Moana was beautiful but it has made me feel desperately alone. I should have expected it honestly. A story about an isleña girl with songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda? The perfect recipe for a Laura crisis. Everything he writes has an undertone of puertorriqueñidad that is so obvious to me it’s a wonder that I don’t see people write or talk about it more. It was refreshing to watch something for two hours with absolutely no white people in it. Unfortunately, it made me remember I’m constantly surrounded by them and how emotionally exhausting that can be.
There’s so much I can take away from this movie but there was one line throughout it that I haven’t been able to shake. “We were voyagers!” Moana exclaimed when learning about her ancestors. It made me think of el Banco Popular Christmas Special. The last time I actually saw one Wisin & Yandel were still a duo. It always felt to me like the bank trying to squeeze us for more cash, but when I heard that this year it was about Puerto Ricans in the diaspora I needed to see it.
It actually talked about the big migrations from the island to different parts of the US: New York, Chicago, Florida and even Hawaii. You can find boricuas all over the world was the message, and I can vouch for it. This summer when I was in Budapest a middle-aged man heard us talking and we immediately identified each other as compatriotas. It was comforting that halfway across the world my kin was still present.
The special talked about how we found each other in these migrations and formed our own communities. It made me yearn for one of my own. It’s hard here, maybe harder than anywhere else. Most people don’t even know West Virginia is a state. I’m still constantly correcting my friends back home. They ask why I get so defensive. They don’t seem to understand that West Virginia was my own voyage and it’s become a part of me too.
Moana’s father also made me think. He desperately wants to keep his daughter away from the ocean, from exploring. He says everything they could possibly need is on their island. I could go on for pages about the guilt, both self-inflicted and from outside sources, that has come from me leaving my home. Of shaming people into staying for the survival of the island. Even on my Facebook post of me getting into WVU someone told me to remember to come back after becoming a “professional”. As if I’ll actually be that person. And don’t even get me started on #yonomequito. #quitatepalcarajo
For almost two years now the diaspora has been my reality but only recently has it begun to get difficult. I don’t have anyone I can relate to. My friends in WV don’t really understand the guilt and weight of leaving your country in the midst of a crisis and my friends in PR don’t understand how much I miss it and how the time away has impacted me. I feel constantly out of the loop wherever I am. So it was emotionally jarring watching something that resonated so strongly with me when I saw both Moana and the BP special.
Unfortunately I don’t know much about Taínos. I don’t think they were voyagers or nomads of any kind. But their blood still runs through 60% of the Puerto Rican population. Looking at my mother, my sister, it’s clear to me that it runs through me too. Perhaps they were to voyage had conquistadors not murdered most of them. Perhaps it’s their blood now that is driving so many of us to seek new lands and bring our communities with us. Perhaps that’s what I’m supposed to do in West Virginia.
Being first-generation is difficult. You’re in this limbo that few people fully understand anymore. Even the family I have that currently lives in the US only did so after marriage and kids. My uncle who went to college in Tennessee did so with a few of his buddies from back home. None of them endeavored to do it alone. Because that’s not how you do things. And that’s why I did it.
I shouldn’t have to justify the reasons I left. And the homesickness and loneliness I feel shouldn’t be something I should deal with alone as a punishment of some sort. I also shouldn’t be expected or guilted into coming back one day. I would love to return some day to a Puerto Rico I can actually live in. But if and when are dependant on me, not the country. My love for my isla has grown deeper and stronger, but it cannot replace the love I still have to cultivate for myself. Moana’s journey was a dual discovery of her island and herself. I’m still navigating mine.