We are from “allá afuera.” As such, we inhabit a nebulous and intangible world in the imagination of those who have not trekked beyond their Caribbean waters (and in even those who have). It is as if, in the insular colonial imagery, we dwell upon the heavens, sitting on top fragile clouds or lurking behind the stars, out of touch with humanity. But celestial beings we are not. Our existence, on Earth, is obscured. We are deemed a throw-away people, cultural pollutants, who were never suppose to return, never to witness the island of our forebearers. “Tú no eres Boricua” can be the most spiteful slander an islander can bestow upon us, not so much because of an innate insecurity, but the acknowledgment of our difference.
“i want to go back to puerto rico,
but i wonder if my kink could live
in ponce, mayagüez and carolina” (Tato Laviera)
According to the 2010 United States census, there are, for the first time in our history, more Puerto Ricans living in the U.S. than on the island; 4.6 million to 3.7 million to be exact. As time continues, less and less the children of Borinquen reside on our tragic Eden, despite the conviction that it remains our communal ‘home.’ The question why is important, but what characterizes our exiled existence as a hint to new collective directions is even more intriguing.
As stated by Boricua theorist Juan Flores, the root definition of Diaspora means a “scattering or of sowing seeds (-sperien) across space (dia-)”, a suitable metaphor for the construction of Puerto Rican enclaves; from a minute bud to a growing vine germinating nuances in identity and community-building. For Flores, a Diaspora is not just about people moving to a new place, but the unraveling of a consciousness about the place they are in and the place they left. In the aftermath of the first Great Migration of the late 1940s to early 1960s, we forged emblems of our “inherited cultural backgrounds” in institutions, cultural festivities, literature, music, and political organizations, but with a palette of distinct “ruptures and innovations” detailing, exalting, and even lamenting our cultural aberration from those on the island. Like that of nations, our community is imagined, because although we could never know all the members of such a disparate Diaspora, it is a communion in which our connection is internally recognized and a camaraderie eternally yearned for.
With controversial origins and often critiqued markers like ‘Chi-Rican’ or ‘Nuyorican’, we are united by a reference point and a new location, but of also disturbing social ills. As an au courant exodus out of our island unfolds before our tired eyes, we continue to face high levels of poverty and low levels of formal education, exacerbated by the destruction and displacement of our historic centers and a psyche of inferiority. Moreover, the cultural and political institutions we have created throughout the decades are decaying because there are those among us who submit to the pressure to homogenize our experiences and unique historical memories under a “latino umbrella” and thus render any affirmed puertorriqueñidad as taboo and separatist. And even worse, those of us who obtain any sort of money or education, leave our life-centers, detach and disassociate themselves from ‘those in the ghetto’ and produce offspring with a sort of Du Boisian triple-consciousness – never accepted by a racist world and never truly accepted by one’s own people on both sides of the Atlantic. We are here, but less cohesive and pronounced, persistently misrepresented and misunderstood by the islander, the greater U.S. society, and by some in our flock.
The leaking faucet of our tropical kin continues to flow and detrimental social forces endure in a masquerade around our unmarked tombstones. We are at the crossroads of possibilities stretching from a path of great historical and resilient contemporary feats, but jointly, across the cities and towns of our presence, something is lacking, the earth-shattering urgency remains nonexistent. With the effort of producing and amplifying safe spaces of in-depth dialogue on such socio-political conundrums and subsequently courses of direct action, can we approach the horizon with a profoundly inspiring, renewed, and reinvigorated vision for our people in the Diaspora. But the challenge has so few recruits while any semblance of our existence continues to erode. We are full of possibilities, but in a deep slumber we continue to lay.
Originally published on Gozamos and La Voz del Paseo Boricua in August 2011, and Claridad de Puerto Rico in February 2012
References: 1. Laviera, Tato. (1992). my graduation speech. la carreta made a u-turn (pp. 17). Houston: Arte Público Press. 2. United States Census Bureau. (May 26, 2011). 2010 Census Shows Nation's Hispanic Population Grew Four Times Faster Than Total U.S. Population. Retrieved fromhttp://2010.census.gov/news/releases/operations/cb11-cn146.html 3. Flores, Juan. (2009). The Diaspora Strikes Back: Caribeño Tales of Learning and Turning (pp. 16-17). New York: Taylor & Francis Group. 5. Anderson, Benedict (2006). Imagined Communities. New York: Verso. 6. Du Bois. W.E.B. (1903). Of Our Spiritual Strivings. In The Souls of Black Folk. The Health Anthology of American Literature: Volume D Modern Period 1910-1945 (pp. 897-902). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.