To HuffPost: Don’t Bash My Island
Perhaps some of you have seen the Huffington Post article that was published about a week ago, titled “Fear and Loathing in the Island that Doesn’t Exist,” and it’s many, many responses, both in agreement and in complete and utter disagreement with it. The article goes out of its way to highlight all the negatives that Puerto Rico has to offer. The words she uses provide some of the strongest imagery that one can possibly conceive and the article leaves you exhausted and hopeless.
My feelings are so strong regarding this article that it was enough to get me out of bed at 4am, two hours before my kids get up and write this reaction to it. The caveat though is this: How do I go about reacting to something I have two completely separate and equal emotions about? One being, in complete and total agreement with the article, and the other being that I want to knock this woman out for thrashing Puerto Rico the way she did. Let’s examine…
Mixed Feelings About Our Situation
I believe my feelings are aroused by the fact that like many people living on the island, I too am exasperated by everything that’s going on every day. More than 1 thousand murders last year is enough to for the biggest denier to accept something has got to give. It gets even scarier when you start realizing these people are not just “killing themselves” as so many like to put it here. Whether these people are tied-in to the drug traffic or not, I learned that I have only a couple of degrees of separation from two of the people that were killed last year. It gets to the point where it becomes almost surreal. I was sitting in traffic just a few days ago and reading an article about a woman that had just gotten shot…in the very same highway I was sitting at.
The Huffington Post blogger also likes to point out how uneducated we are. Yes, there is a serious problem with the education system. Middle-class families sacrifice their budgets in order to be able to send their kids to private school, any private school, so that they don’t have to go to the public school. It’s simply an unstated assumption that you don’t send your kids to public school…period.
As far as the agriculture which the blogger also brings up, yes, it is true that agriculture has, in many ways, all but disappeared from the island. My colleagues at the university who are in their 60’s have told me that they remember Puerto Rico decades ago, when you would go for miles out in the countryside and see all kinds of things growing. But the United States made sure agriculture disappeared by making it more attractive to import stuff from the mainland…produce that we could have been growing in our very own backyards; one more of the many effects of colonialism.
It is not the first time that Puerto Rico has seen the effects of a slow economy, coupled with the rise in violence. But this is what historically happens anywhere; economy down, crime rises. The late eighties and early 90s were something very similar to what we are seeing now, but we made it over that hump. The island is still standing as much as the HuffPost blogger doesn’t want to believe it actually exists.
We are simply struggling socially, to say the least, because we don’t have the resources and even the culture to say enough is enough. I believe we just kind of hope for the best and deep down we just think everything will figure itself out. Plus, whether it’s a blessing or a curse, we do have the coveted American passport that gives us the right and the opportunity to leave anytime we want; 19 thousand people migrated last year to the United States, one of the highest numbers on record.
Community & Boricua Pride
Having said all this, I still want to knock this woman out (completely hypothetical, please don’t call the police). You see, for all the drug problems on the island, for all the lack of public education, the corrupt politicians, and the murders that just seem exponentially worse because of our small size and the massive yellow journalism trend, Puerto Ricans really DO want to figure it out. Many of us want the violence cycle to end. Many of us have strong family values. We still believe in family and friends and keeping them close. We still ask for our elders’ “bendición” when we see them. We certainly don’t want outsiders coming here for 3 days and telling us what a horrible place we live in, because we have a LOT of pride and frankly you really can’t judge us after only a few days of being here, especially when you are from Colombia, a country that spend half a century submerged in drugs, violence, kidnapping and terrorism. We call that “predicar la moral en calsoncillo” (preaching in your underwear).
If you come here, I guarantee you that you will leave with a completely different picture in mind. Many people that have migrated to Puerto Rico will tell you that the quality of the people here can’t be denied or ignored. Friends from other Latin American countries who live here on the island tell me that for all its problems, they feel much safer here than they do back home. One thing that won’t change, is that for the most part we really like outsiders and making them feel at home.
When you want to see just the negative, as it seems the HuffPost blogger did, than that is all you will see. You will miss out on our warmth, friendliness, and even for all the faults we have, you will miss our sense of community. Despite opinions, we’ll protect our little island from the insults, stereotypes, and sweeping generalizations of outsiders, like this HuffPost blogger.