December 28, 2008

Christmas isn't over!

Just a reminder that you guys all have Three Kings day+ ahead of you... so don't put away your güiro!

December 19, 2008

Navidad season

Last year about this time I wrote a whole lot about the Christmas season in Puerto Rico, which I recommend you read. Anyways, today's Yenny comic is about aguinaldos and the ridiculousness of the lyrics... in both English and Spanish.

December 17, 2008

Puerto Rican cinema and the youth

I'm not sure if it's appropriate to refer to people my age as "youth". I suppose it's okay.

Anyways, El Nuevo Día has an interesting article about Puerto Rican students who are getting involved in cinema and what implications that may have for the national industry. I'm a big fan of their revitalization efforts so I was happy to hear about that.

December 10, 2008

Spanish food in San Juan

The Washington Post had an article this weekend about Spanish food in San Juan. Glance it over perhaps? It's a little too much octopus for my taste I think...

December 6, 2008

Julia de Burgos - Íntima

This is one of my favorite poems by Julia de Burgos; I think the reason behind that statement should be clear. If you need a translation, there's one here. I personally don't want to risk the copyright violation (the translation is from Song of the Simple Truth: Obra poética completa/the complete poems of Julia de Burgos by Jack Agüeros).

Se recogió la vida para verme pasar.
Me fui perdiendo átomo por átomo de mi carne
y fui resbalándome poco a poco al alma.

Peregrina en mí misma, me anduve un largo instante.
Me prolongué en el rumbo de aquel camino errante
que se abría en mi interior,
y me llegué hasta mí, íntima.

Conmigo cabalgando seguí por la sombra del tiempo
y me hice paisaje lejos de mi visión.

Me conocí mensaje lejos de la palabra.
Me sentí vida al reverso de una superficie de colores y formas.
Y me vi claridad ahuyentando la sombra vaciada en la tierra desde el hombre.


Ha sonado un reloj la hora escogida de todos.
¿La hora? Cualquiera. Todas en una misma.
Las cosas circundantes reconquistan color y forma.
Los hombres se mueven ajenos a sí mismos
para agarrar ese minuto índice
que los conduce por varias direcciones estáticas.

Siempre la misma carne apretándose muda a lo ya hecho.
Me busco. Estoy aún en el paisaje lejos de mi visión.
Sigo siendo mensaje lejos de la palabra.

La forma que se aleja y que fue mía un instante
me ha dejado íntima.
Y me veo claridad ahuyentando la sombra vaciada en la tierra desde el hombre.

December 3, 2008

And some somber news...

To follow that last upbeat post, apparently there has been a plane accident in El Yunque, killing the pilot and two (American) passengers. Q.E.P.D.

A hilarious video on Puerto Rico

When I need something funny, I usually look for "Spanish projects" on Youtube, with the results usually being quite satisfying. I chanced upon this video today and thought everyone might like a laugh. I'm coming up on finals so I can say I definitely needed it. Enjoy!!

December 1, 2008

... huh?!

Aníbal has got 15 of the 24 charges against him dropped. Really? How...?

I'm just going to keep looking at the pictures of girls trying to win a Taíno beauty pageant instead (along with another article by Damien Cave--seems he's in Puerto Rico for now, seeing as this is the second article by him in the last couple of days about the island).

November 29, 2008

Luis Fortuño, Obama, and the problems of Puerto Rico today

Damien Cave has written an interesting article about Fortuño's victory in the New York Times, but I thought I'd argue a few points, particularly since there wasn't anywhere to comment on the article as far as I could see.

First off, I thought the opening was very telling:

Republicans in Washington cheered when Luis G. Fortuño, one of their own, was elected governor of Puerto Rico on Nov. 4. But here on the island, where American affiliations are often worn and dropped like accessories, he now describes his victory as Obamaesque.

But then begin the understatements:

Mr. Fortuño emphasized in an interview that “cambio,” or “change,” had been his slogan since 2006. And like President-elect Barack Obama, Mr. Fortuño said the economy would be Job 1 for his administration, managed with a youthful nonpartisan approach.

Not only that, but there were blatant accusations that Fortuño had stolen a great deal of his campaign from Obama, in particular his website layout, which looked admittedly very much like Obama's. And Puerto Ricans were hearing as much about "change" as we were. From a distance they could have been the same campaign.

