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Chicago’s Puerto Rican Activists Turned The Horrors Of Colonialism Into A Haunted House

Chicago Boricua Resistance made a haunted house out of imperialism in “Colonialism Undead” at the Segundo Ruis Belviz Cultural Center this Halloween. The creators hoped the installation would highlight the horrors of Spanish and U.S. colonial rule in Puerto Rico. 

While there is nothing more terrifying than intimate details of colonialism — like the fact that Conquistadors rode the backs of Taínos instead of walking sometimes out of laziness — the haunted house isn’t solely fixated on the darkest aspects of history. 

The event describes itself as “a haunted house showcasing the horrors of colonialism in Puerto Rico with a reggaeton-resistance get down against oppression.” All proceeds of the event will support arts and culture initiatives, apprenticeships, and programs with local guest curators. 

The haunted house is made of four rooms that will highlight different historical horrors.

While there are no ghouls or demons in the house, its four rooms will trace a different period in Puerto Rican history. The 16th-century Spanish colonization, the United States annexation in 1898 and Hurricane Maria will each be showcased. 

Puerto Rican history is no stranger to horrors: genocide, slavery, pillaging, plundering, natural disasters, and economic exploitation have riddled the country for centuries. 

“Colonialism is scary as hell,” Miguel Alvelo, a member of Chicago Boricua Resistance, told PRI. “When you look at it — when you really look at it — it is terrifying. But the thing is, as colonized people, we’ve normalized it so much, we don’t really think about it.”

“Colonialism Undead” makes imperialism more tangible to understand.

The house hopes to defamiliarize abstract notions of colonialism into something in the tangible world that visitors can engage with. 

“Turning this supposedly abstract idea of colonialism into a haunted house is a way of bringing back the reality of what’s happening,” Alvelo said. 

The venue is meant to be dark and moody, but it is more like a chilling art installation than a place where actors in costumes will pop up to scare you. Using archival footage and audio and original works of art, the space will bring history back to life. 

According to PRI, the structure of the roof is made of blue FEMA tarp as an illusion to Hurricane Maria. The tarp belonged to Ephram Ramirez Jr., a member of the collective’s father who survived the disaster with his 93-year-old grandfather in San Sebastián. Today, Ramirez says the road by his father’s home is impassable because it has not been repaired to the extent a banana tree has grown in the middle of it. 

Yes, there will be ghosts, actually. 

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Zombies come from colonialism! The folklore of the zombie originates in post revolutionary Haiti where it integrated with Voodoo religion. Bokor sorcerers used the undead as free labor or pawns tasked with commiting evil acts. The zombie became the cautionary tale of the potential return of slavery to a nation haunted by its consequences. After the US invasion and occupation of Haiti in the early 20th century, the zombie started its creeping steps into US popular culture. When the US occupied Haiti it systematically attempted to destroy the native religion of Voodoo. Haitians resisted and, in turn, when the US left it took with it a white[washed] zombie that first appeared in the 1932 movie "White Zombie." Since then, most zombie films and TV shows completely ignore the Haitian origins of the myth, but still continue the underlying tradition of the zombie as the cautionary tale of things that can come or return, the anxieties of a World haunted by its past and constantly transforming into unfamiliar paths. To learn more about Colonialism Undead join us on Oct. 31 at @segundoruizbelvis cultural center for a haunted house on the horrors of imperialism and a reggaeton-resistance party que pondrá a bailar a to' los muertos. Sources: https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/10/how-america-erased-the-tragic-history-of-the-zombie/412264 http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20150828-where-do-zombies-come-from https://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC28folder/WhiteZombie.html https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/zombie-movies-are-never-really-about-zombies-180965321/

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While all of the details of the haunted house are kept hush-hush, Chicago Boricua Resistance said there would be ghosts. One of them is Dr. Cornelius Rhoads, an American oncologist who conducted experiments on Puerto Ricans. In 1931, the doctor injected research subjects with cancer cells. 

In a letter made infamous by its scathing racism, Rhodes proudly admitted to murdering eight Puerto Ricans. The letter which will be featured in the exhibit says Puerto Ricans are, “the dirtiest, laziest, most degenerate and thievish race of men ever inhabiting this sphere.”

Other historical ghosts will be featured and judging by Rhoads’ inclusion, they’re sure to be pretty scary too. 

The 1937 Ponce Massacre will be centered among other atrocities. 

