When I was younger I remember talking in History class about the waves of migration from Puerto Rico to various parts of the US. There were the islanders recruited to work on the sugar plantations in Hawaii in the early years of the 20th century. There were the Puerto Ricans recruited to work in contruction and other matters related to the war effort during WWI. There were the various waves from the island to New York City, that started in the last years of Spanish colonial rule and intensified during "Operation Bootstrap" in the 1950's.
History never stops and the outflow has continued. There are Puerto Ricans all over the United States now, and the demographic component of these migrant waves has evolved as the social and economic landscape of the island evolved. The drain of workers from the island to the mainland exists at all job levels. Economic conditions in Puerto Rico are challenging, to put it mildly. The growth of the Hispanic population in the United States has created a need for bilingual workers. Put those two together and the exodus is understandable. Educators, policemen, doctors, nurses, engineers, business professionals, skilled laborers and service industry workers, these days everybody leaves. According to some estimates, 1,000 Puerto Ricans leave the island every week. I am one of them.
I left the island on the last day of March in the year 2000. I left for the same reasons that many others have. I wanted a better life for my family. I wanted a better salary and better opportunities for growth than I had available on the island. My company offered me a promotion, a salary increase and paid relocation to Texas. I could not refuse that. On the island I was a secretary, because that is the only job I could get as a History major who did not want to be a teacher.
I was not naive. I knew the United States is not the land of milk and honey. I knew there are good things and bad things about this country, just as there are good things and bad things about Puerto Rico. I knew sometimes there is discrimination against us, a whole host of negative stereotypes that some ignorant people in this country decide to attribute to the Puerto Rican people. But I knew my worth, that I could stand tall and feel proud of myself. I also knew my circumstances were very priviledged, compared to what many people who preceded me in this jump had to face.
It has been interesting, living outside the island. Life has been good so far. I am still with the same company, and I have gone up the ranks since I got here. I remarried and I have a second daughter. I have made good friends. I live every day with the awareness that I am not among my people, but I have met a lot of people from many countries who experience the same. There is a sense of kinship with my Pakistani and Mexican neighbors, with my Argentinian, Brazilian, Panamanian and Colombian coworkers, and with the other Puerto Ricans I have met in Houston. I am not alone.
The Puerto Rico etched in my memory is that of the late twentieth century. There was no tren urbano yet, no reggaeton. It has been almost three years since my last visit and I miss it so much it hurts. Sometimes I dream of sitting on the steps at the base of La Rogativa, or on the rocks by La Puerta de San Juan. I can almost feel the cool breeze against my skin, the warmth of the sun; I can almost hear the sound of the waves of San Juan Bay.