People claim to be proud of everything: proud to be an American, proud to be a New Yorker, proud to be a Latino, even proud to be a Puerto Rican – or what’s more, proud to be an American of Puerto Rican descent (whatever that means).
Personally, I would never say I’m proud to be an American, a Latino, a Chicagoan or a Puerto Rican, because such things are only arbitrary labels, meaning they tell other people something about me that I didn’t choose for myself. I didn’t choose to be an American; I was just born here by pure chance. I’m part Puerto Rican, part Honduran, part Sicilian and part Croatian. Did I choose any of that? Of course I didn’t. So why would I feel pride in some random genetic mixing that I just so happen to be the product of?
I sparked a bit of controversy recently when I wrote that there was no such thing as Puerto Rican pride. Maybe I misspoke. What I should’ve said is that there is Puerto Rican pride but it’s unfounded.
A person shouldn’t be proud of what other people do just because they share something in common. Ramón Emeterio Betances was a great man, but I take no credit for his efforts to see a free and independent Puerto Rico just because I’m Puerto Rican; just as I don’t feel any pride for Roberto Clemente’s lifetime batting average. They and they alone are allowed to be proud of their lives and their achievements (and if you’re wondering: as an American, I don’t take credit for Thomas Paine’s work, as much as I want to).
That said, at most, I appreciate being Puerto Rican. I appreciate what being Puerto Rican means: the island’s history, people, culture and sheer beauty. I have no pride in such things, because I had no hand in bringing them about; Puerto Rico and its people would remain the same, with or without my developing existence.
Perhaps there are some things about puertorriqueñidad that Puerto Ricans can find pride in, but if so, Puerto Rican history isn’t one of them (we weren’t there), Puerto Rican culture isn’t one of them (we were only handed it), the island isn’t one of them (proud of a plot of land?) and the language isn’t one of them (don’t get me started).
Puerto Ricans cannot be proud of what Puerto Rico is, only what it does and, consequently, what it will become. Pride can only be given to decisions and achievements.
At the moment, Puerto Ricans do not have self-government and remain, as former Puerto Rican Supreme Court Chief Justice José Trías Monge termed it, “the oldest colony in the world.”
Since the people of Puerto Rico continue to vote for colonial status, I can say confidently that there is no such thing as Puerto Rican pride, because a people who elect to live without the basic right of self-government can be said to be utterly abject.
This November, Puerto Ricans will be given a chance to change all that with a referendum to decide their future political status. If they elect to keep the current arrangement intact, then Puerto Ricans everywhere will have one less thing to be proud of.