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While I’ve been away from Vida Traducida — and too busy to translate my life and publish it in this blog — I’ve had the chance to travel back and forth to Puerto Rico a few times. A conference in November, a family visit for the holidays, a business trip in January… all were wonderful opportunities to reconnect. Now that the lunar new year has started and the Earth seems to be readjusting to a steady beat, I ponder my place in this great in-between space I call home. I wrote this piece in the plane on my last JetBlue return flight, after meeting many great professionals at Clinica Salus in San Juan, PR, and being prompted to think about island economics, lower standard of living, brain drain, exodus, the dream of the return… I sort of saw an island in the clouds — a repetition of the ground below, only made of shifting water vapor…by the way, this process happened in Spanish, so here it is, untranslated and unedited.

Journey to The Island in the Sky — Viaje a la Isla que Cuelga en el Espacio

A 70 millas por la autopista de Arecibo a San Juan y parece que hace siglos que estoy manejando. “Todavía voy por Manatí!” Gruño para mí misma.

Es que llegar es fácil y felíz; irme es difícil e irritante.

Ahora en las nubes, se me olvida cuánto tiempo llevo viajando. Se me olvida si voy o vengo. Si voy de vacaciones o regreso de negocios. Las nubes parecen mi hogar. Hay praderas y hay colinas. Hay nubes lisas y nubes como edificios. Hay un cañón profundo (a 10,000 pies de altura) cuya sombra azulosa parece tan real como la sombra roja del cañón del Colorado.

Entonces, desde allá arriba, pongo los pies en la tierra.

Ya no hay tal cosa como fuga, ni de cerebros ni de prófugos. Ya no hay un “fuera” adonde ir. Hablamos tanto de la patria, pero no la entendemos. La patria ya no es 100 por 35. La patria no puede ser simplemente el paisaje que amamos, porque el paisaje cambió hace tiempo. La colonia es ahora el imperio — pero no nos damos cuenta de nuestro propio poder.

El mundo cambió. La isla es un universo cambiante. Los que nos fuimos hace 20 años cambiamos. La isla ahora late en la metrópolis. Y la metrópolis nunca será igual.

Los problemas de la isla pueden ser como las iguanas verdes: se multiplican rápido, pero también se pueden erradicar. Si somos listos, hasta se les puede sacar provecho en otros mercados.

Antes yo entendía La Isla que Se Repite como una repetición de nostalgia. Estoy empezando a visualizar y a escuchar otro ritmo que se repite. Antonio Benitez Rojo habia internalizado que ya no se puede volver a la isla (Cuba) de antes — que es necesario construir una isla nueva. Así va a pasar en Puerto Rico — estamos despertando a que es tiempo de construir una isla nueva. Es tiempo de inventar un ritmo nuevo — desde adentro y desde afuera.

The Obama administration announced today that it will offer indefinite reprieves from deportation for young immigrants who were brought to the country as minors and meet other specific requirements. The move, hailed by immigration advocates as a bold response to the broken immigration system, temporarily eliminates the possibility of deportation for youths who would qualify for relief under the DREAM Act, giving Congress the space needed to craft a bipartisan solution that gives permanent residence to qualifying young people. In a statement from the White House, President Obama said the policy was “the right thing to do,” calling DREAMers “Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every way but one: on paper.”

Read more: http://immigrationimpact.com/2012/06/15/president-obama-to-halt-removal-of-dreamers/

Growing up in Puerto Rico in the 1970s, between a three-legged spiritist table and a parochial catholic education, I figured out early that the spirits were all around me – and this was a good thing. Progress, however, dictated by the Department of Education, the demands of a burgeoning service economy and the spread of radical evangelism insisted in burying my grandmother’s mix of spiritism, herbology and promises to the saints deep beneath reasoning and anti-superstition campaigns.

A colonial consumerism described best by Edouard Glissant as “annihilation of local production and overstimulation of consumerism” blanketed the island, and my ancestral spirits became a faint counterpoint in a zombifying march.

Fresh breadfruit slices, almost ready to peel & fry.

The counterpoint became louder around my grandparents. They taught me how to pick and shell my own gandules (pigeon peas), how to tie a small knife to the end of a long stick to knock down the largest breadfruit, and other essential skills – like how to tie pasteles with kite string. Each task came with an old time story, more nourishing than the food we prepared. I didn’t know the word then, but they were teaching me how to make saraka.

In the midst of 21 st century politics, a simple invocation of the dead can bring awareness of where we’ve been and where we’re going. And no matter how business-like or how academic we get, the spirits are undeniably present.

