Synopsis: Bourdain travels to Puerto Rico, an island beset by economic disaster and whose people have inarguably helped lay the foundations of not just New York but United States culture. Beyond the island’s luxury resorts and pristine beaches, intended to serve as a lifesaver for a flailing economy, Bourdain breaks bread—and coconut arepas—with the people who are tied to their homes by resilience in the face of inaction from the halls of power in Washington and San Juan. He travels to the island of Vieques, until recently a bombing range for the U.S. Navy, where locals experience alarming cancer rates. The hope for many Puerto Ricans, Bourdain learns, is not in a change of heart in the states far away, but in the dogged spirit of the island’s intellectuals, artists, and farmworkers.

Billion-dollar questions: on toxic debt and tourism

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“I don’t see statehood. I don’t see Congress or the Senate ever taking on a $72 billion debt load, especially for a lot of people who speak Spanish. What’s the way out of this?”

  • “Why would a bank front 70-plus billion dollars into an economy that had been in decline for some time? Did they ever have any reasonable expectation of getting their money back, or was this a cheap way of buying a country?”
  • “More than a hundred years under the wing of the U.S. has left Puerto Rico without any real economic engine beyond tourism. The old industries are no longer wanted, needed, or are no longer economically viable. Agriculture, manufacturing, trade have all shrunk drastically. The island is dependent on U.S. exports for just about everything.”
  • “Life on Vieques offers the kind of freedom, the kind of beautiful views that have largely disappeared in the developed world. But life can be difficult. There is little agriculture or economy to sustain the people who live here.”
  • “Everybody is going to be going to Cuba in a couple of years. Why? Because it’s unspoiled; they haven’t fucked it up yet.”

Weighing modern-day colonialism

“It’s kind of a half-assed citizenship. You can’t vote for president … or Congress. You don’t really have much voice in your own destiny.”

  • “It’s the American dream, right? What so many of us work for, sell our labor or pieces of our souls for: an island in the sun. Preferably one where they speak English and the dollar is accepted everywhere.”
  • “We’ve … held onto it—fiercely at times—since 1898, after taking it by force during the Spanish-American War. But what’s it like for Puerto Ricans, for the people who live here, whose families have lived here for generations? Many have left for an easier life in the States. More keep leaving. But not all.”
  • “So, dumb question: What is Puerto Rico? It’s not a state. It’s kind of like a colony, but it’s not.”

A people and place that endure

“A great idea that will never be anything less than great: Put a pig on a stick and turn him slowly, slowly over a low fire.”

  • “Puerto Rico is still inarguably rich in one thing: natural splendor. Beautiful views, unspoiled coastline. But that too is in peril.”
  • “Puerto Rico is, of course, easy to love. I sure do. Firstly, because Puerto Rican culture, as a New Yorker since age 17, was part of the cell tissue of the city I’ve lived in so long.”

Oh, Tony …

“If this TV thing falls through, I can always work at Denny’s.”

  • [Lounging on a boat, waiting for chef Xavier Pacheco to prepare a feast] “In the Life Doesn’t Suck department, this is way up there—a means of conveyance I find quite … comfortable. Barefoot and a bit drunk, pleasantly burned by the sun. Lunch approaches.”
  • “Who will save Puerto Rico? Who will save Vieques? It ain’t gonna be Big Daddy America.”