Ramón Del Castillo, PhD
I had been invited to speak at an international healer’s conference on Curanderismo in San Juan, Puerto Rico. During my adventure, conference participants went on a tour on a bus to Arecibo, Puerto Rico, about 45 miles west of San Juan, where a colossal 350—foot statue of Christopher Columbus had been erected. Columbus had landed in Puerto Rico in 1492; he hadn’t really discovered anything, but under the mantra of Manifest Destiny, he claimed the lands for his European ancestors. Many American cities did not want to place the statue in public after its construction; therefore, it was shipped to Puerto Rico. A contradiction of sorts, especially since Puerto Rico was colonized by Spain.
After our visit to Arecibo, we boarded back on the bus. On the trip back to San Juan, I asked the bus driver? “So you celebrate Christopher Columbus, right?” He retorted, “Yeah, if it wasn’t for him, you wouldn’t’ be here.” I stated to him, “Yeah, I would my brother, but I would probably be 100% Indigenous.” We both laughed and finished the tour. Many Chicanos live in what famed education liberationist Paulo Freire called the oppressor/oppressed dichotomy. This experience presents interesting dynamics during today’s dialogue on flags, statutes and race that are happening in American society.
What is all the ballyhoo about flags and statues that has divided the United State of América?
When society is imbalanced, protestors kneel on one knee to remind citizens that América is not honoring its commitment to its people. It is a form of protest expressing disgust and dissatisfaction with a country’s failure to uphold the values of justice, equality, and peace.
How do we find the common ground between protecting the 1st amendment rights guaranteed in the US Constitution, respecting the flag, and abolishing those statutes that are historical reminders of a mantra of racism that has persisted for the last 250 years? Colonizers mythologize history, shaping and protecting an image of the colonizer as a benevolent dictator, a savior, or some other caricature acting as a protagonist. Those stories shape the collective consciousness of a society, and when not addressed, cause the current havoc that Americans are experiencing.
We don’t pray to statutes, unless they are of part of religious denomination. They symbolize fearless deeds accomplished by fellow citizens and are generally placed in public places. Some statutes may be the embodiment of patriotic or heroic acts representing the ghosts of make believe heroes—images of deceptive greatness, and fictitious grandiosity. Statutes should not be revered like demigods; they simply represent human beings that performed outside of the norm; responding in a time of crisis when the adrenaline is flowing and the impulse to act is overwhelming. In American society, they are generally erected to pay homage to a person—exemplifying patriotism, greatness, or civility. What happens when citizens, unveil the contradiction of a statue— that is, that the person being mythologized is a farce?
In a poem I wrote in Broken Concrete (1988), “If Only She Could Talk,” regarding the Statute of Liberty in New York, where I refer to the Statue as La Llorona of Anglo Saxon America,” I wrote:
She stands as a Guardian Angel,
If Only she could talk
to tell us of the moral decadence,
and all the lies
that the system buys…
She stands alone at night,
when no one is watching,
tears of shame and guilt.
She is la Llorona
of Anglo-Saxon América
who has forsaken
her own children
Flags are artifacts created by human beings, symbolizing political allegiance, loyalty and a sense of belonging to a country. Flags are reminders of the unity that is required for peace and harmony to exist in a nation or nation-state. Political scientists argue that flags breed loyalty and patriotism, characteristics that are germane in times of nationalism and warfare, when troops are needed to defend a nation. Flags hanging at half-mast command attention during grieving times in society when the declaration of war seemed to be the only answer as men and women responded to loyalty to the nation, followed by death. Cultural rites and ritual are administered to troops that symbolize connection to a nation. Cemeteries are filled with grieving families, solace, and loss. A flag flows freely as TAPS are played, bringing tears to the eyes, mourning the loss, as troops are laid into Mother Earth.
People are expected to stand out of respect for the country when the flag is displayed and the national anthem is sung. On other occasions, when society is imbalanced, protestors kneel on one knee to remind citizens that América is not honoring its commitment to its people. It is a form of protest expressing disgust and dissatisfaction with a country’s failure to uphold the values of justice, equality, and peace. It is a symbol that supports the marginalized of society. Taking a knee is not disrespectful, it is a reminder that many times when a nation gets off track and brave people have to remind us of our commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Some flags cause controversy. There can also be a perverse side to flags and statutes that can be used as mantras for racial hatred, flaming the discontent in society; historical revisionism that purports to tell the other side of the story; racism, pitting one group against another; or the pitfalls of slavery, when human beings became property owned by other human beings and sold as items on the common market. The reality is that flags and statues can also symbolize the ugliness and the dark side of human nature. For example, to many the Confederate flag symbolizes an overarching superiority; often referred to as white supremacy. The right argues that the fluttering of the Confederate flag reminds them of their heritage—a rationalization at best and a reminder of a Civil War that they lost at worst.
What should happen to flags that give the wrong message in society and statues that are hypocritical? Should statutes remain in public places reminders of the shadow side of history when humans treated each other without respect and dignity? Should flags be torn down, ripped to shreds to symbolize the destruction of hate and other social evils?
Perhaps, artifacts that distort the hypocrisy of a person or brings dishonor to the values of a society should be placed in historical museums to remind citizens of the shadow side of history—to tell stories of pain and suffering. Students should also be instructed through dialogue and debate about alternative perspectives in history. Never should we forsake freedom of speech!
Ramón Del Castillo, Ph.D. is an Independent Journalist. © 7-15-2020 Ramón Del Castillo.
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