I just picked up a couple of books from the 50% Off table at the local Barnes and Noble: Puerto Rico: The Four Storeyed Country, and Puerto Rico’s Revolt for Independence: El Grito de Lares. Both books are pretty thin, but look quite interesting.
The first book, The Four Storeyed Country is an essay discussing the roots of Puerto Rican cultural identity as it stood when the book was written in 1980, just about the time when I was born. Of course, in the past 25 years, things have changed a lot, and American influence has so permiated the culture that a Puerto Rico without America is something I have a hard time even fathoming. The fact that I’ve lived in Florida for the past 15 years doesn’t help it any either, despite the number of time’s I’ve visited. As far as I’m concerned, I’m an outsider looking in. Though my family is there, and though I feel at home there, I’m no more at home there than I am here. Nor any less.
The second book, El Grito de Lares, is about the revolution of 1868, when Puerto Ricans revolted in an attempt to free themselves from Spanish colonial rule.
In the last few months, I’ve started to look for information on Puerto Rico’s history, the longing of which comes vis-a-vis my living in South Florida, where Latin American culture is more prevalent than the American. Here it’s easy to find folks from all over the Americas. Miami, of course, is known for its Cuban population, and Ft. Lauderdale seems to be the city of choice for Colombians and Venezuelans. (Although other countries are also represented, in this area these are the most prevalent.)
But recently, a few family members came over from Puerto Rico and it was… strange. The type of Spanish they spoke was so clean to me, their accent so natural that any other Spanish I hear sounds foreign. Not that I don’t understand it. I do. At least most of the time, when it isn’t shouted out at 400 words per minute in the heat of an argument about how Castro’s socialized system affects Germany’s AirBus. (Long story, don’t ask.) But the Puerto Rican accent is what I was raised with and to me doesn’t even sound like a language, so much as it sounds like communication. Let me see if I can explain it in a better way:
Whenever I speak English, I know I’m speaking a language. It comes to me quickly, and seemingly naturally. But it never comes out in a way that to me says “communication.” Instead, each word comes out as a coherent description of the thought I wish to communicate, like describing a paining very well. Spanish, insofar as the Cuban, Colombian, or Mexican varieties are concerned feels the same way, even though it usually takes a bit more thought and labor than the English. French is the same way. All of these are languages, but they’re not necessarily communication.
Puerto Rican Spanish, on the other hand, sounds to me like communication itself. It is not a language, per se, at least not in my mind, so much as it is the vessel of communication. To put it bluntly, it’s just natural. It feels like home when I hear it, when I feel it, and when I produce it. It feels right, like breathing clean air, not labored or even analytically scrutinized.
Anyway, I’ll read these books and put my thoughts to webpage as soon as I do.