“Puerto Rico” – as homeland, as concept – is personal for Miamians. Thousands of Cubans settled on the island after Fidel seized power, including my great great aunt, a San Juan resident until 1989. I’ve never visited its historical landmarks or beaches. In Javier Morillo’s erudite essay, the writer looks at the U.S. territory’s history: the two Jones Acts, granting Puerto Ricans American citizenship and restricting Puerto Rican ports from receiving any non-American ships in its ports. He uses One Hundred Years of Solitude as the prism through which to view his home’s peculiar limbo: not a sovereign country, whose culture amalgamates Latin America, Africa, and U.S. pop culture.
But reconsiderations must wait. Time stops for no one:
it feels surreal, being a Puerto Rican in the United States these days, seeing images of the devastation of an island I grew up on and that—despite not having lived there for three decades—I still call home. Like so many of the diaspora, even those born here and who never lived on the island, we feel our fates deeply intertwined with it. On the island, debates rage about those who are leaving, calling it quits on Puerto Rico. But for us in the diaspora, #YoNoMeQuito can feel incongruous, unsettling—because we haven’t quit Puerto Rico. We can’t quit. We, too, are Puerto Rico. We feel ourselves part of the volcanic rock, and in its despair we see our own uncertain reality in this country.
It feels surreal, being a Puerto Rican in the United States these days, talking to my mother on her cell phone when she occasionally has a signal. These talks add detail to my understanding of what has become the everyday normal: collecting rainwater to flush toilets and, now that they finally have running water in the house, boiling it for 10 minutes to make sure it is potable. Text exchanges with my sister feel incongruous, unsettling: ultramodern technologies are the vehicles through which I see a disaster that has pushed the island back to an antediluvian past, to the days of washing clothes in the river. “We have electricity now!” “Wait, that electricity we had for a few days is gone again!” Recovery efforts feel hopelessly slow and flawed. A ragtag group of Army vets, self-deployed on the island and looking like they stepped out of Duck Dynasty, decry FEMA’s ineptitude in regular social-media updates. Facebook and Twitter give us glimpses of the reality obscured by official death tolls that remain impossibly low.
Murillo also finds the space to explain how rapacious investors turned the island into a giant hedge fund and, worse, a punching bag for House Speaker Paul Ryan and our buffoon of a president, both of whom voted for or practiced policies, respectively, that led to the collapse.