Today is...  

Breeding  Boricuanism
in USAricans

By Irene F. Vázquez (Mrs. Don Jíb
aro)

hen I saw the movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, I realized how other cultures can identify with it. A group of people can immigrate to another country and still bring their culture with them, bring up the next generation, their kids to be like them… loving the food, the language and marrying into their own race.

Now, those who’ve seen the movie, know that the parents seemed to overdo their culture by ignoring the ways of the land that they live in or looking at the other ethnic groups in a negative way. The heroine of the movie seemed to look into the American way of life wistfully rather than into her Greek’s family’s. Yet, she recognized and understood the traditions … she spoke the language and ate the food. She knew the folkloric ways that identified them. She marries a non-Greek who embraces her culture, seeing the uniqueness of it and makes it his own.

In our house, everyone knows that there is a Puerto Rican father living here. The neighbors know it. The congregation of our church knows that there is a Puerto Rican among them. My relatives know that I am married to a Puerto Rican. Even the people at my job know it! What does that tell you? He is who he is and he’s proud of it. In our house we eat Puerto Rican meals. There are Puerto Rican flags in the living room along with wood photo plaques of typical country scenes adorning the walls: ceramic coquis, wooden pilones, lace fans and a three by one foot wooden clock in the shape of the island itself.

While my husband was born and raised on the island, I was born in East Los Angeles, of parents also born there. My maternal grandparents were born in Mexico. My mother spoke Spanish before she spoke English. Yet, when she married, she only spoke English to us. She made tamales for Christmas Eve. She made menudo, (no, not the teen group, but a Mexican version of mondongo) occasionally on a Sunday. We ate baked lamb heads and ‘tripitas’, (cow’s intestines). Most dinners included a fresh pot of beans. Some Saturdays she made homemade flour tortillas. Papas or huevos con chorizo was a common Saturday meal, too. Friday nights she played her Mariachi music. We knew how to dance to the Mexican polkas and the cha cha cha. We spoke no Spanish. We didn’t think of ourselves as Mexicans, either.

On the other hand, our WWII veteran father, informed us that we were Americans of Mexican descent. When my mom started working on Saturdays, he BBQ weenies and marshmallows, baked meatloaf, a Hawaiian ham or a pot roast. He took us on hikes in the mountains, or fishing off the rocks at Seal Beach.

We didn’t think of ourselves as being raised into a Mexican culture. One might call it a subliminal flavor of Mexico from my mom… listening to her speak Spanish to my grandmother, or on the phone to a neighbor. My desire was to speak Spanish. I wanted to learn how to make homemade flour tortillas. I lamented that I wasn’t Mexican….I took four years of Spanish in high school and in college, I was in a bilingual teacher-training program that took me to study in Mexico for six months……

So, when Don Jibaro and I married, I knew I would share with our children whatever I could of my culture. Don Jibaro, being Puerto Rican already had his “ways” that showed in his cooking… Lots of arroz blanco con habichuelas guisadas, arroz con salchicha; con carne, con garbanzos, con pollo. His version of a tortilla was a home-made potato and cheese omelet. He bought maltas or Coco Ricos (coconut soda)! He told us how as a child he was so poor, they had coffee with a “canto ‘e pan” for breakfast.

He gets excited and shouts, “WEPA”! “¡Baila el bongó!”, ‘sopla bacalao’ or, and his occasional “Coño!”

He is a little bit like Ricky Ricardo… when he gets angry he rattles off in fast Spanish. Whenever he has to count quickly it’s always in Spanish. He plays his cuatro, a small ten-string guitar. He plays the salsa of Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri as well as “Ramito”, “Chuito el de Bayamón”…typical country music. He also plays with cards called “Brisca” and he knows how to play dominó!!! I never knew that there was more to matching the dominoes dots… you know, the counting and stuff like that!

Whenever we can we’ve taken our kids to Puerto Rico. Over there they understand why their dad is different than California Latinos. In Puerto Rico even the snacks are unique. On Sundays there are the bacalaitos stands and the lechonera trucks selling plates of roasted pork to enjoy! Where can you find here in L.A. a sugar cane drink, guarapo, made fresh? Or, Mavi!?! Where can you find a good Puerto Rican Restaurant?

Seeing their uncle (DJ’s brother in law) chop up a pig’s head and make fried carnitas and chicarrón is an experience. Fireworks for New Year’s Eve is exciting, too. Going fishing and catching blue “cocolía” crabs, eels, etc! Going into the country to eat asopao de pollo from a freshly killed chicken is another adventure not easily found in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Not many can do this much in a lifetime, but it is nice when you see a family with one or two Puerto Ricans parents who have brought the flavor of the island home to their children!

Living with a Puerto Rican for twenty-five years, sharing in his life, eating the food, speaking the language, visiting the island for long periods of time, has helped me appreciate how he has maintained his cultural traditions here on the mainland.

My house is full of Puerto Rico. There are even Puerto Rican flags in the living room, … What I’m saying is that I have a personal relationship with Puerto Rico. I recognize and can identify the food, and the sites and so I am able to enlighten my children when we visit. In our home we include the celebration of el “Día de los Reyes Magos” at Christmastime. Our kids put a shoe box with grass under their bed on Jan. 5th and wake up on the 6th to goodies and trinkets. Why? To preserve the cultural ways that their father grew up enjoying and to share it with them.

Oh, I almost forgot… they also eat the “ajonjolí” (sésame seed) candy and the “brazo Gitano”. My children know that they have three cultures to enjoy…Mexican, Puerto Rican and American!!


donjibaro@gmail.com


“Live in such a way that no one blames the rest of us 
nor finds fault with our work.” —(2 Corinthians 6:3)

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