Tag Archives: traditions

Christmas Memories in Exile

I remember a picture the other day. It was a picture with my sister and I, in front of a Christmas tree. I couldn’t remember what we were wearing, but I do remember that it was taken in the house we grew up in. It was taken many Christmases ago.

When you move as much as I have, memories are all you have left when important dates come up. Living away from the place you consider home means that you always carry with you the memories of special dates. Christmas in particular is a difficult time for me. I grew up in the mountains of Puerto Rico, where the weather this time of the year is cold, but not freezing cold as it is where I live now. The holiday music is festive, cheerful, loud, at a fast tempo, and is everywhere. Caribbean sounds fill up the air; not the slow, often dark, and to me, sad songs with northern European origins. Christmas music for me is drums and guitars, is tambourine and maracas, is güiro and cuatro. Parrandas fill the nights with music as people gather late at night and go throughout their neighborhoods signing traditional music from house to house. All homes are always ready for parrandas. There’s always food: hot chocolate, crackers, guava paste, queso de hoja (a type of homemade white cheese), and of course, the last home that is visited must prepare an “asopao”, or soupy rice with either chicken or pigeon peas.

Our Christmas tree at home was always humble. I still remember the year when my dad decided to just take a coffee tree and wrap its branches with aluminum foil. We placed lights and ornaments and it’s still the most beautiful Christmas tree I had ever had. The tree on the picture I remember was humble as well. We had gone to my grandfather’s farm and cut a pine tree. It did not have the aroma of the fir trees or the spruce trees, but it was beautiful in its humbleness. We put garlands and ornaments and musical lights on it. The tree would not have presents. Ever. Presents were not to be placed under the tree or given on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. We had to wait until Epiphany, the Feast of the Wise Men, on January 6th. The day before my sister and I would gather some grass for the camels, place it on empty shoe boxes, and place those under our beds. The Three Kings will leave present then… and we will have a week or two to play with them before going back to school.

When you live in exile, or away from home in any form, these memories are all you have. You remember the holiday, and the music, and the presents, and the food, and the family time. You remember that nothing will go back to what it was. You remember that life goes on and you must adapt.

I found the picture among my things. My sister and I are wearing pajamas. The Christmas tree looks as beautiful as I remember. It brought back all the memories of Christmas past, in the mountains of Castañer, waiting for parrandas and for the music. It is Navidad; it is home.



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Filed under Christmas, Culture, ethnicity, familia, History, Identidad, Identity, Latino, Navidad, niña, niñez, niño, Puerto Rico, Recuerdos, tradiciones, Uncategorized

The Academy and Creativity

It took me a very long time, but I finally recently got admitted to a doctoral program. I am currently completing a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degree in educational leadership through an innovative distance learning program on a respected university. Contrary to what many people believe, online degrees are not less rigorous or less demanding than traditional programs. Certainly, there are several “diploma mills” out there – and both the FBI and the Department of Justice have taken matters into their hands.

Since way before I entered a doctoral program, I was excited with the possibility of becoming part of the academic elite. I do not mean this in a derogatory way. Far from it! I have admired academics and researchers my whole life. I looked up to them. I followed some of them and their works. I wanted to be part of this group that gives so much to

"This doesn't leave much room for creativity."

“This doesn’t leave much room for creativity.”

society. Thus, when I was admitted to the doctoral program, I was elated. I was finally entering a world in which I could be creative, original, and novel… My interaction with other students would allow me to discover new things and to expand my understanding of the world. Having mentors and teachers with vast experience in the field would mean that I would have the opportunity to ask questions, to get answers, to get recommendations on where to find answers, to get encouragement on topics to research and so much more.

What I can say, however, is that it’s been both encouraging and frustrating (but I guess that this is exactly how life in general goes!)

I am not saying that I am not happy with the program and the mentors. Nothing farther from the truth! I have enjoyed every part of the program. My mentors are amazingly great scholars and they have shown tremendous respect for their respective fields of study, for the training of the students, and for the institution they represent. I must also confess that I am in absolute awe with one particular mentor. Throughout my life, I have had my fair share of great teachers, and this particular mentor has quickly become one of them.

My frustration, however, is not with the institution, with the program, or with the field of study. My frustration is with the academic system that, in order to standardize the production of knowledge, has, at the same time, curtailed creativity on the part of the scholars.

I am not suggesting that we ought to get rid of rules altogether, or that we should never follow certain standards. However, I have noticed how the rules and regulations are so ridiculously complicated and detailed that they do not allow for the expressing of individuality on the part of the scholar who is writing.

I became aware of this through my doctoral studies. Throughout my academic life I have used different styles manuals (mostly the University of Chicago manual, but also MLA Formatting and Style Guide and the APA Style Publication Manual.) Since one of my graduate degrees is in theology, even more creativity was allowed. This doesn’t mean that theological research is less rigorous. It means that, because of the nature of the field, creativity is welcomed and celebrated. Moreover, some flexibility was always allowed so as to present works that spoke to who we are as individuals in relation to the work we are doing.

Now, however, as I move to a more standardized form of scholarly writing, I find myself baffled at the many regulations that come with it.

Two spaces after a final period? Why the heck?! Do the people who put together these manuals are over 100 years old and still using typewriters?

A whole, almost blank page *just* for my name and institution? Apparently they don’t care about wasting money or resources when printing!

Having to repeat the title on EVERY. SINGLE. PAGE? Why??? Just… WHY???

OK, I get the numbering pages (always have done that.) And I also get having a standard way of quoting, citing, and writing the references. But, honestly, there are other rules that make no sense… and that, for people who enjoy writing and reading like me, make it difficult to be creative with the way in which we present our work.

Now I understand why most scholars dress the same, talk the same, have the same mannerisms, and pretty much look all the same: they have been following standardized ways of scholarly work for decades! To me, that is sad.

To be honest, I will definitely follow every single one of the ridiculous rules and regulations the program asks me to follow. After all, I *do* want to succeed in this program and part of the way of doing this is by conforming to the system that has allowed you to pursue research and scholarly work. But I also make myself a promise: never, ever, ever, EVER, to curtail the writing creativity – within reason – of my future students and mentorees.



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Filed under Academy, Creativity, School, Studies, Uncategorized