Borikén, the Island of Enchantment!
When I studied Puerto Rican history in high school, my textbook said that the United States navy had arrived on the shores of our islands by invitation. When I got to the University, I learned and understood that the United States (USA) of North America invaded our archipelago in 1898 entering through the Guánica area (South of Puerto Rico).
Since 1917, Puerto Ricans have been born US citizens. The political status of the Borikén archipelago (aka Puerto Rico) is a territory, free and associated. Puerto Rico is, as many call it, the last colony of the United States.
Puerto Ricans are the mixture of three races: Taíno, African and Spaniards. All three races are still alive in us, our progeny, culture, language, religions, music, food, and our traditions. For the US, we are second-class and sometimes third-class citizens. We are the women and men who can go to war to defend the US flag, but if you reside on the island, you do not have the right to vote for the president who sends you to such a war.
In 2017 we were seriously impacted by two hurricanes. The second, Hurricane Maria, took away all the leaves from the trees, the roofs of the houses, and exposed a country with a fragile infrastructure due to decades of corruption and poor governance. Everything was late in coming. The aid, the federal agencies in charge of attending this type of emergency and the 45th president was publicly denigrating and treated a people in crisis with a serious lack of empathy, compassion, and responsibility.
More than 4,000 lives were lost because of this tropical climatic emergency. It was infuriating for the Puerto Ricans to see how the crisis and the deaths of our mothers, fathers, cousins, sisters, uncles, aunts, sons, and daughters and many of our elderly people were minimized. I will never forget the pain I felt when I saw the image of a “SOS, we need food and water” painted on a street in Punta Santiago. Remembering it still makes me feel very emotional.
But adversity always presents opportunities for the ones with creativity, heart, and desire. From this experience a new movement has emerged to reclaim our lands and agricultural spaces, self-management and small businesses are developed on the side of the roads where the fruits of our land are sold. Social kitchens are being created. The movement for energy independence and sustainability is growing. And it continues to promote local management for the conservation of land and prevent the loss of land to foreign hands. Nature is renewed and gives way to the growth of a new forest, our species that, like us Boricuas, are ancestral and biologically prepared to resist and flourish in the Caribbean environment.
At the beginning of this year the country was shaken by a series of earthquakes that have revealed the inefficiency of being a colony of a country that does not want us. And the peoples of the south continue to recover and fight for their well-being. Weeks after the tremors, when community leaders sought help, thousands of emergency supplies were discovered that the government never delivered after Hurricane Maria. Thus, a fed-up and enraged people took over the management of this latest emergency. Being the community leaders and many Puerto Ricans in and outside of PR who once again made a heroic effort, as in Hurricane Maria, to help their compatriots.
A few months later we began to deal with a pandemic that continues to spread on our island.
There is no hurricane, earthquake, pandemic, or colony that has been able to overshadow the Boricua fire. A breed that gets up every day and goes out into the street to work hard and come up with a game plan. With optimism, with a smile, with sweat on our foreheads, blooming like the forest after the storm.
Dr. Samarys Seguinot-Medina, Boricua de corazón!
Environmental and public health scientist is a resident of Anchorage, Alaska.