To Think and Operate as “Third World”: Puerto Rico, Palestine, and the Politics of Resistance

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 9:30 AM
Columbia 9 (Washington Hilton)
Sara Awartani, George Washington University
In a letter published in 1980, the Chicago Puerto Rican-based organization Movimiento de Liberación Nacional (MLN; Movement of National Liberation) celebrated the thirteenth anniversary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Directed to “compañeros” and “compañeras,” the letter addressed both Palestinian activists and the Puerto Rican community itself, thereby familiarizing the Puerto Rican diaspora with the Palestinian anti-colonial movement: “I want to tell you and I do not exaggerate, that whenever we hear ‘Long Live Palestine,’ ‘Palestine is Arab Land,’ our emotions heighten and our hearts beat faster…We salute you, and we make your revolutionary slogans our own.”[1]

This paper joins the 1970s and 1980s revival of Puerto Rican nationalism in Chicago—marked by the ascension of internationalism and armed clandestine activities in defense of Puerto Rican independence—to the emergent pan-Arab political awakening in the United States. Defining the geopolitics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the United States’ involvement therein, as the crucial macrohistorical landscape for radical social movements during this period, this paper interrogates the national tapestry of state violence, police repression, and anti-prison activism that shaped the Puerto Rican diaspora’s politics of resistance against an aggressive, imperialistic state. Utilizing the writings of Puerto Rican militants imprisoned on charges of seditious conspiracy against the United States, as well as the aboveground organizations mobilizing for their release, I argue that the struggle for Palestinian self-determination functioned as a crucial geography by which Chicago’s Puerto Rican independence activists learned to think and operate within a “Third World” political condition.

1] Órgano Teórico Movimiento de Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueño, “13th Anniversary of the PFLP,” De Pie y En Lucha (Stand and Fight) (1980) in “A La Izquierda: The Puerto Rican Movement, 1923-2002,” microfilm reel 5, Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora, Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, Hunter College, CUNY, New York, NY.

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