Now, there’s the quiet reverence of my grandmother, a elderly widow and her grandchildren cleaning and scrubbing the white concrete of the tomb where my grandfather is buried – an All Saints Day marked simply by a floral offering and a clean tomb. Then there are the loud, discordant sounds of the Festival de las Máscaras de Hatillo, not far from our home. This is not exactly the evolution of the spirit-filled saraka of which we speak today — unless we mean rum spirits. Or is it?

Mascaras de Hatillo, by H. Melendez

What errant ways did the Canarian settlers who founded Hatillo in 1823 consider (if they considered anything) when they dreamed of transplanting this strange festival? And who would have thought it would endure into 2011?

El Festival de las Máscaras de Hatillo, the festival of the masks, or the Day of the Holy Innocents, is no quiet ancestral reverence. Think of April Fool’s Day and carnival mixed up and turned upside down. I’m not sure what it teaches the children. Here’s what I remember from childhood days spent with my grandparents: horns blaring on December 28; floats spilling over with young men dressed colorful costumes, big hats and covered with jingle-belled robes; my cousins (or at least I hoped they were my cousins) chasing me down the street to tousle my hair, pick me up and hang me upside down, or spray shaving cream on me. I also remember daring monumental traffic jams to get to the center of Hatillo to watch the floats parade round and round until someone fell off the Jeep/carroza, and (every other year at first, then more frequently) expecting at least one carroza full of females to boldly roll into this spectacle. If you didn’t go to the town plaza, the máscaras would come to you at any traffic light and demand their offering.

Mascaras de Hatillo, by H. Melendez

The masked person is covered from head to toe in shiny satin, wears a lavishly decorated big hat and a net or wire mask over his face. Some poorer máscaras wear a stocking over their heads. The meaning of the mask is blurry. Tradition and conventional wisdom say these are the soldiers sent by King Herod to kill baby boys in a failed attempt to assassinate Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew. From the lavish costumes and the use of carrozas/chariots, that would be the obvious interpretation. Others maintain that the ghostly appearance of the masks hints at the return of the victims as avengers – you better give them something if you don’t want to be jinxed. In Spain, they called this “pedir el aguinaldo,” asking for the gift. And the time of year – Dec. 28 – coincides with a time of aguinaldos sung at parrandas, the lively island-version of Christmas caroling. [Coming from a syncretic catholic background, I kept my black fist amulet close to my chest for protection, and hoped the masked spirits would let me pass through the traffic light or the street corner and live through January 6, when the Three Wise Men would bring my reward for having paid my respects to the máscaras. ]

Looking back, I see a different picture. Those masks are ourselves, the people of my generation who either physically left the island, or abandoned the path the ancestors would have preferred we followed. Those are the islanders who sold the most beautiful hill overlooking the ocean in Hatillo to build Plaza del Norte, a shopping mall built in 1993. Maybe those masks were a prelude to the ghosts that would fall to crime and domestic violence. Or maybe they were the zombies who would give in to profiteering and sell the land to condo developers.

What would our academic ancestors say?

Glissant: would notice the submerged archipelago of interconnections…leading us to the intersection of gandules and pigeon peas, parranda and parang, the Whole as opposed to the Oneness.

Even the dog...by H. Melendez

Benitez-Rojo: would remind us we are, after all, that shipwrecked (náufrago) who washed up on a repeating shore. The labor economist in Benitez Rojo might have considered the 15-20 percent unemployment rate pervasive throughout the islands, he might have weighed the cost of a brain drain that continues to leave gaps at our saraka table, he might have caution against the lopsided economic incentives that privatize beaches to siphon cash out to golf-course developers and other continental investors. But in the end, he might play a polyrhythmic drum beat and say: It’s all carnival; come back to Grenada in August, or to Hatillo any 28th of December.

Cesaire: would light a candle in the night. He wouldn’t say a word. He would sit quietly in the middle of a Caribbean Tempest like a “master of ominous silence, a master of hope and despair, a master a laziness, a master of dance (Notebook, 49). And he would rally the dancers, he would convoke the wind and rise in a spiral into a Caribbean black hole…and remind us how to fish the malevolent tongue of the night. And all our ancestors would be there, fishing the same hole: the arawak, the african, the spaniard, the brit and the dutch – everyone and everything Cesaire exhorted us to accept and accept repeatedly.

And the black hole that provides nourishment becomes a saraka table.


Drink a Rum – Lord Kitchener

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

Nothing like a couple of weeks spent in a living, breathing colony called Puerto Rico to remember that freedom is not free. Not only do our veterans pay for it, but the people whom we turn into consumers (ourselves included) pay for it every day. While you light your fireworks (made in China), I’ll be thinking about the price of food in Puerto Rico, where my folks have no choice but to buy everything from the U.S., which in turn imported the goods from places like Mexico and China, doubling the transportation costs on every food, clothing and household item. And also contributing to its own trade deficit.

