually, , dressed in jeans and a short sleeve buttoned shirt, in his current home in Hormigueros.

Without any hint of hesitation, Orengo Avilés described high school as a fundamental period in his intellectual formation. “I felt very passionate about theater and directing plays was actually my first salaried job. It helped me a lot in overcoming my reservations and shyness as a teenager.”

He admits to discovering his true passion by mistake. He applied to college for the natural sciences bachelors’ degree program. “But the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, where I wanted to study, didn’t have the program at the time. So in an attempt to study in the UPRM, I chose physics as the road I wanted to pursue,” Orengo narrates while grinning and laughing lightly.

After completing his undergraduate degree at UPRM, the barefoot boy from the countryside of Yauco with little resources made his way into an Ivy League institution, Brown University in Providence, RI,  for his doctoral studies.

While being aware of this academic achievement, questions about prejudice and discrimination towards him arose. “While admitting that discrimination is a serious matter, I never chose to focus on the possibility of being a target because of my origins. Prejudice was probably there in some occasions, but I never paid attention.”  For Orengo, prejudice and discrimination could have never affected him.

Choosing to turn the cheek the other way to the possibility of being an outcast is an example of how Orengo chooses to focus his time and efforts in building positivism and not being bitter or bothered by negativism. That is probably why Dr. Moisés Orengo’s students at the UPRM describe him as a very dynamic and pro-student figure. “I tell my life story to my students in order to make a connection with them, to make them understand that professors were once in their shoes and that we’ve made a lot of sacrifices as well,” added Orengo while expressing his gratitude for his nomination to occupy the role of the next Chancellor of the next UPRM (also known as “Colegio”).

Having previously occupied positions such as Associate Director of the Physics Department, Director of the Professional Enrichment Center, and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at UPRM, among others, Orengo has mixed feelings about this new challenge. In a recent interview by WOLE TV News, Dr. Moisés Orengo stated “With this nomination I feel very honored and at the same time, summoned to assume the great responsibility that comes with the leading position of a main person at the Colegio.”

Orengo Avilés emphasizes that if elected, he hopes to attend the need for unity, collaboration, commitment and inclusion of all members of the UPRM community, from the student body and faculty to administrative and staff members. He believes that the UPRM community is talented, creative and capable of even more innovation and optimization, and wishes that his spirit spreads to the UPRM community at large.

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Moisés Orengo lively explains his vision for the UPRM.

Although Dr. Moisés Orengo is an accomplished professional in the community, he is also known to be a compassionate and selfless being. He recalls Ariel Orengo, high school teacher and current physician, as an exemplary being that inspired this side of him. “He was my physics teacher in high school and little did we know that it wasn’t his field of study. We eventually found out that he would stay up all night reading and studying anything he could find, in order to be able to answer all of our class’ doubts.” He felt inspired by his sacrifice, his thirst for learning and his commitment.

Ariel Orengo’s sacrifice may have driven Moisés Orengo to collaborate with his community as well. Dr. Orengo Avilés is known for having established a tutoring program in his church for students from elementary school through college. When asked about which community sector he would like to extend his help to if given the chance, he did not hesitate to reply: “I would extend my help to the sectors with more economic needs. I come from a family that has had to overcome economic disadvantages and wasn’t paralyzed by that. I think people need that inspiration and to aspire to their highest goals.”

Moisés Orengo Avilés’ life is seen by his peers as an example of perseverance, focus and determination. Not only is he an accomplished lecturer, but he is also a disinterested and cherished community leader. Dr. Dinorah Hernández, neighbor of Moisés Orengo, assures that he possess all the moral characteristics of what should be a good neighbor. “He is very respectful, helpful and gentlemanlike, nice, humble and hardworking. He likes spending time with our community and is very well-versed in all topics; he exemplifies a great intellectual capacity.”

