After 18 years on this planet, I was finally able to make the pilgrimage to Puerto Rico!
As a boricua (slang for Puerto Rican) who grew up in Los Angeles, I never met any of my own people besides relatives. I met very few half-Puerto Ricans, and I met my first full one in 2014, who is my best friend. Even though us Latinos account for 17% of the US population, we have less than 2% of all media representation. Even then, a vast majority of the Latin representation in LA is not from Puerto Rico. Although Latinos were scarce in virtually everything I saw growing up, I took what I could get.
I always felt isolated, like I was a “fake” Puerto Rican. Especially in the current hyper-racialised atmosphere of American society, I felt a constant sense of “not being Latino enough.” I’m not fluent in Spanish. I can understand it adequately, but not our own dialect. I admittedly don’t know as much about my own culture as much as I should. I don’t know how to make our own food and my closest grandparents straight from the island live nearly 2,000 miles away in Chicago. But, I do know the music quite well. Put on any Hector Lavoe song, I’ll know it. Or at least the melodies.
I remember moving to the UK and fearing I won’t meet any Latinos because, despite whatever lack of cultural knowledge I had, the knowledge and references I did know, were the basis of some of my closest friendships. However, meeting and befriending people all around the world, and honestly, living in the UK, has allowed me to seek a sense of community bigger than my ethnicity or so-called “race.”
Now, I’m progressively becoming at peace at the fact that while I’ll never be the most intact with my roots, all that matters is that I make an active effort to learn and continue to point out and fight injustices facing our community. I’ll never be able to change the lack of exposure to my culture I had as a child, but I’ll always be Puerto Rican by blood, and there’s no such thing as being a bad Puerto Rican, and this applies to people all ethnicities who were raised culturally isolated to whatever extent.
With this changing of my mindset, identity politics has much less control over my life than it did even a year ago. I still have the occasional identity crisis or two, but hey, I’m working on it. Remember, I’m only 19. After travelling throughout Europe and Asia, and a turbulent year of self-introspection, the thing I needed the most was immersion in my own Caribbean-tinged culture and to discover my family’s roots.
Puerto Rico is a tiny US-owned territory neighbouring Florida and the Dominican Republic. It’s packed with lush forests, white-sand beaches, indulgent cuisine, and a local people with a fighter spirit and hearts of gold (and fried food). It’s not a state yet, but not its own country; we’re basically a colony. Because of this, Puerto Rico is currently fighting to be its own state. However, there’s also a raucous independence movement that’s been broiling within the island for the past 60 years.
The pure love the people mutually share for their island shines with massive pride parades throughout New York and Chicago. Flags wave, music fills the air, the smell of pasteles linger. The beauty of Puerto Rico can’t put into words. Instead, I’ll show the beauty of two of the island’s natural highlights: Isla Culebra and El Yunque National Rainforest.
EL YUNQUE RAINFOREST
I’m currently sitting here re-reading my post, wondering how a nice photo post turned into a journey of self-introspection. This was much wordier and serious than usual, but it feels nice to release this into the world. Maybe someone who reads this will be able to relate or learn something from this. I know I’m impulsively writing this on purpose, and that purpose will show itself in due time.
If you go to my beautiful island, you will have an unforgettable experience filled with love, music, and wonder! Take any opportunity you get, I promise you’ll fall in love with Puerto Rico.