And here lies the crux of the matter: national identities. It's been said often, and I mostly agree, that Puerto Rico doesn't have a national identity. How could we? First the natives of this country were wiped out by the Spaniards and black slaves were brought in. (A mix of races produces a mix of cultures.) When it looked like we would finally have our political rights as Spanish citizens recognized, the U.S. engages them in war and we pass from the hands of one oppressor to the next. With the U.S. came industrialization: instead of us growing and earning our advances on our own, we blazed through that process (in comparison to the years of development it took in many countries). All of these facts factor into our history as a nation, but that history is somehow alien to us because, always, someone else was the mayor player: we're a perpetual colony.
I've always found different countries' traditional garments very interesting, particularly when fashion looks upon its own past and uses them as inspiration. But in my country, the clothing we are told is supposed to have some traditional meaning, the "jíbaro" garb we are required to wear on school events during the holidays, feels like a mock-up of what "traditional garments" should be. What is the point of it, other than the fact that (questionably) similar clothing was worn by the poor farmers that inhabited this island? It does not feel like there is really any history behind it, there is no true sense of "tradition" attached to it. Agriculture has stopped being what it once was and our societal structure has changed a lot since then. Is the point to celebrate our mixed cultural background? What values are we really supposed to feel nostalgia for?
|They even made me wear black face once... I don't even know.|
|"traditional puertorrican clothing" provided by Google Images|
It's like looking at old pictures and not being able to recognize yourself. I think when my nation looks to the past, it sees nothing of what currently characterizes it and nothing worth rescuing. (Who really wants to see someone write another "La Carreta" and hear the tired old dictum to "love your land"?) But, then again, is not having a national identity really a bad thing? I don't think so. This lack of identity has been often cited to point out "What Is Wrong With Our Society", and it doesn't convince me. I think it limits the scope of our understanding -and managing- of our modern concerns. I'd rather consider myself a citizen of the world -and I'm convinced that this is what the future is leading us towards- than have to box myself into some sort of "puertorrican identity". So far, the only theorization of our identity that I agree with is Mara Negron's reading of the Caribbean as "cannibalism": we gorge upon, and regurgitate, the culture of our conquerors. We take it out of context, bring out its contradictions, assemble it in new forms and "make it our own". But in the end, what is the purpose of tradition if there is no real origin? If nothing can be truly "ours"?