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laresFoto: Flora Lopez (abuela) y Raquel en la plaza de Lares, Puerto Rico en diciembre 2011.

Yo nunca fui la nieta perfecta, pero Mamá Flora siempre me trató como si yo lo fuera. Me recibía con los brazos abiertos no importando cuanto tiempo había pasado desde mi última visita y me ofrecía dos tesoros muy grandes: los gandules que cultivaba con amor durante todo el año y los pasteles que pasaba horas de horas preparando. A veces los más cercanos — que eran más merecedores — no comían de esos gandules hasta que Raquel aparecía de visita. Dicen que la comida sabe mejor cuando se prepara con amor, y la comida de Mamá Flora sabía a amor y devoción.

Desde que me quedaba en su casa durante los veranos desde muy pequeña (y ella me aceptaba con mi maletita aunque yo dijera que solo venía a visitar a Papi Quín), ella me llevaba a la plaza del mercado y después me ponía a amasar y rodar tortillas con ella en el counter de su cocina (creo que esto lo aprendimos de Tía Remedios).

Mientras cocinaba me iba contando y respondiendo a todas mis preguntas de reportera de 7 años. Así supe que ella apenas pudo terminar la escuela elemental — supuestamente porque la maestra se rompió una pierna y no pudo volver a cruzar el río y caminar lejos para ir a dar clases en el barrio Mirasoles de Lares. A pesar de esto, mi abuelita con poca educación formal trabajó muy duro para educar a mi Papá y por ende nos educó a mí y a mi hija. Alexandra, que es medio gringa, tuvo la dicha de conocer a su bisabuela y saber exactamente de donde salen sus rizos y de donde su propia mamá y su abuelo sacaron esa actitud de que “aquí no ha pasado nada” aunque se caiga un pedazo del cielo.

Mamá Flora me contó de manejar un fogón desde que era una nena igual que yo. Me habló de caminar por el campo cargando el almuerzo que habia preparado ella misma para Papa Nobio y los recogedores de café. De haber conocido a Quin a los 17 años, de como él hizo arreglos con Papa Nobio, y después le preguntó a ella si se quería casar. De como tuvo suerte de haberse casado con un hombre bueno. Y de como trabajó en fábricas para ayudar a poner comida en la mesa y comprar libros para la escuela de los muchachos. Mamá Florita me demostró que a los hombres hay que tenerlos derechitos para que te respeten. Y de ella aprendí que está muy bien decir lo que una piensa. También me enseñó que los lunes se lava ropa, que los martes se plancha, los miércoles se va al mercado, los jueves se barre y los viernes se visita a los bisabuelos (y a Tanía). En otras palabras, que hay un tiempo para todo.

Al final de su vida (o tal vez siempre) Mamá decía exactamente lo que pensaba — yo creo que se había ganado ese derecho — y cuántas veces me hizo reír. Ojalá que cuando yo tenga 80 y pico de años (si acaso llego) todavía me vaya sola en mi carrito al colmado a las 7 de la mañana, barra las hojas en la acera, haga viajes con las muchachas del club, y me arregle para ir a la iglesia.

En estos días he llorado mucho y de soplarme tanto la nariz por fin se me destaparon los oídos de una sinusitis que tenía desde hacían dos semanas. Así que puedo decir que mi abuelita sorda también me ha devuelto la audición.

Esta mañana pude escuchar el mar desde mi casa y sonaba igualito que el mar de Arecibo por la madrugada, antes de que se levanten los pajaritos. En su vaivén pude escuchar la voz de Mamá Florita que me decía como siempre, “Ponte positiva.”

Esa voz siempre estará conmigo.

Posdata:
Queridos Lily y José, siento mucho haberme comido los gandules que les tocaban a ustedes durante los últimos 40 años. Fue por la buena causa de complacer a Mamá, y además siempre estaban muy ricos y era muy difícil dejar de comerlos.

Gracias a mi querido hermano Fernan por leer estos pensamientos durante el sepelio de Mama Flora en Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Octubre 2015. 

Did you hear Univision congratulated Puerto Ricans on their “Independence Day” on July 25?

Yeap, INDEPENDENCIA, said the booming announcer. Ja, ja! (I’m laughing in Spanish, you know, j sounds like h, and h is silent. It’s like it’s not even there, like independence in the colony of Puerto Rico.)

See? You can’t believe what you see/hear on TV.

But dreaming is free…as they say on the island.

http://repeatingislands.com/2012/07/27/breaking-news-puerto-rico-is-independent/

I had the unique chance to personalize what I do for my client, Mayo Clinic, and help raise awareness about stroke. My friends at Mayo Clinic encouraged me to share my experiences as a caregiver (years ago) to my grandmother after she suffered a stroke.

My grandmother was a very influential person in my life, so I was happy to reminisce about her resilience and her determination. Sometimes, the personal experience leads the way when it comes to working from the heart.

And it’s always impressive to learn about things the docs are able to do now. My grandmother, who was born in 1903 in rural Puerto Rico, never heard of endovascular procedures, but she would have benefitted from such medical advances.

http://sharing.mayoclinic.org/2012/06/07/stroke-treatments-then-and-now/

Dr. Edith Perez in her research lab.

