Tag Archives: Puerto Rico

Signs of my Father in an Oreo Commercial

Me ( on the right) with my sister Helena, and my dad having a great laugh one night! This photo was taken in Puerto Rico when I was about 7 years old.

In October each year, I always see signs of my father.  He was born on October 25th and would have been 95 years old this year.  He’s been gone for 16 years now.

A few days ago, I was doing laundry and somewhat paying attention to the Property Brothers on HGTV in the background.  I walked back into the bathroom to return the laundry basket when I caught an Oreo commercial playing.  In it, a father asks his young daughter if she sees any stars “out there.”  They live in the city so stars would be a little hard to see – she says, “not yet.”  The dad suddenly tells her to grab her jacket and they take off to find the perfect place to view the stars.  They end up in the back of their truck in the middle of a field gazing up at the stars with a package of Oreos.

As I was watching the commercial, I had a tremendously strong flashback.  My family was living in Puerto Rico at the time and I was getting interested in astronomy.  I had a booklet, probably from school, that showed all the constellations and I would mull over it to get familiar with them.  I would walk outside sometimes and look up at the stars and was eventually able to identify the big and little dipper.  The others were a little harder…

One night, my dad surprised me and out of the blue told me we were going to look at the constellations together.  I was so excited!  He grabbed a flashlight and I grabbed my constellation book.  But instead of going outside into our front yard, he said we were going to our roof!  We climbed up the wrought iron gate next to our car port and onto the flat roof of our concrete house!  Now as an 8 or 9-year-old, I had climbed on the roof before – without permission from my parents, of course – so this was exciting to me!  We were on the roof!!! I felt so grown up!!!

This photo is of my dad after we got our new Pug puppy, Tai Tai…you can see the wrought iron gate in the background. This was the same one on the other side of the house next to our car port. This is how dad and I climbed onto the roof of the house.

Our bathrooms had skylights so we were even more elevated as we laid down on the cool concrete to look at the night sky and dad  turned the flashlight to the constellation book.  Then we slowly started identifying the constellations together… (minus the Oreos!)  Dad would point to one in the book and I would start searching.  Dad would give me clues to finding a certain constellation and I remember him using both the big and little dipper as the home base to do our searches.  I don’t know how long we stayed on the roof that night but I do remember loving the fact that it was just me and my dad and this was something that we were doing together.  It was something very special.

I hadn’t thought about this particular memory for a long time.   But there was a split second in that Oreo commercial that focused on a constellation book showing Ursa Major/The Big Dipper that had all these memories flooding back to me.  It’s funny how you can have memories for so many years and yet the actual feelings remain dormant until something triggers them.  Cue the Oreo commercial…and I’m convinced my dad had something to do with this.  He always does at this time of year.

 

 

Speaking Spanish and Being Latino

Nuestra Cultura (Our Culture) Town Hall at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) in January featured a discussion on being Latino and speaking Spanish.

Nuestra Cultura (Our Culture) Town Hall at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) in January featured a discussion on being Latino and speaking Spanish.

At the January Town Hall I attended at The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute called “Nuestra Cultura” (Our Culture), the topic of language in the Latino community was discussed.  Does not being able to speak Spanish make you any less Latino/Hispanic?  I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic since then and wanting to write about it.  My own experience learning Spanish kept coming back to me as I listened to several members of the Town Hall audience share their stories and opinions.  Meanwhile, so many instances of Spanish language and what it means to the community have popped up in new articles and on social media.  The Pew Research Center published some research on this and breaking it down many different ways.  Overall, 71% of Latino adults say it is NOT necessary to speak Spanish to be considered Latino.  Even Republican Presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Tex Cruz sparred a bit recently about speaking Spanish at a Republican debate in South Carolina!

Graphic from the Pew Research Center - taken from the Pew Research website.

Graphic from the Pew Research Center – taken from the Pew Research website.

