After reading my first Lamento Borincano post, a fellow blogger asked me to discuss what the general population should know about Puerto Rican culture.
I was about to whip up a response when I stopped to ask myself which Puerto Rican culture I would write about. At the moment, just as many Puerto Ricans live away from Puerto Rico as do on that beautiful Caribbean island. Anyone born on the island is automatically a U.S. citizen. Many of us who self identify as Puerto Rican have actually never lived in Puerto Rico. Some, like me, lived there for a time, but have spent the rest of our lives elsewhere. Some of us speak Spanish only. Others English only. Some speak both fluently. Others manage a hybrid Spanglish. Some can comprehend both languages but speak only one. Some, like me while growing up, interacted in an English-speaking world away from home and a Spanish-speaking one at home. To this already rich mix, I can add many permutations. All I have to do is overlay variables like historical time period, urban versus rural, religion, politics, age, socioeconomic class, intermarriage, skin color, and gender. Given that, my first exploration of Puerto Rican culture is necessarily a definitional one. Who is Puerto Rican?
The first thing I can say is, “We are surely a hybrid bunch.” Yet, that is not a satisfying answer. Given our diversity, what leads some of us to self identify as Puerto Rican, particularly if we have never lived there? Are we Puerto Rican because our parents or grandparents were born there and/or we eat Puerto Rican food, celebrate Puerto Rican holidays, enjoy the music and dances, identify with the island's history and the issue of its political status? Conversely, what is it that leads others to identify us as Puerto Rican? Why, for example, was my green-eyed, fair-skinned father denied housing once the landlord realized papi was Puerto Rican?
I end with a promise that I will explore this complex issue in future posts. In the meantime, I really, really, really welcome comments any of you, Puerto Rican and not, have on the question: Who Is Puerto Rican? I thought I knew what it meant to be Puerto Rican until I had to explain it to someone else so I need all the help I can get.
My next post on this subject will share what a friend, who grew up on the island but now lives mostly on the mainland, considered noteworthy about Puerto Rican culture.