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"ICE imprisons 50,000+ people. Thousands crowd into concentration camps that freeze, starve, physically and sexually abuse, and even kill detainees. Others endure maximum security in criminal prison despite legal standards against punitive detention for migration infractions. And still others are warehoused in privately run “shelters” that plaster a more pleasant facade on unjust, unnecessary, in humane incarceration. Another 40,000 other lives hang in limbo, trapped by the “remain in Mexico” policy that disallows asylum seekers from waiting in the United States while their claims are considered. More asylum seekers will soon be denied under a bogus "safe third country" policy that requires individuals to have already been denied asylum elsewhere before seeking it in the US. Thousands more kids have been separated from their parents. Millions more live in fear of deportation as ICE increases raids, arrests people seeking legal status during routine check-ins, and targets activists who speak out in defense of the undocumented. And yet, knowing all this, many thousands more will continue to make the treacherous journey toward the US border. That is because they are trying to escape violence and instability that threaten their lives—stoked by US policies from backing brutally repressive governments to enacting free trade deals that allow US-based extractive industries to profit off displacing indigenous communities. The US government founded its existence on genocide and slavery. These human rights abuses are all the more deplorable carried out on stolen land, on the basis of colonial borders. In the spectacular shamelessness if US capitalism, these crimes present irresistible business opportunities to corporate giants like Amazon that cash in by selling facial recognition software and cloud services. Close the concentration camps! Let them all in! No business with ICE! Decriminalize migration!" -Coalition to Close the Concentration Camps Chicago #Chicago #nooneisillegal #chicagomarathon

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“Some of the older aspects of colonialism seem like the most raw and outrageous things, but there’s a lot of present-day things that are just as outrageous,” Omar Torres Kortright, executive director of the cultural center, told PRI. 

The event will have a nod to the 1937 Ponce Massacre, where peaceful protestors organized to oppose the imprisonment of Nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos were shot at by police who killed 17 unarmed civilians and injured 200. Among the massacre, the forced sterilization of a third of Puerto Rico’s women which began in 1936 and ended in the 1970s, the 3000 who died during Hurricane Maria, and an influx of wealthy white investors will be addressed at the show. 

“It’s like a second invasion,” Kortright said of the investors. “They’re buying our land. And they’re taking out our young people that have been trying to keep that land. I think that we’re in that process where we’re going to lose our land, and we’re going to lose our home, basically. And that’s the huge risk of this normalization.”

The exhibit ends with a reggaeton resistance because the intention is to activate Puerto Ricans and allies against the looming and current oppressive forces. 

“In a world that is telling you over and over again that you’re not worth anything, that you should stay quiet and you should follow the rules, taking time to be loud, have fun, have pleasure — is a form of resistance,” Alvelo said. 

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Retired Detective Rafael Tovar Recalls Working John Wayne Gacy Case In New Peacock Docuseries

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Retired Detective Rafael Tovar Recalls Working John Wayne Gacy Case In New Peacock Docuseries

John Wayne Gacy shocked the world with is violent and terrifying crimes. The serial killer operated in the Chicago suburbs and killed at least 33 people. “John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise” digs deep into the story that true crime enthusiasts think they know.

Peacock is releasing a new true-crime docuseries “John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise.”

NBC News Studios is bringing a new true-crime docuseries to the streaming world with “John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise.” The documentary promises to take even those who know the story of John Wayne Gacy through parts of the case and serial killer that few know.

The docuseries relies on interviews from law enforcement, neighbors, victims, and family members affected by the murders. Retired Detective Rafael Tovar and Executive Producer Alexa Danner spoke with mitú about working the the case and creating the docuseries.

Tovar was the first Spanish-speaking police officer in the Chicago suburbs in 1970. Eight years later, Tovar was helping to unravel the horrific murders committed by John Wayne Gacy.

“It was a phase into the case because when we first started, we were working on a missing person report for one person, never figuring that it was going to turn out to be what it turned out to be,” Tovar recalls about the case. “It was something new every day until we started digging that’s when everything broke loose, and it became the case of a lifetime for a police officer.”

The former Des Plaines detective remembers the moment that case was going to be much more than anticipated. Around December 21, when the officers executed a second warrant on John Wayne Gacy’s suburban home, Tovar and other authorities made gruesome discoveries. Tovar remembers digging under the house with an evidence technician when they discover three left femurs. The bones were too decayed to belong to the last victim, Robert Piest.