When I was 6 years old, my family moved from Beltsville, Maryland to Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico.  I remember vividly walking into my first grad classroom at Cupeyville Elementary and not speaking a word of Spanish.  My teacher spoke English and helped me maneuver getting set up in the classroom but I don’t remember anyone else speaking to me in English.  It was frightening not being able to understand what was going on those first few weeks.  I soon learned on the playground that my classmates were rather curious about the new “American” kid in the classroom.  I was considered the American kid – because I only spoke English – even though my father was Mexican-American.  Many of the kids were very kind to me and we got along using the universal language of playground games – jump rope and others – during recess.  Meanwhile, I was like a sponge soaking up my classes in Spanish and learning to speak the language that I knew was my father’s first but I rarely heard him speak until we made the move to Puerto Rico.

Some of my Spanish books from 7th grade at Sagrado Corazon school.

Some of my Spanish books from 7th grade at Sagrado Corazon school.

By 4th grade, my parents moved me and my sisters to a Catholic school so we would be exposed to a religious education.  All subjects were taught in Spanish except for Religion and English.  Those two were taught by the Benedictine nuns at Sagrado Corazón (Sacred Heart) school.  I was immersed in Spanish from the ages 6 to 12 and when we moved to Chicago, Illinois midway through my 7th grade year, I continued taking Spanish as an elective all through high school.  Friends in high school would say it was an easy “A” for me every time they would see Spanish on my schedule.  But I begged to differ.  Once, after this statement was made to me I asked my friend, “don’t you take an English class?”  She said, “yes, you know I do…I sit right next to you!”  I grinned and asked her “do you get all A’s?”  To which she replied…”good one…”

Having a second language has been a great benefit all my life.  When I was a senior in high school, I took a school sponsored trip with a few classmates to Mexico.  My friends relied heavily on me during that trip.  One day we were looking for a market and two friends found a policeman and started asking him for directions.  They were supposed to be practicing their Spanish but were struggling so they pulled me up and I began asking for help and directions.  When I had finished he answered me in perfect English!  It was rather amusing – my friends asked him, “why didn’t you tell us you spoke English?”  He said, “you didn’t ask?”

Some of the photos from my senior high school trip to Mexico - top left is me on top of the Sun Pyramid. Bottom pic is of some of our group on the tour bus - we got rained out at the pyramid sound and light show that night!

Some of the photos from my senior high school trip to Mexico – top left is me on top of the Sun Pyramid. Bottom pic is of some of our group on the tour bus – we got rained out at the pyramid sound and light show that night!

Living in the suburbs of Chicago, there were times I would be called upon to help interpret or translate Spanish.  It didn’t happen very often, but it was great fun when it did happen confirming further how fortunate I was to be bilingual.  I know my father was happy me and my sisters were getting exposure to Spanish.  He was always such a proponent of language and was self-taught in several.  He was equally happy that we were able to speak to our grandmother – nana – in  Spanish when we would call her in New Mexico.  If I ever started speaking English to her, she would simply say “en español” – meaning “in Spanish,” so I would respect this request and return to speaking Spanish.

When I moved to Birmingham, Alabama in 1980, I encountered no Spanish speakers…for a long time.  I would look for ways to hear Spanish and with cable television – again this was the mid-1980s – I was able to get the WGN Chicago station and a Saturday morning show called “Charlando.”  This was a long-running Spanish-language community affairs “chat” and the guy who hosted the show spoke SO fast that it was a challenge to understand him at times.  My father even said to me one Saturday, “if you can understand what he is saying, then you are doing quite well.!”  That made me feel good!  Of course, in the late 1990s through early 2000s, the Hispanic population in the Birmingham region grew tremendously and it was not unusual to go to the local mall and hear Spanish being spoken.  It was like music to my ears and always made me smile as I eavesdropped just a little.

Now after almost 15 years of involvement with the Hispanic community in Birmingham, Most of my Latino friends know I speak Spanish but there are some who are still surprised when I do.  I was at a Hispanic event last fall when I joined a group of friends in Spanish conversation.  On the way to my car later, one of the women said to me in Spanish – “Teresa, I had no idea you could speak Spanish like that!”  I said, “Yes, I’m just full of surprises!”  I do look for opportunities to speak Spanish.  You would think it would be easy these days but English always seems to override.

