Puerto rican heritage: Puerto Rico — History and Heritage | Travel

My Puerto Rican Heritage and What it Means to Me

Like many others now established in the United States, my forebears came from somewhere else. Though I was born here, in Teaneck, New Jersey, both my father and mother were born and raised in various parts of Puerto Rico (PR) before they eventually moved to the mainland United States sometime around the late 1950s. They would eventually move to Florida after I was born, and made sure to keep Puerto Rico close despite having left the island itself.

I remember all the nods in our home. A small coqui figurine on the china cabinet, a Puerto Rican flag hung on the refrigerator, a tostoneria—a press for making tostones—with subtle oil stains on top of the back of our stove. Then there was our steady diet of rice and beans, fried pork chops seasoned with several packets of Sazón Goya, and frequently stocked stores of Malta Goya – it’s no wonder my friends in high school always asked to come over for dinner. Growing up, when they were writing Thanksgiving poems about turkey dinners, I excitedly looked forward to the seasoned pork shoulder—Pernil—that we slow-roasted for six hours and shared between my house and my aunt’s a few blocks away.  This Borinquen family life picture isn’t complete without the clanking of dominoes on the weekends, my older cousins yelling and arguing about “why did you play that” or “why would you do that”—always in Spanish, with a bunch of expletives creatively peppered in to emphasize how seriously everyone took the game.

«I didn’t realize there was anything else, because I didn’t see how other Puerto Ricans lived their heritage until I was an adult.»

But then, everything was usually in Spanish at our house—outside of it too. When at a store and my mom either wanted to scold or confide in me and my younger brother, she’d speak in Spanish. I didn’t speak it growing up but as you might guess, I always got her gist. That was largely thanks to my grandmother, abuela, who lived with us since I was born. She was always helping me understand and learn our language whenever she wasn’t teaching us about the many Catholic saints she displayed around her bedroom with their individual candle vases. Between it all—the trinkets, the food, the language—we maintained our culture in our home without reserve. Being Puerto Rican was part of our family’s identity, and I grew up believing that our way was how everyone honored Borinqueño traditions. Back then, I didn’t realize there was anything else, because I didn’t see how other Puerto Ricans lived their heritage until I was an adult.

As you may already know, baseball is big in the Caribbean, and it was also how I found my way back to PR when I was older. I spent a number of years bouncing around the minor leagues, eventually landing on a roster to play winter ball in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico from 2003 to 2008. Thankfully, my parents being from Ponce and Aguadilla allowed me to play as a native, and my time there gave me the chance to finally see, breathe, and live Puerto Rico in a completely different way than to what I’d grown used to back home. Even then, I hardly spoke any Spanish but I had a good handle on understanding it at least, after years of hearing it constantly in the house from everyone in my family. I picked up more and more being so fully immersed, but that first year, I spent most of the time listening to people speak Spanish and answering in English, too afraid to sound like a non-Rican.

In Puerto Rico, I found myself hanging around the other players and fans before and after the baseball games, with their families and friends, seeing for the first time what being Puerto Rican could mean to other people. After baseball games, a majority of us would plan and attend various festivals around the island, especially during the La Navidad, the Christmas season—in my five-year experience, that’s the best time of the year to go to Puerto Rico. There, Christmas is merely the midpoint of the holiday season, which actually extends through January 6th—also considered the 12th day of Christmas, which is otherwise known as El Día de Los Reyes, or Three Kings Day. The build-up to that would begin right after Christmas Day with the Parrandas, a time when people would go door-to-door, usually late at night, singing religious folk songs called Aguinaldos, with some playing accompanying instruments, all while presenting small gifts to their neighbors. The neighbors, in turn, would open up their homes, offering food and drink. Growing up in America, my dad and uncle would play Aguinaldos on the tape deck or CDs in what was our personal homage to that Christmas ritual, but I’d never actively participated in Parrandas until I arrived in Puerto Rico. Being there and living the tradition, I learned another meaning for those songs—songs like El Arbolito, Asalto Navideño, El Coquí, and A la Zarandela that I’d only known from the stereo back home. It was a wholly different experience, seeing how they made the families and little kids in the neighborhood in Guánica feel as I played my güiro in front of their houses. Together, we all played and sang, ate and drank up and down that street until the wee hours of the morning—and then we did it all over again another night.

