In mourning Papi, I am also mourning the possible destruction of the Puerto Rico familiar to Papi and me. By Michelle Carroll On Wednesday, September 20th, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. The following afternoon, we lost Papi. My 101-year-old grandfather passed away in an antiseptic hospital bed in Central New Jersey, hundreds of miles away from Puerto Rico. I believe it was the distance as well as his old age that shielded him from the knowledge that once again the island had been failed by its colonial overseers. In Papi’s last days, he returned to the memories of an island and people untouched by the current devastation. He spoke often of the family returning to Puerto Rico, buying a small home and growing mangoes, plantanos maduros, and aguacate. His death and the aftermath of the hurricane makes his dream impossible.
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My Papi & Abuela[/caption] Papi was born in 1916 in Santurce, Puerto Rico. He was born less than twenty years after the United States acquired the island as its newest colony and only one year before Puerto Ricans were afforded (second-class) citizenship by Congress. According to family history, his mother was a maid in a hacienda owned by a wealthy Spanish man, a holdover from the previous three hundred years of colonization by the Spanish. Papi’s father, the owner of the farm, was never in the picture. In the 20 years before Papi was born, the United States media began a racist campaign against the Puerto Ricans. In newspapers across the mainland, brown and black Boricuas were described as lazy, simple-minded alcoholics. Racist stereotypes normalized the idea that Puerto Ricans were subhuman, and thus worth less than one white American. These stereotypes allowed for corporations to profit off of the island’s farmland and its people—in the 1920’s, a Puerto Rican farmhand was paid $4 a week compared to the mainland average of $35. After the island was forcibly colonized, the United States’ government and corporations spent the next two decades stripping the island of its resources, agency, and culture.