Our Word is Our Weapon

Michael Rodríguez-Muñiz, former Editor of QOS and President of UPRS

Forty long years of struggle and resistance, of stubborn defiance, make possible the commemoration of the Union for Puerto Rican Students (UPRS) and Que Ondee Sola (QOS). When I first entered E-041, as a first semester NEIU student, these organizations were roughly 26-years-old. I was 19. Many years have since passed; I no longer walk the halls of NEIU putting up fliers and re-stacking magazine racks. I am no longer an editor or staff writer. It has been over a decade since I last helped organize a UPRS event or host a bake sale.

Though I miss those days, I am warmed by the fact that another generation, perhaps the fourth since I graduated, has assumed the mantle, as I had once, of investing in a political project initiated in the dawn of the 1970s. There is too much history to recall, memories to share, but there is certainly room to give thanks to the founders and custodians of this project, who labored against adversities I never faced to publish and organize a space of critical praxis on campus. My life’s trajectory was irreversibly transformed by my encounter and intimate involvement with this political project.

It is worth sharing that I decided to attend NEIU and join QOS because of a serendipitous experience. While walking towards the cafeteria to visit a close friend, I noticed, to my surprise, a Puerto Rican flag outside of an office door. The door was closed, but I picked up a copy of QOS featuring a speech given by our late national heroine Lolita Lebrón. I read it from cover to cover, as I had done a book on Puerto Rican history while in high school. It was in the fateful book that I first came across the name of Pedro Albizu Campos and the concept and ideal of independence. Reading closely, I was angered, probably more deeply than I had known, by the acts of aggression, exploitation, and indignity my people suffered at the hands of foreign colonizers first, the Spanish and second, the North Americans.

My chance visit to the QOS office would set in motion experiences and ideas that make possible this reflection. It gave me a foundational opportunity, not only to learn more about Puerto Rico and our struggles, but also the opportunity to actively participate in its decolonization, both on island and in diaspora. Four movements have touched me most: the struggle to free our political prisoners, the campaign to demilitarize Vieques, the Latina/o student struggle at NEIU, and the fight against the gentrification and displacement of Humboldt Park. My experiences at NEIU and later on Paseo Boricua have been life defining and life edifying.

I am humbled by the magnitude of our collective achievement, made not only by editors and presidents, but also by countless staff writers, members, supportive faculty and administrators, family and friends, and not to mention community activists and organizations, of which, the Juan Antonio Corretjer Puerto Rican Cultural Center deserves special acknowledgment. Most student organizations emerge and fade within the course of a few years, but these investments are what we celebrate now.

Recently, I was invited to speak about my experience at NEIU and the significance of QOS’ 40th anniversary. The event was held at the new Latina/o Cultural & Resource Center, a concrete example of the fruits of consistent student struggle. In the course of a wonderful conversation with current students and faculty, we began to ponder on the future. What would the next decade or forty years look like? What steps and actions need to be taken in the present to ensure not only the permanence but also elevation of these student organizations? These are questions that need to be answered, cautiously, but answered nonetheless. I am inspired by the minds, hearts, and hands that today give life to this project; and I thank them for continuing a path others began ages ago. They have already begun to answer.

On the anniversary of the founding of the UPRS and QOS, we celebrate not just the passing of years, but the triumphs achieved, the lessons learned, and visions inspired. All this effort represents, what Latin American philosopher Enrique Dussel calls, the “noble vocation of politics.” As the Zapatista’s affirmed, early in their fight against oblivion, “our word is our weapon.” For the past four decades, successive generations of Puerto Rican youth and their allies have used our words, whether shouted or printed, to demand a more just, loving, and equitable reality. In the most mundane of ways, we have celebrated life by struggling for freedom.

I conclude with an extended quote, which I believe captures the ethos of the project we have collectively built:

“What matters is our eldest elders who received the word and the silence as a gift in order to know themselves and to touch the hearts of the other. Speaking and listening is how true men and women learn to walk. It is the word that gives form to that walk that goes on inside us. It is the word that is the bridge to cross to the other side. Silence is what Power offers our pain in order to make us small. When we are silenced, we remain very much alone. Speaking, we heal the pain. Speaking, we accompany one another. Power uses the word to impose his empire of silence. We use the word to renew ourselves. Power uses silence to hide his crimes. We use silence to listen to one another, to touch one another, to know one another. This is the weapon, brothers and sisters. We say, the word remains. We speak the word. We shout the word. We raise the word and with it break the silence of our people. We kill the silence by living the word. Let us leave Power alone in what the lie speaks and hushes. Let us join together in the word and the silence which liberate.” (Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatistas, “The World and The Silence,” October 12, 1995)

Originally Published in QOS April 2012 Special Edition, Vol. 40 No. 4

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