My father, God rest his soul, was a very proud Puerto Rican. My father was also a very proud American who served his country in two wars — World War II and the Korean War. He believed in the American Dream, the promise that if you worked hard, you could achieve your goals, and that regardless of race, color, or creed, you had a right to be at the table because of your citizenship.
When my father fell on hard times, he turned to the government, and they provided our family with housing for veterans. When he fell ill and had to be put on dialysis, he turned to the VA hospital and received the best of care. When he was buried, he received a soldier's burial, and practically the entire population of his hometown, tiny Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, came out to pay their respects.
I've always felt proud to be his daughter. I felt extra-proud within my pain and sorrow that he received such a send-off from the country he loved and fought for.
As a little girl who was constantly taught to be proud and felt proud to be born a Puerto Rican as well as an American, I found it difficult to deal when others thought I was less-than because of my heritage.
Going to school and having to defend my accent, the curl of my hair, the brownness of my skin, made me question my father's seemingly blind love for our great nation.
It hurt when the other kids would tell me that their parents said that Puerto Ricans were ignorant, uneducated, and lazy.
It angered me when my raised hand was ignored in class. I was furious when my teachers spoke down to me, explaining whatever lesson was at hand as if I had a learning disability.
I would become exhausted having to tell people I'd just met that I was not an immigrant but a United States citizen. I'd have to explain it over and over and over, even to this very day.
Still, I had my father's voice in my head, and I'd puff out my chest and tell myself that I was just as smart and probably smarter than most, and, most important, I had as much of a right to stand on this soil as they did. They could kicks rocks for all I cared. Those thoughts were expressed in some ugly wars of words when I was a kid, and at times fists were thrown. But I was a Puerto Rican American, damn it, and you can't speak to me or treat me that way!