The recession now emerging in places like Florida and Ohio has been a fact of life in Puerto Rico for three years. Unemployment has climbed to nearly 12 percent. Taxes have gone up, purchasing power has declined, and the island’s roughly four million residents are unlikely to be patient with their new leader.

Very true and yet doesn't nearly begin to describe the problem. The unemployment rate? That's the official number--it is in reality significantly higher and has been for a long time. Taxes have gone up in the sense that the IVU/sales tax didn't exist until a couple years ago. Certainly purchasing power has declined--and it was already terrible enough. Something this quotation and really the rest of the article ignores is that, even more than all these factors, Puerto Rico's economy is dramatically affected by the American economy, and anything felt in the States is felt at least twice as strong on the island. It's hard, then, for us to find all the causes of the current problem on the island itself, and harder still to expect a politician to be able to solve the problem without the U.S. improving its own economy... no matter what Luis Fortuño thinks.

However, I would still encourage him to try to do as much as possible, of course. No sense in giving up.

Another problem the article correctly points out:

The structural challenges are immense. Government here plays an outsize role, employing 20 percent to 30 percent of workers on the island, and it is on the verge of bankruptcy. The current administration said this week that it would end the year with a $2 billion budget deficit. One official suggested it was struggling to make payroll, and some institutions — like the Center for Puerto Rican Studies — already report that they have not received government money they are owed.

Luis Fortuño, however, has come up with a solution that I (and others) fear is not really going to solve anything:

Specifically, he said he would institute a hiring freeze that would, with attrition, lead to a 3 percent to 5 percent cut in government staffing annually and save $1.5 billion in four years. He has also turned to the private sector for cabinet-level posts, and called on wealthy business owners to invest more on the island.

Yes, you'll get rid of some employees, but then where do they go? Which is a bigger problem, the government being too large of an employer or unemployment? While yes, I agree that something must be done, is now really the time? These people are not going to be able to find a job as even more companies and their factories leave the island. It's not mentioned in the article if Fortuño has some way of magically attracting businesses, but it'd be really irresponsible to just ignore the people who won't get a job or will lose a job.

Despite laying out all the problems, there's still optimism expressed by the interviewees. I find it kind of hard to believe. After all the cynicism in this last election... well, we'll see, I suppose. What other choice do we have?

November 27, 2008

Re: Re: Referendum or Restitution?

So the never-ending status question has been raised again, this time with the can of worms by Gil the Jenius and then the can of snakes from DONDEQUIERA. In this second post a series of questions are posed and in my usual fashion I've decided to respond. Not in order of the questions, of course, but in the order they fall in naturally. If we're going to stick with metaphors, let's call this the can of anacondas, shall we?

The first thing that caught my eye was the question of why Puerto Rico doesn't carry the same grudge for Spain that it has for the U.S. This is pretty simple to explain; when has anybody ever not wanted what they can't have? And yet during Spanish colonization there was plenty of animosity towards the Spanish--perhaps not as much as in most Latin American countries, for a few reasons: one, the size of the country--the population was very small and very spread out, with most small towns nearly unreachable--two, Puerto Rico was a bastion for the last Spanish empire supporters of Latin America, as many of the former politicians, military leaders, and richer families supporting Spain fled to the island, where they continued to have positions of power, and three, Spanish rule and the system of hegemony accompanying it maintained the careful racial and political system of the time. Puerto Rican hacendados were desperately clinging to the power they had, especially in light of the revolution in Haiti, which frightened the rest of the Caribbean, and el Grito de Lares, which greatly depended on the effort of many slaves. But there was still plenty of discontent, some of which was concentrated into the efforts of Cuba, some of which waited for the new autonomous government which came into existence in 1898, a couple of months before the U.S. invasion. It's important to note that the autonomy that the Spanish government bestowed upon Puerto Rico actually granted a few more rights than the current setup does, in particular real government representation in las Cortes de Cádiz as opposed to the voteless Resident Commissioner in Congress.

