Monday, August 11, 2014

Paz Para Vieques: Civic Action Comics

Greetings from Puerto Rico!

For the past week, I've been here in Vieques doing some house-sitting (thanks again for the hookup, Heather!), beach-bumming, hammock-laying, and mofongo-eating.  The natural beauty here is incredible, and I've fallen in love with the flamboyán trees, semi-wild horses, and chirping frogs at night.

Also, this baby iguana says "hey."

However, Vieques is a complicated place with a rocky past and a problematic present.  (Don't get me wrong -- it's a beautiful island full of wonderful people, but its particular struggles are worth noting.)  Basically, back in the 1940s, the US government decided it would be a great idea to use Vieques for target practice.  The Navy, or la Marina in Spanish, purchased a large amount of land on the island and used this space to test bombs and various other weapons, resulting in the contamination of the environment and loss of livelihood for many of the local residents.

In 1999 a Naval employee, David Sanes, was killed when a bomb missed its target during a military exercise, and the world became very aware of Vieques' situation.  Protesters in Puerto Rico, the US, and Latin America demanded that the military withdraw from the island, and by 2003 the Navy was gone.

When I first got here, I began to feel down and guilty about the US government's imperialist belief that they can barge into people's homes and make a mess of things.  (To be fair, the US isn't alone in this behavior -- many big, powerful governments do the same.)  But as I've learned more and more about the way that the people of Vieques stood up for themselves, I'm filled with hope.

Then the other day when I visited the old fort, I found another sign of hope and strength in the form of (surprise!) children's literature.  In the museum gift shop, I found three comic books about Vieques and immediately snatched them up.  

When I got home and read through them, I discovered that they were published by el Grupo de Apoyo Técnico y Profesional para el Desarrollo Sustenable de Vieques (GATP, or the Group for Technical and Professional Support for the Sustainable Development of Vieques), an organization of professionals and university professors dedicated to progress and positive development on the island.

Created in 2002, during the height of the protests on Vieques, these books were written by local students and deal with subjects like:

  • The military's presence on the island
  • Urban planning
  • Ecological conservation
  • Local social issues (poverty, unemployment, alcoholism, domestic violence, teenage pregnancy)
  • Health
  • Democratic citizenship and leadership

If you'd like to take a look at all of the books (five total), they're available online here.

How cool is that?!  These books can serve as an excellent model for students who might want to use literature as a strategy to take action against inequity.  Teachers, take note -- writing, illustrating, and disseminating civic action comics is a great way for young people to address problems at school and in the wider world, like bullying, racism, or any other type of injustice.

When I came to Vieques, I never expected to find any products of critical literacy, and encountering these comics made my day and my entire vacation.  They're symbols of resilience that I'll cherish forever.

Next up: El Yunque National Forest and then San Juan.  I'll keep you posted on what I find there!

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