Humor as a tool for revolution and coping mechanism for the current Puerto Rican situation  

Puerto Rico no se deja - Natalia Benitez

Photo credit: Natalia Bénitez

My friend said that if memes could be properly monetized, Puerto Ricans right now would be making bank. In the midst of a political crisis and arguably the start of a revolution for change, Puerto Ricans have shown no fear manifesting their beliefs with creativity, both physically and virtually. From divers underwater showing their protest signs to yogis leading a peaceful yoga class in front of the governor’s mansion – our creativity knows no bounds. If you are Puerto Rican, I bet you are receiving a constant flow of memes from family members, friends, and even coworkers. You have to admit they are good! 

How can a country that is undergoing what has been said to be a historical manifestation have the strength to continue to fight, while also entertaining millions with constant hysterical remarks?

The two coexist as part of a conscious or unconscious strategy, as one of the obstacles that important education and political messages often face is the ability to reach those who need to know said message. From a basic communication standpoint, humor is easy to share, it even strengthens interpersonal relationships. I have seen memes circulating social media that have encouraged me to do my own research to further understand the jokes and/or claims being made. In a culture where we are so overwhelmed by information and opinions from every device imaginable, researching has become key. I have had conversations with my grandma in which it is evident that solely relying on one TV station for your news is never going to be enough again. It is simply impossible to properly capture an entire movement when it is happening virtually and physically, EVERYWHERE.

Puerto Ricans are loud and proud, and it is in our nature to find humor in all situations, for some, in too many situations. You can blame the tropical climate for our “warmth” but perhaps, it is more accurate to look at years and years of situations (political or not) that are so beyond ridiculous that all you can do is laugh. People often say “hay que reír para no llorar” (essentially, you have to laugh to keep yourself from crying) and although that shows our resilience and spirit, it uncovers another big issue that Puerto Ricans are facing: a vulnerable mental health state.

After Hurricane Maria, the suicide rates reportedly went up in the island. The entire nation lived day after day full of worries, desperation, and angst. Those in the island were too busy surviving to have the time to call out shady government actions or even worse, lack of action. Those in the diaspora essentially dropped everything they were doing to desperately try to find feasible and effective ways to help, overwhelmed by the inability to connect with family members on the island. I am no medical professional, but I think it is safe to say that the island has gone through trauma. By definition, a coping mechanism is an adaptation to environmental stress that is based on conscious or unconscious choice and that enhances control over behavior or gives psychological comfort.

Interestingly enough, you could argue that this “humor as a coping mechanism” strategy was the governor’s own downfall. He claims the expressions said on the controversial leaked Telegram chat (charged with sexist and homophobic remarks) was his way of “releasing tension” from the pressure of his job. So while humor is a powerful tool for awareness and joy, it can also be poisonous and dangerous. Nonetheless, it is undeniable that the majority of the humor utilized lately in public conversations has been positively fueling the right for people to manifest themselves and hold the government accountable. It has also been key in the spreading of information and unification of a country that had been divided for far too long. Now, nothing will ever be perfect and while I can assure you there will be future memes mocking the fighting spirit of Puerto Ricans these days, it is important to remember what fueled the humor from the beginning: indignation and the overwhelming feeling that Puerto Rico has had ENOUGH.

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