Now having returned to the States with my baseball days mostly behind me, I continue to maintain my relationships with former teammates, family, and friends in PR. What’s more is, I am fortunate to have even shared them with my coworkers here at Schellman—on those occasions when we were sent to Puerto Rico to work SOC or ISO engagements over the years, my colleagues and I found time to attend festivals and nightlife in the Plaza de Santurce when off the clock. It was a great time sharing those parts of myself and my people.

«I am proud to be Puerto Rican, and I always look forward to opportunities when I can share our way with others.»

Though PR is just a visit for me these days, living down there was a life-changing experience. Not only did I finally learn to speak Spanish, my time in Puerto Rico provided an unexpected comfort and deepening of the identity that I’d cultivated since I was a kid. With some things that were familiar and some things that were completely new, it was all Borinquen, and it all helped me to more fully understand where I come from and why my family cherishes their heritage so much. Being back in the States has not changed and will not change what I have come to understand as an integral part of me—I am proud to be Puerto Rican, and I always look forward to opportunities when I can share our way with others. My abuela would be very proud of me.

I leave you with the last verse of Lamento Borincano, written by Rafael Hernández Marín. An acclaimed song that’s been performed by many artists since its composition, it pretty much sums up my respect and love for Puerto Rico:

Yo soy hijo de Borinquen;

Y eso nadie va a cambiar.

Yo soy hijo de Borinquen;

Y eso nadie va a cambiar.

Y el día que yo me muera;

En ti quiero descansar;

Yo te adoro Puerto Rico!

Y eso nadie me lo va a quitar!

LACC Celebrates Puerto Rican Heritage Month » Latin American and Caribbean Collection » UF Libraries » University of Florida

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We created a display with a few books we selected from our collection. We encourage you to explore our print and digital resources to learn about the history, culture, and people of the island.  

Puerto Rican Heritage Month Book Display

Books in LACC

Below is a list of a few print books we selected from our stacks to include in our display. Books selected cover politics, race/ethnicity, religion, music, and food in Puerto Rico.  

Stop by LACC and check out a book that is currently on display!  

  • Puerto Rican Cookery (Valldejuli, 1980) 
  • Coconuts & Collards (Diaz & Codish, 2018) 
  • Afro-Puerto Ricans in the Short Story: An Anthology (Simpson, 2006) 
  • Stories from Puerto Rico / Historias de Puerto Rico (Muckley & Martinez-Santiago, 2009) 
  • Listening to Salsa: Gender, Latin Popular Music, and Puerto Rican Cultures (Aparicio, 1998) 
  • Puerto Rico 1898: The War After The War (Picó, 2004) 
  • Villa Taina de Boqueron: the excavation of an early Taino site in Puerto Rico (Goodwin & Walker, 1975) 
  • Culture and Customs of Puerto Rico (Galván, 2009) 
  • Virgenes, Magos, y Escapularios: Imagineria, etnicidad y religiosidad popular en Puerto Rico (Quintero-Rivera & Picó, 1998) 
  • Black Puerto Rican Identity and Religious Experience (Hernández Hiraldo, 2006) 
  • Concrete and Countryside: articulations of the urban and rural in the 1950s Puerto Rican cultural production (Esterrich, 2018) 
  • ¡Negro, negra! : memorias del Primer Congreso de Afrodecendencia en Puerto Rico (Congreso de Afrodescendencia en Puerto Rico, 2015) 

Browse the library catalog to find additional books on Puerto Rico!

