BECOMING DIASPORA: A personal narrative

Image by Rakicevic Nenad

For me leaving Puerto Rico was a moment filled with anger, sadness, bitterness and heartbreak. I chose to leave the island I was raised in, where I met such wonderful people, made incredible friends and chose what career I wanted to pursue for the rest of my life. But through all the positive, in reality I left defeated. If I’m honest, I never really saw myself living in Puerto Rico my entire life. What surprised me were the events that took place that made me depart the island and the events afterwards my decision that confirmed what I had felt over a year ago and the decision I took on June of this year.

On the summer of 2019 I felt on top of the world, it may not seem that way for someone looking from the outside. I had 3 jobs, the first a dream job as an industrial designer for the University of Puerto Rico, a full time gig as a stock associate in a retail store where I was leading my team after our leader became a the store’s stock manager and a full time job at a startup company where an app development/designer position would become a project managing position. I felt like I was killing it, and not to pat myself on the back, I was. I excelled on all my positions, never missed a day, arrived late or handed an assignment late or missed a deadline. Everything was going perfectly, but as much as you can try to plan out your life there’s always a surprise, mine was an unexpected arrival from my brother who lives in Miami. This was unsettling and activated an anxiety I had not felt in a couple of years, he just showed up unannounced ready to move in to my father’s house who had been deceased for 3 years. If it had been any other brother I would not have had a reason to be worried, but this brother is a career criminal that. steals, sells anything illegal or not and a drug addict to prescription drugs which are obtained illegally. This would worry anybody, specially a guy like myself who had 3 jobs and was barely in his house. I mean, What could a person like this do if I’m out of the house for 18 hours at a time?

I would find that out in about a month, The crazy thing? I would be in the house when something went wrong. I got back from my third job one night in August, around 12am, and went straight to sleep, as I get up the next morning and I left the front door, ready to open the gate I look back to notice my refrigerator wasn’t there. My brother had sold it for $25 while I slept. In less than a month I moved in to a studio apartment right next to my father’s house. I never saw or spoke to my brother after that. After that issue everything was going great, again killing it in my professional life. On November I finished my job at the startup, it ended because the founders weren’t ready for the risks they would face having their own business. I saw this as a win and an accomplishment, I did an amazing job regardless of their decision at the end.

What had me uneasy was that leadership position at my retail job. I was performing all the tasks a leader would handle to perfection for 7 months. All I could wonder was, Why haven’t I been promoted? I decided to give myself an ultimatum, if I was promoted I would stay at the retail position and if I wasn’t, I would resign and leave Puerto Rico. I had done everything and well, a couple weeks later a new team leader was named, it wasn’t me. It was a colleague whom had not been there as long as I had been there nor had all the knowledge I had about the duties and responsibilities of the stock lead. As angry as I was, I took a breath and decided to give our new leader a chance. I witnessed my team drop productivity, morale, communication and the work culture I worked so hard to build. My team was now unmotivated, angry and quiet. I hoped to see my colleague excel and be an amazing leader but for the upcoming months he failed to build up his team. He would also demonstrate how unprepared he was to execute the duties of his new position by constantly asking me to teach him how to do thing in order to meet his obligation. I would also witness management giving me assignments to correct the stock lead’s mistakes and saying to me” I just want to make sure it gets done right”, as the store manager told me once begging me to fix merchandise order and signage.

For me, I was done, I was tired of knowing and being reminded of an opportunity that I had earned but was taken away. On March 2020 I handed in my resignation and I was ready to move on to a new job that I had already secured and was going to start an the third week of March. A job I would never begin as Puerto Rico shutdown on March 16th due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The place I was going to work in completely disappeared without notice, now it’s just an empty local in San Juan’s Santurce area. At the moment I was lost, the only job I had left was that dream job as an Industrial designer for the University of Puerto Rico, The problem? It was only a part-time job for which I had been earning $300 a month, clearly not enough to sustain myself until I find something new.

While trying to figure things out on June 2020, my boyfriend whom I had been dating since October 2019 broke up with me, breaking my heart completely. Now knowing I wouldn’t be able to sustain my life in Puerto Rico and with nothing tying me down to the island anymore I decided to leave Puerto Rico. I let my superiors in the University of Puerto Rico that I would leave the island but that I could continue my work remotely, like industrial designers have been doing for decades. I also let my team in the University know and that I would continue working on the current project we had as I was the designer of the invention and co-founder of the company that was heading to a start-up program/competition for seed capital. My superiors decided to not continue my employment, without any notice, I wasn’t surprised that they wouldn’t continue my work but I was surprised that they failed to communicate their decision. Everything was looking great, while in the competition my ex-boyfriend, now boyfriend, reconnected and continued our relationship for the last 4 months I would stay in Puerto Rico. Everything in the competition was great, up until right at the last month where I was notified that I would not be part of the company and that I could only be a part of it if I remained in the island and that I wouldn’t be named Co-founder on the product I designed and company I had helped build. I was angry, I worked for 4 months completely free and I wouldn’t be involved in the continued development of our product.

I continued in the competition as I had worked hard to be and get in, I spent hours in conference calls, even on my birthday. My team was not open to negotiations to my collaboration with them and not only made their position of my role with the company clear but made it clear with the competition executives as well and got me kicked out of the competition without consulting me and I was only notified by the executives themselves. I felt humiliated, embarrassed, angry, bitter, heartbroken and completely taken advantage of.

For 2 years I was given the most unexpected opportunities that helped me grow professionally, I felt on top of the world. Even though I didn’t see myself spending my entire life on the island, for a brief moment I saw a little light telling me it’s possible. At the end it felt like I was delusional and I saw myself forced to leave and join the hundreds of thousands of diasporic Puerto Ricans who have left because they have had their opportunities taken from their hands. Leaving hoping to make a difference somewhere else.

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