Saturday, March 29, 2008

Los de aquí y los de allá

I have a rule that I live by when it comes to giving my opinion about PR's status: I don't live there, so I don't discuss my opinion on the subject. Only people who make their lives there should be weighing in on this. This is why when it is suggested that Puerto Ricans in the US should be allowed to vote in any plebiscites about status, I'm always opposed. If you have made your permanent residence outside of the island, I feel that you've given up your right to decide anything for the island.

So what I think about whether we should be independent, or a state, or remain a commonwealth, is irrelevant and I won't be going into it. But that doesn't mean that I can't read the news and form opinions about things that happen.

The view from the outside can be valuable. Not just in this situation, but in virtually any situation in life. Somebody looking at an issue from a different vantage point is looking through a fresh set of eyes. There's less personal involvement that can color your point of view. But a lot of times, even knowing this, I still feel trepidation about voicing my opinions. Having lived in PR and having lived in the US, I think I've had a chance to see things from both inside and outside. The thing is, I'm not always sure that the view from the outside is welcome.

I care about what goes on in PR because it's my home. Having moved away doesn't change that fact, and it doesn't mean that I should stop caring. In leaving PR, I could have chosen to distance myself completely from everything, good and bad. I could stop following the local press, stop caring about the issues that affect people's lives there. But I don't, not only because it's my home, but because much of my family is there. Of course it matters to me that, say, the governor got arrested. It matters to me what people think, and what the guy is saying, and how this is all going down. How a country handles these issues speaks volumes.

I see the governor, in defending himself, remind us of the fact that we are still, in the end, governed by someone else. He says this in criticism of federal involvement in the island. That he is a member of the party that endorses the commonwealth, and that in 2005 he vetoed a bill calling for a referendum to decide PR's status, is an irony that is hopefully not lost on people. The commonwealth has served him well -- until the moment our link to the US made it possible for him to get arrested. It's not just this hypocrisy on his part that pains me, it's also that he is using it to shield himself from the fact that, like it or not, he is accused of violating federal, not local, laws. He is trying to make Puerto Ricans feel that not only is he being persecuted by the US, but that the entire island is being persecuted as well.

Even if I'm not there, this matters to me. It pains me to see PR being used as someone's meat shield. If he is innocent, then let him speak to his innocence plainly and directly. But this is the conundrum that I personally face as a Puerto Rican living outside of the island, and I can't imagine I'm the only one who faces this dilemma. I know I care, and I don't think caring is wrong -- but how far do I go in expressing views that people on the island may not care to hear about? And it's not necessarily about writing about it here, as it's not like this blog gets a huge readership. But mostly it's wondering what to do and what to say when I talk to people back home. What's my role now? Is the opinion of the "expat" of any value?

What's crazy is that I've been away for 13 years now (counting my college years, which really should be cut in half since I spent half the year in PR anyway) and I still don't know the answer to this question.

1 comment:

Don Luis said...

Eloquently and beautifully written post, as always.

Thought provoking as well.

I personally don't believe Puerto Ricans living in the US should have any say in what goes on in the island, any more than Italian-Americans should have say in what goes on in Italy, or Irish-Americans should have in what goes on in Ireland (my Jewish friends might disagree about Israel).

As an Italian-American living in Puerto Rico, I find the politics here odd at best. I can vote because I am a permanent resident, but I can't run for office because I was not born here.

To the people here, I will never be a Puerto Rican, no matter how long I live here, and that's OK. I'm treated with kindness and respect wherever I go, and that's more than I ever experienced in the US.

As for the status of the island, I suppose I have less stake than most (my income still comes from the US), but I wouldn't want Puerto Rico to become a state. I feel we would lose our identity. Also, the tiny independence party has very little chance. Status-quo baby!

I guess I'll just wait and see what happens, but I'm proud to live here, and I will die here; I'd like my ashes sprinkled over mi finca; the bananas could use the protein.