Some might say that if you look-up the word “pride” in the dictionary what you will find is a picture of an exuberant Puerto Rican holding our one-stared flag attached to a six-foot stick. And if the picture could speak, it would be yelling “BORICUA!!!” Some might say this with a smile or rolling their eyes, but we could care less, because according to us there is something about being Puerto Rican that one who isn’t could ever understand. Puerto Ricans sometimes don’t understand pride ourselves, which can be dangerous. If we learn about our pride, our history, our identity, even partially only, then can we understand our obligation as Puerto Ricans to our fellow compatriots. If we really know who we are, then we could stop the crisis that is swallowing our community – before it is too late.
“How do you expect Puerto Ricans to move back here?” says Manuel Saldaña, 20, rhetorically, pounding his fist on a table, holding a list of phone numbers for vacant apartments in front of him. As he turns to look at me, his sky blue eyes reveals his frustration and a searches for answers, I wonder if we are reaching our last days as a Puerto Rican Humboldt Park.
Manuel had spent the day walking the inner blocks of a community that he once walked everyday, in search for a way to return home from a life of displacement. When he came from the island as a child, he lived in this ‘pedacito de patria,’ but like many other children of Borinquen, moved west to Belmont-Craigan. However, while yearning for the sights and sounds of this concrete tropical homeland, he realized that it is simply too expensive to return. When asked why he wanted to come back, he simply said, “Because I’m Puerto Rican.”
It is not to say “ya se nos vendieron” as some might comment cynically, masking their feelings of hopelessness in the name of “keeping it real” (When has cynicism produced anything positive or helpful?). Humboldt Park is still full of affordable rentals, homeownership programs, and even affordable condos for those who do want to return, but they are dwindling. Puerto Ricans are still one of the largest groups in East Humboldt Park and our political participation in electoral and community issues is unmatched. But for how long? If you are truly proud to be Boricua, you cannot just visit or show that pride once a year with a visit to the park and a cheer during the parade. If there are no Puerto Ricans living here, then there will be no power to make sure that we can justify having a weeklong fiesta, amongst other cultural and political events, organizations, and programs. Come back and Humboldt Park will welcome you with open arms. Stay and Humboldt Park will be thankful. Participate and Humboldt Park will grow and improve. Leave, and it will be only a few years until new residents have enough power in numbers and votes to make sure we have nothing to come back to. What does “Yo Soy Boricua” mean if there is no community to attach it to?