Tuesday, February 17, 2009

de Gaza a Puerto Rico!

ok, so where to begin. We recently returned from our 8 day trip to Puerto Rico. I'm still moping about why I am back in dreary Durham as opposed to warm and welcoming Puerto Rico, and that has somewhat hindered my progress in blogging about my experience there (that, and one too many late night dinner parties hosted by the burgeoning Palestinian community there...suffice to say, I am all kharoofed out for the season!). Honestly, we need a vacation from our vacation!

The purpose of the trip was to give a talk at Sacred Heart University (Universidad Sacredo Corazon)'s Center for Freedom of the Press.

The talk took place the evening of Monday, February 9th, following a day of interviews with local press, including this one in WAPA TV Puerto Rico, by journalist Julio Rivera-Saniel (notice my incessant arm-flailing-as though there were an invisible fly I were trying to swat), and a very thoughtful lengthier piece in his personal blog (he actually got all the details of my seemingly nonsensical life correct so I must give him some credit!!).

In short, it was a tremendous success. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the reception I got and by the unprecedented attendance- organizers estimated that up to 1000 people showed up, and 500 others had to be turned away for lack of room (both in the parking lot and the two rooms that were filled to capacity). Never in the history of the Center have so many people showed up to an event.

It was clear the people of Puerto Rico were thirsty for knowledge about the Palestinian conflict, and have a deep sense of the injustice of it all. What was even more remarkable was the diversity of the attendance: traditionally, I was told, it is the Independentista, supporters of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, or Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño (PIP) that make up about 5% of voters only, who would attend such functions, relating on many levels to the Palestinian situation and their struggle for statehood (but as one man later pointed out to me-

"In your case it's not only the struggle for sovereignty but also a struggle to obtain a minimum of Basic Human Rights."

Another NY blogger of Puerto Rican heritage added:

"The Taino (the indigenous of Puerto Rico) welcomed the first European invaders. In exchange, the Taino were greeted with an unrelenting Holocaust. After 500 years of systematic efforts to destroy the Taino, it's only recently that a Taino identity is beginning to re-emerge. Unfortunately, we have so little left. The land was taken and our customs and language were obliterated. But slowly bits and pieces of our lost heritage--along w/DNA evidence--are helping us reclaim our true heritage. However, progress is hindered by the propaganda of Puerto Rico's ruling families--which are of European heritage--that the Taino were eliminated."

He also related the the similar experiences of Mexican-AMericans in Texas.

Back to the talk-participation was across the board I was told. People from all backgrounds and level of knowledge appeared. I was particularly touched a Puerto Rican man of Taino heritage who brought his young 8-year-old daughter with him (she later asked for my autograph :)).

The talk was without incident, barring an eruption at the end by an Israeli right-winger who -in true Zionist fashion- occupied the podium, took over the microphone and demanded to be heard, before being asking to respect the Q&A procedures.

We spent the rest of the week in the welcoming hands of the Puerto Rican Palestinian and Muslim communities. They make up roughly 5000 inhabitants on the island. Most of the Palestinians are third generation, descendants of immigrants from villages surrounding Ramallah. Many work in the pharmaceutical industry that is the underpinning of the Puerto Rican Economy (and inf act Palestinians own the second largest chain of pharmacies there, El-Amal). Many started out in Columbia or New York and ended up in Puerto Rico, where their amicability and forgiving business habits helped them gain favor with the locals.

On Sunday we were invited to speak to the the Farouk Mosque in Vega Alta, a suburb of San Juan. It was stunning, located on a hill top surrounded by banana and grapefruit trees, overlooking the freeway and the rest of the island. In attendence were also a group of native Puerto Rican Muslims.

We did manage to sneak out and enjoy ourselves for at least two days. We took a ferry to the island of Culebra just off the coast of Puerto Rico, where we spent one rainy day indoors as well as exploring the gastronomical topography of the island, witch oregano, belladonnas, star fruit trees, and all, and ended up making up our own rice pudding recipe with local hibiscus leaves, star fruit and fresh coconut and passion fruit fruit juice (courtesy of the juice man across the casita from where we were staying). We spent the next day on the stunning Playa Flamenco.

Earlier in the week, we had an opportunity to view an outdoor photography exhibit, "Earth From Above", by artist-activist Yann Arthus-Bertrand, of 150 four-foot by six-foot aerial photographs of the Earth and our world (in case you are wondering, that's a photo of a man taking a nap on an enormous pile of freshly picked and bundled cotton- not a cauliflower).

Yousuf practiced his own photography skills- snapping a revealing (I'm kidding) photo of my legs, and a vendor selling peeled oranges on the main promenade in Old San Juan.


Blogger Marcel Dubois said...

Hi Laila.
En especial la prensa de Estados Unidos tiene una tendencia a tener una “visión de túnel” ya enfocarse solo en los “soundbites”. Es decir, cuantos más sonidos puedo poner en cuanto menos tiempo posible.

I think you'll like this satiric piece by the Onion. "Media Landscape Redefined By 24-Second News Cycle" It talks about just what you've mentioned above, and it's pretty funny.

