[an error occurred while processing this directive]


  Field Notes From
Puerto Rico

<< Back to Feature Page

On Assignment
View Field Notes
From Author

Andrew Cockburn

On Assignment

View Field Notes
From Photographer

Amy Toensing

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Mark Thiessen (top), and Gwen Wist


On Assignment On Assignment On Assignment
Puerto Rico's Divided Passions

Field Notes From Author
Andrew Cockburn
Best Worst Quirkiest
    I went to a celebration that proved Puerto Ricans throw the best parties. This fantastic group, Plena Libre, was playing, and the band and the music were so infectious that everyone got up to dance, including all the waitresses. They were doing this step that suggested the Puerto Rican version of line dancing.
    After I got back from the assignment, I went to a Puerto Rican event at a U.S. Senate building in Washington, D.C., and was surprised to find Plena Libre playing there too. Those buildings can be pretty depressing, but once the band got going the place started jumping—I thought the roof would cave in—and suddenly I was back in Puerto Rico. No alcohol was served that night, which shows you Puerto Ricans can have a great time purely from spirit.

    I visited a heroin-shooting gallery in San Juan to observe a doctor who operates a needle-exchange program. I went into a room full of addicts who were injecting themselves, and I had started talking to one of them when I noticed that his used needle was about half an inch from my bare wrist. He wasn't trying to stab me or anything—he was just talking—but that was a truly scary moment.

    Puerto Rico is a country apart. I had always thought of it as a slightly lusher, hotter, Spanish-speaking version of the United States, but it's so much more distinct than that. Whereas politics have become somewhat unfashionable stateside, people in Puerto Rico are gripped by them—yet they have just as much reason to be disenchanted by the corruption.
    You can't escape it: I was stuck in a traffic jam on the outskirts of San Juan when this impassioned political debate suddenly came through my open windows like surround sound. It was being broadcast on a radio talk show, and everybody on the road was tuned in to the same program. It made it seem like the whole country was engaged in this furious discussion. Though my article sometimes pokes fun at Puerto Ricans for their political obsession, it was heartening to be in a place that believed voting and democracy still matter. It would be nice if the rest of this country were just as obsessed.

© 2003 National Geographic Society. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy       Advertising Opportunities       Masthead

National Geographic Magazine Home Contact Us Forums Shop Subscribe