Sadness from the Puerto Rican Diaspora

Corona NYC firehouse collection site for Puerto Rico reliefHurricane Maria triggered a sadness that almost makes no sense: I am a second-generation New Yorker but most of my grandparents were from Puerto Rico.

Many decades ago, when my grandfather’s employer sent him to live there for a few years, I had the privilege of spending two summers with them, first in their rental house in Bayamón and, two years later, at the house they bought in Guaynabo. These San Juan suburbs were not as built up as they are now. Indeed, I got in trouble for playing in a construction site with the boys. This behavior would have been normal in New York but in that time and culture, it was unacceptable. Grandma preferred that I be more ladylike.

It was common to dress for diner. My routine with my brothers was to play outside with the neighborhood kids — all of whom spoke English — and go inside in time to shower and put on clean play clothes. Grandpa was big on table manners so those clothes remained fresh enough to wear for the next day’s adventures.

We played outside because, unlike back home, it was uncommon to go inside someone’s home without an invitation. One day, my grandmother was aflutter because my friend’s mother called to invite me to dinner at a later date. Grandma was all about which dress I should wear and what to do about my wild curls. I promptly caught some local illness and cried not because I was sick, but because I couldn’t have dinner at Rosa Maria’s house across the street. (The sickness did give me the excuse to live on pear nectar for a while.)

But I was lucky to have experienced the gentility of their time and place in Puerto Rico. My grandparents’ friends made it possible for us to appear on a local kids’ television show, to be the literal “kid in a candy store” when we visited with some relatives who owned an actual candy store, to drive to the Arecibo Observatory while it was still partially under construction. (Sadly, this was before Arecibo was open for tours. We had to view it from the road.)

Many years later, I insisted that my daughter see Puerto Rico for herself. Her father is not of that heritage so my child and I went exploring on our own. When we got off the city bus at Old San Juan, starving, we found a coffee shop populated by construction workers. We enjoyed authentic food there, far from the tourist traps. I loved showing her the El Yunque rain forest where, for old times sake, I drank from a waterfall like the locals. That is delicious water. I suspect I developed immunities to whatever lives in it from a long-ago visit when I frolicked in and drank from one of the El Yunque waterfalls.

How much of this is still standing? Hurricane Maria decimated this beautiful island. I have no family or friends there, just memory and gratitude. Today, I brought feminine and first aid products to a collection site at a firehouse a few neighborhoods away. The donations will be sent to Puerto Rico. I wanted to bring so much more.

I was removed from the culture at some point in my childhood. My cooking is rudimentary. My salsa and merengue skills are awkward and my Spanish virtually nonexistent. (Although, I saw a post from a dear friend begging for information about a relative in Puerto Rico and, although written in Spanish, I easily understood it. Anguish is universal.)

I had a bucket list plan that involved (1) searching for information about my grandmother’s family history and (2) kayaking the bioluminescent bay. The documents I need may no longer exist and I wonder how the dinoflagellates fared in the flooding.

This trip would have been to a different Puerto Rico. Not to my grandparents’ life there, not to a mommy-and-me version of the island, but an almost scholarly journey. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t Just Do It years ago.

Items donated to Puerto Rico relief at the Corona NYC firehouseI fear that Puerto Rico won’t receive the aid that it needs to rebuild. Florida, Texas and the Virgin Islands also suffered this hurricane season, and we have a president who simply doesn’t like Spanish people. We have to continue to donate whatever it is that Puerto Rico needs to rebuild. It’s our responsibility to keep this treasure alive.

 

 

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12 thoughts on “Sadness from the Puerto Rican Diaspora

  1. Linda,
    I enjoyed reading your childhood memories of visiting your abuelitos in Puerto Rico. I was born in Dominican Republic, neighbors of PR. When I came to the USA at an early age, lived in the Bronx, where at that time the only Latinos where Puerto Ricans. My closest childhood friends have been PR descent. I had the opportunity to go to PR when I was a teenager with my friend’s family. It was a great experience that I cherish and hold close to my heart. Like you, this devastating tragedy in PR breaks my heart. I too, went to donate items and been volunteering at a Hurricane Relief at the Puerto Rican Family Institute in Manhattan. May God be the source of comfort during this difficult time to tge people of LA ISLA DEL ENCANTO…viva Borinque!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You have amazing energy and empathy for people in need. Any group that benefits from your help is lucky to have you. PR and USVI will need our help and prayers for a long, long time! Thanks for stopping my, Marisol.

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  2. I am not Puerto Rican but two good friends (I am still in touch with one of them) and a former co worker were from there. I remember the grandmother of one feeding me chicken and rice, so delicious. On the subways I would hear a musical style that was so fun to listen to. I had heard enough stories to know it was a place I wanted to see. Where I live upstate, you wouldn’t even know anything had happened in Puerto Rico. No fundraising. No nothing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my gosh, the food is like no other! As far as I know, there are Puerto Ricans in Westchester and Putnam counties but I don’t know about further north. There may not be big or cohesive enough communities there. Your good will means so very much. If you are comfortable making a financial donation, that would also be great. Thank you for tweeting!

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