On Being a Puerto Rican Expat

On Being a Puerto Rican Expat

This week saw a historic moment for my island of Puerto Rico: the resignation of a sitting governor. This was brought on by multiple protests over the span of twelve days not only by people on the island but also by Puerto Rican expats around the globe.

In my post on what it’s like to be Puerto Rican, I discussed how we will always be proud of our country and will talk about it to anyone who will listen. This last week saw many in the diaspora sharing stories about how corruption had driven them away, how it was time for change, how proud they were of the uprising they were witnessing.

Why do Puerto Rican expats care so much?

Because most of us didn’t leave by choice, but by circumstance. We love our country and never wanted to leave. We were forced out to find better opportunities for ourselves and our loved ones. Many of us still have family and friends on the island and we worry about their quality of life. But most of all, many of us want a better future for our homeland because we dream of someday returning.

Puerto Ricans are very patriotic, with many songs that express our love for our country.

Our national anthem, “La Borinqueña”, and the song “Preciosa” (“Beautiful”) tell of the beauty of the island. Others, like “Verde Luz” (“Green Light”), talk about our desire to never leave and our wish to return.

The most famous of these songs is “En mi viejo San Juan” (“In my old San Juan”). It tells the tale of a person who grew up in Puerto Rico but had to leave because “así lo quiso el destino” (“destiny wanted it to be so”). He promises to return one day but we find out he never did. Towards the end of the song, he is close to death, wishing to see Puerto Rico one last time.

This is the lament of many of us “in exile”. We hope to return one day and it hurts when our island is suffering. We want to help in any way we can, like after Hurricane Maria. Or support a political movement from afar since we’re unable to be physically there.

Our sayings define our identity

Puerto Ricans have the saying “yo soy de aquí como el coquí” (“I’m from here like the coquí”). It is said that the coquí, a native frog of Puerto Rico, was once taken to the Dominican Republic and couldn’t survive there. This expresses how many of us in the diaspora feel. We can only live fully on our tiny island.

Yo soy de aqui como el coqui quote

Another popular saying is “tener la mancha de plátano” (“to have the plantain stain”). The juice of green plantains leaves a permanent stain on clothes during handling. To have the plantain stain means we carry our Puerto Rican heritage with us wherever we go. No matter the distance, that stain remains and never fades away.

This article explains more about “la mancha de plátano” including a scene from the popular Puerto Rican movie “La guagua aérea: el regreso” describing its meaning (the article and video are in Spanish).

My experience as a Puerto Rican expat

I left Puerto Rico in 2007 to pursue a Ph.D. Degree in the United States. Because destiny wanted it to be so, I fell in love with a German man. We moved to Germany in 2012 and I’ve lived here ever since.

I’ve been back to visit Puerto Rico multiple times and even celebrated my wedding there. My husband would love to live in Puerto Rico but due to the lack of job opportunities, we stay here. But I dream of retiring on the island. I dream of my daughter studying in my Alma Mater and experiencing life there.

When I was growing up, I’d meet children who were born in the U.S. and, to me, the didn’t belong. They didn’t speak Spanish. They complained about the heat. I hate that my daughter will be part of that group, that she will never “get” what it’s like to grow up in Puerto Rico. I try my best to share my culture and my language, but I know it will never compare.

Boricua even if born on the moon

Maybe I shouldn’t worry too much. We have another song called “Boricua en la luna” (“Boricua on the moon”). The narrator tells how his Puerto Rican parents emigrated to New York, where he was born. And even though he wasn’t born on the island, he is proud of his heritage. He says he would be “borincano” even if he was born on the moon. And so it will be for my daughter. Because the plantain stain is hereditary and she will carry it with her, then transfer it to her children, and so on.

For the moment, I keep looking from a distance, hoping that the situation in Puerto Rico improves and that I can return one day. I don’t want the destiny of the narrator from “En mi viejo San Juan” to become mine.

What have been your experiences as an expat? How do you honor and remember your homeland from afar?

On Being a Puerto Rican Expat

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Author: Delise Torres

Daydreamer of Messy Love Stories and Women's Fiction Writer. A Puerto Rican surviving in Germany, she's working furiously to land a literary agent and become traditionally published.

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