Intersection of Queerness and Race

By Laura M. Olivieri

The movie Gun Hill Road was presented on March 6, as part of the program of the V ¿Coloquio Del otro la’o? held in the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. Movie screenings where held everyday of the colloquium, the selection of films focused on the intersection of queer sexualities and race.

 Pictured is the programed film cycle that took place at the colloquium.

Pictured is the programed film cycle that took place at the colloquium.

Gun Hill Road, written and directed by Rashaad Ernesto Green, was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival on 2011. The film tells the story of an ex-con who arrives home and has to deal with the fact that his son is a developing transsexual. Race plays a crucial role in the storyline, situated in the Bronx, amongst Latino people.

A Professor from the humanities department and the event coordinator, Lissette Rolón, , proposed to the dozen people who attended the screening to keep three questions in mind in order to participate in the discussion: “What does the movie propose about the theme of queerness and race?, How can we make the situation more familiar? What are the implications of the movie’s proposal?” The film’s protagonist, Harmony Santana is actually a transgender actress. When Green found his protagonist, Santana, she had not started her process of becoming a woman. Santana won Best Supporting Actress in the Independent Spirit Awards for her performance on the film.

The official poster for the film Gun Hill Road (2011).

This film is centered on social issues for transgender people, Rashaad Ernesto Green decided to emphasize problems due to culture, social strata and family. The handful of people that participated in the discussion after the film made it very clear. The interpretation of the movie was richer because the audience shared the same culture as the protagonists: Puerto Rican.

Another central issue in the film was the intersection between queerness and people of color. One audience member pointed out, during the discussion, that culture plays a big role when coming to term with your sexuality.

Professor Lisette Rolón said in a post-screening interview that she chose the films for the screenings based on different criteria. Children of God, which was screened on March 4, has been recognized and prized by members of the queer community. The World Unseen, which was screened on March 5, and Gun Hill Road were selected because of their rich queer and race content.

The Other Side of the Law: Ana Irma Rivera Lassén

By: Mónica B. Ocasio Vega

Ana Irma Rivera Lassén, President of the Puerto Rico Bar Association attended the University of Puerto Rico- Mayagüez as a key-note speaker in the Figueroa Chapel Amphitheater. On Tuesday March 5 2014, Rivera-Lassén expressed her professional opinion on human rights and anti-discrimination struggles, as the opening key-note conference ¿Del Otro La’o Del Derecho O El Derecho Del Otro La’o? (On the other side of law? or The law from the other side?)  for the V Coloquio ¿Del otro La’o?: perspectivas sobre sexualidades “queer”. ((Fifth colloquium, from the other side?: perspectives on queer sexualities).

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Rivera-Lassén expressed her professional opinion on human rights and anti-discrimination struggles.

More than 60 people listened as the third woman and the first –ever Afro-Puerto Rican president of the Bar Association focused on her area of expertise, human rights. She told the audience that “Puerto Rico speaks about civil rights, but not human rights,” which is why a change of perspective is needed in the country. She added that public debates push society to demand its rights.

As the first-ever openly lesbian president of the Bar Association, Rivera Lassén’s main idea for the conference was the need of inclusion in civil and human rights struggles in Puerto Rico.

To clarify her opinion, the Bar Association president related her experience of becoming elected as president: “when I was running for president I said to the voters: ‘Don’t take under consideration stereotypes, prejudice or anything apart from reason’.”

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The conference ended with a round of questions from the audience.

The speaker mentioned Puerto Rico’s current struggles for rights:  the demand for same-sex couples to have parental rights on their children, the recent law banning discrimination for sexual orientation in the workplace; and the extension of Law 54 (regarding domestic violence) for same-sex couples.

Rivera Lassén explained that the concept of Law itself is constantly growing; it maintains its meaning but continues expanding to incorporate more people and satisfy the needs of the context.

