diaspora |dīˈaspərə|noun (often the Diaspora): the dispersion of any people from their original homeland
My parents and grandparents were members of the first Puerto Rican Diaspora. They arrived in New York City in the late 30s/early 40s. They left their tropical island homeland for the opportunities of New York City. My grandmothers were factory seamstresses.
As a young girl, I listened to the original Broadway cast recording of “West Side Story.” It was touted as a modern “Romeo & Juliet,” a love story hampered by racism. White American vs. the brown, Spanish-speaking former island dwellers. Back then, the Nuyoricans were the easiest targets. I was one of those Nuyoricans, as were my parents and their parents. I knew the lyrics to almost every song by the time I was seven, including “America.” [I’ve underlined the lyrics that feel particularly poignant under today’s circumstances.]
You lovely island . . .
Island of tropical breezes.
Always the pineapples growing,
Always the coffee blossoms blowing . . .
Puerto Rico . . .
You ugly island . . .
Island of tropic diseases.
Always the hurricanes blowing,
Always the population growing . . .
And the money owing,
And the babies crying,
And the bullets flying.
I like the island Manhattan.
Smoke on your pipe and put that in!
I like to be in America!
O.K. by me in America!
Ev’rything free in America
For a small fee in America!
I like the city of San Juan.
I know a boat you can get on.
Hundreds of flowers in full bloom.
Hundreds of people in each room!
Immigrant goes to America,
Many hellos in America;
Nobody knows in America
Puerto Rico’s in America!
I’ll bring a T.V. to San Juan.
If there’s a current to turn on!
I’ll give them new washing machine.
What have they got there to keep clean?
When I will go back to San Juan?
When you will shut up and get gone?
Everyone there will give big cheer!
Everyone there will have moved here!
Music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
© 1956, 1957 Amberson Holdings LLC and Stephen Sondheim. Copyright renewed.
Leonard Bernstein Music Publishing Company LLC, Publisher.
Puerto Rico. Over 3.5 million American citizens. Waiting, after a record-breaking natural disaster, for the colonial master to fulfill his end of the bargain. But The Mad King is too busy tweeting about slaves’ descendants taking a knee, too busy to prioritize an island of brown people.
Most Americans don’t even know those island-dwellers are Americans, have fought and died in America’s fucked-up wars, have paid taxes that fund the aid to the victims of Harvey and Irma. How does a bankrupt island agree to the cost-sharing requirements of FEMA? How does one squeeze water from a rock? Even if the rock is surrounded by oceans…and flooded?
During the past decade of economic woes, there has already been a brain drain from the island. The second diaspora was already underway when Maria wept her torrent of tears. Now, Puerto Ricans are choosing to leave their homeland in DROVES. Permanently. Who can blame them? The clean-up and reconstruction task is monumental, unimaginable.
Cuba warned us long ago: the colonial master will be there to feed its insatiable greed, to suck the island dry of its precious resources, including human grit. But when the shit hits the fan (or the fan stops working altogether because there is no power), let’s see whether the master can even be reached on the phone.