Monthly Archives: September 2017

The Lazy Spic

10400503_18166125619_9115_nYesterday I worked a twelve-hour workday. The day before I had worked for thirteen hours straight. The day before was nine hours. I had taken exactly two days off in four months since I started my new job. I have worked on weekends and even when I have given my staff a day off, I have gone to the office or worked from home to finish a project or start a new one. My staff is always supportive and they have, on more than one occasion, asked me to take it slow, to pace down, and even encouraged me to take a day off. The Board of Directors of my organization expects me to work hard, but they have also encouraged me to practice self-care, to take time off, and to work at a healthy pace. I can show you emails, texts, and social media messages I have gotten from staff and Board members encouraging me and reminding me of practicing self-care. Yet, I continue to work.

Why do I do this? Sure, I love what I do. I thoroughly enjoy administration, management, strategic planning, and all that comes with this. But there’s a second, equally important reason why I work so much… and it is not because I am a workaholic.

The first new world in learned when I moved to New York City in 2000 was “spic.” There was a definition attached to this term. The spic is a lazy person; they live off of government handouts, they despise work, they are irresponsible, the have moved in droves to New York City and had made the space less livable, less desirable, less safe. The spic didn’t speak English and didn’t want to assimilate to the evidently superior “American” culture.

People – especially USAmericans – have been enraged with President Trump’s comments about how Puerto Ricans have not done enough to help ourselves in light of the major natural disaster we have just experienced. For Trump, we are lazy people who do not want to work collaboratively. This is what he was taught about our community in the New York City of his early childhood. For the USAmerican public, for the most part, these are atrocious accusations. For the Puerto Rican community, these are just the same comments we’ve been hearing since our community started migrating to the mainland in the 1950s.

Although I commend and welcome the rage that Trump’s comments have sparked among my USAmerican friends, you must understand that his comments are not made in a vacuum. Trump is talking about the lazy spic that I have been told I am.

As a Puerto Rican living in exile, you are taught that you are part of a group of people who are, at once, “job stealers” and “lazy people.” How is it possible that we steal “American” jobs and don’t work enough at the same time, I have no idea.

Perhaps for many of you it was a surprise that the President of the United States depicted the people of Puerto Rico as lazy people who do not help ourselves. However, this is what we have heard as a community since the 1950s when our people started migrating in droves to the USA due to the economic realities of the Island cause, precisely, by the USA’s policies towards its colonies. It is this message the one that is still ingrained in my head, to the point that I work and work and work, lest someone accuse me of being lazy and not doing enough.

This is not something I am making up. Neither is this something that happened a while ago and certainly not in so-called “progressive” spaces. On the contrary. This thinking that Puerto Ricans, and Latino people in general, are lazy is still alive. Take, for instance, what happened to me for four years while I served a progressive congregation in one of the most so-called progressive cities in the USA. A woman who self-appointed as the leader of the church would call my office at random hours of the day, just to check that I was there, just to make sure I had come to the office that day. She wouldn’t want to talk to me. She just wanted to make sure that I was there. Her excuse was that she had heard I had not been active in the community, or doing enough home visits to the folk in the congregation. She used her self-appointed status as a leader of the church to let me know that “there were concerns” in the church that I wasn’t being effective. Of course, like any good oppressor, she couldn’t notice the flaw in her argument: I had to be in the office so I could demonstrate that I was doing my job of being in the community and visiting folk.

When you are confronted with this reality every day, you learn to navigate the system. You know that you must be perfect, perform beyond what people’s perceptions of your abilities are, and work twice as hard as anybody else. No wonder the great Nuyorican poet Pedro Pietri wrote about our community:

They worked
They were always on time
They were never late
They never spoke back
when they were insulted
They worked
They never took days off
that were not on the calendar
They never went on strike

without permission
They worked
ten days a week
and were only paid for five
They worked
They worked
They worked
and they died
They died broke
They died owing
They died never knowing
what the front entrance
of the first national city bank looks like

Juan
Miguel
Milagros
Olga
Manuel
All died yesterday today
and will die again tomorrow…[1]

[1] Pedro Pietri, Puerto Rican Obituary, 1969

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Filed under Culture, ethnicity, Heritage, Hispanics, Hispanos, Human Rights, Identity, justice, Puerto Rico, race, racism, resistance, Sociology, United States, USA

Después del Huracán

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Mi abuela Margot y mi abuelo Quino vivían justo frente al Río Guayo. El puente que une a la municipalidad de Adjuntas con la municipalidad de Lares está justo frente al que fuera su hogar. Era en este río en el que nos bañábamos en el verano. Cuando pasaba el huracán, era en este río donde nos hacíamos más familia y más comunidad.

