Why do Puerto Ricans move to the United States? Why did I?
By Carmen Bardeguez Brown
Lindo capullo de alelí
si tu supieras mi dolor
correspondiearas a mi amor y calmaras mi sufrir
Por que tu sabes que sin ti
la vida es nada para mi
Tu bien lo sabes capullito de alelí
The smell of aleli
Remembers a distant future
Of coco y pasteles
Yuca,name y cafe con leche
Chicharrones de Bayamon
VIajando por la carretera #2
Drinking pirogues en el Bronx
Memoirs of salt
Cana y pina
Translated in millions of taste
And the lullaby of a pitirre
Cantico del coqui
Frozen in giant mirrors
Tasting pinones y
Arroz con dulce sin pasas.
I amnot sure what was the final thought that made me decide to cross the Atlantic and move to New York City. I mentioned the idea to my father and he was supportive but he looked pensive when he told me to always focus on education and that I needed to work hard to achieve anything “better than them” in Puerto Rico or in the United States. He did not say it but I knew what he meant. He knew that there was racism in both countries, a different kind of racism but still racism.
Dad and mom instilled the value of education in all of us at a young age. I still remembered how they dutifully checked our homework and asked us about our school projects. They had high expectations from all of us and raised us to value education as the only true vehicle for self improvement.
I was scared about moving to New York. My older sister moved to the city to do her residency in a hospital in Queens. She had told me that after her graduation from the University of Puerto Rico Medical School, she was offered an unpaid internship while most of her more connected friends got paid residencies. Her choice was clear. She moved to New York searching for opportunities denied at home which is the number one reason why most Puerto Ricans move to the United States. Like any other immigrant group, we all search for better opportunities. The only significant difference is that Puerto Ricans are not immigrants as we are American colonial citizens since 1917.
My decision was a little more personal. I was feeling suffocated by what was going on in Puerto Rico and my personal life. I was not sure what I wanted to do after graduating from college. I was not interested in studying Law or getting married. Believe it or not, marriage was still the traditional thing to do for a young woman in the 80s inspite of having an education.
I knew neither of those options were for me. I was also involved with a few leftist organizations and felt that they were turning quite predictable and the cronyism of politics in my dear country was quite rampant. The unofficial black listing of anyone that supported the Independence movement in Puerto Rico was and still is a career death sentence.
The violence and constant surveillance towards individuals and organizations that were unapologetically working towards Independence was evident as in the Cerro Maravilla murder. I was a political science major and students knew who were the undercover agents in classes with professors who were considered radicals or on classes that were on the left side of the political spectrum. We all knew how to live under surveillance but the majority of the mainstream culture called us paranoids.
The sudden death of our beloved father seriously spiralled me into depression. I felt suffocated by the personal loss and the narrow-minded cultural discourse that was typical in colonial societies. I love my country dearly but I needed to venture into the unknown; explore new horizons that will force me to grow. I was in search of my destiny.
A few months after I completed my college degree, I made the final decision that changed my life. I decided to apply at the New School For Social Research and pursue a Master’s Degree in Political Economy. They had a world class faculty of Marxists and Social Democrats and it seemed to be the right fit for me. Once I was accepted, I eagerly ventured into my new adventure.
A Beautiful Sunny and Cold Winter Day
I arrived to New York City on January 4,1984. My sister Arlene and her Italian boyfriend picked me up at the airport. The next day, I woke up as if in a daze, thinking that I was in some kind of a dream. It was a beautiful sunny day and I decided to venture outside. I noticed some of the people in the lobby of my sister’s building looking at me a little strangely.
I was wearing a white T-shirt and jeans. As soon as I stepped outside, I thought I had arrived in Siberia. I felt so cold I could not think. I ran as fast as I could inside the building trembling. The concierge started to laugh quietly and said, what are you thinking? I was perplexed as I was not used to conversations in English. Then he told me in Spanish, muchacha mira que esta frio!
I couldn’t stop shaking and looking through the glass door, I saw the beautiful sun and said: “El sol que no calienta.”I know that it didn’t make any sense but I have never experienced winter and couldn’t understand how a beautiful sunny day could be so cold. What a mirage a brilliant sun and a coldness that freezes your soul.
Perhaps, my first day was an experiential metaphor of my future life in the United States. The superficial promise of the ‘American Dream’ interlaced with the coldness of the American nightmare.
And after many years…
I have lived in New York City, and now in Westchester (with a short New Jersey stint in between) since 1984. My entire adult life has been experienced by the realities of living in the Big Apple. My career as an educator was with the New York City Department of Education. I was a 24-year-old Black Puerto Rican woman in search of her destiny. Living in the United States transformed my identity and I became a Puerto Rican/Nuyorican. This transformation allowed me to understand my country and my adopted country better.
The journey from the colony to the capital of the most powerful empire in the world, a young country is unparalleled. There are many life lessons to tell and still learning. I hope that I can continue to write about my life and the realities of being a “Black Latina” from Puerto Rico in New York.
I appreciate your comments and feedback. Hablamos pronto.
(About the author: Carmen Bardequez-Brown is a poet and teacher living in Hartsdale. Born and raised in Puerto Rico and educated in the US and PR, she tackles the complexity and nuances of being a creature in both cultures of the East and West, the colonized and the colonizer, in her blog. The birth of this blog is brought about by Carmen’s desire to write and publish which is ushered in by the Aspiring Writers Mentoring Program of 2018.)