March 24, 2008

A moment of anger thanks to Postsecret

I have a lot of stuff to catch up on, not just here, but I just happened to see this and it made me really angry. In the popular blog PostSecret there is a letter featuring a U.S. flag, with this written in between the stripes: "People who live in the United States and don't bother to learn English make me sick." Underneath that is a picture of the Puerto Rican Day Parade in NYC.

What the hell?!

First off, these are Puerto Ricans who are probably at least second or third generation and I'd bet money that nearly everyone in that picture speaks English quite well. In fact a lot of them most likely don't even speak Spanish.

But more than that I'm bothered by how there is this sense of Puerto Ricans are the invaders, while in reality they were the ones being invaded.

Now I don't want to make a political statement about people who don't speak English, not because I don't have an opinion (who doesn't?) but rather because it doesn't have anything to do with Puerto Ricans. They are in a completely different situation: Puerto Ricans by default are not immigrants, either legal or illegal. They are American citizens from early on in their experiences with American colonization.

Also, by adding Puerto Rico to the United States after the Spanish American War, the U.S. picked up a population of native Spanish speakers. If they didn't want Spanish speakers, they shouldn't have done that. If they don't want them now, then let them go. Forced Americanization didn't work (as intended, anyways) before and it won't work now. While most Puerto Ricans can at the very least understand English, with fewer considering themselves completely fluent, expecting an entire nation to change overnight for the whims of a country that largely hasn't cared about them is a joke.

I'm not one to advocate independence for PR (I'm not puertorriqueña so I don't think I have much of a place to say my views on the island's status) but if English is such a requirement for living in this country, you'll have to do something about their status. And if you don't have a good suggestion (because there are serious flaws in all of the choices), then don't complain about it. Please.

Basically, you chose to keep Puerto Rico, you'll have to put up with the people you've annexed as well as their language. Don't want them, don't keep them.

This brings me back to the scandal of a couple of years ago, when a giant group of artists collaborated on a Spanish version of the Star Spangled Banner. Quality notwithstanding, it caused such a big fuss because English should be the official language and it supported illegal immigration blah blah blah... when in reality, most of the artists involved were Puerto Rican. As if they didn't have a right to sing their national anthem in their language!

I don't really think it's that people are really against Puerto Ricans but it's just that they're ignorant. I get asked a lot of Puerto Ricans are American citizens, for example, or they need to apply to move to the U.S. or if they have their own currency. The island has been a U.S. territory for over 100 years and yet most people don't even realize that. And these are educated people who study and interact with other cultures daily. I can't even imagine what it's like for others.

I guess that's why I have this blog in the first place, really: to shed some light on an island that few people know about or even care about, but at the same time has a fascinating story to tell to anyone who wants to listen. It's unfortunate that so many people overlook or misunderstand the island without knowing that many of their decisions indirectly land in Puerto Rico's lap. A little education goes a long way in this case. Hell, even dropping by el Morro for a few minutes is better than nothing.

So wake up America! You have a colony of 4 million people that don't speak your language but are citizens of your country. It's time to learn about them along with the 13 colonies and the Civil War as part of U.S. history. It can only benefit you.

As for the card, I'm really hoping that they just used the wrong picture. And that all the people discussing it can look past the temptation of debating immigration (again) and realize that by doing so they are accusing a population of not speaking English and performing illegal acts which they are not responsible for--a gross misrepresentation of the current political status of Puerto Rico.

10 comments:

mark said...

This is a TERRIFIC post!

How many Americans living in Puerto Rico speak Spanish...?

Minerva said...

Hmm, can we cool the emotions a bit and sort things out: You saw a group of xenophobic ignoramuses, who very likely do not speak English (whether English English or American English very well themselves - ignoramuses are usually a very undereducated bunch and I have heard them speak "English": "I says" and the like, which make me cringe. English is my FOURTH language but I know English grammar a hell of a lot better than that... and not only me: many immigrants speak better English then many so called "native speakers") and they also feel threatened by immigrants: uneducated/undereducated people of any color, race and national origin suffer the most in Bushe's (right wing republican) American and they will suffer even more in the coming recession. So they are threatened and look for a scapegoat, since their intellectual powers are not sufficient to figure out who the real culprit of their misery is: scapegoating is an easy way out. So let's not mix the actions and opinions of a bunch of ignoramuses ( I won't call them "rednecks", because it is as offensive and primitive name calling to me like "wetbacks" is and I don't hate them, am not threatened by them, I sympathize with their plight, even when I condemn their thoughtless opinions and actions) with the actions and opinions of American government, congress etc. etc. Not that they are not to blame for many things - just not for that particular action that angered you so much, that you forgot to analyze it logically, using instead emotions: angry, negative ones.