Dice el dicho que después de la tormenta, viene la calma. Esto es quizás así; pero después de la tormenta también vienen los desafíos de cómo vivir sin las necesidades básicas a las que nos hemos acostumbrado. Después de la tormenta también vienen los días sin luz, sin agua, con comida limitada… vienen los días largos sin saber cuánto tiempo será antes de que la vida vuelva a la normalidad. Después de la tormenta viene el resuelve, como le llamamos en mi pueblo.

No es secreto que cada vez que hace un viento fuerte, la frágil infraestructura de Puerto Rico sufre. En mi barrio, digo yo que cada vez que alguien destornuda duro, la luz se va. El agua potable también es un reto. Esa viene cada dos días; a veces un poco menos seguida. Prácticamente casa cuenta con sus tanques de agua para recolectarla cuando está disponible y así mantener el suministro cuando se vuelva a ir. Cuando chiquito, teníamos acceso a una quebrada de la cual sacábamos agua para tomar. El agua para uso diario la traíamos también de allí, pero por tubos y con bomba que mi papá instaló. Había conexión al sistema de la AAA , pero no dependíamos de ella para abastecernos de agua.

Recuerdo que después de los huracanes, cuando tanto la luz como el agua se iban por semanas, trasladábamos algunas de nuestras rutinas diarias al Río Guayo. Allí, debajo del puente que une a Adjuntas con Lares, un grupo de mujeres – la mayoría de mi familia – sacaba barras de jabones, paletas, cestos y tablas para lavar ropa. Sentadas en piedras o en banquitos que sus maridos le hacían, las mujeres comenzaban a lavar las ropas de sus familias. Con cada estrujada de ropa, con cada movimiento de limpieza, comenzaban los chistes, las carcajadas, las noticias del día y los chismes de barrio. Con cada pieza lavada, se enteraba uno de los planes para las comidas comunitarias de más tarde, de las posibilidades de que la luz y el agua llegaran más tarde de lo esperado, o de dónde ya estaban vendiendo pan caliente…

La niñez recorría el puente y nos tirábamos al río. Las madres nos gritaban que nos quedáramos quietos porque algo nos podía pasar. Algún niño o alguna niña, siempre, nos arruinaba el día cayéndose entre las piedras y abriéndose alguna herida. En ese momento se paraban todas las actividades para darle consuelo primero y un buen regaño después – o quizás era al revés, no recuerdo – al niño o la niña lastimada.

Los maridos, mientras las mujeres limpiaban las ropas, se iban a seguir limpiando los caminos. Vivir en el campo significa dos cosas: siempre hay mucho árbol en la carretera cuando pasa una tormenta, y los caminos no han sido construidos de la mejor manera así que siempre estarán en necesidad de reparación. Recuerdo que mi papá se llevaba la guagua pick-up, su machete, su sierra y cualquier otra herramienta que fuera útil, coordinaba con otros y se iban por caminos que sabían que los gobiernos municipales y estatales no les darían atención. Así era como comenzaban a ayudar a que los vecinos se conectaran. Después del huracán, la comunidad se juntaba para levantarse.

