Op-Ed: Puerto Rico, a lost paradise?
As tired as I was over a sleepless night —horrified after reading José Enrique Gómez’s murderer’s description of his vicious and vile death and deeply concerned about Puerto Rico’s present and future — I couldn’t miss our standing high-school monthly dinner, especially because two of my very best friends from school were in town.
After getting updates on parents, children and grandchildren, changing jobs, moving to different cities, jobless classmates and everyone’s well being, the subject of discussion by default was Mr. Gómez’s inhuman murder, “La Comay’s” boycott and the overall critical situation of Puerto Rico.
The out-of-towners were sad because retiring in Puerto Rico was no longer an option. They couldn’t handle the stress, the increasing cost of living on the island, the appalling government services and the constant dread that they would not be safe, anywhere.
The discussion brought us to reminisce about our own childhood and teen years. As 16- and 17-year-olds we were allowed to go bowling on Friday nights and spend Saturday nights driving through Condado and Old San Juan, all by ourselves. Even though there were no cell phones at the time, our parents didn’t worry that they didn’t hear from us until curfew.
‘We were never afraid’
We were never afraid on our outings: we would drive to Piñones at night without any concern for our safety; we met at the courtyard across from the Capitolio for sing-alongs and the only ones to bother us were the policemen that, close to midnight, would stop to tell us that it was time to go home.
It was the best of times: we were allowed to grow and test our limits without endangering our lives. The next generation didn’t fare as well.
Our kids were subject to endless lectures on safety and all that could happen to them if they didn’t follow our guidance. They all had cell phones — not as a fad or status thing, but so that parents were able to follow their steps any time and they could call in case of an emergency.
They were driven to and from parties — my own until they were 21 — and we always made sure that there would be adults at any party they had. Going to Old San Juan was absolutely prohibited until they were of age and parents didn’t go to bed until the kids were safely home.
The only answer is to take action
We can’t even imagine what our grandchildren’s life will be like if things don’t change. And we all agreed that, if this was the case, we didn’t have any choice but to leave the island. What to do if we really wanted to stay in our homeland? The only answer is to take action; each and every one of us has an obligation to help change the status quo. It’s not just the government’s responsibility.
Parents need to take a more active role in demanding the total overhaul of education: children need to learn values, citizenship and ethics, both at home and at school. Schools need to provide all the teachers, supplies and extra-curricular activities — the federal government grants enough monies for education. Mediocrity is unacceptable.
We don’t need more laws, we need to eliminate quite a few outdated and senseless ones and enforce those that really make a difference. We don’t need stupid proclamations, like establishing a “Dolls’ Day,” or recognize a celebrity because he’s the legislator’s favorite singer. We need dedicated, responsible legislators that take their duties seriously for the benefit of the people who elected them.
We do need oversight and supervision, at all levels and in every government agency. Regulations need to be enforced — doctors are still making you wait for hours at their offices, and I have yet to hear of a single warning or fine. The elimination of corruption needs to be a priority and salary and professional promotions must be based on merit not on a decree by labor unions. Incentives should be granted for productivity and results, after the fact.
‘Island needs all the help it can get’
The “ay, bendito” attitude does not apply to criminals, just to victims. And there can’t be any leniency for lawbreakers, regardless of class or position. Social workers can’t wait until there is a complaint. They should be out on the streets, visiting households and helping members relate better, manage conflict, alleviate stress, make decisions based on values and ethics, feel proud of their jobs or help them find jobs, and ultimately make psychologist referrals if there is the need.
And what about the individual that wants to contribute to turn the island around? You can join an action group, like Agenda Ciudadana, or many others that are being created as response to this chaos. Or you can organize a neighborhood watch group, become a better neighbor, join you church’s youth or elderly programs, become a volunteer at any of the myriad nonprofits that help the less fortunate or use your talent, company or resources and become involved.
We can’t just wait and watch and hope for the best. The island needs all the help it can get. The thing is that Puerto Ricans have proved that we are at our best during a crisis. And we are living the worst crisis we have faced since the beginnings of the previous century. Let us show what we are made of and how far we can go.
We’re at a crossroad, a time when our newly elected governor could go down in history as the leader who changed Puerto Rico for the best or the ruler that killed this tropical paradise. We must all take pride in helping Alejandro García-Padilla earn a place in history as the former.