To Be Puerto Rican...
Growing up, I struggled with self image. I was born to a father in the military who was stationed in Germany and both of my parents were Puerto Rican. On the military bases, there was a community of Puerto Ricans who got together to do parrandas, a caroling tradition in Puerto Rico, during Christmas time and spoke Spanish. My dad sang and played guitar while others played the güiro and slapped the tambour. That's what I knew in my younger years. I mean, there were other cultures in the community but I didn't feel any prejudice. There were Asians, Blacks, Whites and Hispanics all throughout the community and I didn't recall being told I was different because of the color of my skin. I guess that's what it is to be a military brat. Just knowing there is going to be all kinds of culture around you. When I moved to Florida, things were very different. Orlando is permeated with Puerto Ricans either the island of Puerto Rico, Chicago, or New York. I was not from any of those places. It was strange because I was either not Puerto Rican enough or I didn't come from New York so I didn't fit in. Throughout middle and high school, I struggled with who I really was. I spoke English really well so to the Puerto Ricans I was too "White" and to the everyone else I was too brown. None of it made any sense.
Finally, when I got to college. I threw aside what I was defined to be during my high school years. I decided to be myself and learn what I could about my culture. I did enjoy reggaeton but I wanted to know the history of Puerto Rico. I wanted to speak better Spanish to understand my relatives. I wanted to learn how to dance salsa, merengue, and cha cha. And that's what I did.
I became President of the Puerto Rican organization on campus and through planning events, I learned about things I didn't even know. I learned about bomba and plena, African dances from Puerto Rico's history. I understood the battle for independence from the Grito de Lares and how Lares has amazing flavors in ice cream like corn and rice and beans...ha! I also decided to make a conscious effort to visit my family in Puerto Rico at least every two years.
The most important lesson out of all of this is that no one can define who you are. I embrace my culture through it's history, the beautiful land and beaches, and through my family. I believe all cultures have their beauty. However, I am Puerto Rican and no one can take that away from me.