Bishop Antulio Parrilla devoted one of his columns in Claridad to a speech given by Iván O. Hernández, M.S., Clinical Psychologist of the Instituto Psicológico Y Familiar de Puerto Rico. It was one of a series presented by the California Hispanic Psychological Association at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1983.
"We are not allowed to govern ourselves, we are not allowed to decide for ourselves, we are not allowed to protect our own interests, because we are subservient to the interests of the country that dominates us," he stated in his speech. He spoke of the psychological damage to behavior patterns, attitudes and values; the creation of a negative image, as Puerto Ricans saw themselves incapable of directing their own destiny.
When I returned to Puerto Rico in June of 1985, Iván Hernández was one of the first people I wanted to meet. I was surprised to learn that he was not a full-time psychologist. His field of studies at UPR was in civil engineering. It was later that he acquired an M.A. in clinical psychology from the Caribbean Center of Advanced Studies, San Juan. He had worked first as an engineer in private industry and public service, and now works for a government-owned corporation, the Puerto Rico Public Building Authority, as Deputy Executive Director. He has a part-time practice in psychology. The two areas combine forces in night school courses he takes towards his Ph.D. in Industrial Organizational Psychology.
I learned later, from an article he sent me on the death of his brother, what a distinguished family he comes from. His brother, Jorge, had served as executive director of Puerto Rican Tenants in Action in Boston. He was eulogized by Mayor Flynn as a "dedicated fighter for the rights of poor people." The article told also of his parents. His mother had been a teacher, his father, Undersecretary of Education and later District Superintendent of Schools.
A professor I had interviewed was teaching a course in oral history. It occurred to me that, in a sense, my interviews could be oral history, and that I should have them on tape. On this, my first try, not everything came through clearly. But I have transcribed as much as I could decipher!
As a retired teacher, I was most interested in the role education played in the colonization process. My first question was about his early schooling.
"My first grade teacher," he told me, "was a very wonderful woman, very lovely and a good person. I remember her lesson in geography: `This is a map of the world,' she told us. `This is Puerto Rico, this very tiny piece of land we can almost not see.' This is part of the way of education: We are colonized by a very great power. We are able to survive only because we're part of the United States. We have few economic and geographic resources. We are an island only a hundred miles long and thirty-five miles wide. As simple as that. So we are taught."
"Did that continue on throughout the grades?" I asked. "When did you become aware of the colonial situation?"
"I became aware in high school. You become aware when you grow up and identify with attitudes and values that you realize are a part of you. For American children it is important to know George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, so as to build character. I studied about George Washington. I admired him. But I never studied about de Diego, Betances, the great men of Puerto Rico. This is part of being colonized."
"But your teachers were Puerto Rican."
"Yes, but they were part of the system and merely passed on to students what they had learned."
"How is it that the United States is able to dominate education?"
"You are not forced. They do not stick a gun at your neck and force you. When you're a little child you are taught that, and you believe it. Teachers are victims of the psychological propaganda."
"Suppose there was a teacher who had a feeling for independence. Would she last as a teacher?"
"If a teacher becomes conscious of this and tries to press in the direction of independence, immediately she is accused of becoming politically involved and strange to our traditional democratic way of life."
"Are Puerto Ricans psychologically prepared for independence?"
"No. It would be up to the United States government to decide to teach our people to become politically independent. Puerto Ricans tend to be paranoid. It would take many years to reverse the procedure, to teach our people not to be afraid of independence, to appreciate the values of independence."
"What is the psychological effect on the United States of having a colony?"
"The United States is involved in so many things. You have no real idea of the situation in Puerto Rico. You have not realized what is happening. You have not been conscious of the problem."
"But our government is aware."
"Yes, probably, but not your people."
"But is it not bad for us psychologically to dominate another country?"
"No big damage, not so bad as being colonized. We are taught that independence would be bad for us. It's like telling a child not to grow. He can't play in the street because he would have an accident. Keep him in the house playing with toys. Don't let him go to the beach, to the sidewalk. Don't let him grow."
"You spoke of studying African liberation movements in the seventh or eighth gradethe process of colonization and exploitation by European powers. Didn't you get the relationship with Puerto Rican colonialism?"
"No, we were seen as receiving economic benefits in material advancement and that the democratic process here makes it unnecessary for Puerto Rico to fight for our freedom."
"And you didn't relate to our American struggle for independence?"
"No, we didn't realize that. Think of that!"
"Why do some Puerto Ricans want statehood?"
"Because they are afraid of independence. They think they will starve, will sink in the middle of the ocean. But if you want something it should be because you really love it, appreciate it. The desire for statehood is not a matter of American patriotism."
"What would happen if you were given statehood?"
"I don't know. I'm afraid we would receive a flow of Americans buying up all the land in the country, in the mountains because nobody would throw them out. Puerto Ricans would have to move into the cities and live as they do in New York City. We would be dumped out of the middle of the land."
"I believe it was Pedro Albizu Campos who used to say that the United States wants the cage, not the bird."
"Yes, that's it! They want the cage, not the bird!"