Afro-Puerto Rican Culture through Samuel Lind

  • This is the second in a series of blogs written by students from Wilfrid Laurier University who participated in a field course in Puerto Rico sponsored by the History Department, the Faculty of Arts and the Residence Department, in May-June 2016.  The blogs focus on the Afro-Puerto Rican experience.

The culture and diversity of Puerto Rico leave many to marvel at how this uniqueness has survived. One of the many ways that this diversity has survived is through artisans and creative people living and breathing ideals and traditions of the past. A well-known artist, Samuel Lind, connects deeply to the earth and nature much like early Puerto Ricans did. Lind is well known for his depictions of nature and community, but he has a special focus on the Afro-Puerto Rican experience.  He lives and works in Loiza, an Afro-Puerto Rican town settled by former African slaves, which is the beating heart of African culture in Puerto Rico today.  Lind’s gallery and studio are incorporated into his home, with varying studio spaces stretching over multiple floors and past signs of everyday life. Passing through his garage and parked car you find a small room with a portrait of a young girl in the works, as well as a completed statue ready for final touches or a buyer. His cat sits on the table on top of a print seemingly accustomed to this life of constant creativity. It mirrored in my mind an old Taino (indigenous Puerto Rican) village of movement and work being integrated with everyday living.

samuel-lind-studio

One the pieces of art that stood out in his house was a picture of women resembling mother earth. He used a contrasting light and dark colour palate to resemble night and day. This connection to earth is what makes the whole area of Loiza unique and special. This art gallery is also filled with art pieces resembling and inspired by people of the community. I purchased a piece that was modeled after an Afro-Puerto Rican woman who lived at the top of his street. She is pictured doing the Bomba, a traditional dance originating in the African slave culture of the sugar and coffee plantation era.  Lind also has paintings of beaches and what appear to be ordinary people walking in nature. This connection to the earth and nature struck me as a fascinating tribute to the way of life of the Taino and Afro-Puerto Ricans.  It is a way of life that celebrated nature and the world that they lived in. Samuel Lind’s studio, nestled in the trees and immersed in art is a fabulous place not only to visit and purchase art, but to immerse yourself in the ways of Puerto Rico’s African heritage.  His work keeps the island’s African heritage alive and presents it for the world to celebrate and remember.

By: JJ Doran, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

 

Slavery in Puerto Rico: A Visit to Hacienda La Esperanza

  • This is the first in a series of blogs written by students from Wilfrid Laurier University who participated in a field course in Puerto Rico sponsored by the History Department, the Faculty of Arts and the Residence Department.  The blogs focus on the Afro-Puerto Rican experience.

On June 2, 2016, I visited Hacienda La Esperanza as part of a field course to Puerto Rico through Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Canada.  We started with a small lecture under an old tree. It was a great overview of the history of the economy in the island and, more specifically, how it relates to the plantation. This information is necessary to understand the rest of the tour. Here you can take in the views of the land, from the mountains and hills to the ocean breeze, and from the architecture to the protected trees.

McInnis Esperanza 1

Next it’s on to the steam engine, which was used by the slaves to extract the liquid sugar from the cane. The engine is completely restored, making it possible to see it at work during the tour. Our group was particularly impressed by how quietly it ran. The guide, Jose, explained the conditions of the unique machine and how it came to rest on the land, when it stopped, and why. He also explained the use of slaves in the plantation and their conditions in the building. This is a must-see for anyone stopping by the Hacienda.

From there, we walked past the remains of the Jamaican train and into another building where the process of sugar production was further explained. Jose showed the group examples of different kinds of sugar and molasses, comparable to what would have been made at La Esperanza. This building is also a great place to take some indoor photos as it is flooded with open space and natural light.

McInnis Esperanza 2.jpg

The final stop on our tour was the house of the Marques of La Esperanza, restored and renovated to be functional in the 21st Century. The views from here were spectacular and it was easy to understand the sophistication of the plantation, the amount of thought it took to design,and the hierarchy of the people. In the second level of the house, you can also find the collection of machetes from the Caribbean, which is both haunting and impressive. A list of the slaves’ grievances can also be found in Spanish, but Jose was happy to translate to English for our group. This was a great conclusion to the tour, as it wrapped in all of the themes: slavery, capitalism, production, and its decline on the plantation.

By Madeline McInnis, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Neoliberal Promise: Rhetoric and Reality

By Brayden Anstee

On October 17, the United Nations once again observed the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Although the day received scant attention particularly in industrialized countries, its observance was actually first commemorated in France in 1987 (United Nations, 2015). Over one hundred thousand people gathered at the Trocadéro, the same location where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed, to affirm that poverty was an unacceptable and preventable violation of basic human rights (United Nations, 2015). Surely, this was a time of great optimism and hope for the creation of a better future for everyone worldwide.

