I LOVE ME, I LOVE ME NOT
Last December, while in Miami, I took some boxes out of storage to locate and transfer VHS home videos onto my computer. I found nine videos. The first video I played, “1 Families Chrismas” had been recorded over in its entirety with random HBO movies from the nineties. Unremarkably flat ones that I’ve never heard of, commercials included. If I could describe what it feels like to be a first generation American, with parents from Puerto Rico and Cuba, it would be like this: HBO colonizing a VHS cassette recording of an immigrant family’s Chrismas in Hialeah, Florida.
It’s troublesome to search for pieces of your past and find no evidence of existence. National Geographic conducted a study, sampling DNA from different biogeographical regions. In Puerto Rico, they sampled some twenty thousand people and found that a large portion of their DNA consisted of Native American ancestry, likely to be Taíno or Ciboney. All of it was female. They were unable to find any traces of male Native American DNA in a single one of their subjects. 1 I want my family’s history to play linearly like a film. I want my ancestors to be the characters in the beginning except no one gets enslaved or sold. Women don’t get stolen and raped and men are not erased. Violence is embedded in the Caribbean. 2 It is embedded in me. I walk around with it and I don’t understand what aspect of that violence my body comprises. Did my blood inflict it or was my blood subjected to it? Erased and written upon, then erased again. My blood does not have memory. It has cultural amnesia. Like amnesia, it continues to flow unaware of where it’s been. It is a clock without hands. I don’t know how to be counted. I want to be the happy ending. 3 The other reference DNA populations are primarily from their biogeographical region with a mix of surrounding areas. For example, the average British person’s DNA can be described as follows, 69% British and Irish, 12% Scandinavian, 9% Western and Central European, 5% Southern European, 2% Eastern European, and 2% of the Jewish Diaspora. In contrast to my own which, after reviewing the results I was sadly reminded of my violent imprint: 77% Southern European, 11% Western and Central African, 7% Native American, 2% Scandinavian, and 2% North African. 4 The internal violence of colonialism can be heard through the sound of my voice. It is me feeling like I’ve perfected my American English accent but still having my Puerto Rican accent detected and exoticized in rural and smaller cities in the U.S., no matter how hard I’ve tried to neutralize it. It can also be heard each time I visit my family in Puerto Rico when they tease me and call me a gringa because they notice the slightest American in my Spanish. I am denied authentic acceptance from both sides. I feel like parts of me identify with Puerto Rican culture more than I do with American, but I also feel the opposite and neither. What I am today is contradictory.
Western history assumes that Taíno people are extinct. Taíno people say they aren’t but they won’t tell us anything else. It’s a power play. If they tell us, they know we’ll take them away. I am not Taíno even if I am a descendant. I’d be foolish to think I haven’t been coerced into the hesitant position of a colonizer, after all, most of my blood is colonial. By giving my feelings and experience a name I am allowing them to be taken from me. In making you aware of it I know your instinct tells you you can take it and make it work for you. 5 With each pass, from vessel to vessel.