Every migration has its push and pull factors. The current Puerto Rican migration narrative mostly speaks of a colonial fiscal crisis pushing people in droves to US cities in search of jobs and opportunities. My maternal grandparents were part of the last mass migration. They crossed el charco from Ponce to East Harlem in 1950. My husband and I had jobs and opportunities in our hometown of New York City. We also had push factors. In 2014, recognizing the grass was not as green as they claimed it to be, we uncrossed this very charco back to the land of my ancestors.
Here in the northwestern part of the island, with the US Air Force base in Aguadilla and the surfing hotspot of Rincon, another migration narrative is familiar. North American “expats” arrive successful financially, if not rich, or at least economically stable. Unsatisfied with the daily grind, they push in search of a place where they can connect to nature and be closer to bluer, warmer waters. Others are snow birds or surfers. They come in winter months, escaping the northern cold and riding the swollen surf. They leave when the stateside summer Rican-cationers arrive, when the surf goes flat.
My migration narrative begins with having been born in the place that colonized my parent’s birthplace. You identify with a faraway home that you barely know. You identify with the Brooklyn that bred you with all its flavors. You are then displaced from your hometown as gentrifiers like millennial conquerors come colonizing. Your hometown peels away one layer at a time. In contemplating the push factors that bumped me from Brooklyn to Queens and back to Borikén, my migration/ repatriation narrative goes a little something like this:
Like the twin towers torn from your childhood skyline.
Like the red and white checkered gas tanks of the Queens skyline replaced with some weird bulbous, extra-terrestrial onion-looking jawns.
Like hip hop gone mainstream and black/brown outlaw youth innovation co-opted.
Like the buffed chrome of subway trains where memorial pieces of color and consolation have been erased.
Like punk gone bubble gum, CBGBs boarded up, its pit gone silent.
Like a white hipster cutting you on line at a pizzeria in Bed Stuy. Wanting to fight but “Do[ing] the Right Thing” means you just cut back.
Like white hipsters yelling at you for walking on the bike lane trying to cross the Williamsburg bridge to catch up to the Free Oscar march. Your outing to take your niece to her first march includes her watching you going off on, cursing out white privilege on wheels.
Like 75% of your paycheck going towards rent and the other 25% or less being used to scrape by.
Like that nice consultant fee with no benefits. You try to buy health insurance out of pocket but your “pre-existing condition” pregnancy makes you and the father ineligible.
Like being told you should lie and say your “baby daddy” ain’t in the picture in order to get assistance with prenatal care. See even though they talk shit about our men abandoning their babies, there are no rewards for those who stay as exemplary fathers or for those men who raise their babies alone.
Like moving into a bigger, more expensive apartment at 6 months pregnant then the market crashes and you’re laid off and left income-less.
Like being pregnant and unemployed, watching Michael Moore’s Sicko and how French moms get government help with their babies, the laundry and cooking. You think “what the hell are we doing here anyway?!”
Like birthing your baby on your sofa not because you’re a fearless hippy but because it was more affordable than the hospital and the hospital is where you accompany your brother to battle cancer. But despite your fears, birthing at home with a midwife and doula taught you just how fucking invincible you really are and you vow to live fearless forever!
Like the months you spent putting wool socks over your newborn’s hands because even though you gave up most of your check, your landlord still wouldn’t give heat.
Like having to stroll your baby’s carriage down wide avenues with zipping cars because snowy streets are shoveled into sidewalk glacier barricades that carriages cannot climb.
Like driving home in the rain with two babies and groceries that you must unload to the 2nd floor but the nearest parking spot is two blocks away.
Like your babies’ heads glued to a frozen window squeezing every last bit of sight of their dad disappearing down the long block en route to the A train.
Like him running through the door and into their room after work to find you shaking your head, closing a bedtime book, whispering, “sorry babes, they just knocked out.”
Like watching your friends fall away as work, life and babies render you unavailable to socialize.
Like watching artist circles close up and continue without you because virtually nothing seems to be scheduled with babies or their mommies in mind.
Like realizing that all those things you thought you were an integral part of do just fine without you.
Like your childhood Rockaway boardwalk washed away by the hurricane and replaced by concrete and smoothie shops.
Like suddenly feeling buoyant in this place you thought you were anchored to and finding yourself caught in some ill Rockaway rip current drifting further from the shore.
Like speaking of your island as a far away romantic lover that you occasionally visit and sleep with but won’t commit to.
Like watching loved ones’ deferring dreams, beat down by the work-pay-struggle-sleep-repeat grind.
Like your elders’ plans to retire to Borikén, but cancer has claimed one yet again.
Like being told you have everything you need but knowing you still feel hollow and incomplete.
Like campaigning to free your political prisoners but knowing deep inside they’re freer than you.
Then one day you drive down Cross Bay blvd en route to the sea. You tear when you see the craft store and next to it the deli where your brother bought his cigars. You pass the spot that he parked at post-chemo to watch the seagulls and surf when he could no longer fish. You think of how you should call each of his friends and check in and then you realize that this life of his has passed. You realize those were his friends not yours. This neighborhood was his not yours. You live grief stepping on someone else’s footsteps like a child hitching a Gran Combo salsa dance ride on her uncle’s feet.
You arrive at the sunset to find frozen people, gazing into the cosmos on a cold ass beach. You look out west, see the sunset and realize you did this a few years ago in Rincon, looked out in the same direction at this same sun. You realize your brother did this repeatedly, watched this sun rise then set. They and you, all spirits standing here contemplating their source, some of us incarnate and cold, others floating beyond, borderless.
You get the urge to travel. You get the sense your time here is done. You think, why fear leaving here? You will still be under the same sky looking at the same sun, just a bit warmer.
Here you will find me
On the mistaken side
Of a crossed border
I must uncross
Under a sunset
Awaiting a starless night sky
With only the moon as my guide
(Journal excerpt: 5.27.13)