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

All I wanted for my birthday was to enjoy a peaceful day with family and a few friends. No big party, no loud music, no presents other than my family and friends’ good company.

Then, I got the most wonderful surprise a mom can receive. A gift that didn’t cost money and that came from the heart and the imagination of a child.

What a beautiful gift…

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

Wisdom thru MadLibs

Somehow, MadLibs triggered a nugget of wisdom.

It all started with a Mad Libs puzzle. We took the Mini Teenager out to dinner to celebrate a big birthday. This was after the big birthday bash, complete with water slides, friends, sun, fun, cake and “I don’t wanna go yet!” Next day was the actual birth-day, so we took Mini Teenager out to her favorite (well, second-favorite, first being frozen yogurt). While we wait for the waitress, we find a Mad Libs sheet in the back of the children’s menu (don’t tell anyone, we’re too old for children’s menu).

“Give me a plural noun,” commands Mini Teenager.

“Cats,” blurts out mom.

“Now I need an adjective,” turning to dad.

“Ubiquitous,” the smart-alecky dad over-enunciates, rounding out the vowels.

“What!?,” Mini Teenager scratches her head and looks at me to explain to dad that all she asked for was a simple adjective. “What’s ‘U-tick-utous’?”

“Can we stick to third-grade adjectives,? I say blinking to him. “He did give you an adjective, just a very big one,” I say to Mini Teenager. “And now HE is going to explain what it means.”

I throw the ball back in his court because I often get stuck with the difficult questions. Like where do people go when they die, and why does dad’s handwriting look the same as Santa’s.

They work it out and we finish the Mad Lib with something that sounds like “The ubiquitous cats went flying over the grilled chicken and shot red beams out their elbows.” A likely highlight of a rollercoaster birthday week.

It was not until the next day that I realized I have now entered the realm of the slightly displaced and no-longer-omnipresently-needed mother. See, Mini Teenager is growing fast. She’s putting things together. She knows she’s not an extension of me. She knows I have a life outside of my mothering role. When I explained the whole dad-Santa handwriting, she said she already knew, she was just playing along so that we, the parents, did not feel bad. (I told her that’s the real magic of Christmas.)

So, now that we’ve gotten this far without major physical or emotional injury, what secrets are there to keep? What bumps are there to avoid? Why keep trying to be in all places at all times trying to catch the Mini Teenager before she falls off that tree branch/rail/couch? Why keep trying to be the omnipresent, omniscient, supermom?

U-biq-ui-tous: Being or seeming to be everywhere at the same time; omnipresent. Ubi means where in Latin. Which explains the Spanish word ubicación, or location. Maybe we all need to realign our location. As Mini-Teenager grows up, I find myself slipping into a more comfortable place. Letting go. Relaxing. Letting the wise child lead the way.

I think I’m gonna like the next phase of motherhood…Wherever my new ubi puts me.

The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted “Exceptional people: How immigration shaped our world and will define our future” by Ian Goldin and Geoffrey Cameron from University of Oxford.

One important point they make is that the “native-born” workforce will actually shrink in developing countries. “Medical and public health advances mean that people are living longer, while persistently low fertility levels and the end of the post-World War Two baby-boom mean that the number of native-born workers in developed countries will fall in the coming years.” They also speculate on the positive economic impact of open borders.

The comments in reaction to the article are more revealing than the article itself. People who are not supportive of open borders write that immigrants will “destroy social cohesion” and drive home prices up.

I never cease to be amazed at how fear and paranoia are, unfortunately, driving the policies. One smart comment points out that we don’t treat all immigrants the same and that the immigrants who achieve Nobel Prize status are usually not from Africa. However, most comments are driven by readers’ fears. What has to happen for people to realize that we are all immigrants?

I’m just a non-immigrant with an immigrant mind. Read the article yourself and tell me what is it that makes immigration so intimidating. http://blogs.wsj.com/source/2011/07/17/five-reasons-why-we-should-embrace-migrants/

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.

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…