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ASU Symposium On Puerto Rico Includes Look At Colonialism

Juan Agustín Márquez, director of The Last Colony
(Photo by Matthew Casey, KJZZ)
Juan Agustín Márquez, director of The Last Colony

About half of Puerto Rico remains without power two months after Hurricane Maria, and the U.S. commonwealth’s status as a so-called colony was part of the discussion at a recent symposium on the aftermath of the storm.

Arizona State University’s School of Transborder Studies hosted the event, which included a screening of the documentary, “The Last Colony.” It explores the unique relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States.

“Maria has really helped bring out the colonization of Puerto Rico and that is almost a blessing in disguise,” said Juan Agustín Márquez, director of “The Last Colony.”

Agustín Márquez attended the screening and took part in a question and answer session afterward.

“For Puerto Rico to succeed in any way, it has to decolonize,” he said. “And to decolonize means to get rid of the commonwealth status.”

The federal government’s slow response to Maria has led some supporters of statehood to back independence instead. But the movement in favor of self-rule is small and it would take years to build momentum, Agustín Márquez said.

Still, the issue of colonization used to just be a topic among academics. The difference in the government’s response to hurricanes in Texas and Florida has more Puerto Ricans talking about it, said Manuel Aviles-Santiago, assistant professor of Interdisciplinary Humanities and Communication. 

“I think that that creates a better picture for Puerto Ricans to actually understand and reevaluate our relationship with the United States,” he said.

Puerto Ricans have long grappled with whether to seek statehood.

ASU senior Charlene Santiago doesn’t want the commonwealth to become one.

“For me it’s a thing about culture,” she said. “And although we are not technically considered a country by many people, for me, we are.”

In December, Santiago will go to Puerto Rico to see her family. She’s been told it won’t be the same as before Hurricane Maria, and she is nervous about what she’ll find when she gets home.

Matthew Casey has won Edward R. Murrow awards for hard news and sports reporting since he joined KJZZ as a senior field correspondent in 2015.