I had seen it before, in my days as an NYU student commuting from my project building in South Brooklyn to West 4th Street on the D train. It served as a reminder of what and who I am: a Boricua raised in a working class family and community.
A Puerto Rican flag waves from a set of windows four stories below the top of a high-rise building. It can be seen while crossing the Manhattan Bridge, on the side that gives the bridge its name.
Shortly after ‘Hurricane Sandy,’ when I next took that trip over the 100+ year old structure, the flag had disappeared from sight. It was a disappointment, causing me to feel a sense of loss. From then on, gazing through the scratched glass train window, it was like looking into a void, not focusing on the building, but looking at the space where an object once lied.
Recently, I interviewed for a position in the Williamsburg Leadership Center, a community space opened in Los Sures by El Puente, a human rights organization founded in 1982. As I made my way to Williamsburg’s south side, an unexpected sight became an omen of good fortune: the Puerto Rican flag reappeared, tightly fastened to two window guards.
Now, as I make my way to work, I once again reflect on my circumstances and feel a sense of direction. In part I am driven to such deep contemplation because of my strong sense of national identity and my reading of the Puerto Rican nation as incomplete due to its bondage under U.S. colonial rule. In a sense, when I look at the flag I begin to understand my own self also as a work in progress, ever striving to better myself.
When I see the flag on my way to work, and begin to reflect, it’s a reminder of the soul of a people. A reminder that no matter the odds, I will persevere. It’s as if the flag is saying, to use a popular phrase at my workplace, “¡Pa’lante!”