One time, on my blog, someone made an anonymous comment that I wear my Puerto Rican pride “like that kid in high school who thinks he discovered Led Zeppelin and for 4 years wears black Zeppelin shirts to school.” Although I don’t particularly care for the music of Led Zeppelin (no offense to his fans), the remark made me
question whether there is anything wrong with being proud to be Boricua and displaying that nationalism in everything I do.
Growing up, my grandmother would occasionally comment to me that if she could be reborn she would be Puerto Rican all over again. I would ask quietly in my head, “What’s so special with being from a tiny little island like Puerto Rico?” Ironically, in conversations on the island’s future political status, my grandmother would say, “Los boricuas son bien vagos,” and cannot survive as an independent nation. How could a woman with so much national pride and dignity at the same time limit our own collective potential?
Around my neck, I wear a machete to remind me of my familial roots – for my grandfather and his father before him who toiled in the U.S company-owned sugar cane fields. Every day, they rose at the crack of dawn to sweat under 100 degree weather while wearing long-sleeve shirts and gloves; cutting the hard, human-size sugarcane stems while the fields crackled with fire, engulfing them with smoke. I invoked this memory to my grandmother when she made the comment that at age 18, until she was 8 months pregnant with my aunt (who is currently in the process of earning her PhD in education), she worked, standing for hours on end at a factory in a new country through the harsh cold of a Chicago winter. Los boricuas son bien vagos, ¿Verdad?
Countless Puerto Ricans in Chicago have similar stories to these, many of which will never be told. However, what can be told is recorded facts of the collective possibilities of the Boricua people. On their website, the Puerto Rico Space Grant Consortium states that Puerto Rico is the leading producer of Latinas/os in the United States who have a bachelor’s degree in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. According to the consortium, islanders receive 17% of those degrees, while they account for only 9% of the Latina/o population. Furthermore, according to a 2005-2006 study from the American Chemical Society, the Mayagüez Campus of the University of Puerto Rico graduates more chemical engineers than any college in the entire U.S.
While reading the article, “La Radio Ante Nuevo Retos,” by Elmer González in La Claridad newspaper (May 20-26, 2010), I also discovered that the fifth radio transmission in the entire world and the second in all of Latin America took place in none other than Puerto Rico on December 3, 1922. What were the first sounds broadcasted from the radio station? The musical notes of our beloved national anthem, “La Borinqueña.”
And we don’t even have to look to the island to see how Boricuas are able to accomplish so much. One of the first Puerto Rican families in Chicago, the Sanabrias, were pioneers in engineering and television. According to Manuel Martínez’s 1989 book, Chicago: Historia de Nuestra Comunidad Puertorriqueña, Chicago-born Boricua engineer Ulises Armand Sanabria was the “builder and engineer of the first television station in Chicago on June 12, 1928” and founded the Sanabria Television Corporation in January 1931 where he produced the “first 10 television pictures for public viewing.” He also founded the American Television Institute in 1935.
This is only a small glimpse of what we, as a people, have accomplished. This is not to say that other people of different nationalities have not accomplished great feats, but it is my attempt to chip away from the prevalent cynicism and self-hate among our community. And as for my grandmother who, after years, made these negative comments about Puerto Ricans? Well, she promised to stop. Why? Well, I told her that if she wanted people to look upon her and her people in a good light it all must begin with herself – only we hold the key to our image.
So often, we are hooked on what’s “wrong” and “bad” about our people and community – we just need to learn how to see the world differently. If you, the reader, were to look at Division Street and Humboldt Park as more than just a ghetto and see how the Puerto Rican community has transformed those spaces into something to be proud of, then you would understand what I mean. Take it further and think of how we, as Boricuas, with so many obstacles in our way, are able to accomplish so much and how we continue to do so, together, as a community, here on Paseo Boricua.