Carlos Andino Cruz
“An ‘associated free state,’ by definition, does not exist,” Carlos Andino Cruz, also in Yabucoa, tells the student documentarians.

In Puerto Rico, pa’lante is a popular, hopeful slang word, a contraction of para adelante, which means “forward.” And in Puerto Rico Pa’lante, a number of those from the island, who live there or are part of the Western Massachusetts diaspora, speak with feeling about their resilience and heritage. “Puerto Ricans have a presence,” explains Lizmarie Diaz, from Caguas, who came to Westfield, Mass., after Hurricane Maria. “We like to help others.”

The film begins with the question: “What does it mean to be Puerto Rican?” One speaker calls it “a privilege,” while one émigré says that’s “a loaded question,” tearing up because she misses her family back home. Another praises how the island has been enriched by its multiculturalism, citing African, Spanish and Taino influences. Sandra Hernández, who left Puerto Rico for Chicopee, Mass., is the mother of Eva Diáz, an academic department coordinator at Amherst. “You carry it in your heart,” says Hernandez of her birthplace. “You carry it in your blood—all those feelings of love for your homeland.”

Sor Lillian Flores
“We give what little we have in order to feel that sense of family,” says Sor Lillian Flores, filmed in Yabucoa.

As footage spools of broken glass and detritus, some speak of their experience surviving the September 2017 hurricane. “You couldn’t open the windows or door, because it was as if the storm was shooting debris,” says Regino Amaro of Yabucoa.

The film also delves into politics, with some subjects disheartened by Puerto Rico’s nebulous status as an “associated free state.” A man sporting a Che Guevara tattoo is fed up with local political corruption, he says. And Coco, a barber in San Juan, blasts his homeland’s inequity: “We are just a game to the United States. It is a vacation home in the country that is still enslaved.”

Eva Diaz
Filmed on campus, Amherst staffer Eva Diaz says of her native Puerto Rico, “That culture will always be in me.”

Many of the documentary’s images resonate: the bright ocean and beaches, the cherry- and gold- and turquoise-painted homes, the murals, the festival dancers twirling their white ruffled skirts. “There is something about the culture that makes you very proud to be Puerto Rican,” says J.R Arias ’20E in the film. He grew up in the Bronx and Holyoke, Mass. “And I carry that identity with me,” he says, “everywhere I go.”

A beach in Puerto Rico
“You have mountains. You have cities. You have beaches,” says one subject of his homeland. “You have anything you ever wanted.”