Monday, January 2, 2017

Second Generation Puerto Rican

My mother was born in Puerto Rico and at a young age her family moved to Massachusetts.  That makes me 1/2 Puerto Rican (or, more accurately, 3/8, with 1/8 Taino blood), 1/2 Hispanic.  Growing up, though, the only Spanish I heard was from my grandmother's mouth, a grandmother that I did not see much of and, as far as I recollect, mostly spoke broken English.  Mostly I remember my grandmother used Spanish only for exclamations, "Ay, que lindo," or "ay caramba," and the like.  Otherwise, English was spoken around me and my brother, as far as I can remember.

Around the time I graduated from high school, I began to wonder why my mother sheltered us from the Spanish language.  Indeed, why my mother sheltered us from our Puerto Rican heritage.  It wasn't just the language I didn't know, it was the culture and customs, too.  I like to say that I have dancing hips, but I don't know how to salsa and how to properly use those hips.  One half of my heritage and existence was kept hidden from me and I didn't know why.  Once I started to question who I was/am, I also started to wish that, at the very least, I knew the language.

Now, let me be clear, I don't blame my mother.  If anything, I blame myself for not asking and requesting information and that my mother speak Spanish to me.  I admit that I don't have the motivation to learn.  Most of the reason is laziness, and part of the reason is that when I do start learning Spanish (which comes easily to me), I grow depressed knowing that I could have already known what will take me months upon months to learn.  I don't blame my mother.  Perhaps I did at first, but I don't now because I understand.  With all that she experienced as a young Puerto Rican vying for legitimacy in a white person's world, and fighting with other non-whites for what sliver of acceptance was available, I can understand both that she may have wanted to distance herself from her history and that she may have purposely decided to shield her kids from similar discrimination. 

Until now, I understood my mother almost as an outsider.  Though I am second generation Puerto Rican, it's almost as if I'm twelve generations removed and from another world.  Because of that, I sought to reclaim my heritage and expose my children to a culture that I may never fully learn.  Suddenly, though, because of the cultural climate in our country that has been politically affirmed and, to a great extent, encouraged, I understand my mother from a somewhat shared experience.  Suddenly, with the rise of Trump and the spotlight on Maine's Governor LePage and his outrageous comments and actions, I am scared to admit that I am even partially Puerto Rican.  I had a friend in high school who once guessed that I am Filipino.  I don't see it and nor does anyone else, but at this point I'd almost rather confirm such a guess than admit the truth.  Most of all, I am now scared to raise my children with an understanding of Spanish or the traditions and history of Puerto Rico that I never learned growing up. 

It is hard to describe the why and wherefore of such a change in my attitude and approach to who I am and who I'd like my children to be.  I find it unfortunate that this is so because the reasons why I am scared to admit my heritage now are probably the same reasons other people have been so outspoken about their fear of Trump... and have been disparaged for doing so.  Looking at the political climate of today, it would seem that if Trump, or LePage, or anyone like them, makes a person scared or uncomfortable to the point of declaring so publicly, that person is now a political puppet using fear for a particular political outcome.  But I repeat the sum of my previous post: I do not want to influence anyone to render a certain political outcome.  I do want us to understand one another and do hope to affect a particular attitude in our political climate.  Essentially, our Constitution and our form of government request to the point of demanding that we hear and listen to one another.  And I am saying that the fear minorities, Latinos and Hispanics especially, have of Trump and those who he has empowered is very real and needs to be respected.  It is not a political ploy, it is real.

Perhaps the reason why I find it hard to describe the reasons behind my change of attitude towards admitting that I am Puerto Rican, and raising my children as such, is that the Trump propaganda machine lasted for over a year.  That is a long time that allows for gradual changes, changes that are likely to occur when you hear part of your heritage and your being insulted, excluded, and attacked as 'targets,' in the word of LePage.  Why would I want my children exposed to the possibility of being abused, verbally or, God forbid, physically, or ignored by authorities because that's the stance our president takes and empowers and allows?  Already we have seen this happening around the country and I do not want that for my children.

Some people, perhaps, are using Trump's language against him as a political tool to rouse up fear to defeat his policies or his re-election campaign in four years (which, if true, wouldn't even be as bad as what Republicans did eight or four years ago, to the point that Congressmen were blatantly saying they'd oppose Obama at every turn, even when they agreed, to defeat his image and re-election efforts... and I am a Republican who remembers well).  I can guarantee that most are not doing that, however.  Most are truly afraid and uncomfortable and worried.  It is our duty as Americans in a democracy to hear one that, to hear one another and understand that our neighbors and fellow citizens are genuinely scared, and ourselves work to create a society in which that fear does not continue; to oppose our elected officials, even those we support passionately, when they create or allow such fear without doing anything.

We must hear one another.  Too often people defend themselves and their favored officials by saying, "But I'm not racist..." without giving thought to whether or not they truly are.  Saying, "I'm not racist," does not mean that you are not racist.  You are racist if you do not listen to those who are genuinely scared right now.  You are especially racist if you choose not to listen, tell people they are brainwashed by liberal media and/or are just plain wrong, and then follow it up with saying, "I'm not racist."  If I were to say, "I'm not elitist or anything, but if you haven't read Pride and Prejudice or Paradise Lost, then you aren't very cultured and don't deserve to comment on literature," then a) I would have just proven my elitism, and b) told my audience that I won't bother to enter dialogue with them because I also 'proved' that I'm not elitist.  That's exactly what people are doing now with "I'm not racist."  They first prove their racism and then refuse to dialogue because they have 'proven' their openness.  That is easy for people who have little to fear to do and say.  But dialogue is the one thing we cannot afford to cut off in our country, in our democracy. 

Dialogue, the ability to hear and actually listen, listen empathetically, and then respond respectfully understanding how others feel and think--and that those are legitimate feelings and thoughts--is the trademark of any democracy.  It is the trademark of people who believe in God.  Yet that trademark, dialogue, is fast receding because of those who refuse to listen, who claim the fear of today, drummed up by Trump and those he has empowered, to be irrational and unfounded, and then refuse to look inwardly and consider whether or not they are, indeed, racist. 

I have now joined a growing list of people with a heritage that Trump and others have dismissed or attacked or insulted who are afraid and distressed.  Many of Trump's policies may work, who knows.  All I know is that power highlights a person's deficiencies and without power Trump has already empowered an attitude in this country that is not healthy for a vast number of citizens.  And so, all I ask is that we dialogue, that we hear and listen to one another, and instead of rushing to say, "But I'm not racist," or claiming that other people are brainwashed by liberal media, consider inwardly whether we are indeed racist.  But we must hear and listen.  We must dialogue.

No comments:

Post a Comment