Let me remind you some of American history: America accepted immigrants, when it was in need of workforce, plenty of disciplined workforce. But - and here I speak of authorities - often tried to treat them as second class noncitizens. Thus the demand that they pass a test of English as a criterion (one of) for getting a citizenship. And when people of color, who were here for generations and spoke nothing but English wanted to vote, they had to pass a test of history and government, which many could not, because through many years of American history they were not allowed to learn even how to read, write or do simple arithmetic, much less how the US government work. So various qualifying demands are not specifically anti-Puertorican, they are just a remnant of racism - and classism.
So, please, more thinking, less pure emotions, if you don't want to behave like the bunch that angered you so.

Minerva said...

To Mark: it is pretty hard for a person who speaks English to even try to practice Spanish in Puerto Rico. I am not American, and Spanish, which I spoke (in Spain, in Mexico, Costa Rica, etc.) passably at an intermediate level is my seventh language. I managed in those other Spanish speaking countries, so am trying here in Puerto Rico, too, but encountered two different obstacles. 1. Any time I say something in Spanish - order food in a restaurant, ask for directions, etc., I will get an answer in English. Ok, I am blond, in PR, they peg me as a gringa, and - since Puerto Ricans are very, very polite and helpful people - try to make it easy on me. So they use English and I can't practice my Spanish, which I spoke better before I came here than now, after five months in PR. And when I try to listen to Puerto Ricans conversing I am lost. They speak increadibly fast and mispronounce a lot of Spanish as I learned it (the Castillian and Andalusian versions). So I'd venture that not many Boricuas speak Spanish, either, they speak Boricua. (sorry for teasing you)

Speaking Boricua said...

Hmm... well first I'd like to say I don't think my emotions were really as involved as perhaps it seems. The confusion of the two completely separate groups of people seemed to startle me more than really upset me, although I guess it did offend me a bit. So I am actually quite calm here. :)

Anyways, I think that I am not bothered by the "ignoramuses" as you said because I have heard their viewpoint on immigration many, many times. I can understand it a bit and it doesn't really have any effect on me, I don't think. But that's not really what I was addressing here... after all, there are stupid and/or uneducated people in every country. I was bothered by how even the educated people I saw discussing this couldn't tell they were talking about American citizens, Puerto Ricans, instead of charging into the over-debated immigration issue. They had no idea they were Puerto Ricans. The fact that no one recognized the flags is fine. The fact that various Puerto Ricans butted in, saying that there were no illegal immigrants in that picture, and then they were obviously ignored so that people could continue discussing the issue worries me. I am not expecting everyone to travel to PR or know much about it, but I would like to see some respect for its existence in normal, educated people. It bothers me to see Americans ignore the island as if it weren't there, even though it contains American citizens just like any other state. For educated people there is really no excuse for this.

In response to another comment you made, that I shouldn't confuse the ignoramuses with the American government, perhaps it is the naïve American in me but I do believe that all people are at least partly responsible for the government. After all, they have a right to vote as much as I do, more in theory than in practice I suppose. And therefore, government is an extension of society (I wouldn't dare say it is representative of society, but it does carry many of the common values of its people). So if Puerto Rico were in any way an issue for American society and the individuals inside it, then the American government would have to make a decision eventually. Instead, the question of what to do with Puerto Rico has languished on and on without any real effort from both the American people and their government. This has a real effect on the people of Puerto Rico, who in turn have no way to change it because they don't have a voice inside of American lawmaking. So it is up to American people to ask for change from their government.

Another very American quality of mine (I believe) is that I refuse to accept racism, even if it is remnants as you say. I don't think this is racism though, because it's not as if people really hate Puerto Ricans. I would just classify it as ignorance. And again, ignorance would not bother me as much if it didn't have the effect it has on the island. By not listening to Puerto Rico we are depriving the people of their autonomy.

It's a bit difficult for me to say some of this, because obviously I am an American also, being one of the few who know about Puerto Rico, and I am friends with many of the same people I just complained about who don't know that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. But the reason why I see it as such a problem is that I know it can change. With a tiny bit of understanding about Puerto Rico America can begin to think about change. There is little interest in learning about Puerto Rico for many people but to those who are willing to listen I do answer all of their questions the best I can. There has to be interest though, or else no one will ever know.

Well, I think I dealt with most of that. I did really appreciate your comment (if you can't tell) but if you could try to re-articulate it so it were clearer I think I could respond a little better. I'd be interested in continuing this conversation, if you'd like.

