I tear up when “En Mi Viejo San Juan” is sung or played. I don’t know why. The song is a nostalgic lamentation from the point of view of a Puerto Rican living in the diaspora, far away from their beloved homeland, a reluctant refugee from their true love, their home. They hope one day to return to their beautiful isla, Borinquen.
Pero el tiempo pasó | But time passed by
Y el destino burló | and destiny mocked
Mi terrible nostalgia | my terrible nostalgia,
Y no pude volver | and I couldn’t return
Al San Juan que yo amé | to the San Juan that I loved,
Pedacito de patria | little piece of my land.
Mi cabello blanqueo | My hair whitened
Ya mi vida se va | and my life fades away
Ya la muerte me llame | and death calls for me,
Y no quiero morir | and I don’t want to die
Alejado de tí | away from you
Puerto Rico del alma, adiós | Puerto Rico of the soul.
My son, Jaimito made an observation after he had played it in a small ensemble recently. “Daddy, it’s funny, you’re not even Puerto Rican, and you have not left or plan to leave.”
“I don’t know what it is, Jaimito. You’re right. Why does that song hit me so hard?” I laughed, wiping my tears. “Damn these onions.”
I’ve reflected, and I think I’ve come to a few conclusions. First, I get emotional because everybody else does. This song never fails to impact a group of Puerto Ricans especially older. I cannot, not be impacted by the emotions of others. Like a contagious yawn, I think of all the scattered families, the years and distance between them, the struggles of making it in a new place, the worry of those in the mainland when calamity befalls others on the island. We will return, they say, and they hold out hope that we will be together again on their beautiful island.
And that leads me to the second and perhaps deeper significance in the song. An essentially hopeful and spiritual people, I can’t also help but reflect that the song touchs at what drives us all forward, keeps us going.
Although, we know in our rational mind that the outcome is hopeless, our heart, our spirits will that it be not so. This song captures it perfectly – hope in the face of inevitable loss.