In two days, yours truly will be among her peeps once again! I will be taking three Dramamines to deal with the up-down-landings of a LIAT flight that will be touching down on every single island from here to Puerto Rico and emerging from the airplane five hours later in Heaven/Land of My Birth/The Home I Should Visit More.
I cannot wait to land and smell the air as soon as I walk out of the sliding doors at the airport, all hot and kind of polluted and oppressive and reassuringly the same as I remember it from when I was a little girl. I’m going to eat every single little morsel of fried, sugary or otherwise delectable tastiness presented to me (and seek out those that aren’t), catch up with my wonderful relatives, and have a ball with Baby Bel (who is currently studying there for a semester) and Linds, My Little Sister Next Door. I want rum, pork, karaoke, and arroz con pollo (rice with chicken). And I can tell you right now, I’ll cry when I leave, as I always do.
Before I keep spewing my giddiness, I must give all props to Mr. Laura, who so sweetly booked this trip for me (albeit for fewer days) as a total surprise of a Christmas present (for more details of that one, check my Christmas post). Thank you, Mr. Laura, for so sweetly sending me away to get my sister envy/family seeing/ultimate Puerto Rican-being fix. I’d never think that you’re just trying to get rid of me (and as proof of my gratitude, I’m leaving some frozen meals for you):
OK. Thanking done.
Before my last visit in September 2008, I hadn’t been back for four years, and before that it had been three years, and before that possibly four or five years more… So a year and a half away should be like nothing to me at this point, but it isn’t. As I’ve gotten older and spent more time away from family (and from Puerto Rico), I’ve realized how much more “from there” I am.
This was not always the case. When my family moved back to Puerto Rico for a year after living in Spain for three years, I felt like an alien. There was too much pop culture I didn’t know, too much slang I didn’t get, too many classes and lessons to take (dance, modeling, etc) at which I was less than stellar and which proclaimed as loudly as my out-of-style hair and funny clothes that I didn’t fit in. I had even picked up a drastically different accent and lingo from the south of Spain and it garnered nothing but chuckles from the (inevitably mean) kids at school, who didn’t get why I was so perverse as to complain about penises (“bichos” in PR parlance) in the air, failing to understand that the same word meant “mosquito” in Spain, which is what I actually meant.
After we moved to the US, I would return to Puerto Rico as many times as my relatives would put up with me. I was always desperate to get there, yet slightly apprehensive about fitting in with the bevy of cousins, who seemed infinitely cooler than me. No one got my eyeliner or grunge thing and everyone had something–bad–to say about the music I’d listen to. I was a secretly surly teenager, and surely I would have felt that way anywhere I went, but there was something very incongruous about me wearing my NIN shirts among the happy, well-bronzed, and skilled-at-reducing-frizz people my age. I didn’t like the heat, I didn’t want to be in a bathing suit (much less wear one around–gasp–other people), and I didn’t have that je ne sais quois that the cousins had. But I went, and I had fun, and then went back to real life as usual.
Once I hit 17 and got a summer job, I stopped going in the summers. I missed going back (though I didn’t miss the frizz), but I kept up by phone through college and grad school and got to see family when they visited us in cold and snowy upstate New York. I visited once right before moving to England to get a good PR fix because I knew it would be a while before I made it back.
And a while it was–four whole years. Skype didn’t work on calls to PR and airfares were unthinkable on our student budget, and the time difference meant a lot less phone contact with the family (both in the States and in the US). No point in going on about how much I missed them, you can imagine.
What was strange was the fact that I started to miss parts of me, as if certain ways I felt or things I said or responses to things were only possible around the family, in Spanish, and possibly only in that particular Puerto Rican context. I took a job that involved a lot of liaison work with Latin American students at a university and felt revived by speaking my language and letting that side out a bit. I would make trips to the city’s grungy, inconvenient weekend market just to find salt codfish and cassava, boiled and burned pots and pots of black beans in attempts to perfect Cuban rice and beans like my mom and aunts made, and would have probably fainted–or sold my soul–in the presence of a plantain.
Every time people assumed I was American (hello, accent!) I bristled, and in my first few years in England I’d explain that I was from Puerto Rico. They’d look at me strangely (most people didn’t know where it was, despite the world domination of J-Lo) or, if they knew where it was, brush off the difference and think I was American anyway, like Italian-Americans or Polish-Americans or Irish-Americans. I would keep my views to myself (as I will now) and stew, contemplating the need to get some sort of flag tattoo to circumvent further indignation.
After those four years, I went back last year for almost a month and, for the first time ever, it all made sense. I might not have lived there my whole life, but it was still home, and more than it was before–I’d learned to appreciate it and I’d somehow cultivated my Rican-ness (hothouse-style) during my years away. I might not be able to give directions there, and I may still freak out if asked to drive with the aggressive masses on the million-lane highways, but I sure know where to get limber (ice pops) in old San Juan, and I know how to get my beans in the taste vicinity of my grandmother’s, and I can chat about relatives and neighbors I haven’t seen for years as if they were the most fascinating celebrities ever. And, finally, I can dance like I want to and like I mean it.
So this little trip to see Baby Bel and Lindz among the family is beyond special to me for a million different reasons, as you could imagine. It’s actually been about ten years since we’ve both visited at the same time. I wonder if she feels the same way as me about the place, and I hope she does. In any case, my family and I will be tearing up a rug and having a blast from Thursday on. I hope I can sleep between now and then… I should sleep well, because I’m almost all packed:
I really wish I could be wearing stuff from the suitcase, rather than stuff for work today, which was pretty forgettable fare and which I didn’t photograph on account of stupidly leaving my camera at work (I got home, went to look for it, noticed it wasn’t in the cavernous purse, changed clothes, and drove back to work, cursing the whole way, to retrieve it.)
I also wish my beautiful breakfast had happened at my grandmother’s house:
And that I’d had empanadillas instead of (very delicious) veggie burgers over salad–I obviously didn’t care SO much as I chomped before snapping, hence the almost-empty bowl:
And, for dinner, I wish I had eaten arroz con pollo, but my mom’s awesome lentil chili was more than good enough–it was BOSS:
Ladies and gents, I’m going to catch some much-needed sleep–I have my first-ever 4 mile run tomorrow morning and a playlist has yet to be made for the exciting, momentous, potentially disastrous occasion. Wish me luck!
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