Looking back, I’ve had varied experiences being bilingual.  Some would say that I’m not bilingual “enough,” while others say I speak just fine.  It all depends on who you are, I suppose.  And all this goes back to the original question I posed…does a Latino need to speak  Spanish to be considered Latino?  I identify as Latina and have done so for a long time.  So, how much Spanish is enough?  I will explore this multi-layered subject more in future posts.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

La Virgen de Guadalupe

Ann Seeley pewter bracelet with the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe that I bought in Albuquerque, New Mexico several years ago.

Ann Seeley pewter bracelet with the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe that I bought in Albuquerque, New Mexico several years ago.

A few years ago, I found this beautiful and unusual Virgen de Guadalupe bracelet on my way back from a Zuniga family reunion in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  It was made by artist Alice Seeley, the same artist who made the petroglyph pins I wrote about a few posts back.  I didn’t buy the bracelet at the same time I bought the pins and so I was surprised that it was made by the same artist.  It’s a heavy bracelet, made of pewter, and some might say its a little chunky.  However, every time I wear it, it doesn’t weigh me down…it brings me comfort.

La Virgen de Guadalupe/ Virgen of Guadalupe has brought comfort to so many people for so many centuries.  The story of how she came to be the Patron Saint of Mexico begins in the year 1531 – on Dec 12th to be exact – in northern Mexico City.  An indigenous Indian boy by the name of Juan Diego was walking toward the Hill of Tepeyac when the Virgin Mary appeared to him.  She told Juan to go to the Archbishop and request a church be built at the Hill of Tepeyac.  Of course, when Juan went to the Archbishop, he didn’t believe the boy.  Instead, he told Juan to return to the hill and ask for a miracle to prove the lady he was seeing was indeed the Virgin Mary.

So, Juan went back to the hill and Mary appeared to him again.  She told him to gather flowers from the top of the hill.  Now, this was December and this hill was rocky and no flowers ever grew there.  But when Juan reached the top, he found beautiful flowers!  Actually, he found Castilian roses which are not native to Mexico.  He gathered the flowers in his “tilma” (a cloak) and promptly ran to the Archbishop.  Juan gave the cloak of flowers to the Archbishop and as they tumbled to the ground, the cloak revealed a miracle – the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe imprinted on the fabric.

The image of the Virgin Mary that was on the "tilma" or cloak that Juan Diego wore. The actual tilma hangs at the altar at La Basilica de la Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico City. It is over 500 years old. (photo from Catholictradition.org.)

The image of the Virgin Mary that was on the “tilma” or cloak that Juan Diego wore. The actual tilma hangs at the altar at La Basilica de la Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico City. It is over 500 years old. (photo from Catholictradition.org.)

There is quite a bit of history about this Marian appearance that involves Spain, the indigenous people of Mexico and the Catholic Church, if you care to read more about it.  There is even doubt that Juan Diego existed by some.  But like many things we don’t understand or don’t have faith in, we doubt.  We want proof of existence.  I was raised Catholic and we talked a lot about the Virgin Mary when I was growing up.  Attending Catholic school helped!  In my case, it was Sagrado Corazon catholic school in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico.  I remember the Benedictine nuns talking about prayer and one even said “you should pray to Mary for intercession because after all, she is Jesus’ mother and how could He say no to her!”  Hummm…that was an interesting concept to all of us little 4th graders at the time!

I choose to believe and to honor the Mother of Jesus.  Her image is exquisite in the renderings and art I’ve seen over the years.  I also am fascinated by the other stories of the Virgin Mary’s appearances around the world.  When I think back to biblical times, miracles were written about and discussed quite a bit!  There are plenty of miracles that happen today too, but sometimes we just don’t believe the impossible is possible.  It may not be the Virgin Mary appearing before you on a rocky hill, but miracles DO happen in present day.

Juan Diego’s miraculous tilma hangs protected above the altar at the Basilica of La Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico City for all to see.  If you read more about the tilma, it has been the subject of much investigation, experimentation and scrutiny to see how it has survived for over 500 years, even when ammonia was spilled on it and a bomb damaged the altar in 1921.  In fact, the tilma seems to repair itself when damage occurs!  It’s rather fascinating!  In 1936, a biochemist analyzed the fabric and stated that the pigments used on the tilma were of no known source – meaning they weren’t of animal, mineral or vegetable.