En algún momento del día, cuando ya las ropas estaban limpias, se reunían las mujeres para cocinar. Las ollas eran de tamaño enorme, como para alimentar a un ejército. Se cocinaba lo que hubiese: arroz, habichuelas, gandules, bruquenas del río, chopas del lago, pollos, puerco, guineos, ñames, yahutía, malanga, chayotes, plátanos, huevos… En fin, lo que hubiese por allí se hacía de comida para todos y todas. Después de la comida salían las sillas y las mesas, el juego de dominó estaba listo. Esta era la parte favorita de mi abuela paterna: el juego de dominó. No había en todo Castañer una persona más fanática del dominó que mi abuela Margot. Sus hijos e hijas le temían en la mesa. Ninguna o ninguno la querían tener como pareja de juego, porque si perdías la mano de dominó, ella te desheredaba. ¡Doña Margot no jugaba con su dominó! Abuela gritaba, se emocionaba, se vivía el juego desde el comienzo. Verla jugar dominó con una estrategia nítida, desarrollada por años de devoción a su juego favorito, era toda una experiencia.

Para mí, de niño, el tiempo después del huracán era más como una película de acción y de aventura. Era el tiempo en que la familia y la comunidad se unían. Era el tiempo de jugar debajo del puente del Río Guayo y comer en familia. Era el tiempo de ver las estrellas en el cielo al final del día, cuando se abría el firmamento y se iluminaba el cielo raso con un millón de estrellitas que nos recordaban tanto la fuerza de la naturaleza como el tesón de un pueblo que se levanta su dolor para alcanzarlas.

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Filed under familia, Heritage, Hispanics, Hispanos, Huricaine, Identidad, Identity, Latino, Puerto Rico, Recuerdos, tradiciones

While Waiting for News of My Family After Hurricane Maria

69735502People have asked me how I’ve been able to function these past few days. It has not been easy. My parents, sister, and I had been estranged for years. When I was diagnosed with cancer, they reached out. My husband and I visited with them for the first time on December 25th for their Christmas party. We’ve been in communication ever since.

As the hurricane approached, we stayed in communication through text. Then I called a few days before to check up on them. My mom was calmed and not too worried. Cellphone signal had came back just the day before I called. They still had no power in the neighborhood, but the water was back. They were prepared; they had water, food, fuel, and an electric plant. My sister – who works for the Department of the Family of the Commonwealth – had visited a shelter and checked up on her clients. They were ready to face the hurricane. The last I heard from my mom was a reply to my text saying: “yes, I am calmed.”

Those are the last few words I have from my family. I have not heard from them yet.

I have read news reports that tell me my neighborhood is fine and that there are no registered deaths in my hometown as of today. I read about the efforts to clear the roads and make sure that people have access to larger towns to get supplies. But there are no ways to get in touch with the outside world. How does the word go out about what’s happening? People from the metro area in San Juan who have family in Adjuntas go down to check up on them and then share what they had seen and heard on social media as the limited access to cellphone coverage allows them to.

But now going back to the question: How have I been able to function?

I have compartmentalized my self. Having to communicate in English helps. It is not my language. It is not my soul. It is not what connects me emotionally to the world. I focused on the tasks. I focused on the routine (of not having a routine), and pay attention only to the work in front of me. I have the news in the background and read the texts and news that I get constantly. But those are in español, those do not belong to the workplace. Those belong to mí.

I have compartmentalized my life in the past few days. Sure, I have shared news with coworkers and friends who ask. I have even shed a tear or two while doing so. I have tried to perform what is asked of me by the US society: calmness, be collected, show little emotion when talking about such things, etc. Like always, I have learned how to perform according to the social rules of the social mores of the society I live in. I have completely disconnected myself from all, creating walls that separate the mí from the me.

When I am home, or when I am speaking with a close friend, or when I am alone in my office and listening to the news, I cry. I let it all go and finally feel mí.

I know that my family is fine. Something within me tells me so. I also know that it will be probably weeks before I hear from them. I, too, am from those areas in the world where nobody cares about you; where the government has nothing to gain but votes every so often, where “charities” have no good faces or locations for photo-ops. I am from the place where the only thing that helps us is ourselves: the community who stands up, puts on their boots, picks up their machetes, brave the remainder rain and winds, and goes out to join one by one as they clear paths and help restore their comunidad. That resiliency is what helps me function. I am a jíbaro, and jíbaros don’t give up.

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Filed under Español, ethnicity, familia, Heritage, Hispanics, Hispanos, Huricaine, Identidad, Identity, Latino, Puerto Rico