Street art and the fight to resist gentrification in Puerto Rico

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Sage Mace Rios (El Tecolote, July 16, 2021) writes about community art educators and co-founders of Colectivo Morivivi, Sharon “Chachi’ González Colón and Raysa Raquel Rodríguez García.

In Santurce, Puerto Rico, street art climbs the neighborhood walls jousting for the attention of those who frequent the neighborhood. For a tourist visiting Calle Loiza in the search of a trendy cafe, the messages in the art might go unnoticed as they become mere backdrops for social media posts. 

In favor of visibility, the Santurce-based women’s collective, Colectivo Morivivi, utilizes memory and imagination in their murals to resist a colonial narrative as imposed by the oversight board and recent tax acts furthering gentrification and the mass displacement of Boricuas. 

Community art educators and co-founders of Colectivo Morivivi, Sharon “Chachi’ González Colón and Raysa Raquel Rodriguez Garcia, explain the evolution of the collective, which grew out of their studio art’s education and transformed into a community centered team. “After our first mural we realized how powerful it was to do murals over studio art,” Chachi says. “When painting murals, you’re painting outdoors and people pass by and ask you questions, giving you their interpretations.” 

Encouraged by the response to their first public mural, the two realized their calling and began creating inclusive workshops and community murals projects. 

“It’s a way to make art more accessible and break the cycle of elitism that is in the art community, and a way of making people recognize that there is beautiful art happening within our community and that it must be visible,” Chachi says.  

Without the dedication of individuals like Chachi and Raysa, the collective memory of Puerto Rico is at risk as the population of natives dwindles due to the austerity measures which sow gentrification and displacement. [. . .]

Painted in the aftermath of Maria, Colectivo Morivivi’s two-part piece, “Ellos se van con el éxodo aunque no se quieren ir,” resides in Springfield, Massachusetts as two murals in conversation with one another.

In the first mural, four girls stand looking to the sky at an unseen airplane that has taken flight to the states. Swirling in the foam of the ocean reads the message: “Ellos se van con el éxodo aunque no se quieren ir.”

The message, although brief, reveals a tragic reckoning. Hurricane Maria forced the decision of departure, as a means of survival, upon thousands of people who desired to remain in their homeland. 

In the waters, a girl stands with a mirror held before her face. On the mirror, the events of May 1, 2018 unfold—the day where teachers, students and working class people protested against austerity measures by the U.S.-imposed oversight board, which propelled forward tuition increases, the shut down of public schools and pension cuts.“People were very angry about all of the situation we were  suffering because of the hurricane and all of the disarray,” Chachi says. “We didn’t have food, electricity or anything. We were fighting for basic needs that are essential and the government in that moment was very retaliative and that manifestation was very hard for us.”

According to Chachi, police responded to the protests with brutality, retaliating with tear gas and pepper spray. 

In the second mural, a woman and her child arrive at their new home in the states. From their window, a clothing line hangs with a flyer that reads ‘promesa’. [. . .]

The dialogue between these two murals confronts onlookers with the reality of Puerto Ricans who fled to the U.S. as climate refugees. For thousands, the practise of acceptance is a pathway forward although it exists in contention to their desire to return home. 

For those who do return, home may look vastly different. 

Since the passing of Act 20 and 22 in 2012 (in 2019, Acts 20 and 22 were consolidated into the new Act 60), hoards [sic] of real estate developers, crypto currency investors and influencers alike have flocked to the island. Act 20 lowers the corporate tax rate for businesses paying 21 percent in the states down to 4 percent while offering full tax exemption on all dividends. Act 22 allows for individuals to pay 0 percent capital gain taxes as opposed to the 37 percent capital gain taxes of the states. 

Although heralded as the answer to Puerto Rico’s struggling economy, economists such as Raul Santiago-Bartolomei point to its downfalls.

Bartolomei of the Center for a New Economy, who studies gentrification in Puerto Rico, explains in layman’s terms how the tax incentives drive forward gentrification and drastically exacerbate racial segregation and wealth segregation. 

Those living in San Juan, Vieques, Isabella, Rincon and Aguadilla have watched the expulsion of their neighbors due to the tax incentives leading to price increases and expediting the impending reality—Puerto Rico is no longer a livable place for Puerto Ricans. [. . .]

For full article, see https://eltecolote.org/content/en/street-art-and-the-fight-to-resist-gentrification-in-puerto-rico

[Shown above: Detail from Colectivo Morivivi’s mural “Ellos se van con el éxodo aunque no se quieren ir,” in Springfield, Massachusetts. Courtesy: Colectivo Morivivi.]

One thought on “Street art and the fight to resist gentrification in Puerto Rico

  1. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    Stay proud!! .. ““It’s a way to make art more accessible and break the cycle of elitism that is in the art community, and a way of making people recognize that there is beautiful art happening within our community and that it must be visible,” Chachi says.

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