A New Deal Between
Stateside and Island Puerto Ricans:
The View from a New York 'Rican
By Felipe Luciano (March 30, 2011)
PUERTO RICO! Let's be perfectly frank with each other. We're not getting along.
Most of the time we live in myopic isolation regardless of how many times we visit each other. You, the islanders, worry about political status, unemployment, corruption and crime. We, New York Ricans, stateside 'Ricans, struggle against discrimination, poor schools, unemployment, sub-standard housing and going to jail as a result of all the above.
It doesn't' t matter how many times we visit you, how many times we fly over to see our family members, how many of us retire there or how much money we spend on the island, you still label us and our children "Americanos." You laughingly, sometimes, cruelly, point out that we don' t speak Spanish, that we've corrupted your children with our lack of respect for traditional values, our Spanglish, our aggressive characters, our closeness to and identification with Blackness.
We've noticed that your professional class has been coming in droves to America, many with their bourgeois attitudes on class and race, their inability or unwillingness to deal with Black people and their occupation of top level positions in our cities based on their educational attainment. In the main, they've done well, but, now, they've got to take a back seat. They're hurting us.
It has reached a point where the laid back attitudes of the professional islanders, here, in the urban centers of America, have reached critical mass. It' s hurting us for its lack of vision, its reliance on cultural forms rather than political militancy, its lack of courage and the very aggressivity you detest on the island. I' m pretty sure you feel the same way about our loud, brash ways when we're on the island, our willingness to argue and fight at the drop of a hat, and our seeing "los cucos de racismo" whenever, wherever.
We, here, in the United States, have learned that to win you've got to organize, hit hard and, if possible, hit first. We don't wait to talk, ad nauseum, about the problem. We've learned to speak on the problem with no regard for feelings or how it's going to sound to the individual or institution. Our validity, we have found out, through over a hundred years of battle on American streets, does not lie in their hands, but ours. And, as the pioneers of Latino empowerment and pride, especially east of the Mississippi, we've paved the road for all Spanish speaking peoples coming to American cities, including Mexicans, Dominicans, Central Americans, etc.
We're at a crossroads now. AmeRican children are not identifying with the island as much, and, we, here, are fighting a last ditch battle to keep them from falling into the abyss of white, corporate American values or the opposite, the lack of purpose or commitment to family and community associated with a permanent, marginalized underclass.
It would be wonderful if we could do this together. But, we see ourselves as distant cousins, friendly, but, hardly close or intimate. And it's time, we let you, on the island, know that.
Over forty years ago, we loved you so much, we thought, mistakenly, that we needed to fly to your rescue and wrest freedom and independence from the claws of American imperialism. The Young Lords Party "invaded Puerto Rico" like Fidel did Cuba, to start armed struggle, to win or die trying. Some of you laughed, some of you thought us insane, others were enraged at our patronizing, condescending, ill-directed behavior. Over 40 years ago, some of you, from the Federaci�n Universitaria Pro-Independencia (FUPI), the Movimiento Pro Independencia (MPI) and the Partido Socialista Puertorrique�o (PSP) came to New York, speaking Spanish elegantly, oratorically, giving us long discourses on ideology and the need for forums on everything.
You, on the island, rejected us, 'though we learned some patience and understanding of the nobility of our people. We, here in the States, New York City particularly, told you to shut up, stop talking theory, and kick some ass, put your body where your mouth was. Some left, others learned a new form of militancy and respect for these so-called uneducated New York Puerto Rican callejeros with their fuzzy Afros and combat boots.
Now, as we age, some better than others, it is time to be as honest as we can with each other. We can go our separate ways, quietly, without telling the world we don't kiss and make love anymore or we can hold hands and realize we are a couple, a family, and, before we pass, we need to bring our children together and tell them the story of how much we've gone through, how passionate our love was and, how we really miss each other. No one needs anybody. We come into this world alone. We die alone.
I think Puerto Ricans are different. My feelings are that from an island 100 miles long by 35 miles wide, we know each other' s business too well . . . It's almost incestuous. To this day in New York, if you give me your last name and your hometown, I can find everything out about you and that mistress your granddaddy had and the kids she had. And most of you, on the island, have your hearts torn in half because so many of those you love are here, in El Barrio, in the Bronx, in Hartford or Bridgeport, Philly or Chicago. Whether you love me or simply tolerate me, whether I think you are a coconut (brown on the outside, white on the inside) or not, we have children and grandchildren who need our stories, our songs, our loves, our losses, our failures, our triumphs.
Let's stop the bullshit and let' s start speaking frankly with each other. We either go it alone or bring ourselves together with mutual respect and appreciation for all we've done to stay alive, here and there.
We need institutional vehicles to help us cross the ocean of misunderstanding. I propose a Puerto Rican Fresh Air Fund that plucks kids from the streets of New York, every summer, and plants them in the campos of the island, on farms with families who still love the land. By the same token, I propose we take kids from the barrios and poor communities of Puerto Rico and fly them to the United States with families who are politically, culturally and spiritually active in their communities. Let' s build a bridge for our children and their children.
I propose a Puerto Rican Bond Drive that we all invest in to build institutions on the island and in America that we can all benefit from: museums on the Diaspora and all that Puerto Ricans have endured and accomplished, African Puerto Rican museums with help from Black Americans and Africans themselves that show our origins in the Congo and Guinea, libraries with extensive volumes on the Tainos and their evolution from the center of South America to the Caribbean, Spanish cultural centers that tell the brutal truth about the conquest and the ensuing genocide, about how closely related we are to Islam and the 750 years of peace and harmony in Spain before Columbus. And, we must not forget the beauty of Spain and its people and its contribution to the Americas.
I propose a real "Somos Uno" conference every year, without politicians, that initiates projects that AmeRicans and islanders can work on together. We can teach English and history, you can teach Spanish and culture.
And I propose building welcome groups that help Stateside Ricans adjust easier to Puerto Rico and help island Ricans adjust to the urban madness and impersonality of these United States.
We may think we have time to leisurely sit down and discuss these matters in the coffee houses and restaurants of Puerto Rico and America. We don't. Time waits for no one.
Felipe Luciano is an American poet, community activist, journalist, media personality, and politician. He is an Afro-Latin American, of Puerto Rican heritage. He was one of the founders and first Chairman of the Young Lords Party. Luciano can be reached at email@example.com.