Speaking Boricua said...

Thanks, Mark. While I do absolutely agree with what Minerva has said, I think I'll answer your question in a post, because there are still a few more layers that I'd like to expose. So expect that in a couple of days.

Ylsel said...

thank you speaking boricua — i am from Puerto Rico (born + raised) and so proud of my country...

it breaks my heart everytime I see images like the one posted on postsecret — but Puerto Ricans are strong and after so many years of oppression... ignorance is not going to bring us down.

Puerto Rican FIRST and SECOND... American citizen... third.

You might not be Puerto Rican — but you truly have a heart of one... Thank you for your words, thank you for defending a country that is not yours... in my eyes you are a real boricua.

Thank you for making a difference.

Paz.

----

++ THIS IS FOR MINERVA:

How dare you judge a country's language...
By your posts I can tell where are you coming from... and I feel so sorry for you.
Puerto Ricans don't speak spanish?... we speak boricua?... just because is not "castellano"... the one you learned?
around Between 322 and 400 million people natively speak Spanish around the world... each adapted by it's country's history, influences, region, etc.

I think instead of posting and making yourself look more ignorant you should do your research and stop judging....

you can start here:

* http://spanish.about.com/cs/historyofspanish/f/varieties.htm

* http://ocw.u-tokyo.ac.jp/english/course-list/arts-and-sciences/geographical-variation-of-spanish-language/lecture-notes/e_tb01.pdf

hey!, and we even have variations in Spain!

* http://easiestspanish.blogspot.com/2007/06/variations-in-spanish.html

----

how is my "boricua english"?

Speaking Boricua said...

Thanks, ylsel. Your comment is very flattering. Please comment more, I'd like to hear more.

I think you missed though that Minerva was just kidding about boricua Spanish. I'm about to go write about that, though.

Otra vez gracias y que Dios te bendiga! :)

Ylsel said...

Thank you — I probably misunderstood Minerva's comment... So I apologize if I offended her with my comment... that was not my intention.

I do recognize (and Puerto Ricans in general) that our spanish is very unique and is a blend from our past and today... one thing is for sure... we do know how to come up with new words every minute... (just listen to reggaeton music... i don't know how they do it!)

But I think that every spanish speaking country has it's own particularities based on the country's history/culture.

I just thought Minerva was putting our "Boricua" language down because it was not "perfect".

I too have the "contradiction sindrome" you guys were discussing on today's post — in a way I admire my country for being so strong during our years of turbulence (and it still continues today) but on the other hand I feel ashame and sad that Puerto Ricans haven't made enough effort to fight for their rights and have depended on the US so much... what happened to those years of "progressive thinking"... We need a new movement and we need a new Pedro Albizu Campos... but in reality I don't see that happening in the near future...
This younger generation grew up too comfortable... I don't think we have gone through the same struggles our parents and grandparents went through... yes we are proud of our culture... but still we don't stand up to make this island better... we just look to the other side...
When I was living in Puerto Rico... I'm sad to say I didn't care about politics or what was going on... My friends and I just care about going to the beach and have a great time! — after high school I decided to travel and move to the US to study... and you can't imagine how all this have change my life and perspectives on the world and PR...

Today I just feel sad about our situation and hope to one day go back and try to make a difference...

Today, March 28th, 2008 is a very important day for the Island... The governor turn himself in to the FBI on federal corruption charges and what I perceived based on my conversations with my friends and family... it's like nothing important is happening... one more politician going to jail...

Isn't this the perfect time for the people to demand for changes?

Speaking Boricua said...

I think it is safe to say there is never a time NOT appropriate for change. I'm afraid though that with the current state of education it'll be difficult finding that Albizu Campos... there is always a chance though!

Di said...

I work with tourists, and believe me, a lot come with a very high lack of knowledge about the Island, and I get the vague feeling they only listen to me because my English sounds like theirs and I look like a gringa. (I hate that word.)

But apart from the lack of information, I think what I find most irritating is when I tend to tourists who are irritated by either the "lack" of local things, or by the fact that we can only accommodate so much of their whims and that if you leave the metropolitan area, you might not be so lucky in the English/American-like front.

I mean, y'know, McDonalds is everywhere, including here. We take your currency because it's our currency. And most people will vaguely understand you, but it'd be nice if you guys made the effort to understand us, since you're the visitors.

(I'm referring to a hypothetical you by the way, not you you.)

On a separate note, and much more about the controversy of US strengthening their borders around Mexico, as a friend of mine so bluntly put it: "Americans are racist and stupid, because they don't realize that if they tossed out all their illegal immigrants, their country would fall apart."

Good post.