Yo sé lo que son los encantos,
De mi Borinquen hermosa
Por eso la quiero yo tanto
Y siempre la llamaré preciosa
Isla del Caribe
Isla del Caribe,
When Rafael Hernández penned the words to his song “Preciosa” in 1937 in El Barrio, New York, the songwriter, lyricist and musician from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, never imagined that 68 years later his love song to his beloved island/nation would serve as inspiration for generations of his compatriots living in the mainland.
Neither could a boy born in Manhattan to Puerto Rican parents in 1968 by the name of Marco Antonio Muñiz have known that he would in 2005 – as the singer known to the world as Marc Anthony – be the one to interpret the song that has become a national anthem for puertorriqueños who love their island in the Caribbean.
In mid-October I traveled to Lowell, Massachusetts, with my esposa to the 70th birthday celebration of her cousin Lucy. There were about 200 celebrants at the fiesta. We all caught up with updates about the devastation on the island. Then there was the montage of photos of Lucy as a baby and growing up in Caguas, a celebration of her life and a look at the Puerto Rico that no longer exists. The DJ spun “Preciosa.” Everyone sang along. The most emotional were the younger among us – those born on the mainland to Puerto Rican parents – singing:
Porque ahora es que comprendo
Porque ahora es que comprendo
Que aunque pase lo que pase
Yo sere puertoriqueño
Yo sere puertoriqueño
Por donde quiera que ande, oh
Por que lo llevo en la sangre
Por herencia de mis padres
Y con orgullo repito
Yo te quiero Puerto Rico
Yo te quiero Puerto Rico
That sentiment is a testament to the love we as puertorriqueños have for our island/nation. It’s not always understood by those around us. Some do get it and have seen our reaction to this living human tragedy back home.
Hurricane María wreaked havoc on the island, causing a level of widespread destruction and disorganization paralleled by few storms in American history. Weeks after the storm abated, most of the island’s residents still lack access to electricity and clean water. Those are the immediate concerns.
After Hurricane María we’ve heard it all. No tenemos agua. No tenemos luz. Nos quedamos sin casa. And it has broken our hearts. The media, surprisingly, has been extraordinarily responsible in covering Puerto Rico’s plight. Thousands have donated to help the victims on the island. But just as many have moved on. And who can blame them? It is the world as we know it. Tragedies and natural disasters occur on a more frequent basis than should ever be the case.
But I can tell you with certainty that there isn’t a single puertorriqueño in New York or anywhere in the diaspora who can say that they haven’t been and continue to be affected by what María has done. The majority of our amigos and neighbors in New York and other parts of the mainland have seen the footage, read the stories and understand that Puerto Rico was destroyed.
Since the Sept. 20 landfall assault, the stories abound. Most are personal, whether it’s a family member who died or a childhood neighbor who lost his home. Or the destruction of their hometown. Or finding out that the house where their abuelos raised their mamá, papá, tío or titi in no longer standing. It’s been never-ending.
Then there are the macro concerns. They came quickly, right after María tore the island apart. Trying to get through to our loved ones by the modern technology we’re accustomed to was impossible for most. Frustration was immediate. ¿Estarán vivos? At some point, that was the question we all had. Are they alive?
No one has escaped the desperation. Our loving viejos have been calmer than most of the middle-aged and younger folks. The octogenarians, who among us were the only ones to have seen Mother Nature unleash its wrath on our isla when they were jóvenes, have been calmer but still fazed. We’ve heard them say things like, “Así nos criamos.” Their reference is to the scarcity of food, water, shoes and even medical care to which they were born. “Y aquí estamos.” And here we are.
After almost two months, Puerto Rico is nowhere near recovery. There’s plenty of blame to go around. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been shamefully neglectful in their lack of urgency to restore basic needs to the citizens of Puerto Rico. The infamous Federal Emergency Management Agency has lived up to its reputation of ineptness and unequaled expertise at screwing up whatever they touch. The massive bureaucracy has wasted billions since it was formed. There are millions of people for whom electrical power has yet to be restored. Even the donation efforts have left questions about who is receiving the funds and items.
There’s an abundance of well-placed concern. This isn’t the typical “ay, bendito” lamenting for which we are known. Our concerns bear frustration and anger and at times border on despair based on the treatment exhibited by Washington, D.C.
To make things worse, we've been on the receiving end of insults by the current occupant of the White House, whose lack of empathy is only surpassed by his shallow ego and the tangled myriad of damaged brain cells.
Nevertheless, for those of us who are puertorriqueños, it’s still an open wound. It goes beyond the anger of having our compatriotas living without agua. Hundreds of thousands on the island have had to share bottles of water. Some are drinking contaminated water. Never mind that we are “American” citizens. Puñeta, we are human beings.
Our collective pain is constant. What will become of my island/nation? We know that our small but great terruño in the Caribbean is no longer the same. There have been predictions that recovery may take 100 years. Others point to how slow the recovery from Superstorm Sandy has been in New York City, as if that’s supposed to comfort us.
Never mind that we are “American” citizens. Puñeta, we are human beings.
But we have not lost hope. It's not in our nature. It's not in our blood. We are a resilient people. A proud people. A competitive people. Somos hospitable. Just listen to stateside volunteers who traveled to Puerto Rico tell stories of victims offering them the little they have.
Puerto Rico has been represented by world-class athletes in boxing, baseball, tennis and golf who have waved our bandera. The same with our artists. Performers, musicians, singers, poets, authors, journalists, scientists, entrepreneurs and even a member of the Supreme Court of the United States, to name but a sampling of those who inspire us and make us orgullosos to be puertorriqueños.
Somehow, the “and here we are” pronouncement by our elders gives us comfort. We want to do as much as we can to assist puertorriqueños on la isla overcome this. We are familia.
We know now more than ever that we are puertorriqueños and it’s in our sangre and hearts.
Initially, we hoped that our novice governor had all of this under control. That Ricardo Rosselló would enact his master plan for responding to the hurricane that wouldn’t spare his birth place. We soon found out he wasn’t ready. There was no master plan. However, he's been wise enough to seek help. Neoyorquinos have responded. Andrew Cuomo has stepped up beyond my personal expectations of him as governor. There’s more to be done for sure.
We have done a lot of praying. Tears will continue to flow. This pain doesn't subside. It lingers. Some of us won't live long enough to see the rebuilding of our island/nation completed.
But, we know that today we more Somos than ever. We’re the heirs of Taínos, African slaves, French warriors, pirates and españoles.
Throughout our history we have survived all. We don’t give up. Because we know now more than ever that we are puertorriqueños and it’s in our sangre and hearts. Te queremos Puerto Rico and we shall rise:
No importa el tirano te trate
Con negra maldad
Preciosa seras sin bandera
Sin lauros, ni gloria
Somos, more than ever.
NEXT STORY: Gov. Andrew Cuomo talks Puerto Rico