"How do you like living in Puerto Rico?" I have lived in Puerto Rico for about 4 years now, and people always ask me, "Do you like it here?". This is such a hard question to answer, because our journey here, and our landing, has not been what you would call 'smooth sailing'. We have braved US immigration during the transition from Obama to Trump. As a Canadian, I had it easy, but it still took over two years. There have been heatwaves, power outages, economic uncertainty, hurricanes and revolutions, on top of the usual adjustment to a new culture, language, climate, all while also adjusting to new motherhood.
Recently, things have begun to settle, giving me some time to process. "So, how do you like it?" I most recently answered, "It is not easy living here, but it sits in your heart." Better and more honest than my usual, never quite sure how to answer, "I like it". I cannot say it has been easy; I cannot say "OMG - it's amazing - I love it!", but I can say that the land and the people take root in your heart. I love Puerto Rico because my husband and my son are Puerto Rican, and because it is beautiful, and because I have met such amazing people with a strength and pride and kindness that you don't find everywhere. I have family, neighbours, students and friends here. I am a "Permanent Resident" as my green card says, and I am still searching for how I fit. Trying to find how to weave myself into the fabric of life here that can often seem uncertain and chaotic. Not a Yankee but often assumed to be one, I encounter the many faces of colonialism from somewhat of an outsider perspective. Often the people asking "Do you like it here?" are Puerto Rican and they have a concerned and confused tone as though they cannot imagine why I would choose to live here. Often I hear the apologetic "Well, you know, that's how it is here." accompanied by a frustrated sigh or sometimes the completely heart breaking "Eso no es de aqui." [That's not from here.] from a six-year-old in response to a story about how to treat people with kindness. Or the "Your son is so calm . . . not like the other kids. You know how Puerto Rican kids can be." from my son's daycare (incidentally my son is blonde, and we took him out of that daycare.) Or their complete shock that I bothered to learn Spanish.
I'm writing this rambling post (and starting this blog) because of a song I heard recently on a podcast and then in the streets at a march commemorating the centennial of Lolita Lebrón. I've listened to it many times trying to learn it. It affected me because as I listen to it, I think of all the beauty and all the sorrow, and all the frustration and anger, as well as the love and the fierce pride. I think about my mother and sister-in-law whose strength I cannot even begin to fathom. I think about the public school teachers fighting for their students, and the communities fighting to keep the schools open. I think about my students, my colleagues, my husband and all of the people fighting to stay here and to keep this island their own. I think of all the people who wanted to stay here but couldn't. I think about the complexities and contradictions. But mostly, I think about the strength and the hope, and all of those who, despite the corruption, exploitation, greed and indifference, are working to undo the wrongs of history, and to lift each other up, truly, not just as a campaign slogan. "Con el coraje de frente, voy a ganar la batailla/Hecha de viento y de playa, soy la ola que va romper." [Advancing with courage, I will win the battle. Made of wind and shore, I am the wave that will break through.] by ILe (Ileana Cabra). Her other songs are also amazing fyi.