What We Are
by Silverio Perez
Translated from the Spanish by Jessica Powell
Human beings forget that to be human is to be, and that in the collective, we are. Our consumer-oriented society has made it so that we identify with what we have and not with what we are. And so, in order to have, we do things at a frenetic pace that dehumanizes us and prevents us from enjoying the marvel that is life.
Maria has forced us to pause, and if that weren’t enough, she has taken away many of the things we had that mistakenly constituted who we were. I have observed that the way the poorest people, those who have the least, reacted to their loses differs from the reaction of those who have the most. You can feel the anguish of those who, when the generator runs out of diesel in the middle of the night, find themselves forced to sleep the rest of the night without air conditioning. Or those who miss excessively the internet connection that would allow them to post, as though it were actually important, the latest joke or the photo of the meal they are enjoying in a good restaurant.
Things are neither good nor bad. They simply are. The important thing is that they don’t prevent us from being what we truly are. Maria is giving us the opportunity the alter the equation: I do>I have>I am --or, I work hard in order to buy a house in a luxury housing development and then I will be successful and happy—to I am>I do>I have – or, because I am, I do things to benefit the person I am in order to have the things that, in my truest self, I want to have.
Although the hurricane hit our country’s poor the hardest in terms of losses, I see that, in them, their sense of self, what it means to be, remains strong, in some cases even unscathed, while those people accustomed to having a great deal seem depressed and diminished in their beings, defined by what they have and not by who they are.
If anything has grown stronger in this post-Maria crisis, it is the Puerto Rican sense of self. The characteristics that have defined us as a people -- generosity, solidarity, resilience, humor, being good neighbors – and which many thought had been shipwrecked in the sea of modernity, floated to the surface and are even manifest in the Puerto Rican flag that has been raised over so many homes and vehicles.
Let’s take advantage of the great opportunity that the post-Maria crisis has afforded us in order to strengthen what it means to be us. I am, and I do in order to have will come once we have learned this important lesson. I’m working on it. And it isn’t easy.
This is the first of a series of 24 chronicles that will be published weekly in English and Spanish, as a part of www.24weeks.us.