Saturday, April 11, 2009

Some thoughts from the Corner about Saving What's Left (rather than just Enjoying What's Left For Now)

There are two articles in this month's Culebra Calendar that I really wasn't going to respond to because this stuff makes me crazier than I am already. But then I thought, hey, I can do it here, not in the I am. Here are the two articles, which should be read first, so if you are interested and not familiar with the context, you can be informed. If you have trouble reading these (don't forget you can click to make any photo larger), please click on the link.

Here is what has been roiling around in me for a couple of days...see you at the meeting on the 23rd, in person or in spirit.

In response to Juan Romero and Luz Rivera Cantwell, I would only say the first thing that comes into my head from my heart, along with a little thought into the order.

But first, a 'why did I decide to come to Culebra' story. One night, maybe my second, the taxi guy who was so great to me (along with Henry, the campground guy so great and a bunch of other great moments that should have taken months and took two days), was driving me back to the campground. Suddenly he was slowing down and stopping and said, or indicated, as his English was about as good as my Spanish, that I should get out of the van. I was, to put it mildly, a little...stunned. But I got out, and he got out. Then he came over to my side of the van and smiled and pointed to the sky, where the full moon was so was that point in the drive at the top of the hill that lets you see the water, a sight that after seven years still makes me grin and be filled with joy. The moon light lit up the sea and even from where we stood in the road, it felt like it was inches away. And then he said..."Culebra. Tranquillo." We stood a few more moments and then got back in the van. It was probably at that moment I truly decided I wanted to make this my home, that St. Croix, with its growing street crazy factor, despite some of the most wonderful people who I still love, was getting to be more than I bargained for. This is how I come to believe the following:

Having lived in the Virgin Islands (St. Croix and St. Thomas) quite a while before I came here, and getting along with locals well, I saw what I call the 'behind the bar' view quite clearly. By that I mean...when you sit in a theater, or a bar, or a doctor's office as a visitor, you are only there for what you need or want. When you are the worker behind the bar, behind the curtains, behind the desk, you see what a culture and a society are really like, what is being said behind the smiles. So while I've been told many, many times by some Culebrense that they consider me an adopted daughter of Culebra, which are words & emotions I treasure, and while I know that were I in trouble, I could turn to a few who would help me, I know I don't have the inside knowledge of someone born and raised here. Of someone even fluent in the language (spoken, not the language of the heart). Yes, I'm told things by those who speak English and know of my caring - and my gratefulness - maybe things I shouldn't be told. But it isn't the same. Point being, I KNOW that. I know I am not Culebrense, I am not a local daughter. I am a transplant. Gardeners, take note!

So what I am saying is from the position of someone who has been to islands AFTER what is wanted here by some comes to pass. It is simple, it is not pretty and it is common across many, many islands in the world.

1. Wealthy people see the chance to develop property on an island. They know the ins and outs and how to exploit them for not just a home or a job, but for huge financial gain, beyond any measure of taking care of one's self in a fair manner but rather, an abuse of what we all know is an admittedly loose system.

They promise jobs and increased prosperity. Perhaps that island was once small and remote, though still attracting a certain sort of tourist and/or land/home buyer. With this sort of developer, and wanting to see the potential for higher wages and more jobs, the island population majority (or maybe the minority who gets paid off for it), the development starts. First, the tourist who came for the small town ways, the lack of sophisticated entertainment, stops coming. Oh, tourists will still come but it will be a different sort of tourist, one looking for more big city accommodations, dining (which we have by the way), and a very big thing, entertainment, which if you know the entertainment business, has its own strange ways. Local music and customs become *quaint* like watching animals in a zoo, while the wealthier resort owners bring in music and entertainment more *suitable* to the new type of tourists.

Next, or 2. Those promised jobs? Well the top ones, management, go to non-islanders immediately, because locals don't have the experience to run businesses on such a big scale.Period. And that is how it will me on this. The locals get the dirt jobs and get paid dirt, for the most part, if they end up working for that developer who promised jobs...that no one else wants. Example? A woman I know (and love) in the VI's has cleaned at a certain very successful hotel for 23 years (at the time, about 10 years later now). Her pay was still in the single digits after all of that time. And would she quit? No. She had no time to pursue an education as she worked all day and took care of her children and husband and older relatives. Was she angry? Yes. Inside this beautiful woman was a deep simmering anger at the Continentals who had come in and taken over her home and her dignity...tricking those whose home it was with promises never kept. She didn't seem angry on the outside, but inside, she reflected what many felt...and rightly so (by the way, Disney did the same thing in Florida, this isn't ALL about islands, it's about business on a scale we don't deal with around here, and the potential for deception is huge..and hey, it works, so it keeps on happening, just like a scam of any kind).

