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When I was Puerto Rican

"El fanguito," or the little mud pile is, or was an 'arrabal' a place like the favelas in Brazil. An unstructured extremely poor housing. This one, the mud pile apparently stank quite a lot. I was very young when it was razed down and it's inhabitants moved to public housing. But still if the wind hits you just right you can smell the mangrove smell of decay.

Today, I smell that smell so strongly. I'd been saying how one of the advantages of a crisis like the one Puerto Rico is facing is that you can't deny it. You can't hide from the reality of it. Yet apparently you can. At least on my family denial is alive and well. Suddenly, having to defend one's position that staying in "el fanguito" is maybe not such a good idea, you can't stop smelling the scent of decay.

Like a wizard, one creates the future out of the imagination, whole cloth. Then draws the present there. Otherwise one plods along the available roads and if they all suck you are stuck. But if one fires away towards a new goal, a new life, a new reality, one can go off the road and make way with one's own walking. One's will can breach the way and create anything, even greatness and excellence out of standing in a mud pile.

Yet when I encounter someone stuck in their denial, you feel so alien for knowing it's not enough for you. Feel accused of something for seeking something more. And suddenly you realize that you're in a 'fanguito' plodding in the watery mud that smells of dead dreams and passive-agressive powerlessness.

Shit.

Now what?

Is 'el fanguito' even worth saving? Or is it better to just leave the deniers in their perfect little world contend with a worse murder rate per-capita than Mexico? With a failing school system with a massive desertion problem? A place where the public library was called "Borders" and it closed. With a male population so ill prepared academically that the Army has trouble admiting them.... How can people even be content with this? I don't know, and too seek an answer to that is to enter a labyrinth of circular thoughts like those in the stories of Borges.

How can a place with such great people produce such an abundance of deniers?? And what do we call these deniers? Luddites denying the technological reality of today? Philistines content in their inbred ignorance?

I mean really! Who gives a snot if it's 'Guaynabo city' or 'Gobierno de Puerto Rico' vs. 'Ciudad de Guaynabo' or 'Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico'? How is that even remotely important? The words are not relevant, it is what they stand for. A flag is a useless piece of cloth until people are willing to die to defend it, but not because it's a piece of cloth, but because of the people, the ideals which it stands for.

So what does Puerto Rico stand for? Is the Island of Enchantment itself under a spell? Maybe like me as a child so used to the hard tap water of Puerto Rico that the first time I had bottle water I hated it because it tasted like nothing, because it tasted pure.

I wonder if that's why Esmeralda Santiago, who did live in the actual 'el fanguito', called her book "When I was Puerto Rican."


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