I met Professor Ramón Grosfoguel, one of the leading decolonial thinkers, while studying my master’s at the Sorbonne University in 2009. It was one of those rare occasions in which you actually meet a Puerto Rican outside the U.S.
A couple of weeks ago, I started reading his book “Colonial Subjects”, which in my opinion offers a valuable historical and contemporary overview of Puerto Rico’s place within the capitalist world economy. I found this second story worth sharing. It’s about an interview to Pedro, a Puerto Rican informant who has lived in Paris for the last twenty years.
Note: If you have not yet read Part I, you can find it here: A Puerto Rican in Paris.
Grosfoguel, Ramón. Colonial subjects: Puerto Ricans in a global perspective. Berkeley London: University of California Press, 2003, p. 158
Pedro (Puerto Rican informant who has lived in Paris for the last 20 years, interview) :
I moved from a rural town in Puerto Rico to New York City in 1957. East Harlem was my residence for the next twenty years. I worked making shirts in a fábrica. I also worked in a supermarket carrying merchandise, and as a janitor cleaning offices. In New York, life was very difficult for a guy like me. Every place I went and said I was Puerto Rican, the only job I could aspire to was menial, cheap-wage jobs; Whites thought Puerto Ricans were lazy and criminals. They always treated us like shit… One day I realized that no matter how hard I tried, I was condemned to live in a ghetto and work as a cheap labor all my life. That was when I decided to take an airplane and move to Paris even though I did not know anything about this country. That was when things changed for me. Here nobody discriminated against me for being Puerto Rican. I only suffered discrimination when they thought I was Algerian. But when I clarify that I am Puerto Rican, they politely excuse themselves… I learnt the language and worked for several years as a janitor. At night I went to a university to study. You know here is not like in the United States where to get a university degree you need thousands of dollars… After I finished my degree, I started working in my first office job where I did not have to be a janitor.