However, to continue to link Puerto Rico with Spain and Latin America in many ways is unfair. While the similarities and shared cultural aspects are countless, Puerto Rico has gone down a very different political path, one that involved many abrupt changes, slow cultural shifts, and everything in between. In this sense we can't link all of Puerto Rico's problems to its Latin heritage. In this same manner the status and other issues mentioned in the blog post above aren't the cause of crime. I'd say that, among these contributing factors, the biggest one is poverty.

... which brings us to my main point. Although the U.S. has not necessarily done the damage that, say, Russia has done to Georgia (in the previous post's example), even in regards to Vieques, it also has not done it justice, especially concerning the poverty of the island. Most people at this moment will point to the great economic changes that have taken place in the island, especially in the last 50 years. Believe me when I say these changes are superficial. For one, both the U.S. and Puerto Rican political efforts have sought temporary fixes for permanent problems. But the biggest cause I see of poverty is the importation of U.S. products. This culture of dependency thing that a lot of people rail about is much more serious than we think. After all, Puerto Rico gets over 90% of its imports from the U.S., which is a huge amount considering that nearly everything that is consumed in Puerto Rico is imported. In comparison, how much does the U.S. import from Puerto Rico? While technically the island exports more than it imports, nearly all of it is pharmaceuticals--which means the money is still going to the American companies who own the factories on the island, rather than the Puerto Ricans working in them. This great disbalance would help to explain why the Puerto Rican economy is nearly stagnant and unable to catch up to the American one.

It also helps explain why the U.S. continues its hold on Puerto Rico. While the U.S. has very little to lose from the independence of Puerto Rico in the traditional colonial sense, it has everything to gain from keeping it. A great percentage of the money spent in Puerto Rico is returning directly to American corporations, who in turn pay taxes on it to the U.S. government, who in turn pays only a tiny percent of Medicaid and other social services in comparison to how much it should be paying based on the poverty level. Because all the money is literally flowing out of Puerto Rico, the government is crippled with a lack of funds and (even if it were in theory capable of such a move) couldn't begin to create a system to replace or supplement U.S. aid.

Skeptics (including myself) now are rightly bringing up a couple of questions: one, can the Puerto Rican government actually be effective and not corrupt, and two, why does the Puerto Rican people not act against such a cycle? The first one doesn't have a clear answer; I'd honestly love to promise that such a government is possible, but politicians are politicians so it's only fair to be cynical. Therefore we should try to find a solution acknowledging the inevitable problems, or perhaps in spite of them. The second question, on the other hand, is much more difficult to answer. In fact, it is one Puerto Rico and many of its political movements have been grappling with since the times of Luis Muñoz Marín and the development of today's Commonwealth--how to engage and awaken a fiercely loyal and admittedly stubborn voting public? Unfortunately, most see this as near impossible feat, understandably. It seems that the only thing that would provoke a sudden change in opinion would be a dramatic and traumatic event, not necessarily Russia-Georgia scaled but perhaps another Vieques.

That's not to say I wish that something would actually happen to Puerto Rico ('cause I don't) nor that I think we should be forcing people to believe in something they don't want. That's not fair. However, I think more awareness about history, politics, and economics would begin to tilt things in another direction, or at least allow people to make a more informed decision. Confidence would also make a big difference--Puerto Ricans should understand that there's no reason an independent Puerto Rico would reflect the image they carry of stereotypical Latin American corrupt governments and devastating poverty (which, by the way, are not uniform nor mandatory for all countries during all time periods) and that indeed Puerto Rico could reach a greater level of success should it so desire it. That it is to say, there is no inherent reason for Puerto Rico not to do well independently, just as nothing really is inherent at all. Naturally we could expect plenty of difficulties from every direction, and a well-designed process towards independence would anticipate and plan for as many as possible. But the obstacles alone, as scary as they may seem--and they are, because they represent the loss of security which Puerto Rico clings to through the continuation of the current status--, should not frighten anyone from making a decision that ultimately would be the best for the country. The options are these: either accept that a few sacrifices today will mean a changed country tomorrow, or Puerto Rico stays as it is and faces a future that contains few profound and necessary changes, thus condemning it to simply getting by rather than any chance at excelling... or, of course, statehood, which would bring more security but far less cultural freedom. All of these choices have sufficient reasons behind them, which I respect as someone who can't really be a part of the politics. But when people vote with fear, or rather because of it, as in they don't really want what they're voting for but fear what they really want (whether or not they realize this is the reason they vote as they do), there is a problem. I'm not talking the lesser-of-two-evils problem that many people face when at the polls, since usually the impact that decision will have on the person's life is many times minimal if they don't hold any of the issues that highly. Instead, I'm referring to the continuation of a system most people don't want to be a part of (hence that 50-some percent "none of the above" vote in the '98 plebiscite) and the denial of the great potential Puerto Rico has. Deny it as you may, there's no way to foresee what an independent Puerto Rico could accomplish or what it could fail at. But based on the Commonwealth's track record, consisting of dependency, poverty, and corruption, it's pretty easy to predict how Puerto Rico will continue to get by and nothing more, all while trapped deeper in the mire.

