Youth Blog – Pride is Protest in San Juan, Puerto Rico
A couple of weeks ago, some of us from the SMART Project, an online HIV prevention and sexual health promotion program for teens, flew to San Juan to meet with colleagues from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) and to attend San Juan Pride on June 3rd. The SMART team went to the Pride Parade to recruit participants and to record videos for our project. The SMART Project is a bilingual program available online that provides the queer sex education that teens don’t receive from high school. Our team at Northwestern University is responsible for creating the English version and Dr. Carlos Rodríguez-Díaz and his team at UPR are responsible for adapting and translating the project into Spanish. I won’t bore you with the administrative details of the meetings we had, because I’m sure you want to hear about San Juan Pride, the first Pride event since Hurricane Maria swept through as a Category 5 storm, decimating the infrastructure of the island.
Let me back up a moment—in the days leading up to our arrival in San Juan, many of us were not sure what it would be like flying to Puerto Rico for the first time, post-Maria. Would there be power? Would there be palm trees strewn across the streets? Would getting around be easy or even possible? I mean, considering the mainland US news reports over the past months, these were real concerns. We had been in constant contact with our UPR counterparts (Dr. Rodríguez-Díaz and his team) during and after Maria. They indicated that things were fine for visitors but the devastation is still impactful on a daily basis for those living in San Juan and around the island.
Landing into San Juan and driving to the hotel, there were indicators of Maria everywhere. There were skeletons of commercial signs where only the metal scaffolding was still standing. A majority of the trees were now supported upright by timber planks bolted to the ground and trunk. The once-thriving tourist area was dotted with empty storefronts where those businesses and restaurants starved without sellable products and consistent food shipments and, of course, the tourists to buy them. Our team wasn’t sure what this would mean for the turnout during the pride event.
Fast forward to Sunday morning, June 3rd—Half of the team from Northwestern marched in the parade with the UPR team and the other half helped staff from UPR set up at the Parque del Tercer Milenio (where the parade would empty into and where the pride festival would be held). The parade started mid-morning and as floats from different organizations, drag queens, and other groups started making their way down Avenida Ashford, there was a noticeable sense of resiliency, fearlessness, and momentum. Our own group, joining underneath Dr. Rodríguez-Díaz and his staff adorned t-shirts that said, “ORGULLO ES PROTESTA,” or “PRIDE IS PROTEST.”
I think that summed up the spirit of the event. The LGBT Puerto Rican people were not just marching because of “gay pride;” they were marching for Puerto Rico—for pride in their land, in their spirit, and in their resurgence. They were marching to protest the mainland’s misconceptions of their struggles. They were marching to protest feeling like second-class Americans. It was that abundance in pride springing from the people’s duality that made this the most impressive and awe-inspiring Pride that I’ve ever been to.
More photos that the SMART team took during San Juan Pride, including attendees posing with the SMART owl mascot, “Owlejandro:”
To learn more about SMART and how to join, click here or check us out on social media.
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