All Hail the Boricua Diaspora

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"Sea of Flags" mural near "La Division"/ Paseo Boricua in Humboldt Park, Chicago.

“Sea of Flags” mural near “La Division”/ Paseo Boricua in Humboldt Park, Chicago.

Read the first essay explaining the origins and purpose of La Respuesta, here: Diaspora Dreams

Some say that Puerto Rico is just an archipelago of primarily four small islands. Then there are those who define Puerto Rico – and puertorriqueñidad – as extending beyond the Caribbean, reaching as far as Hawaii and Alaska, and all across the continental United States. The latter theory, and political strategy for some groups, is packaged in the slogan “a nation of eight million.” While there is disagreement whether Puerto Rico is an indeed a nation, so is there a contentious debate whether its “exiles” are a part of a larger, imagined community. La Respuesta magazine exists at the crossroads of this discussion.

There are those who may ask, what need is there for a Diaspora-specific publication? The “simple” answer is there are now more Boricuas ‘here’ than ‘there.’ This is an historical moment that signals the need of a space where we can dialogue about living in Diaspora.

Recently, news media outlets are reporting ad nauseam the fact that there are increasing numbers of Puerto Ricans living in the United States outside our historic epicenters. This is not a new phenomenon, but it is gaining attention due to Puerto Rico’s simultaneous population decrease (as well as adding to U.S. white supremacist panic of a return to a “black” and “brown” nation). This has spurred initiatives by Puerto Rico’s government to attract those who have left. I question whether they mean all of us. The answer is probably “no,” especially not the English-dominant “Nuyoricans” who would disrupt essentialist ideas of national purity. And even if they did, would we want to/ could we all “go back” anyway?

This thought evokes a more complex answer to my initial question. Is Puerto Rico truly “home” for the Diaspora? There are many “DiaspoRicans” who feel distinct and different – even ostracized – from our compatriots in the “homeland.” I write all this without the least bit attempt to be “divisive,” but to highlight that these experiences and thoughts are real and need to addressed (and of course not all in this essay). But where? If they are not, then could there be a time when our folks “give-up” on claiming being Puerto Rican altogether or ignore the relevance of doing so? What would that do to those who argue – and which I believe – that we need to be a united front in order to improve conditions in our communities and the Caribbean archipelago?

The issue of language also accentuates this disjuncture of community between Diaspora and archipelago. La Respuesta is a primarily English language publication and intentionally so. We want to communicate directly to Boricuas living in Diaspora; those whose entire or most of their experiences have been in the U.S. Although Spanish is the lingua franca of Puerto Rico, I would claim – as some of our published pieces have – that English and Spanglish are also Puerto Rican languages. I write this with a total understanding of the meaning of English as a tool of U.S. imperial policy and annexationist/ vendepatria dreams. However, note that context is important. In Diaspora, we have breathed new life into English and so have we for Caribbean Spanish (in addition to fighting for its inclusion in our schools).

It is in these veins of thought that I believe La Respuesta is essentially a (re)claiming of our puertorriqueñidad, but one that is more expansive, complex, and therefore rich. In other words, how does anyone expect for us to connect with the Caribbean archipelago and be in solidarity with other (oppressed) peoples, if we do not fully understand our identities in all their beautiful, and sometimes tragic, complexity? One way, among many, is to have a media platform that is an accessible site to chart acts of historical and contemporary self-definition and collective re-imagining. We also take on the responsibility to be protagonists in this process.

Also, just as La Respuesta exists to (re)claim the Diaspora’s place in an expanded Puerto Rican nation, we work to counter the negative portrayal of us in mainstream media and U.S. cultural productions. As you should know, Boricuas have historically been seen through the eyes of others – an imperial gaze, if you will. As a result, we often see ourselves through essentializing and exoticizing, racist stereotypes. Of course, we are not the first to try to address this; we but humbly continue an age-old radical Boricua tradition. What we do offer is a fresh, young, and Diaspora-focused perspective, because as I have argued, that is what we need right now.

We, the staff of La Respuesta, are refreshing in our approach because we are the young progeny of the Diaspora’s radical past, with lessons to look back to, but a path to construct for our own and those after. Many of us have deep connections to our geographic communities and their institutions, but La Respuesta is beholden to no one person, organization, or political ideology. That is exciting. We are a collective experiment in formation just as the Diaspora is a people in the making. But make no mistake, we have some deep core values, both individually and as a magazine, that shines through the words we publish.

Just as we attempt to validate the expansion of a Puerto Rican nation and (re)claim our puertorriqueñidad, we also recognize that even within the Diaspora and Caribbean archipelago there have been many who have been historically excluded from the conversation. This is the reason we proudly publish and encourage the presence and leadership of those from the barrios, mujeres, afrodescendientes, queer and trans folks, and Boricuas living with (dis)ability. And to borrow the words of another Boricua publication for its 40th anniversary, we see “affirming identity as a praxis of solidarity.”

The Boricua Diaspora clearly exists in relationship with other migrant peoples, so while we support our own, we stand in solidarity with others who face similar forms of violence and oppression, whether it happens in Palestine or in the deportation camps or Black communities. And as much as we highlight our “Diaspora-ness,” as I have already discussed we will never forget Puerto Rico and advocating for our familia allá. And we will never, ever abandon those who have fought for its independence, like current political prisoner Oscar López Rivera.

So, on this one year anniversary of the first and only magazine devoted to the Boricua Diaspora I thank you for reading, supporting, submitting, and/ or being a part of this project. It is because of you all that we have a space and role to play in the future of our people, wherever we are and may be.

Help La Respuesta sustain and grow. We do this for nuestra gente with an all volunteer staff. Make a donation, here.

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Xavi Burgos Peña

Xavi Burgos Peña is co-founder of La Respuesta magazine. He is a Boricua/ Dominicano of the Diaspora who has lived his life between New York City and Chicago. His professional experience is mostly in the area of community-building, including youth development, social marketing, and organizing against gentrification. His journalism credits include being editor and chief designer for Que Ondee Sola magazine, columnist for La Voz del Paseo Boricua newspaper, contributor to Gozamos magazine, and guest writer for Claridad newspaper in Puerto Rico. Contact: xavi@larespuestamedia.com 

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