Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bienvenidos a la Huelga

If I may say, this post is probably one of the hardest things that I had to write in a very long time. Not because I didn’t like the subject but instead because I feel really strongly about it and want to say so much but the language barrier affects my way of expressing how I feel. As in my previous post, “lost in translation”, language plays a very important part in our emotions. But never the less here is the story…

Bienvenidos a la huelga was the first phrase I heard when trying to get in. The University of Puerto Rico (UPR) from where I proudly graduated almost 5 months ago is going through a major student strike. For those who don’t know, the UPR, is the state university system of Puerto Rico. It is considered the premier institution of higher education and research in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. The system consists of 10 campuses, and has approximately 64,511 students and 5,300 faculty members. It also has the largest and most diverse academic offer in the Caribbean with 472 academic programs and 32 doctoral programs.

I’m from the Rio Piedras campus, the largest and most controversial campus. For many years the UPR has been subject to many students riots and strikes due to tuition increases and in support of others state department’s strikes. The students are known for speaking their minds and making themselves heard. This last Wednesday (22 of April) the UPR students successfully, and almost without a significant incident, paralyzed academic and administrative operations at the Río Piedras campus after university officials had vowed to keep the institution open (click here to see a video of that first day).

The strike is against the increase in tuition and against of the UPR being sold to the private sector. I know many of my readers can’t relate to the patriotism that you feel knowing that the most premier education in the Caribbean belongs to you. But most of the students here feel that way. This is our institution and we don’t want it to be sold to some strangers that will do as they please. We should all be able to afford it. An education is a right and not a privilege.

Last night many Puerto Rican celebrities made appearances in support of the students and the fight for the right of an education. Ricky Martin, Calle 13, Andy Montañez, Mima, Radio Pirata, Fiel a la Vega, El Topo, among others sang and expressed their support.

Here some images of la huelga:

The famous landmark of the UPR.

Students in the streets making their voices heard.

All of the gates were closed and guarded by students. The only way in is by this little hole in a fence where they only let you in if you have a student ID. The sign on the fence says: "of the people, to the people and from the people".

Students gathering inside the campus to watch the show. At some point that afternoon they stop letting people in to maintain a control. Around 2,000 people were inside the campus.

Many students were camping inside the campus.

The main entrance was always guarded by the police.

The main entrance at night.

The whole fence was covered with banners of different students groups showing their support.

This banner translates to: “A country without education is a country of slaves”

Drama students making a scene to show their support

My sister on the right and her best friend on the left, behind a sign that’s mocking a private and very expensive college

El refugio (the shelter) is a very popular student bar

The crowd

Andy Montanez singing his famous patriotic song: Quien no se siente patriota

Yesterday I remember a feeling that I somewhat had taken for granted, the feeling of home. No matter to how many places I may travel and no matter how many people I meet, this is my home and these are my people. That I will carry in my heart forever.

“I would rather die standing than live on my knees!” –Zapata

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