Leisure Colonization


I cannot ever remember, in the five years I lived
in Oregon, hearing a person of color say that they were moving to Canada or some other country, just to get away from Amerikkkan conservatism or its ruined economy. I cannot recall hearing that from anyone but European folk. Maybe it’s because I live in Oregon and there are an abundance of white European settlers. Growing up, when people of color talked about moving they had their eyes on the United Snakes. Is this a coincidence?       

It was not uncommon to find many of the tourism jobs being owned or operated by European Americans or Europeans from the continent managing staff at chain hotels tour companies. You can see it from the Hilton in San Juan to the catamaran tours in on the west end. There is nothing wrong with people of any skin tone making a living. 

It is interesting that a person from a world power moves to a colony or a struggling nation and will get chosen for an entry level job over a local even without speaking the dominate language of the region. Tourism is a monolithic industry in Boriken with a preference for English speakers. Yet few of us are fully bilingual or comfortable operating in English. 

I was a bar back one summer in a west side town called Fajardo. There I was offered a job by one of the patrons to go work in Culebra as a grounds keeper. I explained to them I knew nothing about landscaping or even what to do with a trimmer. They made it very clear that they needed me because they  where a manger but they knew no Spanish. They wanted someone bilingual that they could trust. I cannot recall everything that was said but there was stress on the need for trust.

Working twelve hours a day, at $6.00 per hour and no overtime pay as a bar back, bouncer, stock boy, janitor at the same job then offered $8.00 an hour to work in Culebra, of course I took the job. Keep in mind Culebra is an island off the coast of Boriken and many of the business are owned by Europeans, from the US and from Europe, but staffed by locals that would not have the capital to own the businesses. The few Borikuas that own the business are from the mainland and are coming from economic privilege. 

After a week there it turned out that pool maintenance would be the best role for me because 1) I was the only groundskeeper that spoke English 3) I knew how to “behave” around guest and 2) I was not great at mowing huge lawns on a steep incline. When I was not caring for the pool or raking up leaves I was running back and forth between my manager interpreting instructions and responses. Mostly I was interpreting lies that I would be blamed for. 

Soon I was to assistant manager of grounds keeping but the pay did not change. The title should have been assistant to the manager of grounds keeping, I was put in charge of supervising, ordering (because I spoke Spanish and my boss still did not), inventory, pool maintenance, waiting on guest. 

It was a strange position to be in, I was not a boss but because I bilingual I had to float my boss and be the face of his reprimands and frustration. It was not fair to me and it certainly was not fair to my coworkers. I left that job promptly after I got wind that they were shutting down the resort after only eight months in operation. 

Some resorts are run by hotel management companies but the infrastructure is rented out to them. The property owner is a rich European man from Puerto Rico that had developed the property despite local opposition to is construction and devastation to the environment. He had not been a great landlord and the company owner, a German guy named Walter that once worked for Donald Trump, decided to pull out. I gave my notice and picked up another job, selling brightly colored garbage to tourist in a boutique for the same pay and less responsibility. The owner was also a European from the US but I hardly saw them and did not have nearly as much drama to deal with. 

I worked a few more tourist jobs on mainland Boriken before I moved to Oregon and the whole time, if I ever heard a person of color on the island talk about moving they meant to go to the US. Meanwhile, even homeless Europeans would find their way down to the island with less proficiency in Spanish than money. Here I was struggling working in restaurants but always hungry with no way of leaving for the US and no one in there that I knew. Vacation friends never rite back and if they do it’s remind you what a great time they had.  

Tourism does not bring island to the people, at best it creates demeaning low wage jobs for some locals that further the colonization process. Tourism in itself is not bad but it neither is a blade. A blade could be used to cut bonds or slit thoughts. ToTourist under capitalism and colonialism is a rapier that is used mortally wound minds and bodies. 

If you enjoyed this article check out Through Our Own Eyes at KBOO 90.7 FM and get a post card from Puerto Rico when you make a donation to our project before the 1st of November 2016.

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