By EDDIE BORGES
E-d-w-a-r-d-B-o-r-g-es,” my mother told me. “And if anyone ever asks, you’re American, not Puerto Rican.”
I was 3 years old when my mother taught me to spell my name, pronounce it with a hard G (to rhyme with gorgeous), and about self-hate, in the sun porch of our house, down the street from Jamaica High School, in Queens.
My mother tended this seed she planted with care. My parents, aunts and uncles spoke Spanish around me, but never to me. My Spanish is barely comprehensible.
My mother never shared with me the indignities that led to choices like this, but I appreciate that she had reasons for raising her sons as Americans and not Puerto Ricans.
She was born in a house with a dirt floor to a woman who raised 13 children by herself. They were so poor that my grandmother pulled my mom, who was the salutatorian of her middle school graduating class, out of high school to work.
Her sister sent her the fare to come to New York in 1944. “America,” Rita Moreno’s break-out number from West Side Story celebrating the character’s escape from Puerto Rico, might as well be my mom’s theme song.
It is a defining film for me, too. When I was 26 years old, sharing life stories with a first date, it struck me that I had gotten something wrong about that picture.
I identified with the Jets—but I was born into the Sharks.
My story is similar to many New Yorkers’ experiences with race and ethnicity since the Dutch settled New York and welcomed everyone, no matter what their background, to its shores.
Sadly, the two white men from Boston, Massachusetts, who run the city from opposite ends of City Hall lack sensitivity to race or ethnicity.
In the West Wing is Mayor Bill De Blasio. He comes from a white patrician family. His father went to Yale; his mother, to Smith.
Since taking office, De Blasio has demonstrated racial bias in hiring. The city is one third white; one third Latino: Puerto Rican, Dominican and Mexican; and nearly one third black.
Yet, Latinos only account for 20 percent of new hires in his administration, while blacks account for 40 percent, according to federal reports.
Even more revealing, recently released emails from the mayor, with people he consults outside the government, reveal that these people are almost exclusively white.
In the East Wing is City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. When concerns were raised during his campaign that three of four citywide officials would be white men if he was elected, he countered that being gay and HIV-positive made him sensitive.
That may have been one of the most offensive and ahistorical quotes by a city public official since the beginning of the civil rights movement. That Johnson is the first city council speaker since 1969 without a college education is no excuse.
His actions demonstrate his actual position. His senior staff when he was a councilman was exclusively white, and his staff as speaker now is mostly white with the addition of two black women.
More significantly, Johnson eliminated the standing committee for community development, which was dedicated to the underlying problem facing Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans and blacks living in the city: poverty.
Finally, last week, DeBlasio and Johnson agreed to protect the yellow-cab industry, like the Dutch once protected tulips, because neither appreciates what it is like to be brown or black, trying to hail a cab on the streets of Manhattan at night when you want to go home to Uptown or Brooklyn, and empty taxis fly past.
Sure, they threw a bone to the problem by this week directing the Taxi & Limousine Commission to enforce the issue of cabbies refusing to pick up outer-borough riders with a new division, the “Office of Inclusion”—a bureaucratic solution designed to grab attention but unlikely to yield any results.
It’s one of the many indignities that build up in people’s lives and cause them to want to teach their children to deny a part of their identity.
Fortunately, a whole generation of young people in this city has never experienced this indignity, thanks to ridesharing services. It’s heartbreaking that de Blasio and Johnson and their staffs don’t understand what a watershed moment this was for us.