Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Politics of Flags, Gandules and Lechón

Oye, if you haven't noticed by now, I love the Puerto Rican people so much. We have done many great things and we have an abundance of potential. Nonetheless, due to the fact that we have been dragged through the mud of history for so long, we have picked-up some negative habits that act as barricades in our way to a healthier, more vibrant community.

Por ejemplo: Anyone who even briefly listens to a fast-paced, ficha slamming domino game or catches some bochinche hidden between the aisles of the grocery store, will notice the common “Pero bendito,Puerto Ricans are just so lazy” or “We are not united like the Mexicans are!” It is just too common for us to think of ourselves as just collectively lacking y punto. Instead, I suggest, there should be a: “Las cosas son bien malas, but look at all we have accomplished!” or “how do you think we can change things?” And even better: “how can I challenge myself and my people to address certain issues that is understood as pressing and important?” I assure you, things would be much different for us as a community if we all asked questions that were a little more critical and dedicated even a little time to making things better for us all. This is not to fall into the same trap of cynicism from atop an ivory tower, but to push and agitate the people that I care so much about.

Undoubtedly, there will be those who will respond to all this with: “but I don't get into politics.” Others, even worse, will say “¡La gente de La Division son bien locas!” because many of us working in the community believe in independence for Puerto Rico, which is an often tainted idea. Sorry to shock you though, Boricua, but politics is does not exist just through a ballot box or marching down the street, but can be found in everything we do, like at a domino game or the grocery store. Mejor dicho, Puerto Rican identity and culture is highly political and the expressions of which speak to strong beliefs that can serve as points for community action.

Many of our people enjoy the smell of arroz con gandules don't we, with a little lechón on top of that during Christmas Eve while playing parranda in the background, right? What did it take for that to even be possible, decades after Boricuas came to the U.S., and still be present amongst the third and fourth generations? Those everyday things like food and music from an island across the ocean, reveals the collective push to affirm that we should not erase who we are. While other ethnic groups were skillfully allowed to Americanize over time and forgot their language and traditions, Puerto Ricans never hyphened our identity to “Puerto Rican-American.” As the salsa lyrics by the black Boricua composer, Tite Curet Alonso, eloquently states, “Yo sé que no te gustó que yo plantara bandera, pero a lo hecho pecho, también yo tengo derecho” (“I know that you didn't like that I put up my flag, but what's done is done, I too have a right”). Even our flag, made in 1895 by pro-independence exiles in New York City and made illegal until 1952, is a colorful political statement that we are here and refuse to change, especially in the United States.

Just recently I took my grandmother and her partner to a concert of age-old Puerto Rican music full of trovadoras and rapidly playing cuatro guitarists from the island and Humboldt Park and noticed the songs, sung by young ladies of the mountains, praising “our flag and our nation.” And interestingly enough, as I looked to my left, I saw my grandmother and her boyfriend – in their 50s and 60s - teary-eyed and quietly emotional. I asked if everything was ok and she responded: “This reminds me of my parents and my childhood... I miss Puerto Rico.”

She has been in the U.S. for 43 years and her boyfriend, for only 3 years. Their time of distance is different but their physical distance is not. They no longer live in Puerto Rico, but Puerto Rico stays alive in them and those, like myself, who cannot remember dancing danzas at weddings under the palm trees. But still, we are Puerto Ricans, whose identities are located here, in Chicago and in Humboldt Park, different but with strong connections, like Spanglish, simultaneously new and old. We are The New Boricuas, you can say and saying so is very political. And as we see ourselves as political beings we must, hopefully, see that each and every one of us can be actors in social transformation and must do so on behalf of the needs of our people.

Originally published in La Voz del Paseo Boricua newspaper, December 2010 edition

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