Madison Anderson Berríos, a Symbol of Puerto Rico

Madison Anderson Berríos, Miss Universe-Puerto Rico 2019, lives in Florida. /screenshot

It had to happen sometime – a Miss Universe-Puerto Rico who was not born in Puerto Rico, who possesses an Anglo-Saxon monicker and who is not fluent in Spanish. Oh, and she lives in Florida, the de facto headquarters of Puerto Rican migration.

Puerto Ricans both here and on the island are all atwitter over Madison Anderson Berríos, 23, the perfect symbol of our time.

Borchorno” or shame, wrote one on Facebook.

“Terrible,” wrote another.

El país de los cuatro pisos! Jajajajajajahaja!” commented another, referring to classic theory that Puerto Rico is made up of four waves of migration to the island and, thus, is a “four-storied country.”

In reality, Puerto Rico is now a five-storied country, for two million more Puerto Ricans live in the states than on the island and many are walking around with non-Latino names like Madison Anderson.

That she does not speak Spanish well also is to be expected, for the distance in time from original migration often dictates Spanish fluency for nearly all Latino groups. Which is to say, future generations speak less Spanish or speak Spanish less well, if at all.

Of course, it does not help that she represents the town of Toa Baja, outside of San Juan, a municipality that flooded during Hurricane María, endangering the lives of many, and which is riddled with long-term debt of over $164 million. Two of its officials were charged with theft, conversion and misappropriation of funds by HUD and the U.S. Health and Human Services. When the mayor and top officials left, they made sure to pack severance pay. In short, Toa Baja is a mess.

Toa Baja, by the way, also contains Levittown, one of the island’s largest settlements of return migrants whose children spoke broken or no Spanish and about which Puerto Ricans decidedly have very mixed feelings. (Full disclosure: I lived in Levittown and have fond memories of it.)

For Puerto Ricans on the island Madison Anderson Berríos conjures up all manner of these bugaboos: a reminder that the island is shrinking in population, that more Puerto Ricans live in the states – including over 1 million in Florida, that the diaspora each day speaks for and represents Puerto Rico although some people on the island contend “they are not like us,” that bogged down by debt, bankruptcy, federal oversight and a hurricane for all time mean life is passing Puerto Rico by.

All painful to acknowledge. The existential angst is perfectly represented in Miss Universe-Puerto Rico, a beauty pageant in which Puerto Ricans place a lot of stock, part of the four Bs – baseball, basketball, boxing and beauty contests – “sports” that Puerto Ricans enthusiastically follow. (Politics would be another.)

And so Madison Anderson Berríos turns out to be a perfect walking-talking representation of Puerto Rico today, too perfect as beauty pageants go.

“I know I don’t speak Spanish perfectly, but that doesn’t make me less Puerto Rican,” Anderson Berríos said in an interview with El Nuevo Día, which annually provides breathless coverage of the beauty pageant. “I think I have a story with which many people can identify.”


˜˜María Padilla, Editor

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