I hear two nightingales at my bedroom window. Their sweet song lets me know that the sun is up, which means that so am I. I quickly put on my swimsuit and some shorts, no shoes needed, don’t care too much about the hair either. The strong smell of freshly brewed black coffee takes me down the stairs to the kitchen where my mom is waiting for me to give me a good morning kiss. I can tell she’s been awake for a while now because her Fiel a la Vega CD is already on track 7, the dishes are all clean and from the kitchen window I can see she already hanged some clothes in the clothesline. It’s such a beautiful day, I can hear the sun calling me to go out and play.
I walk out the door of my house and take a right down the hill of beautiful houses that follow mine. At the bottom of the hill I take a left and decide that I want to spend my day in one of my favorite places, Pink Beach. Just the walk alone is a religious experience, it’s that time of the day when only a few are awake. To my right is the shore and it follows me the whole time. The water is still and clear, so clear that I can see schools of wonderful colored fishes swimming about, it reflects everything around as if it were a mirror. A fisherman has just arrived to the shore with what will probably provide for him and his family for the next week or so. To my left, a row of vibrantly colored houses match the vibrant souls of the people that live in them. The breeze that curls my hair and the sun that colors my skin taste like Puerto Rico, and in the sweet song of the birds that happily fly around I hear freedom.
Pink Beach is given this name because of the red mangroves along the shoreline. Red mangroves dispose a red substance into the water, making the water look bloody, but slowly will turn the water to pink. I love to come here, just sit in the sand and think. Think about life, think about spirituality, about nature, about our origin, our culture, our traditions, about me.
The current of the sea as well as of the rivers carry gold, they carry the blood of our culture. This is the land that the Taino Indians adored, the land where the Africans worked until their bones ached, where they worked until it remained marked on their bodies forever. In this land the poor white man with machete in hand dedicated his life to working in fields of sugar cane, coffee and tobacco. Their blessed hands worked in the mines and took care of the cattle. What would have we become if the Spaniards hadn’t arrived on the island? What if they hadn’t brought slaves from Africa? Sure it is sad that many of the Indians perished because of disease and hard work, slavery is never okay either. But if none of this would’ve happened, we wouldn’t have such a rich culture as we have today. We are a mix of different cultures and races, we are a mix of colors and flavors. We embrace all of our different heritages, we embrace our roots. My heart raises and fills with joy when I hear the drums playing bomba and plena. The Africans used this type of music as a political source and as spiritual expression, but also moved them to dance and celebrate, it helped them to create a community and identity. Our language, our food, our physical characteristics are a great mix of Taino Indians, Africans and Spaniards. And it makes us who we are; proud, unique, lively people, with character and a flavor that is distinguished everywhere.
Even if I don’t want to, I’m going to have to leave this beautiful hidden paradise some day. This island that is the envy of the Caribbean, this beautiful “Island of Enchantment”, as we all call it, it is and will always be my home no matter what part of the world I am in.
My parents have found better paying jobs in the United States, “the land of the free” as they call it. But what is money when you have all of this fortune given to you? It makes me nervous to think that I’m going to be away from home, leaving behind my family, my friends. Leaving behind this way of living, but never my traditions or my culture, those will always live inside of me. What if people don’t understand me? What if I don’t understand them?
It’s been a year now, since me and my parents moved to Georgia, the time doesn’t seem to go by fast enough. I can’t see when the time is going to come for me to go back home. I don’t understand why they call it “the land of the free”, because I feel trapped behind four walls of terracotta colored bricks. All of the windows in the house are shut close because of the air conditioning system, there is no way for the wind to get in and curl my hair. There is only white noise.
I always have to wear shoes to go out now, I can’t just walk barefooted to some hidden beautiful location anymore. Forests of cement surround me, everything I see around me are buildings and buildings and more buildings. Some tree here and there, but no nightingales to sing me awake.
In this place, birds no longer sing, they crow. The clear water that once caressed by body has turned dark, and I can’t tell what its current carries anymore. It gets too cold here, and the sun that once invited me to play outside is not strong enough to color my skin anymore.
I’ve had many different opportunities here: meeting new people, learning a new language, learning about new cultures and traditions. But still, this doesn’t feel like home.
Home is where we walk barefooted if we want to, where we don’t pronounce certain letters as we should, but that’s okay because we all understand each other. Home is where everyone is a family, where everyone tells you “have a good day!” and “have a good night!”, where they tell you to enjoy your food if they see you eating and give you a blessing even if you didn’t ask for one. Home is where everyone is your friend, where even if you just met the person you greet them with a kiss and a hug. Here, I’ve had to learn the hard way that people only shake hands.
I miss my grandma’s cooking. Her home is always open for everyone, she treats everyone as her family. I miss my grandfather’s coffee, and how he calls me his “little angel” and signals a cross in the back of my head or back every time he hugs me. I miss my friends’ laugh and their hugs, I miss their ability to make me feel happy even in the darkest of times.
I also miss Puerto Rican Christmas, they don’t celebrate Three Kings Day here, they only have Santa Clause. This past year my classes started on the same day as Three Kings Day, and if I said “Happy Three Kings Day!” to people, they would look at me weird because they had no idea what I was talking about. Here they eat pulled pork, grits and biscuits with gravy and drink eggnog in the holidays. Back home we would eat roasted pork, rice with pigeon peas and pasteles, and drink coquito.
Puerto Ricans come from the rivers, from mountains and forests of coffee and sugar cane. We come from the heat, from the spices and cooking; we are the privileged pearl, the envy of the Caribbean. We come from the beaches and the battlefields, from where the breeze makes you feel loved. We are born from sweat and cries in the early morning, from where we learn how to pray since a young age because we have no other option. (Fiel a la Vega)
I can’t seem to see the day for me to go back home. My biggest fear would be for me not to go back to that land, to that land where I left so many unfinished dreams waiting for me.
My parents are enjoying this new experience, it seems to be going better than ever for them. They seem genuinely happy, which makes me happy. I do thank God because we are able to have the family together, and after all, we are not missing any material things and love is always present in the household. My mom still listens to Fiel a la Vega in her kitchen and my dad still puts avocado in every dish he eats.
Maybe my worst fear isn’t that I don’t know when I am going to be able to go back home, maybe my biggest fear is that I’m going to end up really liking this place.