From Puerto Rico, mitierra, where my soul learned acceptance and compassion.
I dreamed completely in Spanish last night. It took one full day of being forced to speak only in Spanish for it to come back to me; the lingual fluency that feels and sounds like home in the deep recesses of my mind. “Qieres agua de coco? Laddy, tumba coco por lo nene.”
I should have started bringing the kids here much sooner. My mom brought us here as often as she could when we were young. I feel as if I have done my own children a disservice now, this only being their first time to the island. It was my mother’s’ sanctuary and it had also become mine.
My mother was the baby of 12 children and was raised by her older sisters, so as an adult she absolutely cherished her relationship with her mother and father. Her parents doted on her and her three babies; myself, my brother and my sister. “Neida, dale dulce a la nena. (Neida, give the girl candy).” How I loved the many times my grandfather would make silly jokes or override the rules just to see us smile. He would take me with him every now and then to walk through ‘la finca’ (the countryside) wearing his straw hat, tan Dickies ™, and work boots, witch a machete slung over his shoulder. We would check on the banana trees, cut away at any over growth, and stop to pick oranges to turn them into orange juice cups later. We would dig up root vegetables, like yucca and malanga, as we went. Picking pana (bread fruit), guineo (bananas), and platanos (plantains) for dinner and then selling the excess in town. There were always stray dogs and cats milling about. My grandparents unofficially adopted two, only because they wouldn’t leave the front yard. I never knew how sacred all these memories would be. The last few hurricanes wiped out most of the fruit bearing vegetation. With my grandparents and my two older uncles gone, it is a daunting task to rebuild it; my uncle Eladio has his hands full.
My grandfather Antonio came to the United States as a young man, workimg as a lineman for the power company for over 25 years. He worked his whole life to retire in his dream; 7 acres of farm and jungle, with horses, goats, chickens, and a bull. I think the bull technically belonged to Dona (Mistress) America, a distant aunt down the dirt road. Mistress America may sound like an offbeat title, but older women who were widowed or left as heads of the households were often referred to as La Dona’s, similar to the Don of a family.
We were all ‘cousins’ and distant relatives of so and so. This impart happened from neighbors taking in the children of families that had come onto hard times or lost mothers to untimely deaths. The fathers, feeling lost or incapable, would bring their children to another family to be raised. One of these reasons is how my mother ended up with 11 brothers and sisters. They are all family, they were raised together, and there are no “step’s” or “half’s”. We all look so different, even the direct relations look different from each other, that it really doesn’t matter.
My great-grandmother on my father’s side was from Spain; very fair, with blonde hair and blue eyes. My maternal grandfather was Taino, the native people who lived on the island before the Spanish invaded. My grandfather had beautiful dark caramel colored skin and green eyes and my relatives are all varying shades in between. The French got mixed in there somewhere. I lose my family history about three generations back and honestly, I am not sure I am ready to dig that deep. Puerto Rico has a sordid history with invasions and slavery, but one thing we did get right was a depth of acceptance. Acceptance of people, no matter their color or origin. You can come here and it won’t matter what color your skin is or what accent you speak with, all that is judged is your character, your word, and your integrity. The bonds you build are even stronger among family.
Maybe that is why it has been so difficult for me to accept that I couldn’t immediately have this kind of bond with my future ‘blended’ brood. Culturally, my future in-laws and step-children (I really don’t like that term at all) come from a different background than my family. It has been an interesting process to merge the two. My family is far from perfect. I certainly have my own familial challenges to contend with. My children can smell weakness a mile away and may play upon it if one is not too careful, They will also run to you with open arms, every time they see you. I can only hope that allowing all of them to see how important my family relationships are, despite distance and time, will leave heartfelt impressions on them.
This understanding in my family helps me to always be open to the possibility of building anew and accepting what is. It is an extremely powerful feeling knowing that no matter where I am or what my circumstance may be, my family will embrace me and build me up. I can come to Puerto Rico and be protected or empowered, I hope one day, all of my children will come to understand this. They will always have this place to call home.