I’ll also be thinking about the illusion of independence in a big country whose bonds are owned mostly by China and Japan (more than 2 trillion in U.S. Treasury bonds). So, while the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) divvy up Texas in return for the trillions we owe them, I’ll hear an empty cacophony of fireworks, advertising jingles and national anthems laced with the faint melody of Lamento Borincano.

I’m thinking we need a new tune. One that sings of interdependence and stewardship rather than mercantilism and consumerism. A song about a sustainable Earth where we grow more food locally and process less imported molasses. Maybe a choir of children who sing about protecting the resources we still have. And share them. Equitably.

Not as cute as the emblematic coqui, but still ecologically important, the Puerto Rican crested toad got some help from zookeepers in Jacksonville, FL.

That’s Puerto Rican crested toad to you. And, I have to admit, this species was not my favorite Caribbean Amphibian (click for actual song/video featuring Jimmy Buffett and Kermit the Frog). Although not as small and cute as a singing coqui, these toads are a very important link in the food chain. (No, we don’t eat them back on the island. We have green iguanas now. Just kidding.) Those of us who have relocated to North Florida, have been watching the toad exhibit at the Jacksonville Zoo for some time, and we’re happy to hear the piped in romantic(?) croaking worked as good as a Barry White album.

See photos of the tadpoles being shipped from Jacksonville, Florida to Arecibo, Puerto Rico! I just hope the exotic green iguanas (the feral hogs of Puerto Rico and formidable destroyers of native vegetation) and the “accidentally” released caymans of Tortuguero Lagoon don’t get them before they have a chance to repopulate.

For the full story in the Florida Times-Union, go to Jacksonville zookeepers: Saving species begins by getting toads hot and bothered.

I’m not translating that headline.

In The Social Lives of Dogs, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas recalls this experience:

“While doing fieldwork with wild animals in Namibia, I once watched a lion watch a sunset. He was alone on open ground near a waterhole, crouched but relaxed, propped on his elbows, and from the time the sun was about five degrees above the horizon until the last red bit of it went down, he didn’t take his eyes off the spectacle. At the very last minute, he roared at it, or anyway, he roared while looking at it, not just once but four or five times, very loudly.”

Cheeva watching sunrise

I have my own sun-watching creature (a quiet one) . My new dog Cheeva is turning into quite the laid-back nature observer. She didn’t start out that way. The first time she set foot in her new yard there were far too many things that looked like prey. She’s a hunter after all. Squirrel!  Cardinal!  Tall bird in the water!  Off she went every time, almost pulling my arm out of its socket.

With a little patience, she’s turning into a different animal. I started talking to her very softly, narrating the scene every morning. That blue/gray flying stick is Great Blue Heron, showing up for the sunrise, perching on the almost-too-small-for-him pine branch. Look and don’t chase.

I think the positive instruction and her owner’s calm demeanor  worked on her, and one morning she just sat down right next to me to watch everything unfold. She now sits in contemplation almost every morning. She only bolts for a loud crow that likes to tease her from the red maple. (I praise her for chasing the annoying crow.)

Some mornings I’m too busy to sit out for very long. I try to find time later, and sometimes include Little Girl in the afternoon for a little nature watching. Cheeva seems to appreciate the time outdoors and the human company. She hasn’t roared yet, but she nods approvingly.

I was thinking about showing a scholarly docu-video of philosopher/theorist Judith Butler when I present my paper on cross-dressing women in literature at an academic conference this Spring.

Then, I came across this gem: a video of two non-academic, real-world business executives in drag, pitching a cross-platform application while wearing, er, platform shoes (with the company logo) and various articles of female clothing.

As reported by Ragan Communications, there are several customized versions of the video, each one targeting a prominent software industry writer who might be reviewing their company’s product, hopefully after visiting the company’s booth at MacWorld 2011. In other words, a real-life COO and a founder of a software company, of the male persuasion, cross dressing to pitch their cross-platform product. The product, by the way, is Crossover Mac Impersonator, a piece of software that allows Mac users to open Windows applications allegedly without the hassle of a license, thus transgressively crossing platforms. The kicker is watching the straight faces of these two bearded men delivering their lines while impersonating Cher and Lucille Ball.

I don’t think I need to get into the performativity of gender roles. This video makes Judith Butler’s point in one minute, and it might be the best commercial pitch of the postmodern, information age era. I at least deem it fit to be shown during the Superbowl.