All that said, I'm not about to pick up the torch. Since I'm not exactly on the island, nor do I feel it fair for me as a non-Puerto Rican to have a say in Puerto Rican politics (useless blog posting does not count!), there's not really much I could or should do. If I've touched on a truth here or there, eventually it will be discovered and then perhaps change can come--or perhaps not. Knowledge doesn't imply change, or even the ability to change. The cynic (realist?) in me can't imagine anything changing anytime soon, except maybe the transition to statehood at some point. And honestly, it's not my place to admonish anyone should that happen.

That brings me to my other point, which is my coming out of types as a supporter of independence for the island. This is despite the fact that, again, I would never dare vote in the Puerto Rican elections because I don't believe in letting my vote cancel out someone's more legitimate vote, as well as that an independent Puerto Rico would make my relationships with the island and my friends there that much harder to maintain. Because of this admitting it to myself has been kind of difficult, but I'm reassured by the fact that it won't really affect anyone. So don't take it too seriously, especially in light of what I said above: that there are plenty of valid reasons for any position and I don't really oppose any of them. In fact, if any one status option is finally selected as a permanent answer, whoever leads the government has to account for all of their concerns or face huge problems.

I think that's about all I have to say for the moment. As always, I encourage friendly and not-overly-passionate debate (being overly enthusiastic on the internet is a waste of time, as far as I can tell) and any questions. I think I sufficiently addressed most of the questions in the original blog post referenced above but if anyone has any pressing desires for a direct answer to one or two let me know.

¡Feliz día de San Guivin!

...Puerto Rico's favorite saint.

It's a little late but I hope everyone is enjoying their pavo... and whatever else may accompany it!!

November 23, 2008

Word of the Week: Charro

Charro (or charrería) is a great word. It means lame, something of bad taste. Supposedly it comes from the Mexican "charro", one of those singers who gets all dressed up (and from a Puerto Rican perspective, very lame indeed)... which in turn supposedly comes from "charro" being a label for the people of Salamanca (in Spain). None of this being proven, but rather educated guesses.

November 12, 2008

The consequences of "Vota o Quédate Callao"

As usual el Ñame is keeping me amused, this time with an article titled "Daddy Yankee Golpea A No Votantes Que Se Quejan". Definitely worth reading, guys. In fact, I think I might have to print this one out and distribute it...

November 10, 2008

Just a couple of links

First, I found this blog post with photos of Puerto Rican graffiti, which I thought was pretty cool. According to my own limited travel experience I can safely say that Puerto Rico doesn't really have too much graffiti, but it's interesting nonetheless!

And, keeping up with the political trend, El Nuevo Día has an article about how the Obama and Fortuño administrations can find common ground. It seems as though new Resident Commissioner Pierluisi, a democrat, might be the key. We'll see...

November 5, 2008

Puerto Rican Obama... in Spain?

I saw this and couldn't resist linking to it here... a video of a Puerto Rican "Obama". Supposedly, they look similar (not so much to my eye but whatever). For me the most interesting part is the guy's accent... he mentioned he'd been living in Spain for 5 years, and you can tell that his Puerto Rican accent has been suppressed, but at the same time you can still hear it...

The day after

As I'm sure we all know, Luis Fortuño will be the next governor of Puerto Rico. Does this mean I get to stop complaining about el cabezón for a little while? Anyways, I thought I'd pass along these great photos petchie has uploaded of election day in Puerto Rico. Almost makes me wish I were there to witness the locura... almost.

November 3, 2008

Tomorrow's Elections: ¡Ay Dios Mío!

