Friday, 22 September 2017

Diáspora. Group of people displaced from the homelands, for any reason. Diáspora echoes of exile. Diáspora is a consequence of violence, war, economic disaster, hunger, dreams for a better future, love. When I left Argentina at age nineteen, I never believed I wouldn’t go back to live there again. In my heart, I wanted to study, improve myself, and go back home to help my country. I never imagined that soon after I arrived in Utah, I would meet a Puerto Rican man that I would love so much, I was willing to not go back to my country, to stay in the United States, our common ground. Although I love this country where we live, I’ve never been whole-souled again. I’m forever torn. As diáspora people, flown about like dandelion fluff, we took roots here among the mountains. So many things keep us here: work, school, the need for our kids to belong in one place.

In the years we’ve been married, I’ve grown to love his island home. We go back often, and it’s my dream to make Puerto Rico our home one day. We have friends and family there. I love Old San Juan and la isla. I love the food, the people, the sounds, the smells.

And then hurricane Maria hit. One doesn’t need to know a Puerto Rican to feel anguish at their situation. As members of the human family, the sorrow of one is the sorrow of all. This tragedy fell on us on the heels of the earthquake in Mexico. I stayed up all night, thinking of those people under the rubble, and those in their homes, alert as the wind started screaming.

Ever since hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico, I’ve been glued to the radio, Radio Isla 1320, trying to get news from my husband’s family in San Sebastián, our friends in the metropolitan area, and the country in general. Today the island’s illustrious children, the athletes, artists, singers, and actors, sent out their call to help rebuild the island. As people in the diáspora, they’re anguished at seeing images of the destruction and not being able to be there with their people to help or to hear that their loved ones are safe.

Then there are the other children of the diáspora, the ones who left because the eleven-year-old recession and insecurity made it unbearable to stay. They’ve been calling the radio asking for information, any information at all, about their pueblos and their family and friends. They leave messages to their people like messages in a bottle, hoping that someone will pick them up and pass them along. They want to know about their elderly parents and grandparents. There are so many viejitos in Puerto Rico who either refused to leave their island no matter what the political and economic situation is (they’ve seen it all, and Puerto Rico always keeps going), or those who couldn’t leave because of their fragile health.

The children of the diáspora calling the radio send words of love with broken voices and stifled tears. With guilt for leaving, for not being home to hold their loved one’s hand as the wind shrieked and tossed the island like a rag doll. I understand that guilt. When Argentina’s economy collapsed in 2001 and the country had six presidents in one week, and then hunger swept through the country like a machete, I felt guilty that I was spared because of the distance. I felt guilty that all I could do was send a donation that in my heart was so small, so tiny.

The radio host tries to soothe their anguish, to remind them that the Good Shepherd will protect His people. He passes on the messages, and tries to reassure the sorrow stricken children of Borinquén who want to swim across the ocean, who want to grow wings and fly home to help rebuild the island.

Puerto Rico will be re-built. I have no question about that. Like the Mexican people, who remove the rubble with bare hands if there’s hope of saving one more life, Puerto Rico will rise from the mud and destruction, and I want the world to prepare itself to witness the greatness that will shine from this sorrow. Los boricuas are stronger than any hurricane.

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Yamile Saied Mendez

Yamile (sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez is a fútbol-obsessed Argentine-American, Picture Book, Middle Grade, and Young Adult author.

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