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Here, we explore the life and work of Ivan Illich and his circle of collaborators. There's no comprehensive index to the articles published, but we invite you to use the Search box, to the left, and to explore the Archive links that appear at the bottom of each page. Comments are welcomed.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Why did Ivan Illich leave Puerto Rico?

The story about why he was ousted from Puerto Rico that Ivan Illich relates in a 1972 French TV interview with Jean Marie Domenach differs substantially from what he tells David Cayley in 1988, in the book Ivan Illich in Conversation.

In brief, the 1972 telling centers on Illich’s calling for the island commonwealth to spend more money on public education. In 1988, Illich talks of his running afoul of Church leaders when he criticizes them for getting involved in politics. Quite possible, both reasons contributed to his departure.

Here is the exchange from 1972:

Illich: Yes, I was a priest [in upper Manhattan]. I did my four years of work as a priest I suppose, but in the middle of a situation that’s very difficult to describe. But I had, I don’t know why, but I was reminded of the years playing hide-and-seek from Hitler, being declared a Jew from one moment to the next during the war. That’s how I ended up leaving; life took me to Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico threw me out. Domenach: Threw you out. Illich: Yes. Domenach: The government? Illich: The government and the Church together because I was ridiculing the foolishness. Domenach: Foolishness. You mean the ostentatiousness. Illich: Yes, yes, yes. The incorporation, the charity through incorporation into the North American market. Domenach: So you came back to New York right away— Illich: No, no, no, no, no. A group of friends and I, we decided that we needed an independent base of operations, an independent intellectual republic. In Cuernavaca, we established this centre ...


Domenach: Why did they throw you out of Puerto Rico? Why was that? Illich: Because at that time, I was one of five members of the committee that directs all public education in Puerto Rico as well as the Rector of the Catholic university. I was insisting that the 42% of Puerto Rico’s national budget that went to education was not enough. I wanted more money for public education, because I believed that the private colleges, the Catholic colleges, were creating unfair competition by trying to become more prestigious and in doing so, reducing public schools to second-class education. I found myself at odds, whether with the liberal establishment or with the ecclesiastical, right-wing establishment. And, well, I’m a bit ashamed to speak of it now because later, the analysis of Latin America, where I travelled for a year going from Cuernavaca to Puerto Rico, I mean, Puerto Rico to Cuernavaca—

And here is what Illich tells Cayley some years later (p.87 in the book):

Illich: By 1959, I felt that I had done more or less what I wanted to do in PUerto Rico. I had established, at the Catholic University in Ponce, a major summer institute, which in fact ran on for twenty-five years, and I had created a few other very simply institutional bridges for people from Nueva York, which included in a Puerto Rican view, the barrio of Chicago. I felt very much attached to Puerto Rico. ….

But the time had come and a situation presented itself in which I felt that I had to intervene in a political way. The two Irish Catholic bishops, Bishop James Davis, a self-seeking, vain careerist in San Juan, and Bishop James McManus in Ponce, a well-meaning Irish turkey, had gotten themselves into politics by threatening excommunications for anybody who voted for a political party which didn’t proscribe the sale of condoms in the drugstores. And this was a month before the nomination of a Catholic, John Kennedy, as the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. It was not that I wanted to support Kennedy. But I felt that it was highly unsound to allow the religious issue to creep back into American politics, just because two American bishops had an absolute Catholic majority as their subjects At the same time, with the assistance of the papal nuncio responsible for the area, they had also sponsored the creation of a Christian Democratic-like party on the island. So I had to do something, since most people didn’t take it seriously and those who did would not intervene. I attracted to myself the full odium of exploding that situation. I knew that I was sacrificing any possibility of doing anything publicly in Puerto Rico for many years without being mixed up with the memories of that political intervention.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

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Santa Rosa, California, United States
Writer, photographer, music fan; father and husband living in northern Calif.