Electronic Resources

In addition to print books in the LACC stacks, there are also digital collections and other resources on the web that provide information about/from Puerto Rico.

Digitized items

  • Chronicling America offers access to content from six newspapers published in Puerto Rico between 1836 and 1925. The newspapers are La Gazeta, La Correspondencia, La Democracia, el Boletin Mercantil, El Imparcial, and El Mundo.  
  • Side by side: US empire, Puerto Rico, and the roots of American youth literature and culture (Jiménez García, 2021)

Digital Exhibit

  • El Mundo, a digital exhibit, which explores the shifts in policy and culture in Puerto Rico that led to the radicalization of the Nationalist Party and the subsequent downfall of the traditional political parties: the Partido Liberal, the Partido Republicano, and the Partido Socialista. 

Digital Collections

  • The Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC) provides access to digitized newspapers, maps, and more.  
  • University of Puerto Rico’s Digital Collections provides access digital newspapers, magazines, maps, poems, and more.  
  • Centro Archives Digital Collection provides access to photographs, documents, artifacts, art, maps, oral histories, moving image and audio clips, and other material pertaining to the Puerto Rican diaspora.  

For additional collections and resources, view our Latin American & Caribbean Digital Initiatives Guide.  

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In San Germán, Puerto Rico, a cross was consecrated at the construction site of the Church of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos

On the evening of August 6, 2021, Bishop Nikolai of Manhattan, vicar of the Eastern American Diocese of the Russian Church Abroad, arrived on the island of Puerto Rico. The bishop was met by the rector of the mission of St. John of the Ladder in the city of San Germán, Archpriest Gregory Giustiniano.

Vladyka Nikolay delivered to the island the relic of the Russian Diaspora — the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God. Accompanying the vicar of the Eastern American Diocese on the trip was Archpriest Peter Jackson, Dean of the Hispanic Mission, and Protodeacon Sergius Arlievsky, cleric of the Dormition Convent Novo Diveevo (Nanuet, New York). nine0003

On August 8, Bishop Nicholas celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the chapel of the mission of St. John of the Ladder. The bishop was co-served by Archpriest Gregory Giustiniano, Archpriest Peter Jackson, Protodeacon Sergius of Arlievsky, and Deacon Seraphim Giustiniano.

A cleric of the Patriarchate of Antioch serving in Puerto Rico, Archpriest George Eldar, prayed in the church. The liturgical hymns were performed by the parish choir under the direction of the cleric of the mission, Hierodeacon Daniel (Giustiniano). The Divine Liturgy was celebrated in Spanish, English and Church Slavonic. nine0003

At the end of the service, a procession to the construction site of the Church of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos took place. Bishop Nicholas consecrated the mortgage cross made by the parishioners.

Then a celebratory reception was organized on the territory of the parish with traditional dishes of Puerto Rican cuisine. An engineer and an architect hired by the parish presented the various stages of designing the future church.

Archpriest Gregory Giustiniano spoke about the history of the mission, as well as plans for the future, noting in particular: “The first Divine Liturgy celebrated in the city of San Germán, Puerto Rico, took place on Sunday 9August 2009. The Orthodox mission of St. John of the Ladder intends to carry out its missionary service not only in this particular city, but, with God’s help, on the entire island.

“A work of this magnitude will necessarily require a home base which, if built upon a solid foundation, will ensure the consistency and maturity of the missionary work. The Orthodox Mission of St. John of the Ladder is our home base, where we hope to train translators, choir leaders, catechists and local clergy who are well acquainted with the theology and traditions of the Church. To this end, the new temple that we are striving to build will be dedicated to Our Lady Theotokos, the feast of Her Annunciation. The current mission chapel is a small space that has served us very well for 12 years, but every Sunday gets smaller for us. The new church will be the first Orthodox church built in Puerto Rico,” Father Gregory added. nine0003

On August 9, Bishop Nicholas and his entourage brought the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God back to New York.

Based on materials from the website of the Eastern American Diocese

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