I can't quite recall the precise moment when I made perhaps the most important decision of my life: I would go to college in the USA, and not stay in Puerto Rico. Was I ten, fourteen? I don't know, I can't remember. What I do remember is that there was no question about it. Some how, some day I would experience a "real" college experience, along with plaid skirts and cardigans (generously provided by dad during my fall visit to the future campus of my dreams...).
CAVEAT-- I use the word "real" when I described college just now, not from an academic or career preparedness point of view, for Puerto Rico has an exceptional higher educational system. I am speaking from the perspective that at the time, all I knew about Puerto Rico's universities was that you commuted and lived at home. Yup, pretty much that is all I knew, other than the lines to register were ridiculously long and from one corner of campus, they sent my cousin Sandra to the other, and again, there and back. I was 13 or so, and remember going along for the ride. Pretty much that afternoon I realized where I did NOT want to go. I wanted to live in a dorm, to walk to class and occasionally engage in an impromptu snowball fight. That to me, the 12-13 yr old at the time, was college. Again... it's my perspective at the time, so chill before you cast judgement. ;)
We all have our own opinions, perspectives from which we see things, experience life. At times the perspective is so myopic it blinds you and trumps any hint of long-term hopes, dreams, expectations. At times you have to get away and see things from the outside, looking in. Even, vice versa, being far away too long can leave you disengaged, unattached, disenchanted. Where I am going with this related to something I have experienced since I came to Dayton for college, lived in Ohio for 15 years before moving back home, and back in the US after roughly 18 months.
And here I thought with time all things fall into place. Well, hello, little girl, wake up and smell the Starbucks. As a student from Puerto Rico, in a predominantly white (never mind the mere fact that I grew up WHITE until I moved to Ohio, but that's another blog, and it will be a good and long one!) mid western university, I embraced every ounce of "Americanness" I can witness... However, I spoke Spanish with my roommate, meet my other friends from PR at 6 p.m. every night for dinner and you could almost see the imaginary "SPANISH ONLY" sign glowing above our heads like a theatre marquee on Broadway. Ahhh, finally, a break. Headache gone, now back to work, back to English.
Many of you know the rest of the story. Got my degree in English, traveled for two years with 300 of my closest friends and made memories that last a lifetime. Then, came back to Ohio. The career that eventually became my true vocation: higher education, awareness and access to it, even challenged and welcomed me with a new concept: to experience what it meant to be pigeon hold. Pigeon what?? Oh I think I eventually got it. You are a pigeon and you are in a cage and/or are allowed to move in very small spaces, or even ignored. I learned that from my African American friends who would say they never want to be that, the "token" Black this and Black that. I got it, but I hadn't really experienced it.
One day I was told I was doing this and doing that simply because I was Hispanic. Excuse, me, what? I wasn't asked, I wasn't considered, there was no question. I was the token Hispanic, so that was my job. Ok, no, no negative sentiments here, I am merely trying to tell a story, my story from this unique cultural point of view- the self-imposed bi-cultural one. I was not dropped in the great Miami River my mistake. I chose to live here, I choose to live here; this is home. Of course, life comes with its complications and with people who have opinions, not similar to our own. Ok. I am cool. However, the way I saw my being Hispanic and automatically being "labeled" as the advocate, tended to be more than the usual, to justify certain behaviors, status quo, some people might say stereotype. Why, because you are Hispanic. Hell no!
If you want to see my Hispanic or Latina (whatever you want to call IT) "passion", in other words, fury or anger, politely and passive-aggressively disguised in disappointment, ask me to perpetuate the stereotypes. I refuse. And with this, I arrive at the main point of this long (sorry, gots lots in my mind) entry... I challenge status quo, I respect the rules, processes and procedures. I am goal-oriented and take a lot of things seriously, especially, as a result of life experiences. For this and many other attributes that make me who I am, to some, I am not as Puerto Rican as I should be. I am not bashing my culture. I am simply frustrated that throughout the years, people only believe being from Puerto Rico only rests in partying, drinking, being loud, eating good food. Yes, of course we have some of that, some more than others. The truth is, we are so much more.
Being from Puerto Rico means we are fully bilingual AND multicultural, we may come from an island but we see with global perspectives. We enjoy life, yes we do, but it's because we work very hard to gain respect, support our families and too, have the American dream, whatever that may mean to each person individually.
Still, the pigeon is getting antsy and needs to get out of the cage. So what does she do? She learns new skills, escapes and flys away. She easily adapts to new surroundings. Ah, but she is not from there, truly she is not really from her adoptive home. It's like she doesn't fit in... but in her heart she knows she does.
I always, always, always fought the notion of clicks. And boy, did it get me in trouble every time I didn't "join in" and sat with the cool kids. Talk about being pigeon hold. Yea, that's what happens when you don't want to sit with the cool kids at the lunch table. Pigeon had to fly in the opposite direction; the one of vision for the future, of hope and opportunity.
Here's the funny fact about all of this... I don't want to get pigeon hold, but if something comes up remotely related to where I am from, who I am culturally and how I relate to the culture that raised me and made me who I am, emotions are going to fly and they will fly in all different directions--haha, like pigeon! No, no pun intended. How many of you out there are there?? I am sure there's lots of you that feel the same. You are the expert, or so called expert in your culture, well, duh, because it's YOURS. But, don't stereotype and assume we are all the same or that I am going to condone certain expectations and behaviors that are simply wrong, just because of Mr. So and So's beliefs of my culture is the only one he sees. I will tell you the truth; I have been telling you the truth, Mr. So and So, you just don't like to hear it.
So, what's the point? I thought time would heal the somewhat superficial wounds of questions like "what is your true self?" In Puerto Rico I have been too gringa, in the States I have been Puerto Rican only by demand and not my merit. The truth is, some of those wounds are not so superficial, but deep cuts made over over 10 years ago that still provoke sobs and tears to stream down my face.
I recently watched a fascinating mini-series from the 1980's called "The Far Pavilions" about a young British boy raised in India by his Indian nanny after his parents are killed. For eleven years he believed he was Indian. He was sent back to England when his adoptive mother died and there he stayed until he became a soldier. He was stationed now in India. Ashton, or Ashok, related so well to the Indians he was constantly questioning British rule, colonization, abuse of human rights. He questioned his Indian self, his English self, in search of his true self. He prayed to the mountains, the Far Pavilions and eventually chose his true self, and stayed in India.
I guess this was more of a confessional... Yes, I am Puerto Rican and it is who I am, where I am from and what made me the person that eventually chose to live in this country, in this culture, embrace it and relate to it. I do love living here. I am the best of both worlds and it's not easy. Actually, it sucks at times. At least I have my own Far Pavillion to look out to and pray to... my chapel, my blue dome. That is where I am my true self.