The place where you live… Where you belong?

By Maria Montalvo | Aug 09, 2011

Puerto Rico is marketed as a jewel of the Caribbean, some of its historic and natural treasures protected through the efforts of a few well-known figures.

It is also a small island of people battling their psyches.

Is it best for Puerto Rico to belong to the United States as a territory and vacation spot? Should it be part of the United States as a state with representation or just go for independence and forge its own path?

To me it is the place where my parents used to live, where they grew up.

My dad helped his family establish a haberdashery in a small, beachfront town based around fishing and US Naval operations, while my mom was a student and actress in San Juan, the capital, and the daughter of an importer/store owner.  

I have the vivid memories of a 5-year-old from a visit to my mother’s home, with a grand staircase and big four-poster beds with white sheets and mosquito netting that made you feel like a character in a great expedition.

I can imagine my mom in her kitchen, eating lunch every day with her mother and returning to school in her heavy and starched school uniform (unimaginable to me in that heat and humidity.) 

My dad, only very recently having written and illustrated memories from his youth, is now also clear to me, too, as a little boy standing in front of a large church at the edge of a beautiful plaza, watching the characters of his town, or working in his dad’s store.

Both of my parents are startlingly intelligent and fascinating, but more important to my place in their story, was their decision to leave the place where they lived to attend university in New York and Pennsylvania and to eventually stay and raise a family.

Yesterday a young woman from Edmonds, a newlywed waiting to hear on an offer on a house, said to me, “It seems no matter how far away we go for school or to pursue our dreams, so many of us from Edmonds want to come back to find a home and start a family. It’s where we belong.”

It is not easy for young families to come back to a town like Edmonds (with the property values and commutes), but the draw is strong.

Edmonds is still a community that sees itself as a special place to live, albeit one that also struggles with its identity; an unpretentious beachfront town, a tourist destination with thriving small businesses, a bedroom community/suburb of Seattle?

Which Edmonds is the one new families belong to? 

My mother is always very emotional when talking about where she was born, about Puerto Rico.

Apparently they considered going back at different points in their lives but always decided against it.

Now, my mom is very quick to say it is no longer where she belongs. It is not the same place it used to be, and neither is she the same person.

She has lived in a few states since leaving and seems to have found a place where she belongs now… New Mexico. 

My father enjoyed a few places we have lived, but I do wonder if he feels like he might belong in Puerto Rico, but I realized it is more than a home where they belong, they belong together. 

I do see the romantic appeal of staying so close to home (more than half of all Americans live within 50 miles of their birthplace). Americana, and much of our patriotism, has its roots in images of a home town. But honestly, I have never felt like I belonged in one place.

I still pull for Philadelphia sports teams, the city where I was born and raised, and I certainly have a soft spot for the Liberty Bell and adore many of friends from 6th grade, but do I belong there?

No, I lived there.

Did I belong in New Mexico, England, Utah? Do I belong in Edmonds, Washington? 

I’m not sure yet, but I definitely know I am like my parents and I belong with one person.

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