World Policy Journal begins each issue with the Big Question, where we ask a panel of experts to provide insight into the cover theme. The question for the fall 2017 Constructing Family issue is: What values from your parents’ generation would you preserve in a changing world? Below, Giannina Braschi describes how ambition and drive are important not just for an individual, but also for a nation, as Puerto Rico seeks its own path independent of the United States.
By Giannina Braschi
My parents taught me to trust my instincts. My instincts taught me to trust my wisdom. My wisdom taught me to pursue higher standards of expectation, rather than higher standards of living. My grandfather brought cars to Puerto Rico. He built an empire. He told me, “What are you going to build?” “An empire,” I answered. “No, you are useless. What are you going to build?” “An empire,” I repeated, “I’ll build an empire of uselessness.” And I did—I built Empire of Dreams. I admired his ambition, but not his love for money. Children edit their parents, and they can be good editors or bad editors, and they can take the best or the worst, the virtues or the vices. I took the best of my parents, and I took the best of my colonizers. From the Spaniards, I took wisdom. From the Americans, I took ingenuity. And I took what nobody gave me. I took liberties. Whenever someone wants to achieve something, the first thing he does is leave the family. No man is a prophet in his own land. Nativity is the enemy of prophecy—nativity and roots, which do not allow you to become a prophet in your own land, unless you disassociate from the familiarity of family. Whatever I have done of value in my life, I have done it in spite of my family and in spite of my country. I have written the process of the Puerto Rican mind—as a native and as a foreigner—expressing it through Spanish, Spanglish, and English—Independencia, Estado Libre Asociado, and Estadidad—from the position of a nation, a colony, and a state—wishy, wishy-washy, and washy.
For Puerto Rico to achieve its higher standards of expectation it has to leave the United States. It is high time for the United States to set Puerto Rico free. Free from freedom. Free from “feardom.” Don’t grant false options. Make an unalienable right an unalienable right. Liberty is not predicated on an “if.” “If you vote for wishy,” or “If you vote for wishy-washy,” or “If you vote for washy.” Liberty is a not an option. Liberty is a right: the right to self-determination. Why can’t Puerto Rico be the welcoming port of every nation—the site for the United Nations—the island of international diplomacy—capital of the Americas—bridging the North and the South—acting as a beacon of light for immigrants, refugees, and exiles from around the world—tapping new sources of wisdom and ingenuity—inspiring new ways of thinking—harnessing new energies of solar, wind, and sea, to energize new economies and new ways of living—inspiring poets, philosophers, and lovers—to create a culture where the foreigner becomes the native, the native becomes foreign—and a land where foreigners become natives, and natives, foreigners? Languages must be demolished and rebuilt—not on a geographical continent with a boundary called a flag, but in the infinite space of a nutshell.
Giannina Braschi is the author of Empire of Dreams, Yo-Yo Boing!, and United States of Banana. She has taught at Rutgers University, Colgate University, and City College of New York. Braschi writes in Spanish, Spanglish, and English to explore the cultural and linguistic journey of nearly 50 million Hispanic immigrants in the United States. She was born in Puerto Rico and is based in New York.
[Photo courtesy of Ethorson]