The audience seemed interested in the arguments exposed by Rivera Lassén exposed. Aurelie Arnould, Social Sciences student and audience member, said: “I really enjoyed the conference; Ana Irma Rivera is truly a perfect example of human activism and perseverance”. The conference ended with a round of questions from the audience, during which different opinions were shared and certain points clarified.

A Prostitution Issue: a discussion by Nivializ Toro

By: Mónica B. Ocasio Vega

How are Puerto Ricans informed about prostitution? Is it ironic people learn more about this theme from fiction tan from the local news? Those were the questions Nivializ Toro, undergraduate comparative literature student at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, examined for her undergraduate research Prostitución en Puerto Rico, entre esclavas y libertas: Sirena Selena, Isabel Luberza Oppenheimer y el discurso periodístico sobre lxs prostitutxs.

She presented her research on March 6 at the Luis Celis Building, as part of the V Coloquio ¿Del otro La’o?: perspectivas sobre sexualidades “queer”. (Fifth colloquium, from the other side?: perspectives on queer sexualities).

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Nivializ Toro, undergraduate comparative literature student at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez.

More than 25 people attended the round-table discussion, which focused on the reality that prostitution is not a dutifully examined area in the local news-papers.

Toro’s undergraduate research is basd on feminist theories. She examined two novels by author Mayra Santos-Febres: Sirena Selena vestida de pena and Nuestra Señora de la Noche  and also collected articles from El Vocero newspaper . She found weak information on the matter.

Toro noted an interesting contrast: both of the novel’s protagonists are transvestites who work in prostitution; however, the local newspaper doesn’t specify sexuality when reporting news about prostitution.

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The discussion focused around theoretical aspects of Toro’s investigation and how it may affect Puerto Rico’s society in relation to prostitution.

Furthermore, the discussion focused around theoretical aspects of Toro’s research and how it may affect Puerto Rico’s society in relation to prostitution. One attendee, Social Sciences professor Luis Nieves Rosas, asked if the protagonists were presented as male figures at any point in the novels.  Toro explained that they were not specified points in the texts that the protagonists were described as male figures, instead as drag queens, which contributes to the confusion regarding prostitution.

At the end of the discussion the audience had a chance to clarify doubts and question the speaker. Toro responded to all of the audience’s doubts and questions, complementing the discussion in session.

As a first time presenter Toro was satisfied with the event. “I loved presenting. It’s definitely something I would like to do again,” she said in an interview. “It is pleasing having an audience interested in the theme” of her research, she added.

University students organize press conference to discus economic and social crisis of Puerto Rico

By: Bianca Aponte

       On Tuesday November 5th 2013 a group of students from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez carried out a press conference to discus social inequality and economic crisis of Puerto Rico. Three panelists attended this event: Michael González, Javier Smith and José Guillermo Santiago; Edwin Irizarry Mora participated via e-mail. The main points discussed in the press conference were mostly centered on exchanging ideas on where the government should take action to improve the actual crisis, life of the marginalized sectors, activist movements and the panelist’s personal perspectives on themes of concern.

“The economic crisis and social inequality in Puerto Rico has retrogressed and has become the main problem this island has faced in recent years”, said Santigo. Orlando Sotomayor and Eduardo Kicinski, both economy professors at the UPRM, say that 20% of the population in Puerto Rico, who is considered the wealthiest, receives 65% of annual income stating that 80% of Puerto Ricans are living in poverty and in the middle class.

The discussion panel opened with the UPRM sociology professor Michel González, was asked questions and refused to respond or would respond with short words. Activist Javier Smith, stated that the major obstacle activist face while working on the marginalized sectors are when jobs are done in parallel with the government, whose work can have better and measurable results, however do not touch deeply and hide problems. In an article for USA Today Alan Gomez said, “the island of just 3.7 million residents owed a staggering $70 billion in debt and had run up a $2.2 billion budget deficit that led credit rating agencies to downgrade Puerto Rico bonds to near-junk status.” Puerto Rican government has much to do with the crisis.

