For This Feminist Collective in Puerto Rico, the Mass Protests Were a Long Time Coming

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A report by Isabelia Herrera for The New York Times.

Our thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.

After more than a week of mass protests in Puerto Rico, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced on Wednesday night that he would resign. Hundreds of thousands of protesters stormed the streets after the contents of a leaked private group chat revealed sexist, crass and profane comments made by Mr. Rosselló and 11 friends and aides. These included calling former New York City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito a whore, and joking about shooting Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan.

Members of the activist organization Colectiva Feminista en Construcción were also targeted in the messages. In one exchange, a chat participant posted a photo of an activist wearing a T-shirt that read: “Antipatriarchal. Feminist. Lesbian. Trans. Caribbean. Latin American.” The governor mocked her with the reply, “That has to be some kind of record, no?”

The Colectiva has been pushing Mr. Rosselló on feminist issues since he was elected in 2017. In November 2018, they camped outside of his mansion for three days, demanding that he declare a state of emergency as domestic violence surged across the islandpost-Hurricane María. He refused at the time, but met with them earlier this year, when the Colectiva gave him a list of demands, including the introduction of a gender studies curriculum in public schools to help prevent violence against women.


I spoke with Zoán Dávila-Roldán, a spokeswoman for Colectiva Feminista (which is nonhierarchical but has a few selected representatives), to discuss the ways these protests are the product of years of feminist activist efforts and what Mr. Rosselló’s resignation means for Puerto Rico.

What has it been like to see so many people in the streets, to see this movement, which has been building for years?

It has been amazing, and it’s the result of all the work that’s been done. We didn’t see ourselves as a movement. Our mission was to create a movement, with an awareness of the paradigm shifts in the country. It’s seeing the fruits of our labor over the last few years become a reality.

How do you think the chats reflected the culture of the government?

When we protested in November, one of the things that was evident was that one of the ways to eradicate gender-based violence and deal with that problem in an effective way was to introduce education that considered gender. The state’s mission has been to work with survivors of domestic violence, but they don’t have any kind of public policy to prevent the violence. In the conversations that we had with the governor’s aides, there was a resistance to the topic of gender studies. The comments in the chat reflect that there is no real awareness of how gender-based violence affects women, of the violence we experience. If anything, the chat reflects how necessary gender studies is, because even government officials who say they’re conscious of these things aren’t actually aware.

I saw a lot of protesters reclaiming some of the sexist words used in the chat, like “puta” and “gatita,” on their signs. For those of you who have been in this fight for so long, what was it like to see people reclaiming those words?


I think it’s incredible that people reclaimed the words used in that chat to demean these women, to demean us. They have used it as a statement of indignation, as a tool to demand his resignation. Because the word “puta” is used to provoke women who are free to make decisions about their bodies without worrying about stigmas imposed by society. The women mentioned in the chat — they speak about them that way because they’re women who are leaders, women who have challenged stigmas and social standards, because they’re women who dissent from the leaders who have these patriarchal and misogynistic views.

With these protests, women have been some of the main participants. It’s been a lot, a lot of us. Women from all kinds of occupations have taken to the streets. And I think it’s been because of that recognition of state violence, and how the state enacts violence on them.


How do you feel now that Mr. Rosselló has resigned? What comes next?

For many years, we’ve been demanding for life in Puerto Rico to change. A slogan that we use and that we have in one of our campaigns is, “Let’s build another life.” Something that these protests have shown us is a change in the consciousness of the people. Before, it was taken for granted that someone who was appointed in the elections would stay there for four years and there was no way of removing them.

We’re happy and proud that the people fought to finally remove Ricardo Rosselló from the government. Because this is more than removing a simple figure. It’s also a warning to whoever will take this post and other positions of leadership. This is a country that recognizes the power it has and is going to use it.

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