Puerto Rican presence in the United States is growing, be it because of Puerto Rico’s current economic situation or the demographic growth of Puerto Ricans in Florida, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Texas. The truth is that we are finding ourselves before a new wave of immigration, perhaps greater than those of the 20th century.
Many factors can shed light on current migration patterns. The economic downturn plaguing Puerto Rico over the past decade (symptoms of larger problems) has driven 600,000 Puerto Ricans to look for opportunities outside the island. For the first time since the population censuses began to be gathered (in 1899), there has been a decline in the number of residents on the island, according to data from the most recent 2010 US federal decennial census compared to the one from 2000. Alongside this important event, currently more Puerto Ricans live in the United States than on the island, a figure somewhere near 5 million, according to estimates. In Puerto Rico the population consists of approximately 3.7 million people.
Therefore it is not surprising that institutions and media outlets that respond to the Puerto Rican reality are sprouting once again in all the US. This is the case of La Respuesta, an online magazine launched in 2013, based in Chicago and New York.
In the following interview, Global Voices talks to Xavier Burgos Peña, the editor-in-chief and co-founder of the publication.
Global Voices (GV): How did La Respuesta come about? Who is behind this online magazine?
Xavier Burgos Peña (XBP): The idea of La Respuesta magazine formed when a small group of Chicago Puerto Ricans went to the Puerto Rican Studies Conference in Hartford, Connecticut in 2010. While there we witnessed the vibrant ways in which the local Puerto Rican population was creating community, similar to what we were doing in Chicago’s “Paseo Boricua” corridor. This sparked a conversation on how we could help develop an accessible, centralized space in which community-building strategies, experiences, and ideas about living in Diaspora could be shared and debated without ever leaving one’s home. Moreover, to offer a platform from which to exhibit the latest in Boricua Diaspora thought and cultural productions from across the United States and beyond.
In early 2013, an Editorial Core formed in Chicago to create an internet-based magazine. Nearly a year later, we’ve expanded our base to New York City with writers and collaborators across the country, from the East Coast to the South and in Puerto Rico.
GV: Is the birth of the magazine related to the growing presence of Puerto Ricans in the United States in recent years?
XBP: The fact that there are now more of us ‘here’ than ‘there’ signals the increasing importance of having a space for self-definition. Moreover, a space for internal debate and dialogue about our presence in Diaspora.
Puerto Ricans have historically been seen through the eyes of others who control the media and mainstream cultural productions – an imperial gaze, if you will. As a result, we often see ourselves through essentializing and exoticizing, racist stereotypes. Of course, we have also documented our experiences and histories from our own perspectives. Therefore, La Respuesta is a space to share what we’ve already done and are doing as a community of people across the Diaspora, whether in art and literature, music, and film, essay and activism. La Respuesta is also a space so that we can present new and refreshing voices, discuss the socio-economic status of our communities, and map possible directions as a people.
GV: Being a media outlet that focuses mainly on Puerto Rican issues, why publish articles only in English? I ask because it is a fact that the majority of Puerto Ricans on the island only speak Spanish. Is La Respuesta directed only to the Puerto Rican reader in the diaspora?
XBP: We do have some articles in Spanish, but we primarily publish in English. The practical reason is because we want to communicate directly to the Boricuas living in Diaspora; those whose entire or most of their experiences is living in the U.S. For these folks, English is the main language of communication. Although Spanish is the lingua franca of Puerto Rico, I would argue that English and Spanglish are also Puerto Rican languages. Who could argue that the writings of Pedro Pietri or Nicholasa Mohr are not a part of the Puerto Rican literary canon or expressions of a Boricua life – albeit distinct from that of the island?
Another reason to publish in English is to validate the puertorriqueñidad of English-dominant Boricuas in Diaspora, who might feel shame or be disregarded because of not being proficient in Spanish and/ or being from “allá.” The longer Puerto Ricans are in the U.S. and if recent migrants (who are coming in the hundreds of thousands) plan to stay and raise their families here, the more English and living in Diaspora will be a reality. La Respuesta is here to document, engage with, and validate this experience.
GV: I see that La Respuesta also includes other media productions, like the (De)Colonial Subjects radio program. So we can talk about La Respuesta not as an online magazine, but rather a multimedia project…
XBP: We want to stimulate and capture the imagination of our readers as much as possible, which is why we cover a range of topics and forms of media, including podcasts and special topic blogs (queer identities, literature, Palestinian solidarity, etc). We also hope to feature more videos, visual art, photography, and other podcasts.
GV: The diversity in points of view on Puerto Rico’s political situation is evident in the different articles published in La Respuesta, but perhaps the editorial team at La Respuesta, as a media outlet, favors a particular vision.
XBP: We try to provide as many perspectives and visions for Puerto Rican communities in Diaspora and Puerto Rico as possible. One of our core values is to look critically at oppressive elements such as colonialism, racism, trans/ homophobia, sexism, etc. By default, we get many writers who believe in Puerto Rico’s self-determination in regards to its status.
GV: Why re-imagine the Puerto Rican diaspora?
XBP: As I mentioned a little earlier, Puerto Ricans consume mainstream Eurocentric images and media that oftentimes essentializes and denigrates us. Moreover, the narratives out there about the Boricua Diaspora can be simplistic or missing important voices. We are a space to re-think and re-imagine what it means to be Puerto Rican and living in the US.
GV: With consistent editions since June 2013 and a network of 880 followers on Twitter and over 3,000 on Facebook, did the founders envision this kind of support for La Respuesta from readers after barely a year?
XBP: We are very humbled by the tremendous response, support, and contributions we’ve received. We run on an all-volunteer staff with no budget. Despite such setbacks (and in other ways, our strength), we’ve published hundreds of original pieces and over 50 writers. It is obvious that La Respuesta is understood by folks in our communities as the central location to read and experience what the Diaspora has to offer, from our own lens and voices. We always knew there was an audience – we just took on the responsibility of making and sustaining such as project.
GV: In times like these, where online information – without a doubt – has a greater presence and importance for certain populations, particularly the younger ones, would La Respuesta’s editorial team explore the possibility of publishing a print version of the magazine?
XBP: Online media is the future of journalism, especially grassroots, critical reporting. The Puerto Rican people have and must continue to carve out and claim a space in that.
GV: What are the current and future challenges that La Respuesta has as a media outlet directed to the Puerto Rican and Latino communities in the United States?
XBP: To continue to offer engaging, youthful, critical, and organic media by and for the Boricua Diaspora.