On August 4th, 2007 I moved to Puerto Rico after 18 years of living in the United States. I was ten when I left, guided by the hand by my mother, my brother, and my sister. As my studies progressed through high school, college, and graduate school, I have never regretted the decision to move to the United States, but slowly the need to return overcame any other desire. Now I find myself here, living in el Viejo San Juan and looking at life from a different perspective.
For those uninitiated with life in Puerto Rico, I should first explain how similar everything is to the United States. similar however does not mean "same". I am typing this at a Starbucks, on a city square called La Plaza de Armas. In one corner there is a Marshalls, in another a Wendy's, a Subway, a Walgreens, and a Howard Johnson Hotel. It was not always like this mind you. I can't remember exactly how everything used to look, but where the Marshall's is there used to be a Gonzalez Padin. That was the Bloomingdales of Puerto Rico. Every Christmas they would arrange the most spectacular store window with every imaginable Christmas scene you could think of. Now its gone. Somehow, I don't expect the same attention to detail from Marshall's.
There are other businesses, Puerto Rican based businesses like Mundo Taino, which carry Taino inspired artworks at very good prices, I bought a cemi there. Unfortunately this store is one in a sea of souvenir shops hocking everything that China could mass produce with the name of Puerto Rico on it.
But el Viejo San Juan, still belongs to the people. The Piragua carts are still here and the pigeons still have there way with your empanadilla if you get too close. If the world ended tomorrow in a combined hostile takeover by Wal-Mart and McDonald's, I suspect that el Viejo San Juan would be the last bastion of culture left in the world. Because its not for the weak hearted, nor the timid. Its the place where you can still stand in the middle of the street and force the cars to go around you. Its the place where any revolutionary can stand on a park bench and decry all injustices and find an audience to entertain.
Some may ask, what about New York? Fuck New York. I love New York, but this isn't a city built by corporate power or industrial might. El Viejo San Juan is a city built for defense. Encircled by walls at whose ends stand castles, sentinels waiting for the next invasion. This is a city that was never conquered, a city whose only crime has been to allow itself to look like a tourist attraction, when it is in fact the greatest monument to everything that Puerto Rico was, is, and could be.
Let the tourists roam, we will accomodate their needs, but people live here, and here is where the people will always find refuge, whether facing the cannons of Francis Drake or the battleships of the American Navy. This city stands because its people will tell you that they would rather die than live anywhere else, these are the Sanjuaneros.