Thursday, May 24, 2007

Boricua en la luna

There is a poem by a Puerto Rican poet named Juan Antonio Corretjer (a poem later made into a song by nueva trova Puerto Rican musician Roy Brown) called Boricua en la luna. Rather unpoetically translated, it means "Puerto Rican on the moon".

Puerto Ricans are not especially known for their affinity towards sci-fi, so it's not really a Robert Heinlein-style homage to some boricua who ended up as a guinea pig colonizer of the first lunar settlements. Although, seeing as we were actively urged by our governor back in the 50's to emigrate to the States, and we enthusiastically took his advice (you can thank us for that anytime), we might be actively urged to colonize the moon if that were ever to actually become a possibility. "There's too many of you guys here - please, feel free to seek your fortune in the New New World".

What it refers to is to someone who is born in the States, but is of Puerto Rican ancestry. It specifically references those very same people who came to the States looking for a better life - a job, a place to live, an opportunity to be more that just poor and barely able to scrape by - and ended up having children there. They came straight from Puerto Rico, bringing with them the only culture and way of life they knew, and instilled it into their children. In this poem, he talks of a child born in NYC who eventually lost those parents and was raised by his grandfather, the way any native islander would raise their kids. Even though he does not live in Puerto Rico, and wasn't even born there, he fiercely and adamantly identifies himself as a Puerto Rican.

I think nowadays, years after the so-called Puerto Rican Diaspora which started at the turn of the 20th century but reached an apex in the 1940's and 1950's, we have a modern-day boricua en la luna. This Puerto Rican was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and reached a point in early adulthood, or even sometime later, when he or she decided that the economy still wasn't going to allow them to prosper, and that job opportunities were looking better and better across the ocean. They emigrated, settled in the states - some with their Puerto Rican significant others, others marrying or settling down with Americans who really did not know what they were in for. I say that jokingly, with much appreciation for how wonderful Puerto Rican culture is and yet how different it must seem to those American spouses, because I am part of this new wave of expatriated Puerto Ricans.

I moved to New York City in 1993, as a freshman student attending New York University. During my college years I had the luxury of being able to travel for free on my flight-attendant dad's passes - not to mention the other luxury of large blocks of free time. I miss college. Anyway, I'd shuttle back and forth between PR and NYC, and even though I felt thoroughly settled into life in NYC, I was able to go back home and be surrounded by the familiar sounds, smells, and sights of my childhood. In other words, that link to my culture was never far away. Also, you can't throw a plantain in NYC without hitting a Puerto Rican, so I also felt like I had a link to home, away from home, to a certain degree.

After almost 5 years in NYC, I decided to move on to greener and less concrete-ish pastures. I ended up in Portland, Oregon - which, if you haven't guessed, isn't exactly Puerto Rico, USA. The Hispanic population is growing at a rapid pace, however, the main demographic is Mexican and Central American. If you threw a plantain in Portland, you'd be more likely to hit a white hipster in thick black glasses and skinny pants, listening to The Decembrists on his iPod, and who would probably lecture you on how uncool it is to throw stuff as he wanders into a bar for a pint of PBR.

I actually really like Portland. It's beautiful, for one. For two, its residents really do care about things like the environment and activism. I'm not exactly a paragon of activism virtue, but I care about stuff. And I, like recycle, and take the bus to work. I keep up on the news and shit. If I were interested in becoming way more active in stuff like that, then this town would afford me those opportunities.

But this town is really far away from where I grew up, and where my family is. Even with a Hispanic presence, their backgrounds are very different from mine. They don't share my accent, my musical tastes, my rabid love of plantains. Sometimes it's isolating. I'm a fair-skinned Hispanic who speaks English without an accent and whose name is in English - I pass easily as a regular, run of the mill whitey. Your average Hispanic won't see me and think of me as "one of them" unless I speak Spanish to them. Conversely, once I meet someone who is not Hispanic and my more Puerto Rican characteristics come out (talking and laughing kinda loudly, using more hand gestures than other people would consider normal or perhaps even polite, getting really invested in a topic and getting kind of intense), it's clear that I'm not "one of them" either. Even though people here care about social and environmental issues, their demeanor is still quite laid-back - which means someone like me, who gets pretty passionate about whatever it is I am interested in at the moment - can come across as weird, or, hell, too passionate. It can make people uncomfortable.

So my time here has been a way for me to be proud that I can bridge two cultures, and being able to observe them from two different viewpoints. But its also been a time of reflection on what it means to inhabit two cultures - sometimes it's lonely, sometimes I feel like a traitor to my island for having left, and sometimes it leaves me feeling like I don't have anyone to talk to who can, if not commiserate, at least have the ability to understand. And that's why I'm starting this blog, because I have to let it all out somewhere.


Anonymous said...

Brilliantly written! Abua would've been proud of your talented skills. Keep it up! Tu prima que nunca te olvida, no importa donde estemos, Almita

El Bilo said...

I love this blog. Your father must be very proud of you......

Keep up the good work

Tu Padre

Anonymous said...

Ay Jenny, cada vez que "te leo" me emociono un montón. Tienes una habilidad increíble para escribir, te felicito y estamos bien orgullosos de tí y de todo lo que has logrado. Te quiere "Titi Annie"

Anonymous said...

me encanta =)



Wilfredo said...

Great blog... I also got a blog (Corillo Gainesviliano) about "la diaspora boricua"... here is the link: .