“I’m afraid of what I’ll find when I go back home.” It seemed like a strange thing for me say to my eight year old boy before going away on vacation, but truly, I was anxious and afraid.
It had been a year and three months since my last visit to Puerto Rico. It was a tough time for my family, especially after recent developments in the island over the past couple of years. From the Zika epidemic, to the enduring financial crisis and the two devastating hurricanes Irma and Maria. As I landed at the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport, I was reminded of how close – yet how far I am from the place that I call my “patria.”
I tried to take it all in, without judging too much. My critical eye that has been so prolific in the past seemed to take a rest this time. Or was I just hoping it would? Would I be more relaxed and less strict this time around? I scouted the hallways and roof at the airport for evidence of damage as if the signs of the passing of Maria would convince me that what I had heard on the news and seen on the internet for six months was true.
The escalator that takes tourists down to the luggage area was not working. “Of course!” I immediately thought, feeling frustrated at the lack of normalcy that I’ve experienced when I travel to other popular tourist destinations. Things never seem to fully work in this airport, I told myself. Then, I caught myself going into the critical mode, and I immediately talked myself out of this line of thinking. I must go with the flow.
Shortly thereafter, the smile and warmth of the gentleman that helped at the rental car center reminded me what connects me to this piece of land. It is not so different than what you would experience when you visit other Caribbean islands, because for me, being Caribbean means having a unique attitude to enjoying life, where there is always time for a pleasantry, for an extended “hello,” for a sincere “have a nice time!” I am biased, of course.
I was born and raised in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. The Northern city of close to 90,000 is about a 45 minute drive from San Juan. For those who are aware of the cultural sensibilities in the island, being from anywhere out of San Juan makes you a citizen of: “de la isla” (from the island), almost a different strand of Puerto Rican than those who live in the capital. More laid back, more used to a simpler life, less sophisticated than those who live in the capital city of San Juan. I know San Juan lifestyle very well as I went to college there and graduated from the prestigious University of Puerto Rico, Recinto de Río Piedras, where I spent precious years cultivating my craft as a mass communicator.
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