At around the same time, the global neoliberal economic order had begun to emerge. This now ever-present policy framework was touted by fiscally conservative world leaders such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan as the only way forward for international politics and relations (Roy, 2000). With the new global order came the promise of elimination of poverty through a process termed “trickle-down economics” (Greenwood and Holt, 2010). The proponents of neoliberalism admitted that inequality was a necessary part of capitalism, but rationalized that gross inequalities would be resolved through market forces and money would ‘trickle-down’ from the wealthy to the poor, leaving everyone better off and few, if any, impoverished (Greenwood and Holt, 2010; Scholte, 2005). By the late 1980s the policies were in full swing, the International Day was established, and belief in a fair and just future for all didn’t seem so unreasonable.

So what went wrong?

According to Scholte (2005), despite the unfettered optimism espoused by neoliberal proponents, world poverty has not been even remotely close to eradicated. In fact, that author notes that certain regions of the world have faced more severe destitution than ever before under the neoliberal order, including nations in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. According to the 2014 Human Development Report by the UNDP, nearly 1.5 billion people living in 91 developing countries still live in extreme, multidimensional poverty. And while neoliberal supporters could point to data that suggests world poverty has decreased overall (such as the 2013 UN Millennium Development Goals Report), this does not mean that gross inequalities have become less significant.

Greenwood and Holt (2010), have suggested that the neoliberal promise of wealth trickle down has not come true and has instead resulted in the wealthy retaining and increasing their wealth and the impoverished remaining impoverished. Similarly, Nkansah-Amankra, Agbanu and Miller (2013) found that poverty, poor health and incarceration were especially prevalent among disadvantaged racial and ethnic minorities in the United States, symptomatic of an economic order that is culturally hegemonic. By their account, the neoliberal order creates and exacerbates structural inequalities that serve to greatly privilege one small group of people, namely the prominently influential ‘one percent’, a practically homogenous group consisting primarily of white, heterosexual, middle-aged males. This small group of wealthy individuals has now accumulated 50% of the total global wealth according to a recent report (Tonkin, 2015), and logically speaking if one group continues to increase their share of the total wealth, other groups must be losing their own shares of it. Neoliberal economics have largely fuelled this increasing disparity in wealth and have made it ideologically acceptable to many. However, if the wealth is not trickling down as Greenwood and Holt have argued it isn’t, inequality and relative (if not absolute) poverty may increase globally as the ‘rich get richer and the poor get poorer’.

October 17, 2015 marked the 28th anniversary of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. It has been nearly three decades of the vaunted neoliberal economic order, and poverty has not yet been eradicated. While some believe that neoliberalism can be reshaped to achieve this lofty goal (e.g. Stiglitz, 2002), others believe that a different, more fair and equal economic order is needed.

Perhaps by October 17, 2016, we will have some clearer answers. There are billions of people across our global community in dire need of them.

References

Greenwood, D. T., & Holt, R. F. (2010). Growth, inequality and negative trickle down. Journal of Economic Issues (M.E. Sharpe Inc.), 44(2), 403-410. doi:10.2753/JEI0021-3624440212

Nkansah-Amankra, S., Agbanu, S. K., & Miller, R. J. (2013). Disparities in health, poverty, incarceration, and social justice among racial groups in the United States: A critical review of evidence of close links with neoliberalism. International Journal of Health Services, 43(2), 217-240. doi:10.2190/HS.43.2.c

Roy, R. K. (2000). The neoliberal paradigm shift in the U.S. and Britain: Fiscal policy convergence under Mr. Reagan, Mrs. Thatcher, Mr. Clinton, and Mr. Blair. Dissertation Abstracts International, 60, 4590-4785.

Scholte, J. A. (2005). The sources of neoliberal globalization. United Nations Research Institute for Social Development: Overarching Concerns Programme Paper Number 8. Retrieved from: http://www.unrisd.org/80256B3C005BCCF9/(httpAuxPages)/9E1C54CEEB19A314C1257 0B4004D0881/$file/scholte.pdf

Stiglitz, J. (2002). The promise of global institutions. In Globalization and Its Discontents, pp. 3- 22. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Tonkin, S. (2015, October 16). The top 1% now own 50% of global wealth: Research finds world’s richest have bounced back from the recession while ‘middle class’ have fallen. Daily Mail. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/

United Nations (2015). International day for the eradication of poverty. Retrieved from: http://www.un.org/en/events/povertyday/background.shtml

United Nations Development Programme. (2014). Human development report 2014: Sustaining human progress: Reducing vulnerabilities and building resilience. Retrieved from: http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/hdr14-report-en-1.pdf