I read through all of the personal essays written for Lightspeed Magazine’s People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction, edited by the enthusiastic and all-around good human being Sunil Patel. Each one of the essays offers a window into why the writer finds the field of science fiction is important to them.
Full disclosure: I submitted several times during the open call, and as of this writing still have something under consideration. That said, after reading the essays, I was inspired to write one, too.
“But you’re not really Puerto Rican. . .”
I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. My mom was Puerto Rican, and my dad was from Philly. Both of them were teachers for the local U.S. Army military base, Fort Buchanan. As a result, I was able to write and read in both English and Spanish by the time I started in Kindergarten.
My parents weren’t big into science fiction, but I have distinct memories of going to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Jaws. I remember devouring the novelization of Close Encounters over the course of a week home (I had gotten pneumonia). I was probably 6 years old at the time.
I didn’t have a big science fiction or fantasy moment until 7th grade. I remember a classmate had been reading one of the Narnia books (“A Horse and His Boy” if memory serves). After I asked him to bring me the first of the series, instead I was annoyed he brought me another book that had nothing to do with Narnia called “The Hobbit.” He assured me I’d love it. Skeptical, I nodded and thought, “Sure, whatever.”
I asked him for the next book the following day.
From there, I read widely and voraciously any and all fantasy books I could find. Lord of the Rings, of course, but also all of Katherine Kurtz’ Deryni stuff, and probably every Dragonlance novel and anthology produced at the time. Through 7th grade and through high school, I found a small knot of kids who were reading the same books. A lot of them were military kids–white, English-speaking, who chafed at being on the island. Students couldn’t go off the base without parental approval. Also, for the most part, a lot of them never learned basic Spanish, which ensured that even if they were able to get off base, they couldn’t do much at all. They bitched and moaned about how Puerto Rico was a backwards shithole, and Puerto Ricans to blame. When I would stick up for my people and my island, they would always say, “yeah, but you’re not really Puerto Rican. . .”
It was a way to disarm me. Apparently, in their view, “real” Puerto Ricans didn’t speak English fluently, didn’t share interests with them, didn’t like science fiction or fantasy or any of the other interests. Now, I feel ashamed that I didn’t just drop those friends because I was a pretty lonely kid throughout school (being a teacher’s kid is to be suspected of being a narc by other students, and being narced on by school staff–it’s rough).
But, the thing is: I am Puerto Rican, and have never stopped being so. I never felt too broken up when they transferred away. I may have never fit into whatever category they had created for “Puerto Rican” but they had shown me they easily fit into the category of bigots.