The Ignorance of Puerto Rican Society Is Not Bliss, But Sin (OPINION)

Oct 16, 2019
12:02 PM

Ignorance is sin. It is always afraid of change and the truth.

Ignorance is a problem that is prevalent among humanity.

Ignorance breeds fear, and fear breeds hate. We often hate what we fear even though fear runs as deep as our minds allow. Ignorance is the root of all evil.

Removing ignorance is an important part of benevolence. We are all ignorant of something, but failure to admit it to ourselves is to admit that ignorance is our master, eliminating any chance of real peace and progress.

Ignorance never settles anything nor solved any problems. The worst kind of ignorance is when you reject something you know nothing about.

Ignorance is not bliss. It is the heaviest sin to bear.

The Puerto Rican community is guilty of ignorance against some of the most marginalized in the world—Dominican immigrants, women, and the LGBTQ community. It is our heaviest sin we bear.

Ignorance is a problem that does not go away on its own. Ignorance breeds fear, and people hate what they fear. Hate is quickly spreading across the United States like a pandemic airborne virus. This summer, Trump tweeted that four congresswomen need to go back to their county if they do not like what he is doing. These four women are not only congresswomen, but women of color. The other day, I saw a video of someone calling a Black person the N-word when he tried to leave a restaurant. The symptoms of this hate virus make people in America believe that people of color across the nation are now part of the problem, as if we are the cause of America’s failings and the “solution” to these problems is to blame us. Americans have always been ignorant of the original sins of hate and bigotry in our history. This is a concerning problem in America, but this issue is deeper than the black and white narrative the media continuously feeds to us.

Guard your eyes and ears, and what you are exposed to, you become. While many stand with Trump’s comments that going back to your country is an appropriate response when critics, particularly people of color, make our voices heard we ignore such behavior when it is directed at women, the LGBTQ community, or to Dominican immigrants in Puerto Rico. These comments are postcards for how we try so hard to fight for what’s right, to fight for justice—yet ignore or contribute to the oppression of the marginalized in our community.

Women in Puerto Rico, as all women of color in the United States, are more likely to be single mothers and more likely to work lower-wage jobs. In 2016, at least 70% of single-parent households in Puerto Rico are led by women. Many of them are victims of abandonment, domestic violence, and need SNAP to feed their kids. These single mothers have the responsibility to raise young children to adults while men escape responsibility. These same women are often denied better jobs and promotions because of this responsibility that is laid onto them without choice. This is amplified if the mother’s child has a physical or mental disability. Trump just enables society to disrespect women when it suits us and fails to give them the recognition for overcoming their hardships when they deserve it. We fight so hard every day for a better life for Puerto Rico and its diaspora, but if we ignore the rights, and plight of women, we are doomed to become our oppressor.

Overcoming others requires force, but to overcome yourself requires strength. White bias makes us dislike those that identify as feminist, transgender, or gay. White bias is what the essence of what colorism really is. It tells us that to be “white,” we are better, and that the opposite is ghetto, gay, trashy, or a failure.

In Puerto Rico, our darker-skinned siblings and Dominican immigrants are most vulnerable to the colorism that white bias brings. White bias is brought to you by ignorance, ignorance created by those that wish to hold us back from becoming who we are destined to be. From loving ourselves for who we are. From becoming self-reliant. From using our pain to bring us empowerment. Overcoming white bias, and those that perpetuate it will require great force and effort, but we must understand —as Boricuas— that the battle over white bias starts within. In our minds, because, like ignorance, white bias will only run as deep as the mind allows. Only then will we truly overcome it.

While Trump never made any explicit comments about our darker-skinned siblings, this does not change the fact that we do it to ourselves too. Intolerance against Dominican immigrants has gone on in Puerto Rico for a long time. Before Trump came to power and tried to scapegoat Mexican immigrants as the root cause of America’s problems, Dominicans came to Puerto Rico looking for the same things that our grandparents came to the United States for in the 1950s and 1960s: financial security and a better life for themselves and their children. Dominican immigrants came to Puerto Rico looking for a better life in a nation that is very much like their own, but instead, they found housing discrimination, employment discrimination, and difficulty getting an education.

It is better to be blind than to see things from one perspective. Throughout human history, we have always seen things through the male perspective. Then, occasionally, we chose to see things through the female perspective. And we have always seen things through the white, heterosexual perspective. While all Latinos have extra struggles to overcome in America, we light-skinned Latinos like myself have always made more money, had lower unemployment, better living conditions, better education, and are considered smarter and more attractive. Yet those of us that identify as part of the LGBTQ community or are darker-skinned have never benefited from these privileges that we light-skinned Latinos take for granted.

I admit my light-skinned privilege, will you? I admit my heterosexual privilege, will you? I admit my cisgender male privilege, will you?

A sin confessed is less heavy to bear. Confessing ignorance is the first step to alleviating this sin. We often treat Dominican immigrants, women, and people of the LGBTQ community, the same way Americans have treated us when they conquered us from Spain, or when we moved to New York for a better life, or when we asserted our rights as humans. Those of us that are part of the LGBTQ community is part of us. They have contributed to the Puerto Rican community, the Latinx community, and the world at large.

