How Moving Away From Puerto Rico Unexpectedly Made Me Feel More Puerto Rican

Nicole Collazo Santana
Nicole Collazo Santana

When you grow up Hispanic, there are certain things that represent your culture as a collective, like quinceañera parties, lively music, even similar foods. But each country is very much different, and people experience their own particular understanding of what their heritage encompasses. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. I never lived through different seasons, I was able to wear the same clothes all year long, and I spoke a version of Spanish that is quite fast along with very unique words other Hispanic countries do not use. Also, Puerto Rico is in the delicate position of being a colony of the United States, which sometimes unties us from our Hispanic neighbors. But I've always felt Hispanic (aka Spanish speaking), Latina (aka from Latin America), and Puerto Rican more than anything.

In the past two years living in the US for college, I have been constantly reminded of my "luck" for having American citizenship. When I speak English, people point out that I don't have an accent. But I know of people who don't speak Spanish at all yet feel as Puerto Rican as me. I use language as a tool depending on where I am and who I am with. When I'm with my family and they all speak Spanish, I'll only speak Spanish. If my boyfriend is around, then I'll serve as a translator and use both languages. In the US, I'll speak English only to English speakers. Being bilingual helps me strengthen my identity, but I understand that is not the only quality of being Hispanic.

Seeing celebrities of different backgrounds who still identified like me made me realize that our "Puerto Ricanness" is a broad collective where we're all equally important. Jennifer Lopez was born and raised outside the island, but Bad Bunny has lived there his whole life. Our backgrounds may not be the same, but intersections of our identities coincide. Even when we look different or talk differently, the portrayal of Hispanic people in the media has grown to be beneficial. There's still progress to be made, but we're heading in the right direction.

All over the world, Puerto Ricans are recognized for our resilience. Most recently after Hurricane Maria affected us in 2017 and this year's protests demanding the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló. Us Puerto Ricans have demonstrated that we will work hard for what we believe in, without any fear. There is still space for growth since these changes are just emerging, but we have come a long way so far. I am constantly moved by all of our efforts, and I'm excited to see where we are headed. Participating in the protests in Puerto Rico was a life-changing experience that strengthened my ties with my culture. As an island, we all united for a common goal. Over a million of us woke up early, made posters, and walked through rain and mud in order to manifest our disappointment with the current administration. This showed me what being Puerto Rican is in our hearts. The collective resilience brought a new light into what we are, what I am, and where I come from.

Being away from home has made me feel even more Puerto Rican. I listen to more Spanish music than I ever did back home. I look for Hispanic food restaurants like my life depends on it — thankfully, there's a lot in New York — and I am the happiest when I spot a Puerto Rican flag while walking down the street. I miss my abuela's food more than anything, and whenever it's so cold in New York that I can't even go outside, all I think of is the warm, humid weather I used to complain about in the island, and I miss it, I yearn for it. I feel my heritage coming with me everywhere I go. Combined, the diaspora and the Puerto Ricans in the mainland define what it means to be a part of our culture. From food to artists to athletes to our very own people, we have so much to offer.

Missing Puerto Rico just makes me realize how lucky I am to have grown up like this. I am extremely proud of my identity and all the great qualities we bring to the world.