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.

The truth is, I do personally feel like I have been granted a privilege. Having “American” citizenship made my move to Chicago, and therefore my move towards opportunity and growth, almost seamless. My biggest challenge was adapting culturally, which sometimes included language issues as well, but I know that I have been exceedingly fortunate to have such a smooth transition. I have had a lot of opportunities because of my legal status, and I am grateful for every single one of them… but, still, something doesn’t sit quite right when I am thinking about all of this.

The more I think about it, the more I realize I have sentimientos encontrados. I often feel like I come from an oppressed people; I feel that the USA has not been fair to my land. But then I remember that I live here and that, in many ways, I am benefiting from that colonization.

Does that make me a hypocrite? Maybe so. I don’t know. I know that I love Puerto Rico, with all its flaws and features. I know that I am so homesick right now that I can hear the sea calling my name and I even miss el salitre. I know that, no matter how I define myself, boricua is always in there in some form or another. I know that la isla is, without a doubt, mi patria–you can take la jíbara out of the island but you can never take the island out of the jíbara.

I will keep grappling with all of this, probably for the rest of my life in the diaspora… but, in the meantime, I’m filling out my application for Puerto Rican citizenship and dreaming of coquito and pasteles.

Seventeen more days until Thanksgiving and hearing mi español criollo and getting to hold my grandmother and my aunt and my precious baby cousin. Seventeen more days until this ache for la isla abates, even if just a little.

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