By Carmen Bardeguez-Brown
Iam a woman.
Iam Puerto Rican.
Iam an immigrant.
Iam African descendant.
Iam Taino descendant.
Iam Spaniard descendant.
Iam an American citizen.
Iam an ancient soul traveling this life’s journey.
This blog is an opportunity to share my love and concern for my adoptive country and my fascination with my step-culture. I want to understand who “Iam” through the complex relationship that I have of being a Black Puerto Rican/Nuyorican living in New York.
I hope that you journey with me, as I share my view on issues that affect our communities. When I say our communities, I refer to the immigrant Latinos who live in New York. I welcome your feedback and hope that together, we can make sense of who we are as individuals and as communities that need to galvanize and help create a society that supports human potential.
We all have stories that unite us and struggles that may divide us. Let us create conversations that build bridges of understanding, one word at a time. Conversando.
Conversation is key to our understanding. Por que, hablando se entiende la gente.
I was born and raised in the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. I never experienced the change of season as we only have one: summer all year long, and of course – the hurricane period from June to November.
The warm weather is always ameliorated by the occasional chubasco which is a short period of heavy rain during the middle of the day. Big warm droplets of water make the hot sun less harsh.
I always see mountains from every point on the island. The lush and colorful vegetation of our tropical paradise is part of everyone’s daily life. The breeze of the ocean kisses our skin from north to south, east to west.
The island is divided horizontally by the Cordillera Central which is a system of mountains whose highest peak is Cerro de Punta at 4,390 feet. This region of Puerto Rico is famous for the coffee plantations which have been the second most important export from the island.
The coast of the island used to have the sugar plantations which used the African slaves and later on, of the jornaleros. Sugar cane was the most important commodity under the Spanish and early American colonialism.
In the evenings, nature treats us to a relaxing musical concert by the coquis. These are small indigenous green frogs that only exist in Puerto Rico. They create the most beautiful symphony that soothes us at the end of the day.
The wrath of Irma and Maria
After Irma and Maria, the coquis’ melodic sounds had competed against the growling of electric generators, a sound that reminded everyone about the harsh “new normal” of daily life of living in Puerto Rico.
A seating president throwing paper towels at people struggling to rebuild their lives after one of the worst natural and man-made disasters in 100 years was a good reminder of the humiliating treatment Puerto Ricans had always received from the United States since its invasion in 1898.
The tragedy of the natural disaster of Maria was as ferocious as the financial hurricane that 100 years of colonial and self-inflicted corruption afflicted the country. A perfect storm had always been steadily created in the cauldron of modern capitalism with the United States government and its corporations using our land as its “bitch” without respect for the environment.
Academic studies show that almost every single river in Puerto Rico is now highly toxic and contaminated by all of the debris of the pharmaceutical companies that are located on the island, while the profits fly away to the mainland.
Quieting of our Struggles
The nice manners and calm demeanor of many Puerto Ricans, to me, are a quiet way of carrying our history of massacres and constant surveillance of anyone who attempts to question or challenge the colonial system.
We have martyrs who gave up their lives in trying to create a better life for the Puerto Rican people, but they are not celebrated like the US celebrates its founding fathers. We whisper the names of Albizu Campos and Ramon Emeterio Betances.
The continuous struggle for the country’s right to be independent is considered a marginalized note of a small group of people who don’t deserve to have their names remembered in history books.
A tropical island that imports most of its food is seriously a disgrace. As it is, the Jones Act of 1917 that establishes Puerto Rico as a “modern colonial model” by granting the Puerto Ricans American citizenship while eliminating any commercial venture of the island with any country that is not the United States.
So this Caribbean paradise, “La isla del encanto,” has been engulfed in a complex relationship with two of the most powerful empires of the last 500 years, Spain and the US. The history of Puerto Rico has always been an afterthought or a just comment of the ancestry of celebrity singers.
Our Indigenous Narrative
Boriken, which is the original name of the island, was inhabited by natives called Tainos. Like the rest of the native population of the Caribbean, they were killed. They became extinct by the genocidal conquest of the Conquistadores led by Spain and other European countries.
Our country was “discovered” by Columbus in 1492. The Taino population was obliterated in less than 50 years. The Spanish empire brought West Africans to work in the plantations as part of the African Slave Trade. Like many countries in the Americas, the population in Puerto Rico became an amalgamation of diverse west African cultures, Tainos and Spaniards. The issue of controlled migration patterns is certainly an important topic that I would like to discuss in another article.
Puerto Rico was a colony of the Spanish empire from 1492 to 1898. The country was sold alongside the Philippines to the United States as a victory claimed of the Spanish-American-Cuban war.
The Puerto Rican people are unique. It is not an opinion, it is a fact.
We have been involved in the process of creating a national identity amidst the oppression of colonial occupation since 1492. Our character, history, and culture are a complex blend that illustrates individual and character development in spite of systemic efforts to destroy and suppress our growth and development as individuals as well as flourishing of our collective soul.
We were born from the lasting cry and struggle of our first inhabitants, the Tainos. They succumbed to the tyranny of a greed-inspired genocidal conquest but their DNA is in our heart, blood and soul.
We were born from the creative spirit, sweat and struggle of the Africans who were kidnapped and enslaved for over 300 hundred years. We were born from the sweat of the Machetes of the jornaleros that cut the sweet sugar cane in the plantations. We were born from our desire to exist and thrive as a creative group of Caribbean people destined to be free.
I don’t pretend to explain or dictate what I think is the history of Puerto Rico. I just want to stress that it is essential to understand that historical conditions of one’s life influence who we are. As a Puerto Rican of African descent who was born and raised in Puerto Rico and migrated to the United States in the 1980s, my life choices are better understood if I know the historical factors that contribute to the reality that continues to influence my life.
In order to understand who I am, I need to know the context of the history of my family and the history of my country and my culture. Only if I know the cultural and historical factors that contribute to shape and influenced my life can I have a better understanding of myself.
Only by knowing who “Iam” can I relate to the experiences that other people have. We all live in a small blue dot planet called Earth and it is only possible to coexist in a mindful way if we embrace our uniqueness in the majestic tapestry of similarities and differences that enrich our earthly life’s journey.
(About the author: Carmen Bardequez-Brown is a poet and teacher living in Hartsdale. Born and raised in Puerto Rico and educated in the US, she tackles the complexity and nuances of being a creature in both cultures of the East and West, the colonized and the colonizer, in her blog. The birth of this blog is brought about by Carmen’s desire to write and publish which is ushered in by the Aspiring Writers Mentoring Program of 2018.)