The other day my friend Laura Homar posted on her Facebook page something that only the members of the Boricua diaspora will understand the Proustian significance of: Mallorcas to Go!
She was celebrating the fact that the Panificadora Pepín had just created a website where we, the ones who left, could now order a tiny piece of home to feed our melancholy, accompanied by Danny Rivera and a crisp Chardonnay.
Mallorcas to go. So many memories coiled around that sweet bread. My thoughts go to the dining table at my grandmother’s, the indomitable Dona Lola Ramírez de Arellano, better known as Mamita. It is four o’clock in the afternoon—“merienda” hour. On the table is an assortment of things: my grandfather Abi’s thick lobster soup, café con leche in large mugs, queso de bola (Edam cheese), Santurce Soda Lemonade. All the smells combined. The blinds drawn against the hot sun, making the shadows refreshing.
My father warns me for the umpteenth time not to drink Abi’s soup. My grandfather used beer instead of water and didn’t cook it to boil. Now I understand why he was in such a good mood after the meal. Mamita emerges from the kitchen, a white cardboard box in her hands. Inside, placed one on top of the other, were the mallorcas—soft, sweet breads shaped like a snail’s shell and tasting of buttery egg, showered with powdered sugar. You take them out ever so slowly so that not a grain of sugar is lost as you put them on the plate. The cheese is cut in small pieces and dropped into the hot coffee, to be eaten melted at the end.
Mallorcas moistened by milky coffee are to Boricuas what madeleines in herbal tea are to Proust: remembrance of things past. Now that delicious piece of Puerto Rico can be delivered to your loft in Bed Sty, right to your door. A loft that is filled with lithographs of Boricua painter Bob Moya, one of his contemporary Alicea in your bedroom and a vejigante that grins at you toothily when you are in the kitchen cooking rice and beans with your homemade sofrito. The series of paintings of fighting roosters done by your husband colorfully line one of the walls. What says Puerto Rico more than them?
Those of us who left did so for different reasons than what is driving the flight now. My generation grew up on a steady diet of “leave, go to a good university in the United States or Europe, and forge a life outside of Macondo.” It was the parental “anything is better than this” school of thought. This is how the initial brain drain began. The drain that now, for very different reasons, has become a diaspora.
The motor of this diaspora: a debt of $72 billion, that gorges on 16% of the total budget. A debt that threatens to eviscerate the country, leaving it without resources and people. A colonial status that leaves us bipolar and angry. A government that resembles the three monkeys: See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil. It imposes a bankruptcy law a la criolla that drives Moody, Standard and Poor’s and Fitch to further catapult us into junk. Politicians spouting stupidities without any reference to the reality of the situation. Cheap party politics between reds and blues whose discourse resembles lines out of Mean Girls. And a governor who is —in the words of UK’s MP Glenda Jackson as she berated Ian Duncan Smith in Parliament— “floating so high on his self-appointed sanctity” that he can’t see a disaster as it hurtles towards him.
Pitusa bankrupt. Pitusa! The metro bus and the urban metro are now more expensive. So if you lost your car because you could no longer pay for it, there is a lovely pair of skates in your future. On top of that, the Mayors Association asks for leniency for the mayor of Río Grande, who has just been arrested by the federales for corruption and death threats. Or as Eddie López in the voice of Cándido Flores would say: he was caught with the hands in the mass. Of course they asked for time—because they must all be covered in the same fowl smelling wrong doing.
Meanwhile, the local press front pages plastic pools in low-income housing, Mari Pili and yet another fatal accident in Toa Baja. There is no analysis, no thought nor responsibility. They are a caricature that live in a world of “Pa’ arriba, Papi Pa’ arriba”, that doesn’t recognize that the “palo encebao” is the economy, the narcotrafficking, the violence and the apathy. They only exist for some hollow ratings that mean nothing as Puerto Rico sinks.
It’s only a matter of time before our new madeleines will be “More Boricuas Will Go.”
Susanne Ramirez de Arellano is the former News Director for Univision Puerto Rico and a writer and journalist living in New York City. She has a blog in El Nuevo Día called Susanne en la Ciudad. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow Susanne on Twitter @DurgaOne.