My name is Frances Negrón-Muntaner.
I am a professor at Columbia University
in the Department of English and Comparative Literature.
And the project that I've been developing
is called Valor y Cambio which is supported by the Center
for the Study of Social Difference.
And it emerged from a working group
called Unpayable Debt that looked at the rise of debt
regimes all over the world.
But we put a particular emphasis on Puerto Rico
for our research.
And the name of our group comes directly
from a speech that the governor of Puerto Rico
gave when he announced to the island
that the government had accumulated
such an enormous amount of debt that he called it unpayable.
If you combine all debt that the government has,
it tops $120 billion.
The project, I would describe it as a art storytelling and just
economy project to launch an island-wide conversation
about what do we value as a society.
Introducing a tool, a community currency,
that could be used for communities
that are marginalized or have little access
to the formal economy to organize their resources
and talents inside their communities
through exchange of a community currency.
We also wanted the currency to tell stories of the past that
connected to the present.
So we picked figures and places that
allowed us to talk of burning issues now,
like public education, public health, or access to health.
We wanted to talk about racial and gender equity.
I think the most popular bill was 21, Roberto Clemente, who
was a baseball player, and also was known
for his humanitarian work.
So the way it worked was we got an ATM.
We added a computer to the ATM so it
could collect the stories.
And in exchange of the stories, we
would give the bills to a dispenser, a money dispenser.
We got a number of small businesses,
about 40 small businesses, to accept these bills.
So the idea was that we would demonstrate
through a participatory process what could an exchange
economy not based on profit or debt or accumulation
look like and feel like?
We had a very interdisciplinary group,
all of us trying understand, how did we get to this point?
And I think also, how can research--
art, journalism, these various areas that we were working on--
can have an impact in addressing the situation?
And our project is not about how Puerto Rico is going to pay.
What we see is the crisis is offering
an opportunity for people to rethink politics,
to rethink what the economy should be about.
She is being recognized for her outstanding contributions to the Latino Studies field and the Latinx community, as a trailblazer on LGBTQ rights and AIDS awareness in the El Barrio neighborhood in East Harlem. Most recently, she was the co-creator of Valor y Cambio, a community-based storytelling and community-building project about Puerto Rican values surrounding social and economic transformations in the midst of the current debt crisis.