I wish that these words that I’m about to write could all be in Spanish. And I could make this wish a reality, but I’m trying to be as organic as possible writing this book so the truth of the matter is that it’s going to be mostly English with bits here and there in Spanish. First thing you should know about me: I was raised in the world of a private prep school student. Born and raised in the metropolitan area of Puerto Rico, I’ve lived most of my life in Guaynabo (a city whose inhabitants are affectionately called guaynabichos/as*). I’m not laying this out here facetiously, although a few points in this book will seem facetious and unnecessary, but to get back to the point, I’ve grown up speaking, reading, and writing in English, so it’s safe to say it’s my first language. And Spanish almost ties with English, but it comes second because even though I feel in Spanish, my thoughts are in English. What all of this babbling comes to is that, in this sense, I’m alienated from my fellow Puerto Ricans whose first language is Spanish. Maybe some can’t read this. I’ve already made this book for English speakers and although it alienates me from one group, I want that English-speaking group to understand how the language they speak is a product of our colonial history and to not be ashamed of it but use it as a tool to communicate. Spanish is also part of our colonial history, but we’ve made it our own. With English, it’s a different story. (Only #% of people in PR speak English—and for some reason it’s an official language*). Those that dominate the language probably studied at American or bilingual schools like I did.
I was brought up in the Puerto Rican elite, the privileged group of people that can afford to send their children to schools such as Baldwin, Commonwealth, and Saint John’s, to name a few. These are the kids that are told, from day one, that their future is to live in the United States. These are the college preparatory schools where they start drilling the SAT’s into your head since seventh grade. These are, what I like to call—criaderos de mentes americanizadas—breeding places for Americanized minds. Now what’s the deal with Americanization? Why is that a bad thing? Well, not all think it’s a bad thing. The problem with me, personally, was the weight placed on knowledge of the United States, its history, culture, people, vs. the weight placed on the knowledge of Puerto Rico and its history, culture, and people. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I learned a little bit about Puerto Rican history, when I should have been learning it since elementary school. And it wasn’t until college, in a small liberal arts school, that I would understand what colonialism was and how that formed part of my identity as a person and as a Puerto Rican.
As a literature student, I was never passionately involved in the material I was learning in class. I was never sprurred to tears or brought joy by the texts I had to study. But everything changed when, somehow, the words on the page were no longer symbols floating on paper. The words began to convey something deeper than just plot, characters, and metaphors. I will never forget sitting in a classroom full of American students (very bright young minds), the only Puerto Rican in the class, and thinking to myself: “What the hell am I doing here?” I will never forget reading Memmi* and trying to make sense of everything without bursting into tears because my whole life has been lived without an understanding of who I really am. I’ll go more into detail about that later on in the book but I experienced a moment of enlightenment in the midst of my crippling mental health. After all of my hard work since seventh grade, after all of my sleepless nights, after all of my effort in those SAT’s and college applications, after two years of tireless work in college, I said “fuck it.” I was tired. I was tired of pretending. I was tired of assimilating. I was tired of lying to myself. I was tired of being in a place where I didn’t belong, although it was kind to me and I met incredible people and professors. It just didn’t rock my boat and I was beginning to crumble under schoolwork, pressure, and the incredible aching I felt to be home. This book is about what went down and how, in just a short amount of time, it became important to me to feel like I belonged somewhere; it became important to find my niche in the middle of limbo. I wanted, for once and for all, to resolve my “colonial identity tug-of-war.” It wasn’t enough for me to say, “I’m Puerto Rican.” No. I wanted to live there, I wanted to bathe myself in its history, I wanted to understand when it became normal to want to escape and why so many choose to escape. I call it that because that’s what I did and it took me a while to admit that to myself. I wanted, for the first time in my life, to rid myself of my privilege and elite and find the Puerto Rico that exists outside of the periphery of this elite. This here is about a physical and mental journey, a written account of what it feels like to have a war inside of you.
In the preface to her wonderful book Luz sobre Luz, Luce Lopez-Baralt quotes Valente* to describe her inner turmoil of silencing what could not be silenced. Finally, she had to say what could no longer be left unsaid: [<entre la imposibilidad de decir y la imposibilidad de no decir>.]