“I will stay in Puerto Rico” or “I am not leaving here," however you want to write it, the sentiment is the same: The refusal to accept the idea that there is no future for the residents of Puerto Rico. In spite of what many think and what the media has resigned itself to, there is a whole new generation of Puerto Ricans that is rejecting the idea that the only viable option left is to leave the homeland.
For years, the Caribbean island has experienced a great migration of citizens who leave for other places. The numbers of those who have chosen to leave the free associated state continues to grow, and Puerto Ricans now constitute the second largest group of Latinos in the United States behind Mexicans. In 2013 alone, about 74 thousand people migrated.
Last June, the governor of Puerto Rico, Alejandro Garcia Padilla, declared the island bankrupt, saying it was unable to pay its $72 billion debt to creditors who had invested in various government bonds. This economic crisis is exactly why so many Puerto Ricans have decided to start new lives in cities like Orlando, Miami, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, where they believe they can find a better quality of life and more jobs. Those who stay have to deal with this economic reality daily, and it’s likely that every single person on the island knows someone who left or is in the process of saying goodbye to someone in their family. Still, no matter what the numbers and statistics say, there are those who do not want to leave Puerto Rico.
Recently, there has been a wave of students and young professionals who have chosen to go against the current, and using social media, have made their voices heard. Those who join this social movement share their many reasons to stay, from a love of the natural beauty and resources of the land to family, and the fact that Puerto Rico is where they call home. This collective is helping spread hope and positivism.
Social Media Movement
The enterprising Allesanda Correa, founder of Puerto Rico Gourmet Products and president of Mi Madre Inc., started the initiative on social media with the hashtag #yomequedoenPR to help support the idea of “being part of the solution.” Lots of other Boricuas joined in and began to share the image and hashtag she originally posted.
Public relations and communications professional Claudia Serbiá is part of this new movement. The young entrepreneur and mother believes in staying and helping Puerto Rico "echar pa’lante." Super active on social media, Serbiá decided to show off the tourist locations and most beautiful natural resources of Puerto Rico with the hashtag #yomequedoaqui. She's traveled to many places all over the world and still feels strongly that Puerto Rico is a good place to live.
“What I like best about my little island is how easy it is to get somewhere that’s truly a paradise in just 10 minutes, whether the mountains or the beach, and the quality of the people. As difficult as this situation is, our people are happy,” says the San Juan native. For Serbiá, it’s all a question of attitude. “We have to stop being so negative, as bad as things are, we have to keep moving forward and contribute. If something is bad in one area, we have to make things better in another.”
Becoming a mom was a process, and through learning and identifying what she really needed as a parent, she was inspired to open En una Nube, a little cool clothing store for kids. Parents can find clothes and accessories for their children designed by local and international artisans and alternative styles that they wouldn't be able to find anywhere else. The young businesswoman likes to be different, have her own style, and stay out of the norm. What makes her place unique is that in addition to selling children’s clothes, she also provides a space for local artisans to present and sell their work.
The concept of staying on the island has transcended social media. Students of Communications at the University of the Sacred Heart in Santurce also produce a television program “De Aqui, Yo No Me Voy,” which airs live on the Puerto Rico TV channel. They use the show to not only demonstrate what they have learned through their studies but also to focus on themes for young people about to graduate college and highlight people and events that represent Puerto Rico and why they choose to stay on the island.
The resurgence is also visible on the streets. The fashion, the music, the art, the theater, the food, and tourism are just a few of the industries that have new life and younger faces. Entrepreneurs want to improve their communities and to build a better society and a better place to live for everyone. The best part is that people are being true to themselves. By creating and working on these projects they are empowering each other to be successful.
While the economic crisis passes, there are those who are using it as an opportunity to develop and gestate the ideas that they have always had in their minds. The public benefits and is interested in projects that are creative and genuine. This kind of bravery and daring to make big decisions and make them work is rewarded.
This is just the case with Santurce es Ley, an organization of independent artists and locals who take over part of the city to converse via art and murals. The same is happening at El Departamento de la Comida, a business Tara Rodríguez created to help develop local agriculture and promote healthy eating via local farm-to-table, sustainable foods. La Mafia PR is also supporting the food renaissance with a digital platform that supports local gastronomy and promotes eateries all around the island with reviews, photos and information.
The local support is evident. La calle Loíza in Santurce has experienced great growth among businesses in the last few years. A new wave of Boricua entrepreneurs is giving people something to talk about. Restaurants, cafes, boutiques, and bars have converted the area to a neighborhood with original art and great food perfect for walking around.
Without a doubt, the crisis is a wake-up call and can help bring about a new society in Puerto Rico. They accept their island in order to empower and support what they consider to be their home, yet are aware that they have the potential to create a society with culture, style, and an identity all their own.
Hopefully those who have gone are inspired by this new movement of national rebirth and return, bringing with them everything they have found and learned in other places. While, from the island, many of those who stay try to make a difference.