There is a saying among Pan-Africanists: It doesn’t matter where the boat dropped you off, it matters where it picked you up. The meaning behind it, obviously, is that we are all Africans who were stolen from our home and scattered throughout the diaspora. It is a reminder that we have family all around the world and our blood connects us. It is an important reminder, because dividing us and making us identify with the culture and ethnicity of our oppressors was an important part of maintaining the control needed to have the workforce necessary to meet their goal, expansion and acquisition.
Colonizers came to this so-called new world from all over Europe seeking fame and wealth. They left behind the culture they forced on the locals they found, and the workers they enslaved and the children they created over the generations. In addition to that, however, they left behind the illusion that we are different from one another. They left with us thinking that because we speak different languages or have different skin tones or hair textures, we aren’t family.
Which is why I love Virgin Islands-Puerto Rico Friendship Day. It‘s a chance to dispense some delayed justice by rebranding the holiday that was previously given over to the memory of a notorious genocidal lost explorer, and an opportunity to reconnect and strengthen a bond that has been there historically. Initially, the day was created to honor the contributions by Puerto Ricans to the Virgin Islands community over the years. As is much the case with many of the Caribbean islands, locals have travelled and migrated in search of work and stability. So, our threads are intertwined up and down the Windward Passage. We share the relationship with Puerto Rico is even more special for two conjoined reasons, proximity and national association.
We share the classification of being a territory of the United States. We understand the afterthought feeling of being someone’s playground, but not their priority. We know what it feels like to be someone’s vacation spot, selfie backdrop and photo-op. We also know what it’s like to look out into that vast ocean and wonder who will come to your aid and who will appreciate your contribution.
Celebrating VI.-P.R. Friendship Day is usually a feast of foods, music, fashion and, well, friendship. There are events and competitions and recognition of notables. Hopefully at the end of it all, we all understand each other and appreciate each other a bit more. Even with the new requirements brought on by current situations, virtual events will continue this year.
And all that is great. We should celebrate where our cultures overlap, where they complement each other and where we can learn more about each other. I think recent years, however, have shown, like none in recent history, the need for us to be friends and allies.
Residents of both islands know what it means to be at the whim of nature. We know what it feels like to be in the cone of a storm’s path that covers you in every direction. So often, however, after the storm, we are left to fight and fend for ourselves. Help is carefully portioned out with strings attached. So often, it feels like we are given aid when it is politically advantageous or expedient. Residents of both islands know what it means to be in political limbo. We know the bite of taxation without adequate representation. We have had leaders who have fought hard for us to get us the attention we need and deserve from our mainland but given our status, sometimes there is only so much they can do. This often means we are left to fight and fend for ourselves. So often, it feels like we are given attention when it serves to reestablish our subordinate state.
Moving forward, there are big changes on the horizon for this country, and how those changes will affect the territories is a mystery. We can try to be prepared, but we have to be honest and accept that — aside from storms, which are an unpredictable constant — we have no idea what to prepare for.
One thing we can be sure of is that the louder our voice, the more power we have to demand a more visible seat at the table where decisions are being made. Politically, there are some glaring differences between the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, but our goals of self-sufficiency and self-determination are so aligned, it would behoove us to work in tandem a lot more.
We have contributed labor and lives to the American story. Separately we can be ignored, but together we can change the conversation. We have to find ways to connect as part of the United States while at the same time protecting our cultural and historical identity. As friends, we can continue to grow in our appreciation for each other. As allies, we can force the powers that be to appreciate what we bring to the table and begin to act accordingly.
— Mariel Blake is a Daily News columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.