“The John Wayne Gacy story has certainly been told multiple times over the year and I think that there is a sense that there’s a narrative out there that is known and accepted,” Alexa Danner, an executive producer on the docuseries says. “What we really found as we began to produce this documentary was that there are a lot of questions that remain about the case. There’s a lot of mystery still surrounding it.”

Danner promises that even those who think they know the John Wayne Gacy story well will learn new things about the crimes. “John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise” talks to people never interviewed before and takes a hard look at the case like never before.

The investigation into John Wayne Gacy changed law enforcement practices drastically. Procedures were adjusted to better assist with missing persons reports, especially children. Tovar also shared that John Wayne Gacy himself claimed to have had other victims.

“I was transferring him from our police lockup to the county lockup. Just in conversation, I asked him, ‘John. There are a lot of numbers going around. How many people did you kill?’ and he said, ‘Well, I’ve said this, I’ve said that, but 45 sounds like a good number.’ So I asked him, ‘Well, where are they?’ He said, ‘No. That’s your job to find out,’” Tovar recalls about that conversation. “He was the type of guy that knew that you knew something or that you were going to find out, he’d be totally honest with you. If he didn’t think that you were going to find out, he liked to play mind games with you. I believe him. Everything else he told me was true, so I believe that there are more out there.”

The show will take people through Gacy’s life before the violent attacks he became known for after his arrest. It will show people the life he had in Iowa that might have been a warning sign of things to come. The docuseries explores lingering questions about his mother’s ignorance about her son’s dealings and questions about the real body count.

Danner recalls a psychiatric report done on Gacy after his arrest that should have given everyone pause.

“It essentially said that this man would not stop behaving like this. There’s no known way to stop his behavior or change it,” Danner says. “To look back ten years before he’s arrested for all of these killing and know that he was already being assessed that way or diagnosed that way is really troubling and horrible.”

“John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise” will be available for streaming March 25 on Peacock.

READ: New Netflix Docuseries Explores The Summer The Night Stalker Terrorized Los Angeles

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Today, Puerto Rico Celebrates Emancipation Day–the Day When the Island Officially Abolished Slavery

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Today, Puerto Rico Celebrates Emancipation Day–the Day When the Island Officially Abolished Slavery

Photo via George W. Davis, Public Domain

Today, March 22nd marks Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud in Puerto Rico–the date that marks the emancipation of slaves in Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, enslaved peoples were emancipated in 1873–a full decade after the U.S. officially abolished slavery. But unlike the U.S. mainland, Puerto Rico celebrates today as an official holiday, where many businesses are closed.

The emancipation of Puerto Rican slaves was a very different process than the United States’. For one, the emancipation was gradual and over three years.

When the Spanish government abolished slavery in Puerto Rico 1873, enslaved men and women had to buy their freedom. The price was set by their “owners”. The way the emancipated slaves bought their freedom was through a process that was very similar to sharecropping in the post-war American south. Emancipated slaves farmed, sold goods, and worked in different trades to “buy” their freedom.

In the same Spanish edict that abolished slavery, slaves over the age of 60 were automatically freed. Enslaved children who were 5-years-old and under were also automatically freed.

Today, Black and mixed-race Puerto Ricans of Black descent make up a large part of Puerto Rico’s population.

The legacy of enslaved Black Puerto Ricans is a strong one. Unlike the United States, Puerto Rico doesn’t classify race in such black-and-white terms. Puerto Ricans are taught that everyone is a mixture of three groups of people: white Spanish colonizers, Black African slaves, and the indigenous Taíno population.

African influences on Puerto Rican culture is ubiquitous and is present in Puerto Rican music, cuisine, and even in the way that the island’s language evolved. And although experts estimate that up to 60% of Puerto Ricans have significant African ancestry, almost 76% of Puerto Ricans identified as white only in the latest census poll–a phenomenon that many sociologists have blamed on anti-blackness.

On Puerto Rico’s Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud, many people can’t help but notice that the island celebrates a day of freedom and independence when they are not really free themselves.

As the fight for Puerto Rican decolonization rages on, there is a bit of irony in the fact that Puerto Rico is one of the only American territories that officially celebrates the emancipation of slaves, when Puerto Rico is not emancipated from the United States. Yes, many Black Americans recognize Juneteenth (June 19th) as the official day to celebrate emancipation from slavery, but it is not an official government holiday.

Perhaps, Puerto Rico celebrates this historical day of freedom because they understand how important the freedom and independence is on a different level than mainland Americans do.

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