ANMLY #26 :: Puerto Rico en mi Corazon


I grew up in a small enclave of Puerto Ricans living in the diaspora in Newton, Massachusetts. My only specific memory of them is from one of the times the teenaged Mariana babysat us and I told her I thought her belly was beautiful, the way it curved beneath her high-waisted late-80s jeans, when she complained about it. They, like us, had a story about leaving. Who left, and when, and why. My grandfather, José, left the island during the depression, the youngest of nine children with no work for him on the family farm, to find work in Nueva York. He spoke almost no English when he left, and I still remember his soft accent, though by the time I came around he only spoke English at home, because my grandmother never learned Spanish.

Like many in the diaspora, Spanish is a source of vergüenza for me, though I’ve studied and translated and lived for periods of time in Spanish, it is a pain I carry that it is not native, not perfect. My brother, with the Spanish name and to who no one ever says you don’t look Puerto Rican, has even less than I do, so when we travel together I end up speaking for him, though I parece gringa completa. This is another pain I carry, that I always have to claim my boricua, loudly, aggressively, against American ideas of what a Puerto Rican looks like as though we all look the same. Against American ideas of what Puerto Rico sounds like. Against American ideas of what Puerto Rico is.

In the hours after the second hurricane (a word carried into Spanish, and then English, from the Taíno Arawak language, which is considered “extinct and poorly attested” by contemporary linguists, the word hurucán a remnant that survived the attempted genocide of the Taínos because there was no word for it before, because there is no translation for this phenomena that is so much a part of Caribe life), Hurricane María following close on the heels of Irma, there was no news from Puerto Rico. There was silence, there was darkness. We had no way of knowing. I didn’t hear from any of my family on the island for 20 days. In those 20 days, I did the only thing that seemed possible: I reached out to my friends, Puerto Rican poets who I’ve never met but have corresponded with for years, Ricardo Maldonado, and Raquel Salas Rivera, and my newly met friend Carina del Valle Schorske, all of us here in the diaspora, and we began work on what became Puerto Rico en mi corazón.

For a horrible long moment after the hurricane, no one was talking about Puerto Rico. There was the earthquake in México, then the #takeaknee protest, then Hugh Hefner died. Then, for a moment, everyone was talking about Puerto Rico, but no one was listening to Puerto Rico. And now, again, no one is talking about Puerto Rico. Except Puerto Ricans. We’re still here, we’re still talking about our world, our lives, our devestations, our desires, and our dreams. We’re talking in English and in Spanish and in Spanglish. We’re talking to each other, but you can listen.

Puerto Rico en mi corazón is an anthology collecting 45 contemporary Puerto Rican poets, both emerging and established, writing in both English and Spanish, living both on la isla and in the diaspora, afro-boricua, white, mixed, indigenx, and of all genders. We’re making a limited edition letterpress broadside collection, as well as a book, the sales from which are going to support Taller Salud, a non-profit doing community health work in low-income neighborhoods of San Juan.

This collection is part of that project of Puerto Rican poets speaking to each other, across languages and oceans, across parties and economies, across all that is set up to divide us. Joey de Jesus writes in his poem in this folio: “The idea of citizenship is just / another wall that divides us.” Puerto Ricans are citizens of colonialism; citizens of our own cultural nation; citizens of the U.S. who can only vote in federal elections if they live on the mainland. Puerto Ricans are citizens of diaspora and of 500 years of colonization and of genocide. My co-editors and I built this project looking for community, looking for a way to take the action we knew how to, looking for hope and for information and for bridges. The poets selected for inclusion here represent a range of the poets included in the collection. Here in this folio, we are looking together.

We’re looking for home: “If I say home, / you hold me / you give me food / and you let me cry / all afternoon.” and looking to forget home: “Rain, it erodes mortar and / takes foundation / from the houses / we wish to forget.”

We’re looking for a language: “I speak an unspeakable / language” and inventing our own accented, inflected languages: “an’ ébri wans in a wail a wíndou óupens an’ so yu si ébrisin biguins to jíal ibéntuali”

We’re looking for “A song to ward off venture capitalists” “so no vulture / funds can raid and strip / the assets from our / digames, our ‘chachos, our / oyes, our claros, our / ‘manos, our oites, our carajos, / our negritos, our vayas,”

We’re looking for ourselves, because: “The world is made for queerness, / to look at one’s reflection, / to decide who you are going to be today.”

We’re looking for a way to survive, because we are hallowed and resilient “now and in the hour / of our freedom / of our civil disobedience / of the defenders / of our complete surrender to our patria / and our borincana flag” and because “some days / one is simply / not ready / ready to die”

Listen to us. Support our work. And take action to support Puerto Rico. This folio is launching just 100 days after Hurricane María. Parts of my family, like many others, still does not have clean drinking water, much of the island is still without electricity, Puerto Ricans are leaving la isla by the thousands while vulture capitalists buy up land and the new tax bill squeezes the island for more money that it doesn’t have, charging tariffs to Puerto Rico as though it were a foreign country while still restricting imports under the Jones Act. It’s almost unbelievable what is happening now in the aftermath of the disaster, and yet it doesn’t shock most Puerto Ricans, who were already prepared to be forgotten again.

As you’re contacting your federal representatives regularly (and if you’re not, you are complicit; it’s as easy as sending a text to 504-09 with the word “resist” and composing a message for them to fax to your representatives) remember to continue to demand specific actions that Congress can take to truly assist Puerto Rico:

1. Repeal the Jones Act.
2. Cancel the debt.
3. Decolonize Puerto Rico

Erica Mena