US Colonialism and the Appropriation of Puerto Ricans' Bodies, Land, and Freedom

Thursday, April 4, 2019 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM

Puerto Rico was colonized by the United States in 1898 and currently remains a US territory; the US government has subject Puerto Ricans to over a century of human rights abuses which include but are not limited to eugenic policies, military invasion, restricted self-determination, and surveillance, persecution, and imprisonment. Examining where Puerto Rico is situated in human rights is especially urgent today. In September 2017 Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria which is the worst natural disaster recorded in Puerto Rican history; the aftermath of the natural disaster is hindering Puerto Ricans’ access to basic human rights. Noting the above human rights violations, it is crucial to interrogate how under the current human rights system the United States is given the responsibility to define and monitor Puerto Ricans’ human rights despite being the primary violator of their rights. How can the human rights system be redesigned to be more inclusive of Puerto Ricans?

Malia Lee Womack is a feminist critical human rights scholar. Her current focus problematizes the universalization of human rights as it relates to US colonialism in Puerto Rico. She investigates how human rights issues are framed in Puerto Rico, and how the United States hinders Puerto Ricans from accessing human rights. Her work experience ranges from community outreach and education, working to eradicate poverty and to increase women’s rights, combatting sexual, relationship and domestic violence, working for the United Nations, and spearheading diverse initiatives locally and abroad to improve the lived experiences of disadvantaged communities. Malia earned a BA from University of California - Berkeley in Gender and Women’s Studies, an MA from Columbia University in Human Rights Studies, and an MA in Latin American Studies from Ohio States University where she is currently a PhD candidate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.