Pope John Paul II was very devoted to the Virgin Mary.  In 1999, he named Our Lady of Guadalupe as the patron of the Americas.  She has long been revered in Mexico.  Her image is everywhere and I have seen it more and more over the past 15 years in Alabama.  She is particularly present at the local Birmingham Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos event. It’s always so beautiful to see her image surrounded by marigold on altars remembering lost loved ones.

El Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe became a national holiday in Mexico in 1859.  It is a day of much celebration and pilgrimage to the Basilica.  It isn’t unusual to see people walking on their knees all the way up to the altar while praying in order to pay tribute to the Virgin Mary.  When I visited Mexico City and the Basilica as a senior in high school, I witnessed this.  It left quite an impression on me and I couldn’t imagine how difficult it must be to walk on your knees all that way.  I walked into the Basilica with my tour group and made my way up to the altar where the tilma hangs.  I remember thinking how beautiful it was and I stood there amazed along with so many other people.  I hope one day I can go back and experience this again.

A look at the clasp on my Virgen de Guadalupe bracelet. Such a unique piece and I'm so glad it found me!

A look at the clasp on my Virgen de Guadalupe bracelet. Such a unique piece and I’m so glad it found me!

 

Prayers for Paris

Image of Eiffel Tower from Lovelyplanet.com

Image of Eiffel Tower from Lovelyplanet.com

Friday night I was watching the coverage of the terrorist attacks in Paris, France.  Trying to get make some sort of sense out of what was happening.  But seriously, how do you make sense out of terrorist attacks?  So senseless and so heartbreaking…

I was feeling so helpless watching all this.  Then a story emerged about the soccer match between Germany and France and how as the stadium was being evacuated, the fans began singing the French national anthem – La Marseillaise” – (click here for the video.)

It’s interesting…I heard that song and immediately began singing along.  All the words and the melody came back to me immediately.  I was in 3rd grade attending a private school called Cupeyville Elementary in Puerto Rico.  As a 3rd grader, I was learning Spanish as a first language, English as a second and French as a third.  One of the things we learned in French class – the French national anthem.

So…Friday night after the news coverage…I found the anthem on YouTube and decided to sing along – in solidarity with the French and offering prayers for healing.

Vive la France!

Christmas Music in November?

My large collection of Christmas music at home...I like adding a few new cds each year!

My large collection of Christmas music at home…I like adding a few new cds each year!

Every year in early November, the Christmas music begins on a local radio station.  Now, I love Christmas music, but listening to it in November…that’s a bit too early for me.  I mean, hello?  Remember Thanksgiving??!!!

It does prompt me to begin researching new Christmas albums about to be released for the year.  I have a rather large collection of Christmas cds and I really enjoy adding to it every year.  Of course, some years are better than others.  If I buy a new cd or two, they go directly into my car so I can listen on my way to work and back the month of December.

This past weekend I was at Michaels and stumbled upon some Christmas cds in the midst of all the crafting items and Christmas decorations.  (Honestly, trying to find Thanksgiving decor was difficult…)  My sister, Kanista and I had been talking about the group Pentatonix a few months ago.  She had just discovered them and went absolutely head over heels for their music.  They released their last Christmas cd – That’s Christmas to Me – in 2014 and somehow I missed getting it last year.  I spotted it in the array of Christmas cds at Michaels and so I bought one cd for Kanista and one for myself.  On my way home, I broke my own rule about “no Christmas music before Thanksgiving” to give the cd a listen…it is FABULOUS!!!

IMG_9687

I also bought another new cd – a group called Straight No Chaser.  I don’t event remember how I discovered this group several years ago.  Their cd – Under the Influence – was released in 2013.  I remember thinking I would pick it up two years ago and then never did.  I can’ wait to give this one a listen in December!  (Yes!  I’m waiting to open this one up!)

