The plane lands at Luis Muñoz Marín Airport. The passengers erupt in spontaneous applause. No matter how many times I go back home, it never ceases to amaze me. Puerto Ricans so happy that in only minutes they will walk out and, like returning sons and daughters, defy the ending of the tearful national anthem of the Boricua diaspora. En Mi Viejo San Juan. Before la muerte summoned them, they made it back.
This certainly doesn’t happen on a Virgin Atlantic plane landing in Heathrow. Nor on a United Nations chopper slicing its way from Lungi to Freetown, Sierra Leone. Even less arriving in San Salvador in the midst of a civil war. But it does happen when you are wheels down in Macondo.
The clapping brought back memories of years spent flying back home from university for the holidays. Barry White’s “Love’s Theme” was the soundtrack as the row of palm trees and buildings came into view. I would get this feeling, like when you have run a long race and are at the finish line. I would time how long it would take me to get to my parents’ house, throw the luggage on the floor, put on my bathing suit and plunge into the sea. That was the ritual. I wasn’t home until I was in the water, with that song in my head.
This time, the soundtrack was most definitely not “Happy,” by the guy with the hat. I flew home to see my mother, who is poorly. Very poorly, indeed. But, as a strong Puerto Rican woman, she is agarrada de un clavo caliente, refusing to entregar las armas. Courageously raging against the dying of the light.
Not going gentle into that dark night. Tough times, but I count myself lucky that I am present and by her side. Ley de vida.
My sister Betsy came to pick me up at the airport in a rented car and the strangest of GPS. In English, but pronouncing avenues and streets in an incomprehensible Spanish. ¿Avenida qué? ¿Qué dijo la tipa esa? ¿Avenida qué carajo para ir a la qué? We were on our way to Dorado and, being the daughters of the Diaspora, frankly had less than a clue how to get to Chateau Maldonado, where we were staying. It is then that I realized that hardly anything is sign posted on the island anymore. No signs. Nowhere. It’s like we had gone back in time, foliage covering everything. And just like that, Aureliano Buendía in front of the firing squad came to mind.
Macondo era entonces una aldea de veinte casas de barro y cañabrava construidas a la orilla de un río de aguas diáfanas que se precipitaban por un lecho de piedras pulidas, blancas y enormes como huevos prehistóricos. El mundo era tan reciente, que muchas cosas carecían de nombre, y para mencionarlas había que señalarlas con el dedo.
At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which where white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them, you had to point.
The closer we got to Dorado, the more I realized that, like Macondo, Puerto Rico was now a place where times flows, stops and reverses, and anything is possible. It is not a circus because it cannot afford a tent. Time has stopped and the clock has started ticking backwards. We passed home after home, abandoned, with a Se Vende sign outside. As the sun set, the light bounced off the empty husks covered in graffiti and trash. In an island jammed packed with vehicles, very little traffic on the road.
Moody’s, Standard and Poor’s, la colonia miasma, Agapito and the reds and blues have sent waves of people running to the airport to get the hell out of Dodge. The island feels empty. Like a malaise together with the chikungunya has descended on it. The sound of the coquí echoing in an empty room. Between 2000 and 2010, the island’s population has decreased by 2.2 percent, the first time in its history. Surprisingly, the birth rate is at its lowest ever. The prospect of a Ricky Rosselló, complete with a year’s worth of hair gel and his father’s “El Mesía” legacy, as the next governor of Puerto Rico is met with this meme:
Still the island refuses to give up the ghost, and just like my mother, reminds us of its majestic strength.
“Qué pena que sentía, cuando hacia atrás yo miraba, y una casa se alejaba, y esa casa era mía”.—Luis Lloréns Torres
“The pity and sorrow I felt when I looked back. I saw a house fading away, and that house was mine.”—Luis Lloréns Torres
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.
My dear Susanne, you and your special way to make us reminiscence about what it used to be and what it is! I am experiencing a mixture of feelings, Macondo por un lado… Mi Puerto Rico por otro, I am affraid that when I visit, I will feel so dissapointed that I might refuse to go back, but then again, Like your mother, agarrá del clavo caliente… we can’t let go of the hope, that’s all that really keeps it together.