Santiago is completing his master’s degree in democratic politics was asked if the government had the power to get Puerto Rico out of the crisis, why haven’t we seen that change? He answered that he thinks that the government doesn’t have the instrument to do so now because before doing so Puerto Rico has to be decolonized and we also have to “decolonize ourselves”.

Irizarry sent his responses via e-mail. Irizarry said Puerto Rico’s economy in the 80’s and 90s and Puerto Rico’s economy today has differed in dramatic reduction of productive capacity and the low participation of labor; serious increase in debt and very low tax. He portrayed a vision for the wellness of the island while he wrote about local small and midsize companies are the ones in power to improve the economy, and said, “The key for success is strongly related to identifying market opportunities within regions and municipalities.”

Through this press conference the audience can see how Puerto Ricans from different perspectives like sociologist, activist and students look at the social inequality and economic decline crisis while opting for a change and betterment of the island.

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(Left) Jose Santiago, Javier Smith and Michael González at the press conference.

Photo taken by Héctor Díaz

The Brain down the Drain

by: Christopher Velázquez Meléndez

The “brain drain,” a serious situation affecting the Puerto Rican economy, was the reason to put together a panel on October 17th with sociologist Dr. Michael Gonzalez Cruz, economist Dr. Orlando Sotomayor, both professors at the University of Puerto Rico- Mayagüez and mechanical engineering student Bryan Rullan. This panel which took place at UPRM, put in perspective the reasons, possible solutions and the effects of the brain drain.

“Ninety seven out of 136 chemical engineers that graduated from UPRM two years ago left to the United States leaving an economic impact that I can define as 97 people who won’t spend money in the country, not just being a brain drain but an economic drain also.” said Gonzalez, showing the magnitude of this situation.

Puerto Rico’s grave economic crisis is showing no signs of improvement. According to a news article published by “El Nuevo Día on January 20th 2013” over half a million people have left in the last decade. But, there still are some who wish to stay even though they would have to go through the difficulty of the economic situation, “I’d rather stay and not be one of the people who leave, to be productive and form part of the solution, not the problem,” said Rullan, right after stating that the financial conditions keep deteriorating mostly because the people who can solve it are migrating to more promising states.

Although it seems that the source of this problem is in Puerto Rico and that its youth rather stay in their homeland they have to choose to move somewhere with better chances of economic growth. Sotomayor said, “people have in their minds “if I think I can generate a change, I will stay here. But If I don’t think my voice is being heard I will get out of here and leave,” basing himself on what people are actually doing.

Caribbean Business posted an article on its webpage this September 4th on its webpage about the governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla and his publicity campaign “Isla Estrella” which is supposed to raise the morale and give hope of improving this crisis, highlighting the talent that comes out of the country and how great we can be. But this reached to be nothing more than just an attempt since people keep leaving and apparently, according to various predictions from economists and discussion on the panel, it will continue to happen.

But Sotomayor argues that this problem is not unprecedented. He explained that back in the 1940’s people left the island to the United States in search for jobs in hard labor. This occurrence led to the migration of over half a million workers. Today’s migration however, is different explained Sotomayor. The people leaving are people with education at least a bachelor’s degree which is where the name “brain drain” meets its origin. These well prepared and educated individuals who leave take with them the economic progress that they can generate and could help improve the situation.

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Our panelist members on the “brain drain,” (in order of appearance left to right) Brian Rullan, Michael Gonzalez Cruz and Orlando Sotomayor.

“Puerto Rico’s social inequality is a direct result of the economic issues of the island.”

By: Natalie Castro

The uneven income distribution, unemployment, and school dropout rates are some of the factors that contribute to the social inequality in Puerto Rico, said Natalia Vilá, University of Puerto Rico- Mayagüez student and president of the Student Association in Support of the Puerto Rican Communities, during a press conference on October 29, 2013.

