Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Isla del Encanto

I am often asked, "Where are you from?" while I know it's a disguise for, "Why do you look so different than what an American 'should' look like?" It's a loaded question for me. But, the truth behind all the PC layers is that my blood runs thick with Taino, European and African blood that took root on a small island nation that belongs to the US in the way that indentured servants belong to their masters. 

This week I get to explore that place with my boyfriend, daughter and nephew. My daughter is quick to identify as Latina, but has only explored the Mexican side of her culture. She has never been to Puerto Rico. My nephew went as a toddler but is old enough now to create lasting memories. My bf has never been out of the country so this should be entertaining.

As a child I visited my family in Puerto Rico a few times. I mostly recall the food, playing with my cousins, the beach and my grandparent's homes. As an adult Warren and I got to spend time in various parts of the island I had never seen before. I still laugh at the memory of him trying to cover his Mexican accent with one he thought was more Puerto Rican, and being disappointed when asked where he learned Spanish. That was typical of Warren, though. He would visit a country and jump into the culture, love it and accept it without judgement. That is what I want to show my daughter and nephew. 

Puerto Rico is beautiful and we'll certainly enjoy the mountains, the beaches and the rain forest. But I want the kids to come away with more than that. As a child I had a diverse group of friends, neighbors, and family members. I loved how so many elements of my heritage could be found in theirs as well. Being a blend of three continents makes for a rich tapestry of foods, music, vernacular, and appreciations. I had family members as blue-eyed as my Polish friends, and some as dark as Harold Washington, the first black mayor of Chicago. 

Learning about the history of the island and the Puerto Ricans who made that history instilled pride and a feeling that I come from strong, assertive and resilient stock. That isn't unique to Puerto Ricans, and I am thankful to share that with other nationalities and cultures. It is a good reminder when times are tough and I want to chuck it in the fuck-it bucket to remember that my lineage consists of these traits and I can live up to them. 

During our time on the isla del encanto I hope to gift that to my daughter and nephew. Being in the place of their descendants, seeing first-hand the place that so many have fought and continue to fight for, hearing the accents that make up the Puerto Rican colloquialisms, getting to know our family who call the island home, walking through historic landmarks that have come to define the island globally are all on the agenda, along with lots of comida criolla, salt water and tan lines. When we get back, I hope that the kids will walk with a little more pep in their step, feel more connected to their history, and feel proud when they get asked that unavoidable question about where they're really from.

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