Dr. Edith Perez in her research lab. Photo by Mayo Clinic staff.

I had the priviledge of working with a reporter from El Nuevo Dia, San Juan, Puerto Rico, to coordinate an interview (and photos) with Dr. Edith Perez from Mayo Clinic, a true pioneer in cancer research.

Here’s a quick translation of the story (cover of Lifestyle section, El Nuevo Dia, 03/13/2012).

Mente Genial Contra el Cancer

By Ileana Delgado Castro, El Nuevo Dia

The definitive cure for cancer has yet to be found. But there are people who, thanks to new medicines and cutting edge treatment, are able to beat or control the disease.

Renowned Puertorrican oncologist Edith Pérez attests to that. She’s director of the Breast Cancer Program and of the Breast Cancer Research Division of Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. She is the same researcher who revolutionized breast cancer treatment when she showed, in 2005, that a drug named trastuzumab (Herceptin) reduced the recurrence of cancer by 52 percent, in patients with the HER-2 receptor.

Pérez, who talked with El Nuevo Día during a recent visit to Puerto Rico, explains that more than 20 percent of women who have had breast cancer present the protein receptor HER-2, which can cause cancer to reappear and spread. The risk of reincidence and death is higher in these women.

“With this study, we changed the history of the disease. Instead of administering a therapy that attacks all the organs, as it used to be, this drug only fights HER-2. It is the concept of the magic bullet: we found the problem and were able to attack it head on,” explains the oncologist who has become a worldwide leader in breast cancer research.

Dr. Perez was born in Humacao, Puerto Rico. She grew up in Naguabo and graduated from the University of Puerto Rico with a degree in medicine. She left for California at the age of 23 to begin her medical specialty…

To read the entire article (in Spanish) go to: http://www.elnuevodia.com/mentegenialcontraelcancer-1211623.html

I have to pause today to tell you about true love: love of homeland and of my origins. But first I have to tell the Puerto Rico Tourism Chamber how it really is.

Here’s a glowing article about, well, the glowing water in the bioluminescent bay in Vieques.
http://austin.culturemap.com/newsdetail/02-12-12-11-34-the-wild-side-of-puerto-rico-rainforests-glowing-waters/

And here’s a reminder of the hardships residents of Vieques and Culebra have to deal with on a daily basis – in the news lately because of protests about the abandonment of ferry service.
http://www.primerahora.com/serviciodelanchasdeviequesyculebrafuncionaraconapoyodemanosprivadas-608253.html

I’m from the “big” island of Puerto Rico, where getting to and getting around are not as difficult as in Vieques. My life in the continent is infinitely easier (not even pot holes on the road). But I remember life in paradise. It’s not all that’s cut out to be. That bitter sweetness calls to me and keeps me grounded. I love my homeland, and I cherish the lessons I (still) learn there. I think about my parents and my grandmother every single day. We share joys and struggles that bring us together across the miles.

Que Dios bendiga a mi tierrita.

Arecibo, PR

I took this photo from the Arecibo lighthouse, looking past La Poza and out to Islote. RGR. June 2011.

Mini teenager, Parque de las Palomas, San Juan, PR. Photo by Raquel, 12/21/11.

I have so many good wishes for many good friends and many kind family members. But no one says it better than my friend Aura, who sent this New Year’s wish from Caracas, Venezuela:

Amigas !!! He estado pensando en que podría desearles además de las bendiciones, la salud y las alegrías… Que tengan un Año liviano, fácil, un Año con fiestas y celebraciones, con padres sanos y con hijos contentos. Les deseo tranquilidad y noches bien dormidas. Les deseo mañanas soleadas y sin ansiedad. Diarios con buenas noticias y proyectos de paz. Les deseo un Año con menos guardias de seguridad y mas tolerancia. Les deseo muchos cafecitos conversados, libros bien leídos y trabajos bien hechos. Que sus idas a la farmacia sean por cosméticos y no remedios, que las del supermercado sean por Chocolates y no por dietas… Quiero que sean queridas, adoradas, idolatradas y respetadas… Les deseo tantas cosas: les deseo buenas mamografías, que si necesitan inyecciones sean de Botox y no de antibióticos, que nadie las moleste y que canten bien fuerte cuando van en el carro solas… Que tengan un Año con vacaciones, paseos y escapadas. Que no les falte nada y que no les roben nada.. Les deseo risas y carcajadas, de esas que hacen llorar… Risas tan fuertes que tengan que doblarse y cerrar bien las piernas para no hacerse pipi. Risas diarias y semanales, risas espontáneas, risas por tonterías. Risas que ahuyentan miedos y que nos llenan de benditas arrugas…

Les deseo miel en su mesa, miel en sus decisiones y miel en sus desvelos, miel con los tragos amargos y mucha, mucha suerte, y salud durante todo el próximo 2012.. y que Diosito las acompañe siempre!

