Several scattered thoughts on the debt crisis, the 4th of July, and Puerto Rican identity

Last weekend I got asked about how I felt about my upcoming move away from DC. I will miss this place so much. I am leaving friends and moving on from the life I have known for the last 7 years. Furthermore, moving to the mainland allowed me to have access to rights that I couldn’t attain when I lived in the island; citizen and all.

This article from the Guardian summarizes really well the diversity of opinions regarding our political status in Puerto Rico. For me, the question of our status has never been an easy one to answer, though every Puerto Rican has an opinion about it. Lived experiences permeate what we make of our island, and our political status. Politics permeate so much of our lives: I remember being toted around to political rallies by my abuela when I was barely five. The discussions in my grandma’s house were very passionate, since my abuelo (who was a veteran) was very pro-statehood and abuela (Nuyorican) was very much pro-commonwealth. In hindsight, these are silly distinctions in regards to the political parties on the island. They focus so much on our territorial status, yet in 63 years of our official designation as an Associated Free State (aka the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico) little has changed.

Rita Moreno in West Side Story (1961)
Much like the song America from West Side Story (the best song worth listening to in that musical), boricuas have a diversity of opinions about what we have left behind and how we currently feel now in the US. This song is as relevant today as it was when the musical came out in 1957.  I have read so many posts on social media from fellow boricuas giving their take on why they left or stayed on the island (given the current debt debacle and the circumstances that led us to this crisis).

And then there are our experiences on the mainland. Every Puerto Rican experiences living in the States differently, depending on their socio-economic background and how much can they pass as white (or other passable images of Latinxness). These experiences are not unique to the mainland, since the island has a colonial heritage that is based on racism and colorism which is all about mejorar la raza.  Yet not all Puerto Ricans experience the mainland in the same way; it’s really hard to talk about the shared experience of a group of people who have had a history in the US since the 19th century (our flag was born in New York), have been citizens since 1917, and are transnational to a certain extent. The closest comparison I can think of is Hawaii, but I have to learn more about that.

Throughout the years I have been racialized in ways that I was not prepared for; my insular vision didn’t help. The diversity of experiences among fellow Puerto Ricans means that you will find people that will validate your experiences, and others who will shut you down because your opinions do not fit into their views/experience in the US.

I thought of this on the recent 4th of July weekend. I reflected on what it means for me to hold a celebratory space for this holiday. I thought of Juneeteenth and I thought of the upcoming 25th of July holiday on the island; when we celebrate the creation of our current territory status in 1952 on the same day that US troops landed in Puerto Rico during the Spanish American war in 1898.

These thoughts took me some time to distill. I hope that discussions about Puerto Rico’s current debt crisis lead to both reflection and action about the need to transform our political status as a territory of the US.

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