I haven't probably given enough attention to the upcoming PR elections (or to anything, really; sorry guys). Honestly, things have been a little chaotic and occasionally too ridiculous to even want to write about. It seems pretty obvious how things will turn out tomorrow, but it should be interesting to see how the votes are distributed, especially for the PIP and PPR parties...

November 1, 2008

Quick Reminder: Daylight Savings Time

Just making sure last minute, as those of us in the mainland set back our clocks tonight, that everyone knows Puerto Rico does not observe daylight savings time. This means that Puerto Ricans will NOT be adjusting their clocks and they will be one hour ahead of the U.S. Useful to know!

October 26, 2008

Today's Poetry

Rather than continuing to talk about reggaetón and the election (everyone did see that Calle 13 and Tego are endorsing Rogelio Figueroa and PPR though, right?) and how much it sucks, I thought I'd link to this article about the personal and creative methods of publishing that today's Puerto Rican poets are using. Really interesting stuff. Most notably, they quote Xavier Valcárcel, who's also known for using his blog to spread his poetry with a significant amount of success.

October 23, 2008

Reggaetón and the election

If you've been around enough, you'll know that I've been kind of uneasily eying reggaetón's encroachment on the presidential election. Anyways, from the author of the blog Post Pomo Nuyorican Homo comes a great explanation and analysis of everything going on lately. It's a fascinating topic and I encourage everyone to check it out!

October 21, 2008

Word of the Week: Frajlai

Sorry I've been missing the last week or so. Anyways, I've skipped the last couple... issues Puerto Rico has had. By that, I mean natural disasters. Sort of. There was the earthquake, and then Hurricane Omar... yeah. Anyways, so that you have this word for the next one, I thought I'd get a word of the week in there.

There are a couple of different ways to say flashlight in Spanish, but Puerto Rico has its own--frajlai, from the American flashlight. Linguistically it's a fascinating word. "Sh" is replaced with "j", since it's the end of the syllable and ending it with "j" is a very Puerto Rican tendency. There's also no attempt to end the second syllable with the English consonant, a typical trait of words being transferred to Puerto Rican Spanish (look at bre, for example, as in "Dame un bre", give me a break literally). The most interesting thing though is the change from "l" to "r". Even though "flash", when brought into Spanish, kept the "l", for the Puertoricanization of a similar word it had to be changed. My friend gave me a very Puerto Rican explanation for this change: "It sounded too much like chino with the l" (an analysis of the millions of uses of the word chino to come later!). This represents a sort of schism with the other Spanishes, which could accept the "fl" sound, in favor of a sound more natural to Puerto Rican Spanish. This doesn't mean that Puerto Rican Spanish doesn't include words like "flaco" or others with "fl", but rather that it is able to affirm its own Spanish inside of a global and traditional Spanish. Like most things Puerto Rican, it is the acceptance of a contradiction that does not need to be solved; it just is because it is. It's brilliant.

October 13, 2008

Columbus Day

Today is Columbus Day. I would write about it, I suppose, but I'm sure there are others who will write about it more eloquently than I. For starters, here's a column by the author of Cave of the Jagua about how to reconcile with the holiday as a Catholic. Not that I endorse his views, but it does raise a couple interesting questions (at least for me).

October 9, 2008

Julia de Burgos - Después

I was looking for a copy of this poem online before and I could never find it. So, for the sake of the internet, here is "Después".

Cuando todo despierte, lo anunciarán los lirios,
que no supieron nunca vestirse sin mis albas;
lo arroparán, muriéndose, unas nubes ligeras,
y el mar me tendrá toda por siempre entre sus lágrimas.

La soledad del viento llenará los silencios...
Y vendrá la pregunta, la inevitable lanza
que hará sangrar lo único que existira de mí:
un recuerdo en la inmensa vibración de unas alas.

Y habrá quien se adelante a la espiga y la fuente
y enlutará mi nombre, y dirá unas palabras:
y hasta habrá quien me tire unas flores al mar,
como breve limosna a una vida que pasa.

Después, cuando se encrespe el mar violentamente,
dirán: “Es la conciencia fatal de esa muchacha,
tuvo muchos pecados por vivir siempre en verso,
y lo que se hace en tierra en la tierra se paga.”

