Monday, June 10, 2019

On Being Puerto Rican

Yesterday was National Puerto Rican Day.  I stalked the social media of my friends, especially in New York to see pictures of the festivals and of the parade.  You see, the day before this particular Sunday, the streets in Spanish Harlem and all over the boroughs break out in song and dance celebrating our rich culture.  There are pastelillos(meat patty), and someone selling coquito (Italian Ice).  There is a man with a big block of ice making piraguas(shaved ice)Everywhere and every place imaginable is the Puerto Rican flag.  It is on windows and the hoods of cars.  Those sneakers on the heel have a small insignia reppin' the culture.  I hear the Spanish and the English that sound like my people.  Just thinking of it makes my heart swell and I miss it. 

My father was Colombian.  He wasn't very close to his family and friends.  I have lost touch with them in Cali.  My father taught me his Colombian roots as much as he could but he recognized that my soul was Puerto Rican.  My Spanish was Puerto Rican.  I looked like him but with Puerto Rican features.  He would tell me I have the warmth and the alegria, the joy of a Puerto Rican.  So I never went to the Colombian Day parade.  If there was a culture I was celebrating, it was Boriqua. 

My children consider themselves Latino.  They look Latino.  I explain that they are half Latino and half European.  I try to talk to them in Spanish and if they don't understand the language, they understand the intent of what I tell them.  Regardless of what I tell them.  They want to be what I am and when someone asks them what they are, they answer, "Puerto Rican."  I don't correct them. 

When I moved to Phoenix, it was hard for me because I didn't really fit in.  There is not a big Puerto Rican community here.  Some people didn't even know what I was talking about when I told them I was Puerto Rican.  "Do you speak Mexican?"  "I speak Spanish."  "You look mixed."  "I am mixed.  I'm Puerto Rican.  Puerto Ricans are mixed."  I would call my Titi Lily and she would remind me, "You are Puerto Rican.  Ya basta."  Ya basta- it means "Enough already."  But when she said it, I took that being Puerto Rican is enough to explain where I come from. 

Funny enough, my husband loved Puerto Ricans.  When his stepmother met me, she said, "I knew you would be Puerto Rican."  In fact, Santi thought he was Puerto Rican.  His step grandfather was Puerto Rican and so he grew up thinking that he was not understanding that his grandfather was by marriage not blood.  He would put ketchup on his scrabbled eggs then shake his head at me and tell me that he was more Puerto Rican than I was.  When he was younger, a lot of his friends were all Puerto Rican.  His best man at our wedding and the children's godfather is his Puerto Rican brother.  I can't imagine him as anything else. Thank you for always looking out for him. 

I carry within me the blood of my ancestors.  I remember the stories told to me by family members playing Parcheesi or Dominoes.  I am linked to this island.  I feel it run through my veins.  I can see the clear waters.  I can smell it.  I can see my people.  When I am among them, they recognize me as their own.  I can see my grandmother cooking on Sundays.  I can hear my mother's Puerto Rican Spanish.  I can feel the faith that they imparted to me.  When there was nothing else, there was faith.  there was God.  We always said, "God willing."  We recognized always the sovereignty of our Lord.  Today, I represent them.  I am their dream.  I am their hope.  With their strength and their will, I go forward.  There have been days that I stand after I've fallen simply because I have remembered to honor the sacrifices of those who came before me. 

My son asked me what I thought about DNA testing.  I told him that I had no interest in finding out what is written in my DNA.  I am a Puerto Rican, this is enough. 

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