The plight of Puerto Rico’s status has always been a complicated and confusing one. The politics are complex for one of the last territories to exist. Its a place where you can both be a U.S. citizen, but have no right to vote in a U.S. presidential election. Its also a place where you can get into debt and not be afforded the same bail out options as a state.
It’s a plight long-time activist Christian Martir knows all too well. The Santurce-born Sociedad Records founder has spent most of his adult life organizing on behalf of the island – from campaigning for Puerto Ricans stateside to register to vote to re-creating a Batey Urbano – an artist hub and community for like-minded Boricuas – in Orlando. So, when the most recent economic crisis hit the island he knew it was a call to action.
Enter Defend Puerto Rico (DefendPR), the brainchild of four creative friends: Christian Martir, Adrian “ Viajero” Roman, Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi and Michael Shawn Cordero. All were frustrated with the current economic climate of Puerto Rico and its coverage, so together created Defend PR – a multi-media project that documents first-hand accounts of the people living amid the economic turmoil. The vision of DefendPR is to amplify the voices of everyday Puerto Ricans working to build a new Puerto Rico where its land, people and culture flourish. DefendPR executes this vision by using people-centered approach to storytelling and the dissemination of personal and community narratives. ‘LLERO caught up with cofounder Christian Martir to discuss the vision of DefendPR, the most inspiring things people are doing to combat the crisis and how you can get involved.
‘LL: How did the idea for DefendPR come to be?
Christian: It all started as [a] conversation last summer. We were all just wanting to do something regarding what was going on in Puerto Rico and the economic situation and debt crisis – and we weren’t sure what we wanted to do. What I wanted to see was something like during the whole Vieques thing there was a website we could all go to like viequeslibre.com. What I liked about that website was that it provided news, stories and resources. I wanted our site to be something like that where people can go on and get resources and just become aware of what’s really going on in Puerto Rico – specifically, with the debt crisis but also in a broader sense. But because we are all artsy and creative people what came out of that was to document what was going on but to also allow other people to tell their stories. So Adrian, Eli and Michael went out to PR and started recording and finding out what people were doing to combat what was going on. To see how are you in your own way and your own work defending Puerto Rico as someone that stays in contrast to what’s going on. The next phase is to find people here in the diaspora [the United States] who are doing the same thing. People who were either forced to leave or left on their own will and figuring out what they are doing here to better the situation in Puerto Rico.
‘LL: What would you say is the main goal and mission of DefendPR?
Christian: Interconnection more than anything else. I think that yeah, we are informing people but it’s being done through conversation and giving examples of the work that’s being done in Puerto Rico. I think that’s one of the biggest misconceptions is that no one is really doing anything – that’s not necessarily the case it’s just that those stories are not being told. You are not finding out about these people doing these unique things in different communities. I think that’s our responsibility, to give those people a platform and elevate their voice about what they’re doing. There’s a lot of interesting things going on, a lot of inspiring stuff which is good. People are not just waiting around for someone to save them. Even connecting those people to each other and connecting them to what we’re doing here in the diaspora and making that connection between the island and the diaspora — in a real way that’s not forced. Where no one is taking the lead, we are just working together collectively.