Y yo, en un descuido de mis pobres hermanos,
me llevaré hasta el nombre de esta tierra sin alma;
que no quiero en mi manso retiro, recordarme
por el mundo del hombre, ¡paloma consternada!

October 6, 2008

Puerto Rico = Iraq?

In other, slightly more pleasant news (I suppose), Bayamón is turning into Iraq for some new movie by George Clooney called "Men Who Stare At Goats" (don't ask me, it's about terrorism or something).

... nothing exciting, but definitely more than a little strange...

You'd think Daddy Yankee would know better than to get even more involved in politics...

While El Nuevo Día frivolously concerns itself with what he should wear, I am amazed that somehow Daddy Yankee is again getting involved with politics. Apparently he's going to be moderating the debate between the 5 candidates for governor along with some model named Yizette Cifredo.

La presencia de Daddy Yankee reconfirma que la política se ha vertido en parte del espectáculo mediático y en ese sentido se justifica la intervención de figuras de la cultura popular, explicó Roche.
Daddy Yankee's presence reconfirms that politics have partly turned into a media spectacle and in this sense the intervention of popular cultural figures is justified, explained Roche.
I agree completely. Except that this professor seems to be all right with this, and I'm not.

It's already hard enough to take politicians seriously, particularly on the island where one has just been arrested and one of the candidates (Aníbal, of course) for the governorship is facing huge problems as well. And so they choose someone who, aside from his reggaetón credentials, is already known for either not caring for Puerto Rican politics by deferring his attention to the presidential election or for being hopelessly ignorant of the fact that he can't vote in both. I'm pretty sure he's aware that he can't be involved in both, so I think it's safe to say that his endorsement of McCain was, aside from whatever purposes it had in swaying the American Latino population, a giant "screw you" to the Puerto Rican elections and all the political limitations of residence in the island. That is reason enough to not let him get anywhere near the upcoming Puerto Rican elections.

I don't know, guys. I'm baffled.

October 3, 2008

Jorge de Castro Font--busted!

Everyone on the island knows this already (I'm sure the news is being blasted everywhere), but Jorge de Castro Font has been arrested. Not really surprising, seeing as he was already under heavy scrutiny by the FBI for a while. At least now he won't be running for sure and Fortuño can stop complaining about it...

MTV is totally pimping Calle 13

You might have heard that Calle 13 has a new album coming out October 21st... okay, maybe not, but I sure did and I am ridiculously excited. They've offered some of the songs on iTunes, all of which have sounded great.

And then, with my roommate watching America's Next Top Model in the background, I realize I'm hearing him. Residente. Apparently they've picked the duo to get people to vote on MTV... which has both of them speaking in their mediocre English. It is, quite frankly, adorable. Obviously they're not half as eloquent in English as they are in Spanish, but that's what makes it so cute. They're also using some of his music for their show advertisements.

I tried to find the videos online but there aren't any. Instead, you'll have to content yourself with them performing some new and old songs. They have a great sound and PG-13 (the boys' sister who sings with them on several tracks) just keeps getting better and better. I'm already impressed with what I've seen of this album.

September 29, 2008


Click to see it larger...

September 28, 2008

20 more years of flooded streets?!

Puerto Rico anticipates 20 more years of flooded streets

PONCE, Puerto Rico (AP) — The director of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it will take another 20 years before it can control Puerto Rico's infamous flooding problem because no money is available.

Jose Manuel Rosado says more than $1 billion is needed for flood-control projects.

He says he anticipates the U.S. government will pay for at least four projects that will cost up to US$20 million each. He says the majority of San Juan, however, remains vulnerable to flooding.

His comments come as Puerto Rico struggles to repair roads and clean homes after it rained 24 inches (61 centimeters) in one day.

Rosado made the comments Saturday during an interview with Catholic Radio of Ponce.

Seriously, what? "There's a problem but there's nothing we can do about it so let's just not do anything!" Why did they even put up this article? It's not shocking enough to scare anyone (if anyone reading even cares about Puerto Rico anyways) and doesn't propose any solutions, not even suggestions for the people who might be faced with flooding due to the problem. It's useless!