As far as I'm concerned, any Puerto Rican who is from any place but a life LIVED here on Culebra is about the same as a Continental, as we are called in the VI's, or North Americans here. What is the difference when someone doesn't care about the precious land and water and peace that Culebra offers? So you own land here...but do you live here? Do you really know what is going on here? Do you care what your impact will mean to those who don't fly back to a city at the end of the day?

As to two that Juan Romero made as to people trying to keep Culebra held back from progress and keep it nice just for retiring North Americans...please! I wanted to throw up when I read that. It is the older Culebrense who were born and raised here who have told me, in English, that the ruining of Culebra has come from rules and regulations that have had to be enforced because of the building and boating and fishing from whom??????????? So far, except in a few instances, the North Americans I know here wish nothing more than to keep Culebra from being a crime-filled hell hole that they know about because they lived in them before. Where does our crime, little though it is today, come from? The very place that the same people come from who want to 'improve' Culebra. If they want to do that, why don't they build a good basketball court? A tennis court? Rebuild the lighthouse? Ask Waleska what they can contribute to the schools? You want to *help* Culebra? Then do it! Not by tearing her apart, but by building her up. Why don't you clean up what could be a lovely little island for locals and visitors, Isla Pirata (spelling wrong, but I can't find the right spelling).

For myself, the only difference between us is that I'm jealous in the very good way of wishing I HAD been born here and wanting Culebra to grow and prosper for what she has best to give: peace and tranquility and beauty.

Some islands have done this!!! Dominica is one of them, even though it is slowly slipping. Bermuda, for all of its sophistication, has rules that have kept it very special and one of the most expensive places in the world to visit, and it has a waiting list. No rental cars! Each family may only own one car. Weight limits on vehicles to spare the roads. And clean. Clean Clean Clean. Much like Spain, where I spent some time. Where a person in the service industry is respected and considered to have a career, is paid a decent wage and is not looked down on.

So. Choose. Embrace the 'have it now' philosophy and watch this place turn into a crime infested cesspool or stand up, stand UP for the values of your forefathers and mothers who fought so hard to keep Culebra a home place, for the people I know who are now in the winter of their years and not being replaced by a younger and a younger generation speaking out against the destruction of their culture, but rather a 'give it to me now, I want this to be more like San Juan' generation. Where quiet moonlit nights will continually be replaced with pounding sounds including gunshots. No...saying no to rampant, inconsistent-to-this-place development that will not bring wealth to anyone but the developers. Sustainable (truly sustainable, that takes into consideration the needs of a gently growing population) development can be good, good for the island, the sea, the people. Ecological tourism is huge, it should be embraced and enhanced. But this? This is not good. Read the plans, the REAL plans behind the brochure. Yes, the brochure for a place that hasn't even been approved yet...

Who wants what we have been dealing with this last year to be never ending? The disruption, the noise, the dirt? How long do you want to go to the doctor with breathing problems? Say yes, that's what you'll have, along with drugs and homeless and jobless who come to find 'paradise' and instead find the edge of whatever city jungle they crawled out of before they got here. Say no and then, don't JUST say no! Do something. Take a young man to play basketball (oh, wait, you can't until that project gets finished. Ok, then call the Mayor and make it get finished!), take a young girl and teach her some of the old dances, the old skills. Hold classes for those of us who don't know the old ways but want to learn. Get the young people together and make a play of the story of getting the Navy out of here. That ought to be a play as famous as any in the world!!! Young people should be anxiously waiting until they are old enough to play the parts of our brave elders.

And, as to the quote from Luz, that the people should get over the truama of Costa Bonito, I say, is that like getting over murder? No. The abomination of Costa Bonita should never be gotten over, Luz. It stands as a hugely ugly reminder of what happens when the people don't rise up to right a horrendous wrong. And you want us to 'get over' it so it can happen again and again, blighting this island? Costa Bonita, where bankruptcy has become a business? Where it pays to not pay those you owe money to and then continue on in the same 'black foot beach' practices? No. I don't think so. But thanks for letting everyone know what you truly believe.

And that...would be what I have to say about that. Peace and love!

Oh, there is this as I was heading home this afternoon...Juls posing for us on the bridge, always happy to lend a bit of style to any situation. I only wish s/he'd had an Easter bonnet, but the hair works.


  1. Well done MJ!! I, for one, would love to see this in the Culebra Calendar. How many on the island are fortunate enough to have been around other places before/during/after the "progress" was made? Anyone who hasn't personally had that experience should read and learn from your unique perspective.


  2. Well, you're seeing it here instead...but I'm sure the CC would welcome comments.

    Unfortunately, most people do NOT learn from others' experiences, including me...we find out the hard & sorrowful way. The sad part is, while some things can be learned later and changed to the good, others are too big and will last many lifetimes. This situation will be one of those if sanity and practical logic do not prevail over short sighted greed.

    So it goes.