How I learned to be Puerto Rican
When you are 12 years old you do not think about what it means to be a Puerto Rican, much less a woman. All you can think about is going to the beach, swimming in the river, and completing your homework. Being Puerto Rican comes as easily as breathing. It is not something you ever doubt or question.
All of this changes when you are taken from your island and placed in an environment where you are too brown, too loud, and don’t understand the language. All of the sudden you don’t know where you are, much less what being a Puerto Rican woman means. Everyone around you has a different definition and expectation of how you should look, sound, speak, and act. You are forced to define yourself in ways that you never thought you’d have to.
I never thought about my “Puerto Ricaness” until I moved to the United States. I only thought of myself as Andrea, an older sister, daughter, granddaughter and cousin.
Entering an environment where Puerto Ricans were not the majority, meant that my ethnicity became my identity. I was no longer just Andrea, I was also a Puerto Rican girl, and with that came stereotypes and expectations I never knew existed. I was expected to play role that I had never belonged in. I have had to learn what it means to me to be a Puerto Rican woman. Growing up I was either too Puerto Rican, or too American, never quite fitting into a specific mold.
I am ashamed to admit that when I first moved in to the United States I ran away from my Puerto Rican culture. Wanting to fit in with the “smart” kids in school (mostly white) I ran away from my roots and my language. Throughout my high school years I saw and experienced how others viewed Puerto Rican women as too loud, too angry, too “chonga”, and the term “mira mira” used often to mock and described Puerto Ricans that did not speak English. After being ridiculed for my thick accent publicly, I began to resent my “Puerto Ricaness”. I stopped speaking Spanish for four years, I became overtly critical of Spanish music, and proudly claimed myself as being a “white girl on the inside”. I ran away from anything and anyone that could remind me of Puerto Rico, instead, embracing the idea that being Puerto Rican was bad, that it made me a lesser woman.
It was not until my college years that I began to accept my “Puerto Ricaness” but once again it was a heightened version of who I was. I became friends with Cuban, Colombian, and American friends that accepted and embraced my background. At first it was relieving, finally I didn’t have to deny my heritage, but soon I realized that once again I was playing into the expectations of others on what being Puerto Rican means.
In an attempt to make me feel welcomed and accepted my friends began to push their version of what a Puerto Rican woman is supposed to be. I have never enjoyed reggaeton (I blame my metal head parents) and yet I found myself being constantly asked to sing and dance to it. At parties, the moment Gasolina or any other reggaeton song was played I was expected to get up and dance, and so I did. Pushing aside my own taste in order to make those around me happy, never truly embracing all aspects of my identity.
It was not until my junior year in college when I began to understand what being a Puerto Rican woman meant to me. That year, my family and I went back to Puerto Rico and I was able to experience my culture with a new perspective. I was able to speak with my abuelita, listen to her stories, and drink café. I went back to Jayuya and encounter a town that was full of life and people. I reunited with my cousinz and was amazed by how different each and every one of them are. I spoke to and interacted with women of all backgrounds, shapes, colors, and sexualities.
In my search for my own “Puerto Ricaness”, I forgot that being Puerto Rican can be as easy as breathing. It wasn’t until I was back in my island that I realized that there is not one version of a Puerto Rican woman, there are millions. A Puerto Rican woman can be a rocker, a nerd, a salsera, reggeetonera, gay, bisexual, transgendered, black, or white. We are each unique, strong, passionate women, with our own stories and experiences that shape us into who we are. Being a Puerto Rican woman is more than just meeting expectations, it is about embracing and supporting each other in a world that tries to decide who we are for us.