Enjoy:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBHwS29oEt4&feature=related

So many other relevant issues to write about and I have to pick Twitter.

Let’s get the bad (good) news out of the way: Twitter is destined to become an app and fade away as another Internet fad. If it’s lucky, it might get gobbled up by another application and become a little birdie icon on, say, the facebook platform. Deep down we know Twitter is an awkward teenage phase in the progression of postmodern communications. Even Mark Ragan, as in Ragan Communications and a big proponent of Twitter and other social media as valuable business strategies, takes Twitter with a grain of salt.

So, why spend my precious time tweeting? I’m neither planning a flash mob nor coordinating a street protest. I’m definitively not staging a revolution in a developing country (although I wish Che Guevara could have had tweeted himself out of Bolivia). I’m also not covering a concert tour for Entertainment Weekly (although I still dream of trailing Lenny Kravitz). The answer is simple: the medium has become the message. Big companies feel the need to be on Twitter because their competitors are. Small consultants like me feel the need to be on Twitter because everyone else is putting “@pvraquel” on their electronic business cards. If I don’t get my clients’ messages out on Twitter, I might be perceived as less effective than another consultant. (I recommended Twitter to a NC client who happened to be into grassroots events. Twitter was a good strategy for them.)

So, we tweet. Incessantly. I often wonder what will happen to all this electronic garbage. Are tweets like the confetti-like, round bits of paper from a hole-puncher? Outdated web pages would then be the stack of office paper waiting to be recycled. So much tweeting energy needs to be transformed into something new and (re)usable.

Twitter has a good offer of recipient-controlled communication. That concept will prevail into the next phase. Still, I think of Twitter as an unwanted side effect of our capitalist system. You know, the same system that commercialized an otherwise not-for-profit educational endeavor known as The Internet? Or maybe it’s the fault of the media, always looking for a way to scoop the competition – for the capitalist reason of selling more ad space and increasing profits. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – I am part of the media after all.

After a long inner struggle, I finally caved in and decided to revive my own personal Twitter account – not that I’m planning anything too exciting, like trailing Lenny Kravitz on tour. But you never know. Follow me @pvraquel.

After laying out my thoughts on Twitter (in way more than 140 characters), I’m left with a lingering question: If Che Guevara were still alive, wouldn’t he, too, be on Twitter?

Note: This list from Ragan Comm. helped me work up the courage to revive my twittering, and made me feel I’m not alone: http://www.ragan.com/Main/Articles/25_random_reasons_were_sick_of_social_media__38706.aspx

Nueva mascota: una chivita del refugio.

Interrumpimos nuestra programación para dar una noticia felíz: Es una nena! Bueno, una perrita hembra. Parece una vaquita, pero se llama Chiva. Tal vez sea una chiva disfrazada de vaca. En el refugio de Jacksonville, Florida, no se dieron cuenta de su disfraz y me la dieron simplemente como Female, Spayed and Microchipped – pero se les olvidó verificar la especie. Sea lo que sea es dulce y tranquila, especialmente para ser Rat Terrier. Claro que si aparece algun pájaro o ardilla por el patio, le sale lo de Boricua, digo lo de Rat Terrier. En cuanto a su conducta en la casa, parece que alguien ya la entrenó y después no la quiso y la abandonó. Cheeva (su nombre oficial con pronunciación fonética) en realidad tiene carácter de perro de terapia. Yo creo que la puedo entrenar para visitar niños enfermos o sentarse a leer con
niños en Barnes & Noble (le encantan los niños). O tal vez solamente me ayude a hacer ejercicios caminando por la playa. Eso sería suficiente regalo para mí. (Sal de ahí chivita, chivita…)

Cheeva, the holstein goat/dog.

We interrupt this serious (and often pretentious) blog to bring you happy news: It’s a girl! Actually, a girl dog. A girl dog named Cheeva, which sounds like the Spanish word chiva, as in female goat. Only she looks like a skinny little Holstein cow. Fortunately, she doesn’t act like any farm animal – she’s actually domestic and obviously had a home before. She even lets my child read to her. (There might be a future for her as a therapy dog.)

Cheeva in reading dog training.

She’s a standard-size Rat Terrier, female, spayed and microchipped – a great package for $80 dollars at the city-owned animal shelter. I can’t imagine why anyone would dump her. We’re grateful to have her. She’s two, already housebroken and well-behaved. She dutifully sits on command. I’m glad I went to the local pound when I was ready to adopt another family pet. She’s my Birthday/Christmas present to myself. And she doesn’t have to work for love, her company and sweetness is a gift to us. I’m looking forward to many walks on the beach with her.