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By Danny Cerezo | Architect, Developer, and Entrepreneur | candsdesign.com
I’ve never cried when the USA has a won a medal at the Olympics. I’ve been proud, but never brought to tears.
Yesterday, I did cry.
It wasn’t because the USA had won yet another gold. No, it happened when Germany’s Angelique Kerber’s last shot went wide and Monica Puig of Puerto Rico won the women’s tennis final at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
It is Puerto Rico’s first gold medal. It is the first time the national anthem of Puerto Rico has been played at any Olympics.
As Monica crouched on the court, her face buried in her hands, crying with joy, I cried along with her. I’m not ashamed of that. I’m not ashamed of the fact that when they played it, I didn’t’t know the words to the Puerto Rican national anthem. I’m not ashamed that I had to ask a friend what the national anthem was called. La Borinqueña in case you were wondering.
I was proud. Proud of Monica. Proud of Puerto Rico.
There was a part of me though that felt, for lack of a better word, guilty. Why had I never cried like this for the USA?
You see, I’m an American. I was born in New York City. I was raised here. I served my country in the US Navy for 16 years; during Desert Storm in 1991 and more recently in the Middle East. This country has been good to me and my family and I love it dearly. With all of its warts, blemishes, and imperfections, I can’t think of anywhere else in the world I’d rather live. It’s my home.
However, I’m an American of Puerto Rican descent. My mom is from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. I was born in 1971 and grew up in the Puerto Rican enclaves of New York City like Brooklyn and the Bronx. Salsa was the first music I can remember hearing. The Puerto Rican flag was everywhere when I was growing up. In the barrio, people ran clotheslines from the roofs of buildings on either side of the street and hung Puerto Rican flags from them. I grew up eating Puerto Rican food. I had never heard of Pink Floyd, but I knew who Hector Lavoe and El Gran Combo were. I considered myself a Puerto Rican who just happened to growing up in America.
It was only later as I grew up and started venturing outside of NY that I realized I was something else. I was a hybrid of a true Puerto Rican. I was in fact a NuyoRican. This is a Puerto Rican who may be descended from islanders, but is born and raised in New York City. I spoke spanish, but not good spanish. I loved all things Puerto Rico, yet I had never been there. Even worse, I could only name a few cities in my mom’s home country: San Juan, Mayaguez, and Ponce.
I suddenly felt what I’m sure many 2nd generation immigrants feel, whatever country they’re from. I felt like I belonged to no place. Americans saw me as Puerto Rican, and Puerto Rican islanders saw me as a NuyoRican, not truly Puerto Rican.
That all started to change when I met my wife, who is actually Italian (born and raised), but had spent the last 10 years of her life living in Puerto Rico. Her mother lived there. Her uncle lived there. Her grandmother lived there. None were Puerto Rican. Still, she knew more about Puerto Rico than I certainly did. Heck, when I first met her I thought she was Puerto Rican!
Pamela took me to Puerto Rico for the first time when I was 29. She showed me San Juan, the old and the new. She showed me Hato Rey. Luquillo. Ponce. Mayaguez. El Yunque. La Placita de Santurce. Los kioskitos. She took me to a dozen other places, and of course, she took me to experience the absolute beauty and majesty that is Culebra.
During that first trip (and there have been many more since) I fell in love not only with my future wife, but with an island I had loved from afar. Her people, the Puerto Rican people, are the most friendly, joyful, and giving people you will find anywhere. If you’re reading this, and you’re not Puerto Rican, but you know a Puerto Rican, ask yourself, what kind of person are they? I would bet they love to laugh, they smile a lot, and always enjoy the most out of life. When they welcome you into their home, it’s as if they’ve known you for years. Nothing is withheld, all is yours.
My heart was captured by this small island in the Carribean and although I wasn’t born there, and I certainly wasn’t raised there, I felt at home.
Which brings me back to yesterday’s women’s tennis final and Monica Puig. What Monica did was as she said, she “united a nation.” There is much suffering and pain going on there right now for reasons that you can read about somewhere else.
Monica brushed that aside, if only for a moment.
My wife happens to be in Puerto Rico this very week and she said the country was at a stand-still. Everyone was focused on that match. All hearts were with Monica.
And she did it. She won. Her first gold medal. Puerto Rico’s first gold medal.Our first gold medal. La Borinqueña was introduced to the world.
So as I cried on my sofa, watching Monica cry, I felt a bit of guilt because I hadn’t shed these same kinds of tears for my home, the U.S.
For that, I can only apologize and I truly don’t know what I can say. I can’t explain it. Maybe that’s why I’m writing this post, to somehow try to answer that question. I feel at this very second that I have failed.
What I can say is that this NuyoRican’s heart is with Monica Puig, the Puerto Rican people, and most of all, that teeny tiny island that is for me, a wonder of the world.
Thank you Monica.