There is a rich history of Latinx LGBTQ activism with the likes of José Julio Sarria who was the first openly gay —and Latinx— candidate for public office in the United States when he ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1961. Sylvia Rivera, another Latinx trendsetter in the fight for LGBTQ rights, helped organize the Stonewall Riots in New York. Sarria, was a product of a single-mother household. He is a diamond in the rough of success in a World teaming with the sin of ignorance, because, despite his hardships, he took the pressures of life and intersectionality and turned it into something beautiful and strong.

Currently there are 904,000 LGBTQ Latinx immigrants in the United States. All of them deal with the same issues that all Latinos face plus the issues that face the LGBTQ community. In fact, 21% of all HIV infections in 2010 are in the Latinx community, and 80% of those are in the LGBTQ community. Others suffer ultimately from our own community. Jorge Steven Lopez-Mercado was a teenager who identified as gay. His body was found in Cayey, Puerto Rico—dismembered and burned all because his murderer, a fellow Puerto Rican, hated gay people.

The first step to getting what you want is having the courage to get rid of what’s blocking you from getting it. Have we forgotten our efforts to fight for LGBTQ rights? the Young Lords in New York fought for the rights of LGBTQ rights, especially those of the Latinx community. In Puerto Rico the Communidad de Orgullo Gay or the Coalición Puertorriqueña de Lesbianas y Homosexuales fought to make sure that those that are not heterosexual have rights in Puerto Rico. The LGBTQ community has what it takes to overcome the boundaries they faced for freedom and equality for all. The same freedom George Washington fought for when he engaged the British, the same freedom Pedro Albizu Campos suffered for when he was undergoing radiation poisoning by the federal government. They got rid of the barriers of inequality in the law and society to have the rights that come with being human. We should embrace the fact that we, as Latinx, had a part in that and the intersectionality experience that comes with being Latinx and LGBTQ, female, dark-skinned, or of Dominican descent.

He who loves the truth has many enemies. This could not be more true for those of us that are and fight for the “double minority:” women, Dominican immigrants in Puerto Rico, and the LGBTQ Boricuas. Their truth is only seen when they are white, but never seen when they are Black, Latinx, women, or of some other race or religion. No one ever sees how these strengths interrelate in their experiences and the unique perspectives they have. They have had a rich history in fighting for freedom. One that is all too often ignored.

A positive vision requires a positive mindset. Women had a positive vision when they fought for the right to vote. Women have a positive vision when they fight to hold a job for equal pay. Women do all of this while raising our children, daring them to rise and succeed. Yet their voices are often ignored and those that speak up are hated. Dominicans have that mindset when they migrated for a better life. Yet they are victims of colorism in Puerto Rico and in the United States. LGBTQ people suffer from discrimination as they live in a heteronormative world that says that they are not normal, that their lives do not matter, that their suffering and protests are just a form of “self-expression.”

They say the ones who teach are the givers of eyes. We must always remember that the pursuit of justice is always violent to those who offend, for every person is innocent in their own eyes. A new perspective brings untold stories of suffering, hardship, and perseverance for those whose stories, struggles, and successes are never heard. The only victories which leave us no regret are those which are gained over ignorance. Being ignorant is not so much a shame as being unwilling to learn, particularly about themselves and their community.

Those that discover themselves do the most for their people. I discovered that being involved with people committed to bettering our community is the most important thing to me right now. More important to me than being a lawyer. I discovered that by helping your community, you can help yourself rise to become the person you always knew you would be. My advocacy for Puerto Rico is what led me to become published. Being involved expanded my social network to heights I never knew existed. Being involved helped me realize that I was ignorant to the struggles of other communities. That their struggles are similar. That their struggles are ours.

I was recently sworn in as a board member of the Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association. With them, I discovered that you do not have to be a member of a community to help them fight for a better life. To overcome obstacles. To help them become who they are destined to be. To help me become who I am destined to be. Helping other communities with similar struggles are just as rewarding. Just as intense. Just as fun. Just as fulfilling. It brings out my intense passion for justice and truth. An intense passion so seductive that most people can’t handle it.

While I may not be a Black woman, there is no reason why I cannot support them. Black women and Latinas have similar struggles, there is no reason why we cannot work together. There is no reason why men cannot help women succeed, just as they have helped us succeed. Some of my best mentors are women. The judge I used to intern with is a woman. The person who helped get me that internship with this judge is a woman. The women in Gwen S. Cherry have opened up opportunities for me that I did not know existed. I have met interesting people with them. Do interesting things with them. Learn interesting things about myself with them. And gain interesting experience with them. In short, they make me better.

Instead of ostracizing those marginalized groups in our community like many of us do throughout our daily lives, let us celebrate them for what they have been through and accomplished. Being a person of color requires strength in the United States of America. This is even more true if you are an immigrant, dark-skinned, a woman, or identify as LGBTQ. Martin Luther King Jr. knew that to know himself is to do better for his people. Sun Tzu knew that to know yourself and know your enemy, you will not fear the end of a hundred battles. Albizu Campos and Mohandas Gandhi knew this too.

All of them opened our eyes to who we are and what we are destined to become as a people. Trump shows us that we are vulnerable to hate and oppression when we let ignorance spread unchecked. However, as the Asian proverb says, “he who goes a 100 miles should consider 99 miles as halfway.” We should know that ignorance is not innocence, but a sin. However, a sin is less heavy to bear when confessed and eliminated from our world.


Mark Berrios-Ayala is a Florida Licensed attorney. He is Puerto Rican. You can email him here.