IMG_9691

Each year the week of Thanksgiving, I go through and select a few older cds that I’ll listen to in December.  There are always a handful that make the cut every year – no matter what!  There’s The Andy Williams Christmas Album for one.  This one brings me back to when we were living in Puerto Rico and my mother would play the vinyl album on our Magnavox combo tv/record player/radio unit.  There are certain songs that make it Christmas for me and one of those is hearing Andy sing “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”  I also sang  this song with my show choir group in high school so I’m always singing along in the choral version.  I just love it…so many great memories with that song!

IMG_9690

Christmas with Dino was a recent purchase but again, these song by Dean Martin are oldies but goodies!  I have always LOVED Dean Martin – he reminded me of my dad in a lot of ways…at least the person I saw on TV when I was growing up.  Dino makes the cut every year.  I’ve grown tired of the many renditions of the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” but not when Dean Martin sings it!  Makes me wish I had been around during the Rat Pack Days!

IMG_9694

The Carpenters Christmas Collection – what more can I say.  I am always blown away by Richard Carpenter’s musical arrangements.  Karen Carpenter’s voice is a given – it’s timeless to me.  I mean, didn’t we ALL want to BE Karen Carpenter when we were growing up?  That voice!  Merry Christmas Darling” always gives me goosebumps.  Incredible to think that the lyrics to this song were written in 1946 by Richard and Karen’s choir director and twenty years later – when Richard was his student – the director gave the lyrics to Richard and he composed  the melody!  There is one other song on this two cd set that isn’t well-known – Little Altar Boy – that is simply gorgeous.  If you haven’t heard it I strongly encourage you to give it a listen.

IMG_9692

Ottmar Liebert is a German guitarist, songwriter and producer and is best known for his Spanish influenced music.  You would find him in the new age/jazz section if you were looking for a cd.  I was first introduced to him in 2001 by my cousin Nelinda when my sister and I were visiting her in New Mexico.  She had one of his cds playing in the background as we enjoyed a meal and chatted.  Perfect “set the scene” type music and Ottmar quickly became a favorite of mine.  His cd called “Christmas Santa Fe” is one that I used to always play on Christmas Eve when my family was larger and we would gather at my house to enjoy my mother’s enchiladas, rice and beans, salsa and margaritas!

IMG_9689

Last but certainly not least…I found a compilation cd set called La Parranda by Fania records.  The album describes itself as representing “the essence of Latin American music.”  Fania was a New York based record label that became known for promoting salsa music.  It features music by Hector Levoe , a well-known Puerto Rican salsa singer, and Willie Colon, a salsa musician.  This music always takes me back to Christmases in Puerto Rico.  I have always liked this cd title because Parrandas are a Puerto Rican tradition where a group of friends or family members, go unannounced over to a neighbor’s house very late at night to sing traditional Puerto Rican Christmas carols. The songs are called “aguinaldos” or gifts. I remember doing this as a child and bringing maracas and  “guiros” to accompany the songs.  A guiro is a Latin percussion instrument made of a hollowed out gourd that has parallel notches cut in the side.  It is played by rubbing a stick or tines along the notches to produce the sound.  I remember everyone would argue over who got to play the guiro.  It was always the coveted instrument!  Great memories but doesn’t music do that to us?  It takes us back in time and lets us relive our precious memories…

Meanwhile…I’m getting these cds ready to load in my car so I can enjoy the sounds of the holidays, my way…  What Christmas music makes your holiday special?  Let me know!

 

Fiesta 2015 Rain or Shine!

IMG_8044

This was the crowd during the last two acts of the night…incredible! Despite the cold!

This was Fiesta’s “lucky” 13th year.  Every year as we (the organizers) approach the event, we always keep our fingers crossed about the weather and every year with the exception of one, the weather was beautiful, sunny and warm.  This year, the outlook started out that way…we kept looking at the forecast and it showed mild temperatures but sunny.  Perfect, you could say!  Then closer to the event, it showed cloudy and a chance of showers.  Then it started raining…

IMG_8043

Two Fiesta patrons in rain gear on their way to the Coca Cola Music Stage.

