S**t People Say About Puerto Rico
Huffington Post Latino Voices Still Medicore
Okay, maybe it’s not fair to trash the whole Huffington Post Latino Voices “channel” or whatever it is, but this “opinion” piece or whatever it is, might in some ways be worse than the sight of Amaury Nolasco in a dress. I will refrain from calling this an example of a blowhard dilettante choosing to dump on Puerto Rico in the same condescending way generations of blowhard dilettantes have done in the past, because it isn’t quite that. Thankfully, we are moving past the time when blowhard dilettantes dominate public discourse and a real solidarity between Latin American and Caribbean people begins to produce a productive dialog to confront the global elites that try to define us even as they attempt to destroy our culture, economy, “territory,” and communities.
But really, this idea of someone who hasn’t gone to Puerto Rico in three years and seems to base an entire piece on a couple of weeks in tourist areas to paint a morbid picture of Puerto Rico to fulfill some unexplained fantasy is just, well, it’s the product of mediocre thinking, and I think I’m being kind. I mean I went to Colombia in 1998 and the first thing I saw upon arrival was a copy of the local Bogotá newspaper that had a 2-page feature story about scores of taxi kidnappings a week where people were forced to withdraw all their money from ATM machines and dumped 30 miles out of town with no shoes. And I wound up writing a piece that had nothing but praise for the beauty and intelligence of the Colombian people.
First of all, we exist. In fact, we have one of the strongest national identities left on a planet where globalization has been busily trying to destroy nationalism. What’s even better is that this nationalism is not built around the idea of a militarily projected force–a territorial country–but an idealized, or imagined nationalism that ties people together culturally and socially in a way that other nations envy. The people who don’t find value in that wind up emigrating to Orlando.
Second, don’t quote Gabriel García Márquez. I went to the café in Barranquilla where he used to hang out as a beat reporter and talked to his disembodied spirit, and let me tell you, you’re no García Márquez.
Can’t say much for the writing style here. You get paragraphs that begin like this:
Nothing is black or white. There are millions of colors and many shades of grey. But in general terms the place is somehow affected by polarizing extremes.
Then we get these provocative statements:
Its society is consumerist to nauseating levels, however it doesn’t even produce its own basic foods.
Most people there think agriculture is something denigrating, as if a food’s more natural environment was a can.
Educated people are often very ignorant of their own culture and history.
It’s unspeakable how insulting and ignorant those comments are. I was tempted to not even dignify them with a response but I come from a family of people who worked the land. We still eat stuff we grow in the backyard. We know that English was forced on Puerto Rican schoolchildren in the early part the 20th century. We know that the primary reason we weren’t considered for statehood is that we were considered a racially inferior people by a bunch of superior intellects in the U.S. Congress. We know that limbers are named after Charles Lindbergh because when he visited the island everyone thought he was cold as ice.
Then the writer, after expecting “heavy drinking” in the streets of Old San Juan as part of her tourist enjoyment of the island, expresses fear and loathing because there were no streetlights on the road to Dorado. “Junkies steal the copper wire of the light posts,” the cab driver explains. This paranoid hallucinogenic vision extends to absurd extremes:
Today, there are homeless junkies in every town. They are particularly notable because the local dealers cut heroin with horse anesthetics and the result is a drug that rotten the bodies of heavy users. They look like zombies, or the cast of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. So in general terms the society is widely unhealthy, uneducated and broken.
Tourist alert: there are zombies patrolling the streets and countryside! Do not feed them because that will make them even hungrier and they will eat you!
Here’s the thing. Of course there is a big problem with drugs, violence and the economy on the island. It’s a shame that we don’t have self-sustaining agriculture (although there is plenty of local produce available on roadside stands and in the informal barter economy). But it’s really ridiculous to make sweeping generalizations about people without knowing que carajo you’re talking about. (I know because I’ve done it and learned from it.)
Frankly, I’m tired of people from outside the island and on it who say things like this writer: “To solve the pressing emergency on the Island they will have to stand up, work hard, be united, combat ignorance, learn to love their land and respect it.”
The fact is, there are many, many people in Puerto Rico today who have done all these things and continue to do them. The fact that they have always, and continue to love and respect this land is the reason it does, in fact, exist. People involved in education, culture, environmentalism, law, some underground, some grassroots, artisans, fishermen, post office workers, basureros, nurses, taxi drivers, some actually elected officials!
The problem is that the media does not cover them. They choose to focus on a cartoonish vision of Puerto Rico that says that we do not work, do not care, are ignorant, and would probably (laugh, it’s only a sitcom) make good drug dealers.