Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I Began to Feed My Soul....

"I'll never forget talking to a Jewish boy on the subway, who, like me, was nine years old. Proudly, he told me that he went to something called a "Yeshiva" school where he learned about the history of his people....I'll never forget my confusion when he asked me what Puerto Rican culture and history was all about....All I could think about was salsa music, rice and beans, and the palms trees of Puerto Rico". -Roberto Santiago, Introduction to "Boricuas: Influential Puerto Rican Writings - An Anthology".

The preceding statement, and I am sure there are many more similar statements, is one that is at the very core of the disconnect with culture and history that is so prevalent among many Puerto Ricans. Taking a look at the annual parade that shows the pride in culture, history and the island is a yearly reminder of sorts.  Year after year, it seems like the biggest lessons learned are how to wave the Puerto Rican flag and say Puerto Rico or Boricua at the top of your lungs.
I must admit, I was lacking in many things cultural at one time. During my childhood years my surroundings only matched those which looked like me. The only person that ever seemed out of place was the building owner and he only appeared once a month for rent collection. The images seen on the television screen were those of another world altogether. Images of neighborhoods far away and impalpable. Never once questioning that which I was nor of those beyond the borders of my Brooklyn neighborhood. My high school years took me outside of the neighborhood and onto the iron horse (NYC trains) for the daily trip to and from school. Those days were but mere journeys with a friend or two or an opportunity to do some reading without ever giving much thought to my surroundings. The only things that seemed real were always there and mirrored those of myself and my daily surroundings.

It wasn't until my late teens and early twenties, when I had the opportunity the travel far beyond the circle of comfort, well beyond the inner city, that I began to feel different. The circle of individuals I was drawn to, the questions about ethnicity and the looks and the aura sensed when around certain people. By certain, I am obviously talking about non-hispanic individuals of much lighter complexion. I began to notice the lady clenching her purse, the eyes that followed when I walked into a store, the door locks clicking as I walked passed a car. It was that which drove me to ask the very question which the Jewish boy had asked Roberto Santiago, "what Puerto Rican culture was all about and what made Puerto Ricans special on this planet?" I wanted to know the who, what, where and then some about being Puerto Rican.

Prisoner's of Colonialism, by Ronald Fernandez was like the opening of Pandora's box. The book, published in 1994, focuses on events surrounding Puerto Rican political prisoners and the U.S./Puerto Rico relationship. It provides and cites many important references. It was the food for thought that began to feed my soul. The more I read, the more I wanted to know. It was the lead to my eventual collection of a myriad of books about Puerto Rico, its history, culture and historic figures. Thank you, Ronald Fernandez...


  1. I'm sure every Puertorican feels this way. Our culture is not formally taught to us. We come upon bits and pieces, here and there. I know I feel my education is like a patchwork quilt.

    I would love to see a list of books you recommend on this subject.

    Bella Vida by Letty
    Have a great day.

  2. Good idea...I'll have to work on a list soon. Thank You.