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Natalie Castro, moderator, facing the audience during the press conference held in the Carlos Chardón Building on October 29, 2013

Among the panelists, there was Agent Carlos Ruíz, former policeman in the Narcotics, Drugs, and Illegal Arms Division of Mayagüez, Dr. Wilfredo Ruíz- Oliveras, founding member and ex- professor of the Economy Department at the UPRM, and Natalia Vilá.

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The press conference included three panelists: Natalia Vilá, Dr. Wilfredo Olivera, and Agent Carlos Ruiz.

The press conference was held in the Carlos Chardon Building of the UPRM, at 10:30 a.m. They discussed issues related to the economic crisis and social inequality in Puerto Rico, as well as topics related to the underground economy, the current state of the Puerto Rican economy, and the special communities of the island.

“Damn politics! That’s the main factor that contributes to the social inequality here,” said Agent Ruíz. “Politicians forget about the people of Puerto Rico and do not know how to manage the people’s money.”

On the other hand, Dr. Ruíz- Oliveras added that “Puerto Rico’s social inequality is a direct result of the economic issues of the island.”

A Huffington Post article published on September 7, 2013 notes that Puerto Rico’s homeless population is on the rise. Dr. Ruíz attributed this to the economic instability of the island but added that “many people are homeless by choice.”

Throughout the press conference, the panelists gave some tips on how to improve the economy and social inequality in Puerto Rico.

In order to improve Puerto Rico’s economy Ruíz recommends creating “a national plan that identifies the most lucrative sectors of the economy.” He added that “the government should encourage the well-educated to stay on the island.”

On the other hand, for Vilá, the solution is for the government to invest in projects that have long-term effects, such as education, which could have wider, multiplying effects.” “To provide money to people for spending on food, energy, and water is not bad, but it’s not the best way to invest in the future.” Vilá said.

According to John Mario, in an article published by the Caribbean Business of February 18, 2013, another solution would be to create an equitable economy. “Societies with high levels of economic inequality are more likely to fall into financial crisis…”

Panelists also addressed the role of the underground economy in Puerto Rico’s current economic situation. Agent Ruiz and Dr. Ruíz- Oliveras both noted that this is one of the aspects that drives the country’s economy. “The underground economy includes all economic activity that isn’t registered under the Gross Domestic Product, such as drug selling, contraband, and piracy,” said Dr. Ruíz.

The factors that influence a person’s entering the underground economy were also addressed.

“Economic inequality and the urge to acquire material ‘things’ are the main reasons for entering the underground economy,” said Agent Ruíz. “It is unfair to judge someone by the way he looks or by the music he listens, a person’s entering to the underground economy has more to do with the economic instability of a person, he added.”

However, as Agent Ruíz, said: “Without the underground economy there wouldn’t be a lot of jobs in the judicial branch of Puerto Rico. The use of drugs pays the jobs of many. The government pays the cops to investigate the crime, the prosecutor to imprison the person, the judge to make the final decision, and the attorneys to defend the criminal. It is a cycle, therefore it is not convenient to legalize any drug.”

Panelists highlighted during the press conference that an alarming 45 percent of Puerto Ricans live under the Poverty Index. Also, 322 of Puerto Rico’s communities are being marginalized. Vilá explained that “A marginalized community lives under the Poverty Index, depends on government aids, has a high rate of unemployment, and people with little education.”

To help the marginalized communities in Puerto Rico, the UPRM community suggested the foundation of the Student Association in Support of the Puerto Rican Communities, which Vilá presides. The association goals are: provide access to a better education, help address the problem of school dropouts, and create community programs that a have a lasting impact.

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Above, from left to right, Ruth Meléndez, Eduardo Carlo, Natalie Castro, Cristian Soto, and Marilis Rodríguez. Below, from left to right, Natalia Vilá, Dr. Wilfredo Ruíz- Oliveras, and Agent Carlos Ruíz (three panelists).

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