As I have written before in this column, the issue of Puerto Rican identity, especially for those who are from the Diaspora, i.e "Diasporicans" (Boricuas in the U.S.) is a complicated and even painful one to discuss.
Who defines who is and is not Puerto Rican?
Why do Puerto Ricans that are second and third generation, who cannot speak Spanish and have only seen the island in the photographs, proudly display the flag on everything, from tattoos to car stickers?
Are Puerto Ricans on the island really in a privilaged place in terms of knowing who they are and where they stand as a people?
To research these questions, I turned to none other than facebook – the social networking website - to began a discussion. I began it with a statement that I do not believe (and it will explain itself as you read), but wrote it to stir people's minds and emotions. I hope the comments selected will enrich your opinions and thoughts on Puerto Rican identity. The following is an abridged (and grammatically correct) version of what transpired vis-à-vis Facebook:
Me: I'm more Puerto Rican than any Boricua born on the island because I have had to fight for my identity instead of having it handed to me...
Diasporican #1: AMEN!!!! How can I even begin to explain that to others??
Islander #1: Everyone has their own experiences... I don't know if you are more Puerto Rican but ultimately it is the way you feel...
Diasporican #2: It's interesting you say that because I've had this discussion with my cousins on the island, and they just don't get it.
Islander #2 (my aunt): And of course I disagree with you at least 50% of the way. You know your history, you fight for Puerto Rican rights in Chicago, you live the flavors. You might be more Boricua than some but not most. There's a couple of people that discredit our island but most of us love our background. We do have a love-hate relationship with Puerto Rico but you have to live here (not read about it or experience it during vacations) to understand that. That's why no one from here will ever understand or accept when you say you're more Puerto Rican than the ones living here, but if that's how you feel, ok.
Islander #3: You think we have not fought for our identity Xavi? You don't think as a Puerto Rican I struggle everyday to show these mofos we exist? You don't think it hurts when I see maps in history books that don't even have the island on it? You think our identity is handed to us just because we were born en la isla? La isla, its already a dilemma my man. Its even harder, you know why? Because I was born in a place like no other: with their own traditions, culture, climate, people, their own selves; yet, we are not recognized. We are "La isla del encanto" con el desencanto de no ser nada. Ni esto, ni lo otro. We too have to fight for our identity, much more than anybody. ¿Dónde nació Pedro Albizu Campos, Ramón Emeterio Betances, Juan Antonio Corretjer? No fue en New York, no fue en Chicago; yet, this are los próceres, the ultimate fighters of our independence, the people you emulate. ¿Dónde nació Lolita Lebrón? ¿Dónde nació Filiberto? Who organized and said to La Marina "salte pal carajo de Vieques"? Nobody gave me my identity, nobody gave nobody anything. You could be from NY, CHI, Puerto Rico. If you identify yourself as a Puerto Rican you are still looking for your identity and ESPECIALLY if you were born in Puerto Rico.
Me: I'm loving this discussion. I do have to say that identity is much more complicated than one thinks. I myself began this discussion with an essentialist view of identity... and I did it on PURPOSE. Do I believe Puerto Ricans on the island or in the Diaspora are more Puerto Rican than each other? NO! Because we are a nation of 8 million, not just 4 million on the island or in the Diaspora. The point of initiating this discussion was to 1) To prove to everyone, even my dear Titi, that it is painful and wrong to say a person is "more" than someone else, especially in terms of identity and 2) To see the different reactions between my friends who were born or live on the island and those who are “”Diasporicans”. The differences are clear. All those who were born or live on the island reacted negatively to what I had to say while my fellow “Diasporicans” cheered me on. Isn't that ironic? LOL
Me: Oh an by the way, even though I agree with you 100%, Lolita Lebrón joined the Nationalist Party in New York City. The campaign for the freedom of the five Nationalists began in Chicago. The last grouping of Puerto Rican Political Prisoners were almost all born in Chicago or in New York and the campaign for their freedom started in Chicago. Betances wrote his most eloquent writings in Paris and Hostos did so in the Dominican Republic and Chile, and Juan Antonio Corretjer wrote “Boricua en la luna” in Chicago, which is the greatest proof that without the Diaspora, Puerto Rico would be incomplete. Oh, and the Vieques movement would not have been successful if it wasn't for the compañeros in the U.S.
Islander #2 (my aunt): Well I think you're full of it. Even if you were trying make some kind of experiment, of course we were going to get offended. It's like if I say I'm more American than any soldier who has served in Afghanistan or Iraq.
But you're right, there is a difference between Puerto Ricans who live in the U.S. than those who live here in Puerto Rico. We think it's very funny when you people demand liberty, equality, march and complain about our social/democratic issues when all you know is due to books and newspapers.
When you all move here, work here and contribute here then we can actually talk more seriously.
Me: Ok, Titi, let's take back that Puerto Rican flag you hold so dear and bring it back to New York where it was made. When you're willing to do that, then I'll say what you wrote makes sense.
Also, who's "you people?" Let's not be essentialist here and regroup everyone into one experience and category. I guess my "experiment" didn't really work, because you still feel you have the right to define who's a "true" Puerto Rican...
Through observations, I believe that the two things that elicit the most discussion from Puerto Ricans and even divides the Puerto Rican family is the conversation on puertorriqueñidad and the status of Puerto Rico. In terms of identity, as you have read, there is no easy way to describe what constitutes a “true” Puerto Rican and what criterion exists to allow someone into the category of “Boricua de pura cepa.” But here is some food for thought:
When one actively excludes people from a community, you are actively developing feelings of anger, sadness, and confusion. However, one also fans the fires of empowerment and affirmation. It is like when my grandmother came to the U.S. in 1967 and was “greeted” with racism. In turn, she held onto her Puerto Rican roots and worked to instill in her children and grandchildren the beauty of being Boricua, even though most were not born there. It pushes me to tears when some of my cousins call me “American” instead of what I truly am. How can you tell a little boy, with a smile on his face and a Puerto Rican flag, during a hot summer day during the parade that the symbol he carries does not represent him? And that is why the “Diasporicans” cheered me on in the discussion. They, too, know the pain of being ignored, the love they feel for a country that sometimes wants to forget that half of its citizens left the island, but those same citizens will have Puerto Rico in their hearts and memories, forever
Originally published in La Voz del Paseo Boricua newspaper, December 2009 edition