When you have an outdoor festival, you have to expect the weather will catch up with you at some point.  So for Fiesta’s 13th year, it did.  We thought the rain would stop by noon – that’s when Fiesta “officially” opens, so we were hopeful.  Then the forecast changed to 1 p.m. – and if you were there, you know that didn’t happen.  I think we were just on the wrong side of the road when it came to the rain.  Thankfully, it wasn’t a downpour.  And thankfully, people came out and simply put on hats, rain ponchos or just didn’t care about getting wet.  Incredibly, as the day went on, and the drizzle came and went, people kept coming and enjoying the villages and especially the music.  All in all, I would have to say this was one of our best years!

IMG_8031

Veronica Richey with BB&T Bank threw on a rain poncho and got to work at her booth at Fiesta wearing a Costa Rica hat!

This year’s Fiesta showed us that people love this event and want to be here no matter what.  It also proved to be one of the most diverse crowds I believe we have ever had.  This absolutely thrilled us. This event matters to the Hispanic community and also to the community at large and this was proven with the numbers we saw all day long.  About 10,000 people made it to Fiesta this year!

Personally, I had the best time once I stopped worrying about my soggy hair.  Thank goodness for hair pins!  As I walked through the park and strolled down the Cultural Village with my camera, I grew a little  concerned for the Cultural Village.   Each year these wonderful members of our Hispanic community bring their own personal artifacts and treasures to share with the Fiesta patrons.  The tents helped keep things dry and the rain didn’t seem to affect those who were there.  They just adjusted and pulled the crowds in to share their country stories.

IMG_8030

Los Millos booth at the Food Village – this was early in the day as the food vendors began preparing food for the day. This is where I got the delicious empanadas from Jairo and Lucero Vargas!

So, right after my friends and Latino News owners,  Jairo and Lucero Vargas treated me to empanadas at the Colombian food vendor – Los Millos, I walked through the village and visited my friend Miguel Vilchez who pulled the Peru booth together.  He gave me a red Peruvian hat to wear to take care of my hair later that day – even though he said my hair looked fine – he’s such a gentleman!  Across from Peru was the Mexico booth.  Maria and Luis had pulled together two booths of beautiful Mexican art and pottery.  It was so colorful!  They gave me a Jarrito jug as a gift which is simply beautiful and then poured me a tequila shot and we took selfies.  Next I went to take photos of the Cuba booth where they gave me some Cuban coffee…OMGEEEE!  That was so wonderful and after the tequila, it REALLY warmed me up.  When I tell you how awesome the Cultural Village is, you need to believe me!  Because of the weather, we all huddled closer together under each tent as we made our way through the village and vendors stationed throughout.  It was such a great feeling of friendship and belonging.  It’s the type of feeling I want everyone to experience at Fiesta.

And here I was worried about the rain…

Me and Miguel at the Peru booth.

Me and Miguel at the Peru booth.

Jarrito jars at the Mexico booth.  This is the type of clay jar that Maria and Luis gave to me at Fiesta.  So beautiful!!!

Jarrito jars at the Mexico booth. This is the type of clay jar that Maria and Luis gave to me at Fiesta. So beautiful!!!

Some of the beautiful items displayed at the Mexico booth!

Some of the beautiful items displayed at the Mexico booth!

Cuba booth!  The Cuban coffee was safely tucked away behind the table...

Cuba booth! The Cuban coffee was safely tucked away behind the table…

Believe it or not...this little cup of Cuban coffee did wonders for the chill I was experiencing at Fiesta!  Packed a punch!

Believe it or not…this little cup of Cuban coffee did wonders for the chill I was experiencing at Fiesta! Packed a punch!

With Maria and Luis at the Mexico booth toasting to a wonderful event with a tequila shot!  Salud!

With Maria and Luis at the Mexico booth toasting to a wonderful event with a tequila shot! Salud!

A few items from the Peru booth - Miguel gave me the red hat to wear as he packed up his booth to leave...sure did help hide my soggy hair!

A few items from the Peru booth – Miguel gave me the red hat to wear as he packed up his booth to leave…sure did help hide my soggy hair!

Puerto Rico booth!

Puerto Rico booth!