My Puerto Rican heritage has always been one of the most influential aspects of my identity. Like most people from our small little island, I was brought up to be proud and celebratory of all the beautiful traditions and cultural customs my grandparents and great-grandparents brought to the mainland from the island. Summers spent visiting family in large cities and small towns across la isla made me love my Puerto Rican-ness even more, having had the chance to see its wonder and history with my own eyes.
I also have tías and tíos who embrace our identity in similar ways. Raised on the island but now in the States, they have Taíno symbols tattooed and proudly displayed on their bodies and make coquito at Christmastime. They don’t let their Latin names fall out of mouths mispronounced, and are the first people to share the “Hit Like If You Love La Isla Del Entanco” and “Proud Puerto Rican” memes on Facebook. You would know that they were Puerto Rican from a mile away. From that same distance, you’d also see their MAGA hats and signs.
I come from a family that includes a few die-hard Trump supporters.
It’s something I do not understand, cannot relate to, and frankly, find myself incapable of supporting. Donald Trump’s administration has endangered and purposefully offended marginalized groups, only encouraging division among us. Trump himself has mocked, berated, and belittled many, including Puerto Rico and its very people.
He has shamed both the lives lost and survivors of Hurricane Maria, chalked up slow reparations as failures of the island, and supplied its inhabitants with dismal aid, at best. He garbles la isla’s name, equates its citizens as second-class to that of the mainland U.S., and paints their governor out to be a villain. And so to my tías and tíos I ask:
How can you love Puerto Rico, being Puerto Rican, and all that it entails, while also supporting the policy of a man who demeans and expresses hate towards those very things?
During the time of the presidential election, I was a first-time voter living abroad, and I worked to be as informed and involved as I could when it came to mailing my absentee ballot. I wrote online about it to friends back home as much as I could, and shared fact-checking resources and voting information. I wanted to vote in the direction of compassion and justice for all people. For me, that vote wasn’t Donald Trump. But my aunts and uncles feel that he represents everything good about America. “He’s honest,” they’d write to me over Facebook. “He’s not a politician he’s a businessman and that’s what we need in the White House,” “he tells it like it is and doesn’t care if other people don’t like it.” Anything he said about immigrants, especially Mexicans and people from the Middle East, was true to them. As a military family, they supported the Second Amendment unwaveringly, nobody could take their guns. Trans anything didn’t exist, and judging from the most recent posts that I’ve seen from them, all these beliefs still stand.
My aunts and uncles live far enough away that we would see each other here and there.
Most of our interactions are through phone calls and shared photos or posts through social media. While living in Europe, this dynamic became even more important. They are the kind of people who live on Facebook, and always comment “que bella,” “que dios te bendiga,” and “saludos a la familia,” on anything you put online. They’ve mailed me gifts for my birthday, shared some of my writing online like a proud parent, and from what I know of them as their niece, seem to be nice people. I’d mail them postcards and update them on my travels, looking to keep our connection.
I’d notice that when I’d choose to post something political on social media that skewed more liberal, progressive, or even socialist, these same people would suddenly not comment on what I wrote at all, or would make a long winded point of telling me in front of everyone else I follow that I was wrong and with age I would “learn.” Gun control, immigration at the border, abortion and women’s rights, disability and homelessness were all topics that I seemed to be butting heads with my family about online. When I’d go back to posting a photo from vacation on the Italian coast, they’d pour over it with love and smiley faces. They’d tag me in their pro-Latino content and message me prayer chains in Spanish. It was a constant back and forth where I’d get snapped at for my “bad” politics, but praised for the adult I was turning into in spite of it.
By the time the inauguration came around and I was back in the states, I stopped getting those prayer DMs and heart emojis on photos from my extended family.
It was clear that there was a distance between us politically but driven by a clear difference in morality. I felt weird reaching out and receiving love from them in some instances, where, in others, I was the enemy. Last year, when my family started circulating posts shaming the island Post-Maria, tensions online got much worse. Suddenly the island they loved was also a wasteland for corrupt lazy, welfare stealing drug addicts who post-natural disaster couldn’t pull themselves back on their feet even if they tried. I tried to reason with them in the comments of my posts, and in private when the messages they shared about Puerto Rico were too atrocious to discuss on public social feeds. Ultimately unfriended, blocked, and detached, it hurt to see the relationship, despite its distance, dissolve in the only way it really existed.
By contrast, I have other Puerto Rican family members who support Trump, but also openly denounce our culture as they are white passing. I’m disappointed but not shocked by their political choices, as they have shared in the past why they choose not to embrace or identify with their Latinidad. With their dark skin, dark hair, and deep cultural upbringing, my other relatives don’t share this “excuse.” I am particularly off-put by the fact my other family who do claim to love our island and being Latino think that this man’s behavior is acceptable.
It breaks my heart to see people I love, vouch for a man who’d laugh in their faces if he could. It hurts, even more, to see people shun their roots in favor of leaving “PC Culture” behind. The fact that they can with confidence do both–and not see a problem–creates a problem for so many other Puerto Ricans and Latinos who as a result continue to be harassed, ridiculed, and ultimately forgotten. It gives others the green light to join in on prejudice and racism, and it gives policymakers courage in counting us out when our people are among the first to advocate for it. It makes me sad. I think of how we could be united for Puerto Rico and the Latinx community at large in the face of this injustice, and I wonder why it is that for some reason, we can’t. I love them as my family, but it’s difficult to like them as people. There is pain in knowing that our president divides us, but comfort in knowing that friends and even strangers can count on me to be a voice against injustice, even when my family refuses to be.