7:01 PM  
Blogger wrosado said...

I really enjoy your talk at the “Universidad del Sagrado Corazón”. You open my eyes to a new way of thinking about the conflict in Gaza Strip. I am very thankful for the information.
I took your advice and inform myself about the issue with a new perspective. Also I talked with my family and co-workers and we exchange opinions and discuss the situation intensely.

10:43 PM  
Blogger wrosado said...

I really enjoy your talk at the “Universidad del Sagrado Corazón”. You opened my eyes to a new way of thinking about the conflict in Gaza Strip. I am very thankful for the information.
I took your advice and inform myself about the issue with a new perspective. Also I talked with my family and co-workers and we exchange opinions and discuss the situation intensely.

10:46 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Laila,l do enjoy reading your blog,l am in the uk and have been saddened beyong words at the events in Gaza that have been going on for many many years,George Galloway MP, Yvonne Ridley and hundreds of British volunteers are driving an aid convoy of over 100 donated vehicles packed with practical aid to Gaza leaving from outside the Houses of Parliament,they left London on Saturday the 14th February. This remarkable convoy will be over a mile long and carry a million pounds of aid raised in just four weeks.
l hope the convoy will help and l will do all l can to educate others about Gaza ,lovely to see your family photos,luv to you all Lindax

12:34 AM  
Blogger Isabela said...

Congratulations dear Laila!

People are for Palestians, don't doubt about that. And I'm so happy that everything went well for you in Porto Rico.

In Brazil, people are acting more to help Palestinian. On January 25, in Sao Paulo, took place the first meeting of a Palestinian Foundation called Palestina Livre. They are very well organized, they are doing conferences all across Sao Paulo.

Well, we are with Palestians!


3:37 AM  
Blogger Tika said...

Wish I could listen to your talk...
by the way, nice photo taken at the beach :)

Love from Malaysia~


11:21 AM  
Blogger nina said...

Hi laila!
Seems like a wonderful trip for me. So happy for you and your family :)
I'm blogging for Palestine from here!

12:07 PM  
Blogger Safiyyah said...

As Salaamu Alaikum Dear:

Mabrook for the success of your trip!

Me falta Puerto Rico! Estoy feliz hay muchos musulmanos alla!

2:57 AM  
Blogger retrumons said...

What is the goal of Hamas regarding Israel? If they don't accept a two-state solution, what do they want?

4:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad you had a nice time. I really want to visit Puerto Rico now. I had no idea that PR had such a large Muslim population.

I know I say this every time I comment, but really, thank you so much for sharing this with us. Thanks to you, people can become more educated about diverse cultures.

10:03 PM  
Blogger Marcel Dubois said...

Retrumon, actually Hamas does accept the two state solution. But they don't want the settlements. They want the pre-1967 borders.

This is Hamas' current position, at least it was in March 2008. Here's a quote from Norman Finkelstein:
Khalid Mishal, head of Hamas's Political Bureau, stated in an interview:

There is an opportunity to deal with this conflict in a manner different than Israel and, behind it, the U.S. is dealing with it today. There is an opportunity to achieve a Palestinian national consensus on a political program based on the 1967 borders, and this is an exceptional circumstance, in which most Palestinian forces, including Hamas, accept a state on the 1967 borders....There is also an Arab consensus on this demand, and this is a historic situation. But no one is taking advantage of this opportunity. No one is moving to cooperate with this opportunity. Even this minimum that has been accepted by the Palestinians and the Arabs has been rejected by Israel and by the U.S.

The interview appeared in the Journal of Palestine Studies, during the summer of 2008.

Further below the paragraph I quoted, one learns that a former Mossad head explains that Hamas has given up on its ideological objectives.

Israel is fully cognizant that the Hamas Charter is not an insurmountable obstacle to a two-state settlement on the June 1967 border. "[T]he Hamas leadership has recognized that its ideological goal is not attainable and will not be in the foreseeable future," a former Mossad head recently observed. "[T]hey are ready and willing to see the establishment of a Palestinian state in the temporary borders of 1967....They know that the moment a Palestinian state is established with their cooperation, they will be obligated to change the rules of the game: They will have to adopt a path that could lead them far from their original ideological goals."

This appeared in the Mideast Mirror on December 22nd 2008.

To the contrary, there is a declaration by Ehud Olmert, in front of the American Congress, where he says that he still believes in his people's "eternal and historic right to this entire land."

Now, obviously, those are only public statements. But they should be taken into account in any case, and your question shows that you don't even know about them.

1:46 PM  
Blogger Incognito said...


"Hamas does accept the two state solution."

Actually they don't... according to their charter and to their actions and words, they don't want Israel to exist. Period. Go read the charter and you will see for yourself. Fatah is a different story, altogether.

1:45 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Salaam Mrs.Laila, Ooooh yr kids are adorable!
I love children, so i will love yr blog!
which 1 is with the curly black hair? whats his name?
Hope you are well your sister in Islam.

1:11 PM  

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