Puerto Rico’s Identity Crisis Defines Me.

1Isabel Nicole Otero Hernandez,
Silver Spring, MD.

I was born in Puerto Rico to a Cuban Mother and a Puerto Rican Father. The summer I turned 10 my family moved to Jacksonville, FL, and only a year later moved again to a small town to the north: Ringgold, Georgia. When people ask me where I am from, I usually laugh and tell them I have a huge identity crisis, but if what they’re looking for is a label that I am a Southern Cuba Rican –or something along those lines.

I often explain that it’s hard to be from three places at once. I know nothing of Cuba except what I read and research, or from the stories I hear from mostly Bautista-fan family expats. I know some about Puerto Rico because I took some of the culture with me. The picture I’ve shared is that of my family members currently in the states. We all seem to leave behind the island we love, and the place where we feel at home, for the stability and economic freedom that comes from living in a place like Red State Georgia. I know enough about the South to feel as though it’s almost home. I often find myself calling people classists and elitists when they criticize and generalize my beloved South, but almost as many times I find myself cringing at the news on TV describing the politics and culture of the South.

When I heard about this project, I instant thought it was an interesting exercise. I found myself one morning at my work computer writing the first 6 words that came to my mind. “Puerto Rico’s identity crisis defines me” just flowed out from my fingertips, and I thought it was worth sharing. To me, Puerto Rico has an identity crisis. I feel like I can credibly criticize and protect it because I have the odd dual identity of someone who is fully bilingual, feels fully Puerto Rican, but also feels fully American and very much Southern. The pride I feel in both my countries and both my regions leads to a lot of disappointment in both and a lot of excitement to visit them both. I find myself fascinated by Puerto Rican culture and Southern culture because my perspective gives me insight into those things that I find people don’t notice very easily. For example, I’ll go back to the South and feel at home only to hear, “You know you only got into the University of Georgia because you’re Hispanic.” All of the sudden, a Southern white woman who is like a second mother to me distills my identity to fit her reality. I suddenly feel like an outsider. Or I go to Puerto Rico for my grandmother’s funeral, and get annoyed at the overt symbols of Latino Machismo – if one more person referred to god as “Papa Dios” I was going to lose it and finish with a feminist rant. It’s been interesting to feel like I’ve grown up in limbo, and I thought I’d share my thoughts with you. I love NPR, and I hope you enjoy my story.

Thank you,
Isabel Otero


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