Saturday, June 13, 2009

I am....Yo Soy....

It was about 11 or 12 years ago, during the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, that a young man approached me and handed me a flyer. I quickly glanced at the flyer, folded it and put into my pocket. Little did I know that the flyer in my pocket was going to send me into a cultural identity search.
As a young boy, I had visited Puerto Rico numerous times. My visits were always an escape from the concrete jungle that was New York. I recall running deep into the heavy brush that was behind my grandmother's casita and getting lost for hours at a time. Memories of playing with the boy from across the road even when my spanish was limited are still with me. There was no language barrier when it came to playing. But as I grew older, the trips lessened until finally they were no more. By that time though, the feeling of being Puerto Rican had already been instilled in me.
Back in New York there was always the typical Puerto Rican dish that my mother cooked. There was always a small Puerto Rican flag hanging by the door. If it wasn't a flag then it was a figurine, dish or some other type of souvenir from Puerto Rico that would unconsciously remind me of being Puerto Rican. It was something I had never given much thought to. I had never questioned what a Puerto Rican was, what a Boricua was, what I was. It was that which I had always been around and accepted as the norm.
The Puerto Rican Day Parade, like family parties I attended, was just another social norm which I never gave much thought to other than for music, food and fun. Another opportunity to shout "Boricua" and "Puerto Rico" as loud as you could. That's what it was all about, at least that was the assumption.
It wasn't until the day after the parade that I finally unfolded that flyer and the image of a clenched fist with a Puerto Rican flag behind it capture my attention. As I read the flyer I became a bit confused as it mentioned colonialism, prisoners of colonialism and freedom. That flyer was the one single piece of paper that aroused my curiosity so much so that it sent me into a whirlwind identity search. Of course, finding material on the history and culture of Puerto Rico was no easy task at the time. Nevertheless, I was determined to find what ever information I could. To get an answer to my question, "what am I, really?".
Since then, I have amassed a small collection of books, have learned a great amount and still continue to learn more as there is so much history and culture to absorb. On the identity question, there is no longer a question nor doubt. In the book, Boricuas: Influential Puerto Rican Writings- An Anthology, edited by Roberto Santiago he writes in the introduction of his experience while talking to a Jewish boy. The Jewish boy spoke about his culture and history but when he asked Roberto about his, Roberto really didn't have the answer. All I could think, as I read that, was how similar my reaction would have been. Hence, I say " you are what you want to be, you are what you define yourself as, you are that which you associate with the most....", yes, I am a New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, I am a Boricua hasta la muerte, not just once a year but every day.

" I am new, history made me. My first language was spanglish.
I was born at the crossroads
and I am whole"
-From Child of the Americas by Aurora Levins Morales

Santiago, Roberto "Boricuas: Influential Puerto Rican Writings - An Anthology". One World/Ballantine, 1995. 77

1 comment:

  1. Hey Efrain.

    Great posting on Boricua culture. I see we each posted posted Santiago's incredible book. I agree with your comment on my blog. We should work to promote some Boricua work like Boogie Rican Blvd?

    Keep up the great work.