Las quiero mucho, desde Caracas,
Auramarina

We didn’t invent Kwanzaa in Puerto Rico, but we incorporated its principles into our way of life long before a college professor in California saw the need for an organized celebration of values. Lately, we need to remind ourselves of these principles and we need to recover them. We need to teach them to our children and grandchildren.

On Friday night, December 23, we had the privilege of being jolted out of bed by a parranda. It is a privilege because we don’t get to celebrate a genuine Puertorrican tradition every day. I was thankful that my mini-teenager decided to get out of bed at 1 a.m. and participate (clap and sing lalala, while we learn the songs). The parranderos are members of my parents ‘ church in Barrio Candelaria, Bayamón, Puerto Rico. The song I recorded is a call to preserve traditions and pass them on, before the coqui (iconic tree frog) quits singing.

It was a time of joy and Unity, the first principle of Kwanzaa.

I hope you can play my little iPhone video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJViwmL5P9g
Happy Kwanzaa!

Go here to learn about Kwanzaa, which starts today: http://www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org/documents/KwanzaaandtheSevenPrinciples12-22-11.pdf

Lares, Puerto Rico

Catholic church in Lares, Puerto Rico; this town built on a hill was the site of El Grito de Lares in 1868. My paternal grandparents were married in that same church.

I’ve been too busy building a new business to write a weekly blog. (More on the new business later.) But the equinox and the change of season make me pause and reflect on where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. Some things should always be remembered.

Today, 23rd of September, I fly back to 1868 and a call for freedom and independence that was deferred. It was deferred, but it was not forgotten.

I take my hat off to the people who still gather in Lares, Puerto Rico, to remember el Grito de Lares, a call for independence from Spain. An independence that never came. Nevertheless, that call and that dream has transformed our identity as Puerto Ricans and endured for the last 143 years.

See article in El Nuevo Dia: http://www.elnuevodia.com/elgritodelaresresisteelpasodeltiempo-1073996.html

J.J. Barea returns to the island today as NBA hero.

Sandwiched between Obamamania last week, and the triumphal return of NBA (ene-be-a) basketball hero J.J. Barea, few people on the island noticed the quick and behind-closed-doors confirmation of Miguel Munoz as new president of the University of Puerto Rico. Lauded by some as an experienced administrator from the Mayaguez campus, and critiziced by others as more of the “mano dura,” the tough stance against student protests, he served as interim president for a few weeks and was quietly confirmed as president late yesterday. Today, the parade and ensuing carnival surrounding J.J. Barea will dominate the news and will eclipse our problems and our lack of participatory democracy at every level. But let the carnival go on. J.J. deserves his day in the sun. Clever government and university administrators knew how to get some net right before the buzzard. Let the good times roll…

President Barack Obama eats a "medianoche" sandwich during a surprise visit to Kasalta Bakery while in Puerto Rico, June 14, 2011. (Credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images.)

He came and went.

The one we anticipated nervously and painted lines on the road for. He ate a medianoche, had his photo taken with supporters and hosted a fundraiser at $35k per person. The entire day, down here on the island where I’m lucky to find myself on the day President Obama came back for a visit, has been filled with over-analyzing political commentators dissecting every word President Obama said and every step he took during his brief visit. It’s the classic neglected-child syndrome. Any attention is better than no attention. It doesn’t matter what he said, we would still hang by his every word, and we still spent (and will continue to spend) an inordinate amount of energy reacting to every little thing the President did and said.

Two significant things that are still being debated: 1)the President’s detour to a popular eatery to meet with the opposition candidate and 2)his intimation that the U.S. would stand by the people of Puerto Rico only after a clear majority of islanders arrive at a clear decision concerning the political status of the colony. We’re not sure what clear means.

The day could have been better. Imagine the uproar if the “c” word (colony) had come straight from the President’s mouth, instead of the political commentators’. But the President and his speechwriters are too smart for that. He could have made a statement about the remaining political prisoner, Oscar Lopez Rivera, jailed in the U.S. for 30 years. Again, better not go there when 2012 is around the corner. And I suppose it would have been exciting to have Marc Anthony break into song and for JLo to have made a surprise appearance…

Personally, I think the President’s visit went as good as it could have. We showed him our good and courteous side, and carefully avoided his seeing the protestors who burned an American flag, or hearing difficult questions from any “radical” leaders. Too bad there are so many things that are just unfit for the President’s eyes and ears. Then again, how would you explain in only a couple of hours that the Puerto Rican economy needs more than a stimulus package to recover from 500 years of colonialism? How would you explain the oppresive monopoly we face trying to supply our basic needs for food and fuel? How would you explain soaring unemployment, drug use and domestic violence? How would you explain police brutality against college students, a gasoducto being shoved down our throats and a political referendum stacked in favor of the ruling party (do you want blue or blue)?

It would take a few years, not a few hours for Mr. President to get the full and atrocious picture of all things unfit. Then again, his subtle nod to the opposition makes one think that not all is medianoche for Mr. President. Maybe he can see in the dark. Now, in the dark, with the coquies singing their ancestral song, I have to say we might be unfit and he might not have collected as much campaign money here as elsewhere, but he still came and he still broke medianoche with us. That’s more than other presidents have been willing to do.