Being Boricua in the Mainland: A Follow-Up

A week after my post on being boricua, I am happy to report that I have received wonderful, positive feedback across various platforms from other boricuas who felt the same way. I’m so glad that my post was able to touch so many people!

That said, there is something about it that has been nagging at me and I would like to address it.

On Sunday night, as I worked on an assignment for my (most exciting yet) grad school class, Cross-Cultural Studies for Teaching Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students, I realized that author Sonia Nieto makes a really powerful point about citizenship and Puerto Ricans that I overlooked in my previous post.

In her 2010 work Language, Culture, and Teaching: Critical Perspectives, Nieto points out, “history is generally written by the conquerors, not by the vanquished or by those who benefit least in society,” with the result being that “history books are skewed in the direction of dominant groups in a society” (p. 81). She then gives the following example: “Many Puerto Ricans remove the gratuitous word granted that appears in so many textbooks and explain that U.S. citizenship was instead imposed, and they emphasize that U.S. citizenship was opposed by even the two houses of the elected legislature that existed in Puerto Rico in 1917″ (ibid.).

I immediately ran back to re-read my own post and find what I had written about the subject.

While the U.S. acquired the island in the 1898 Treaty of Paris, it wasn’t until 1917 that President Wilson signed the Jones-Safroth act to grant United States citizenship to Puerto Ricans–but everyone born on the island after March 2, 1917 has received citizenship and been assigned a Social Security number, ostensibly to help with the war effort by making us eligible for the draft.

Reading my own words after reading Nieto’s felt a bit like a slap to the face. I did use the word “grant”! And, while I could say that this is because the source (itself quoted in Wikipedia) used that term, the fact is that I do genuinely think of it in those terms at first thought–the United States granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship and therefore the opportunity to participate in the privileges that said citizenship offered.

You guys, I think I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid–at least to some extent.

But, of course, things are never that black-and-white, that stark, and so I took a moment to examine my reaction to my own word choice.

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El chip en mi shoulder se llama Puerto Rico.

As I’ve been spending some time ranting about having depression and being Jewish, two of the driving identities in my life, it seems only fitting that it’s time for me to start ranting about what is technically my first identity, and the one that has been probably the simplest one for me to come to terms with. And today is the day to do it, as I spent some time fielding questions about my eligibility to vote yesterday. (No, we’re not going to talk about the elections themselves–I’m too upset about the IL governor results.)

Anyway, about my first identity… to quote a song that then inspired a film: Yo soy boricua, pa’que tu lo sepas. 

Yup, I said it: I’m boricua, Puerto Rican, born and raised–just so you know. I’m not Mexican or Dominican or Spanish (although I have nothing against any of those places or their people), I’m Puerto Rican and there is a difference. The words you choose make a difference–words have power. And I will harp on that distinction just like I do when I label myself Latina and not Hispanic because I value the contributions to my heritage by groups other than white Europeans from Spain.

…yeah, okay, so being Puerto Rican maybe isn’t quite as simple as I made it seem at first. Let’s take a look at what that means (versus what people think it means).

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