Did you grow up knowing you were Latino? I didn’t, not really. I lived in a very small world; home, church, school, family. Everyone spoke my language in my little world. Everyone looked like me in my little world. Everyone ate the same food. Our tenement and project apartments looked the same. How was I to know that there was a great big world out there?
Moving to Rockland County, New York opened my eyes a bit and not all of it was good. I was called a “spic” for the first time and had to ask my parents what it meant. Learning what it meant to be Puerto Rican involved research (in a pre-computer era) and discussions over the dinner table. My father’s demographic studies were already pointing to Latinos becoming a force to be reckoned with and many dinner discussions were about the future of Latinos in America. I just sort of wished my parents had done it all along instead of waiting until I asked.
My former husband added to my education. He was the one who introduced me to salsa music and the delicious dancing that goes with it. He helped me work on my poor Spanish language skills and we discussed differences between Puerto Rico and Colombia. Between us, we taught our daughters about their heritages and yet they came home to ask what a “spic” was, when some knucklehead yelled it at them. Cultural awareness lessons continued and expanded.
It wasn’t until I was a middle-aged woman, living alone, that I was finally able to indulge my love of cultural events. Attending Off-Broadway shows, salsa concerts, Latino themed movies and spoken word events became the way I expressed my cultural pride as both a Latina and Puerto Rican. Attending a recent picnic, where the congas dictated the beat of your heart and your feet began a movement you didn’t know you had in you, was just icing on my cake. I was able to observe one generation teach the next, the beats and the proper use of the instruments that accompany the congas in a symphony that belongs on a stage. The experience warmed my heart and the feeling carried me through Hispanic Heritage Month.
As October comes to a close, November brings us Puerto Rican Heritage Month, and brings me a whole new list of cultural events to attend. The adventures of Super-Rican continue…