Puerto Rico: Decency, Outrage and Collective Power

A Teaching Tolerance Advisory Board member encourages us to bring the lessons of the Puerto Rico protests into our practice and our classrooms this year.
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Photography by Lorie Shaull

Put your attention on something and it will grow. 

Two weeks ago, when private chats between the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Roselló, and his allies erupted into the island’s spotlight, Puerto Ricans had a choice: Ignore the perversity behind the 889 pages of misogynist, homophobic, classist, cruel and racist content, or draw a collective, unified line of no more, of that’s enough. The choice was quick and clear. An island long plagued by ideological and political division came together in the name of decency, dignity and integrity. 

So much to learn.

This morning, I sit in gratitude. I’ve been here on the island for the last month, among people who have been beaten by both an unimaginable force of nature named Maria and by despicable insults and mocking from a group of men claiming to be their elected government. 

I have witnessed the thundering of outrage and the humming of disbelief. The power of saying, “That’s enough.” It never stopped there. It never died down. Outrage and disbelief quickly turned into collective action. Ideology, religion, age—these didn’t matter. Decency and integrity did, and a united people took to the streets.

And so I wonder:

When will it be enough in the States?
In my community?
In my district?
In my school?
Who draws the line for our students of color, LGBTQ students, our immigrant students, our students with disabilities?

I guarantee you that if I asked you if you stand for decency and integrity, you’d say yes. So would every single educator from every state, every region, any political or religious ideology. 

Decency. Integrity. We all stand for these values.

But do we, really?

How are we acting when we hear chants of, “Send them back”?
How are we working to build spaces in our classrooms and in our curriculum for all students?
How are we facilitating inclusive spaces where all students and staff belong?
How are we interrupting racist, homophobic, misogynist, hurtful language in our schools?
How are we magnifying and lifting the voices of educators of color, LGBTQ educators, marginalized communities?
How are we holding our leadership accountable and contributing to help build the school community we envision and imagine?
How are we moving past outrage and disbelief—and into engagement and action?

Decency and integrity are upheld through action. We live by them by engaging and acting on them. When we don’t actively work toward decency and integrity, they are not our values to claim.

Whatever we put our attention on grows. 

The Puerto Rican people have shown us how to act on these values.
The time is now to engage and act for decency and integrity. 
The time is now to draw our line.

Garayúa-Tudryn is a school counselor at a dual-language elementary school in North Carolina and a member of the Teaching Tolerance Advisory Board.