Ironically, an equal but opposite phenomenon was unfolding back on the island. There a government program called "Operation Bootstrap" was moving agrarian families off farms and sugar plantations and into cities, lured by jobs in newly subsidized industries. While there are obviously widespread and sometimes spectacular exceptions, in some ways, the inner city segment of the both communities never recovered, many falling into a trap of welfare dependency, broken families and drug and alcohol abuse.
Still, despite an average annual income of only $22,058, (well below West Virginia, which at $32,589 ranks 50th in the States), and an economy far too dependent on publicjobs, there is enormous pride of place. We call our band of brothers and sisters "boricua," which derives from Boriken, the Pre-Columbian, Taino Indian name for the island. Visited by Christopher Columbus during his second New World voyage in 1493, the lush, mountainous and now crowded little island's heart is her capital, major port and the oldest city under the U.S. flag, San Juan. On its modern outskirts, there is the usual collection of tourist hotels lining the beautiful Atlantic beaches, although curiously lacking the kind of super casinos that are remaking cities like Las Vegas or Atlantic City. The heart of the old city is though, is unmatched by those synthetic Mecca's. It is a charming, 465-year old neighborhood within the old walled section built to withstand invasion. There, with cobble-stone streets, elegant government buildings and hundreds of carefully restored 16th and 17th century Spanish colonial structures surrounded by La Fortaleza and other massive fortifications, the best of life under Old Spain is easily conjured.
Too much of the rest of the island has fallen under the plows of random development, urban poverty and grinding, often chaotic, traffic, although lovely pockets remain. As an expression of solidarity with the land of my father and his father for generations out of memory, several years ago, I bought an undeveloped mangrove island off the south coast we use for vacations and enormous family reunions. A mile square jewel located three miles off the modest coastal village of Salinas, I intend gifting it to the people of the Commonwealth as a park, and to be buried there.
What is fascinating, given the island's profound social problems, is how satisfied Puerto Ricans seem with their lot in life. We invented irrational exuberance. To prove that thesis, just watch one Puerto Rican Day Parade. It is billed, as the world's largest, with as many as half a million marchers watched by two million of their closest friends. The colorful pageant is a giant demonstration of pride in community. I've marched in at least two-dozen going back to 1971 and was once honored as Gran Mariscal, the Grand Marshal. It was one of my dad's proudest days, even though a torrential downpour that drenched Fifth Avenue interrupted the procession midway.