“As Puerto Ricans we have American passports but I feel we are third class Americans.”
Marion Ramirez is a dancer and choreographer.
I was born in Puerto Rico. At nineteen I knew I was ready to be somewhere else for a while. I was a dancer doing flamenco, ballet, salsa, modern dance, and everything in between. In the summers I often went to Cuba with a group of dancers. I saw people there who didn’t have anything and they did so much with what they had.
One of my dance teachers who I loved a lot took me as an apprentice when I was fifteen. I learned about experimental dance and choreography. I wanted to learn more about the world. I ended up in London for university study at the Laban Center Dance. It was the biggest cultural shock. I was treated like an exotic fruit. I felt discrimination and saw how people from all over discriminate against each other as well as celebrate and respect each other. It was all more complicated than what I had seen so far. I had a teacher who called me Miss Brazil and would call me out for assuming I thought I was in a daily carnival. I was in school for three years in London and then toured for three years in Europe. For graduation, no one from my family was there. I felt like a ghost. We do everything as family and I was alone. I had friends who became like family but the feeling of isolation never went away.
I thought about how do others see me and how do I see myself and my people, the Puerto Ricans? When I got to New York it felt more like home—there are so many Puerto Ricans in New York. I started to shift my British accent and speak more Spanglish.
As Puerto Ricans we have American passports but I feel we are third class Americans, we get the leftovers. Puerto Ricans are looked at as foreigners. We have a weird sense of inferiority in the island. It is part of the colonial condition. Puerto Rico is in a condition of dependency. That becomes part of one’s identity as an individual if you don’t learn to resist it and grow out of it. I am a Puerto Rican person from the Caribbean. I identify with the culture that has developed in Puerto Rico. The America we imagine in Puerto Rico is often not real. We have images from movies and TV. The country supports and crushes us at the same time.
My parents moved here to be near our new baby. I am going back home to visit my 103-year-old grandmother this summer. I do miss the island culture, the island people. My first impression was that life here was rough and angry. Island life is chill, slow, not aggressive. People are hospitable and relaxed, not workaholics. I miss island friends, singing songs as part of our conversation. I don’t have to feel at the edge with them, it feels like family. With them I feel more comfortable. If I am separated from those things that make me feel at home for too long, I judge myself too much and lose my ground.
I feel my husband and I have opened paths for our family members. My husbands’ niece from Korea came to stay with us, and we helped her to meet people and to try to speak English. I lived in Korea for one and a half years. I went to language school there for wives of Koreans. For young people I was treated as a celebrity—they thought I was American. I said I was Puerto Rican, not American. To the older people, I looked like someone challenging their culture by marrying a Korean man. It was at times very hard to be there. I spoke Korean at the level of a kindergarten child. But I developed a lot as a person, out of my comfort zone getting to know what I really liked and what I didn’t.
My farewell party was also my birthday party. I remember feeling very beautiful, an adventurer, celebrating something many of my friends wanted to do. My ballet teacher came to my party and said, “I’m so proud of you. You are doing this at the perfect moment.” I said goodbye to my long time caregiver/ family friend who saw me growing up and who I had many good talks with. She was kind of like my aunt. We had a goodbye party and my mom tried cooking recipes from all different places, not Puerto Rican food. I was given the blessings of people I love.
Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition June 25–28, 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.