By Carlos G. García-Quijano and Hilda Lloréns
It has been widely agreed that the past week’s multitudinous and multi-sectoral protests in Puerto Rico are unprecedented in the island’s history. Political and cultural observers have suggested that the leaked chat, also known as #RickyLeaks and #TelegramGate, is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, after repeated violations of public trust and corruption by this and previous governments.
We venture that the content of the chat itself is no “ordinary straw in the camel’s back,” but that it represents an unpardonable violation of Puerto Rican core cultural values of respeto, compasión, and humildad (respect, compassion and humility). In fact, we believe that the expressions of outrage being made manifest in Puerto Rico, the Diaspora, and on social media attest just to how deeply the chat’s contents cut into an open social wound. Because the governor and his chat mates violated the core value of compassion, they are not deserving of receiving el perdón del pueblo or the people’s forgiveness. A rarity in a culture in which the compassionate act of forgiving “those who have trespassed against us,” is also part and parcel of maintaining inter-personal and social harmony.
As anthropologists who study Puerto Rican culture, we believe that the perceived violation of Puerto Rican core cultural values is at the very heart of the anger felt towards the governor and his chat “bros” that has resulted in several days of protests and calls for his resignation. The violation of these widely shared core values is one of the reasons that the #RickyRenunciaYa (#RickyResignAlready) movement is multi-sectoral. These values unify people across social groups. Rejection of the governor and his inner cabinet brought together people from all walks of life, from multimillionaire pop megastars such as Ricky Martin to the working class biker club leader El Rey Charlie. The latter, a man who commands an impressive cadre of motorcycles and four-track enthusiasts, has in the last few days emerged as a folk hero representing the island’s marginalized poor. Rosselló was democratically elected by a narrow majority of votes in 2016, but even his former political supporters seem to have deserted him. This is remarkable in the context of Puerto Rican politics, where political party loyalties tend to be strong and lasting and part of individuals and even entire families, sense of identity.
Core cultural values are a fundamental component of a group’s culture. They act as identifying values that are symbolic of the group and its membership and their rejection entail the threat of exclusion, often permanent, from the group. In other words, violation and disregard of core cultural values are punishable with the gravest of social sanctions. The rejection of violators tends to be universal, often trumping other divisions within a society. Group members are also expected to visibly reject violators of core cultural values. Neutrality is not an option.
The content of the leaked chat shows repeated violations of respect for women, the poor, and the dead, among others. The core value of respeto (respect) is about recognizing that other people have intrinsic value and showing proper courtesy and decorum in dealings with others irrespective of socioeconomic standing. Respeto is widely violated in the chat. For instance, they made offhand comments about the dead, referring to backlogged of corpses in Coroner’s office as fodder for crows; called women “putas” (whores); when a known radio host died, the group joked stated that a “tweet would suffice,” rather than bestowing the honor of lowering the flag in his memory; repeated misogynistic jokes; made crude jokes about a rival party’s senator sexual orientation; showed contempt for the death of leftist leader Carlos Gallisá, to which they referred as a “loss for demagoguery” and joked about flying flags at only quarter mast; made fun of singer Ricky Martin’s sexual orientation; and finally, referred to wishes to rid the island of Puerto Ricans.
The core value of exhibiting compassion and sympathy is about respecting the vulnerable and those in no position to defend themselves such as the poor or downtrodden, the elderly, children, and those with sickness, and disabilities. Again, in the chat Rosselló fat-shames a young man, who is also a working class community organizer from their own party and who is clearly an earnest supporter; engaged in widespread name-calling to political opponents and even allies; made fun of a police labor leader with alopecia callously comparing him to King Kong’s “pale balls;” referred to people who complain about faulty transportation (ferry) as being crazy; referred to a woman publicly decrying not getting government welfare benefits as crazy, pejoratively labeled her as “cuponera” (a classist label for someone who receives food stamps), and slandered her as an addict; and wrote that Puerto Rican genes are prone to insanity.
The core values of humildad (humility) and vergüenza (roughly translatable as “not being shameless”) are key in whether a person is likable and deemed as having a good character. Arrogance and shamelessness are widely shunned, particularly when individuals boast of money, hereditary wealth, connections, invulnerability due to social status, and thinking that they are better than others. Not listening to consejos (advise), acting as a “know it all,” and a cabeza dura (hard headed) is also seen as a trait of those lacking in vergüenza y humildad. The overall air of superiority of chat participants, who are also known to belong to the elite, ruling class of the island, repeatedly calling people crazy, weak-minded, and their complaints or viewpoints as mierda (shit) has been branded not only as disrespectful but as arrogant.
In this context, there is a difference between “illegal behavior” (i.e. political corruption, stealing, nepotism, discrimination) and behavior that violates core cultural values. Some illegal behaviors are tolerated, sometimes even encouraged, particularly if they are used as weapons against political opponents. But violation of core cultural values will attract widespread rejection. To us, it is clear that Ricardo Roselló’s contempt for the core cultural values that Puerto Ricans hold dear have lead to his widespread rejection and calls for his immediate ousting. His refusal to resign, which has been met online with #RickyDictador (#RickyDictator), has been widely read as a confirmation of his shamelessness, arrogance and continued disrespect for the wishes of the people of Puerto Rico.