August 23, 2016

By Priya Parrotta.  Priya participated in the Emerging Faith Leaders convergence at the Vatican in June 2015 and in New Orleans in summer 2016.  She is from Puerto Rico but lives in Washington D.C..  She participated in the multi-day GCCM and FAN fast in support of Pope Francis’ appeal to Congress last September.

I love Puerto Rico so much, I almost can’t handle it. Born and raised there to parents who were born and raised thousands of miles away, my relationship to Puerto Rico is always already unrequited, even as it is intensely close. My sense of aesthetic and sense of humor have their roots in San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital city. As a child, I spent weekend afternoons playing by the beach close to my house, as well as in the lobbies of the many hotels that dot the coastline of my singular neighborhood, Condado. Some days, my dad would take me to the Jardín Botánico, a vast expanse of serene but highly alive forest, located in the middle of one of San Juan’s busiest boroughs. Other days, I would go with my mother to the University of Puerto Rico, where she taught alongside professors who have cared for me more deeply than any mentor I have encountered since.

As grew older and went to high school, my irreverence for the “establishment” was actively encouraged by my teachers. Later on, when I moved away to an environment that took itself too seriously, I began to crave with real intensity the laughing attitude that is part and parcel of living in San Juan. A mentality that acknowledges the craziness of the world, and society, and laughs it off over rum and music and time by the sea.

Whether or not the feeling is mutual, Puerto Rico means the world to me. And that is why I cannot bear to keep track of how this, my, your, our island is being portrayed in the US media, on the occasion of our current economic crisis.

Far be it from me to offer any substantive commentary on PR’s present financial situation. The closest I have ever come to the world of finance was a course in college called “The Politics of Exceptionalist Narratives,” in which we explored the colonial origins and ramifications of the global financial system. Come to think of it, this is not an entirely bad place to begin. But I won’t go there for now. Instead, I wish to describe some of Puerto Rico’s beauty, and why its present situation as a de facto colony—without international representation, without national representation, and saddled with costs and incomplete information—must change.

This topic could take a book. No, it could take an entire research initiative. It could be the lifelong work of a large group of people. But here I only have 500 words remaining. Wish me luck!

In my opinion, Puerto Rico bears an astonishing resemblance to many countries, all over the globe. It is indeed a colony, but it is also a country with a tremendously rich cultural history, and a great deal of non-political connection to other parts of the world.

Like many places on Earth, Puerto Rico is vulnerable to the pressures of economic globalization, consumerism, and the idea that success lies somewhere else. Like many places on Earth, Puerto Rico lies in between two or more geographic regions that we take for granted: in this case, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and North America. Like other nations, Puerto Rico is comprised by people who have come from everywhere, and who now share a fierce nationalism that brings music, values, and memories under its domain. And like other places on Earth, Puerto Rico could benefit so greatly from increased contact with other places. If only our world’s political leaders and economic forces could step up to make such dialogue and cultural communion possible. Or at the very least, to permit it.

Over a year ago, I attended an event that, in my mind and in fact, continues to shimmer with potential. Over one hundred climate activists from over 40 countries, all eager to connect with each other in the service of a more loving and sustainable world. This was the Emerging Leaders Multifaith Climate Convergence in Rome. I was the only person from Puerto Rico—indeed, the only person from the Caribbean—present. Being in that position, awkwardly unable to choose which region to associate with, helped me understand how important it is—and how possible it is—for Puerto Rican climate activists to play a role on the international stage.

“People power” is a phrase that I tend not to use very often, but in this case I think that it is our deepest source of hope. By any standards, Puerto Rico’s political situation is less than ideal. But civil society in Puerto Rico—at least as I have experienced it—is strong. And critical thought is even stronger. Neither of these depends upon the approval of formal authorities. I wonder if, through international networks like the Convergence, a place can be created for Puerto Ricans to represent their country.

Because it is a different country. La tierra de Borinquen, donde he nacido yo: anybody who has an attachment to this first line of the Puerto Rican national anthem knows that to be born on an island, a precious island, bursting with wonders and chronically misunderstood by the powers that govern its fate… Anybody who has such an attachment must also be heartened by the fact that the government and the estatus (heaven help us) is not all there is. Pa’lante.