September 26, 2008

El Grito de Lares, Part 2

I hate to admit this, but after Tuesday's lame Wikipedia cop-out, I started to feel a little guilty. Surely I had much more to say about El Grito de Lares than that! Granted, I was really busy when I posted it, but some of goals for this blog are to find better sources that Wikipedia, because, as I mentioned, it's lame, as well as potentially sexual in some contexts if I got lazy and left of the "pedia" (can't help it, I think it's funny), and I also try to make this blog as personal as possible. Because in the end you could learn plenty about Puerto Rico through Wikipedia and other websites, but, aside from the fact that you have to know it exists to be able to look for it, simply reading an "unbiased" page (we know it's not but it certainly is more unbiased than mine) will not attach you to the subject. Not that I'm expecting anyone to become deeply enamored of Puerto Rico through reading this, especially since most people who are already know at least of Puerto Rico (again, you have to know it exists blah blah...). But for many of the things I talk about here, I've had very strong personal experience with, some of them quite emotional. My poor attempts at conveying them, since I'm going for honesty here, are not going to convert anyone to Puerto Ricanism, but ideally I'd want the personalness of this blog to inspire a space where people discuss their own experiences as well. That said...

El Grito de Lares is an ambiguous holiday, hard to understand for those not growing up with it. For one, the word "holiday" implies some kind of celebration and fun-filled festivities, which don't really exist in relation to el Grito de Lares (except for maybe in the town of Lares, but that's another story). It's akin to holidays like Memorial Day, observed but not necessarily a "happy" occasion. It also is equivalent to an independence day without, of course, actually being an independence day. The purpose is the same though: a sense of pride for the struggle for independence. However this was a failed effort, so the significance changes. Rather than being a celebration of failure (as I'm sure a couple of you guessed), however, it's a sort of nostalgic look back at what could have been.

That's the funny thing about El Grito... even though it's very essence is political, it's been absorbed into the culture without that. While it can be interpreted politically, and used as a political symbol, and it is very often, it doesn't have to be. Anyone and everyone references and seems to respect it, no matter what party.

It's this attitude that generally explains Puerto Ricans' view towards independence. Now, before anyone misinterprets that, let me explain. Independentistas are undoubtedly a minority, many people vehemently hate the party, and there exists plenty of fear about the idea itself (Would an independent Puerto Rico be able to support itself? Would it turn into a state like Cuba overnight? I know it sounds unlikely, but people legitimately voice that fear every day). To say independence is unpopular would be a huge understatement.

But poll numbers cannot represent an ideology, it being a complicated and ever-changing creature. Remember that the first half (give or take a few decades) of the 20th century was almost entirely devoted to the independence movement. The American (or FBI), as well as Puerto Rican (Luis Muñoz Marín), efforts were very successful at diminishing the movement's power, but completely erasing it was impossible. It still lingers even in the most passionate estadistas. Few people deny the vast cultural gap between the states and PR; the Americans will always be separate, the other, even while the island absorbs everything they produce. There is still some affiliation with them, and even some patriotism, but it is often followed by expressions of disrespect. It's a bit too complicated for this post at the moment, but I go into the contradictions of it a little at the end of this post. Needless to say, Puerto Ricans proudly affirm and jealously maintain their own identities separate from America.

Thus it would be fair to say that despite whatever party is currently in office and despite any and all plebescites, Puerto Rico has independence at its core. In a year Puerto Rico could become the 51st state, and independence would still be present as a concept. Unless Puerto Rico undergoes a drastic and deliberate homogeneization process to assimilate with the United States, it will always be its own being. Independence is no longer the result of an election (in today's Puerto Rico, anyways)--it is a value. Hence El Grito de Lares will survive as a manifestation of that crucial and impenetrable value.

For more thoughts on Puerto Rico's attempts to stay separate culturally from the United States, read this essay. I also go a little more into history here, including some about the independence movement.

September 23, 2008

Happy Grito de Lares! ... or something like that

I don't feel the need to describe el Grito de Lares here, seeing as Wikipedia does a decent job of describing it. Instead I thought I would just put the original lyrics for La Borinqueña, written in 1868. The lyrics used now for the anthem have been edited (or censured, if you prefer) to exclude the revolutionary feel of the song. English lyrics courtesy of Wikipedia (again)...

¡Despierta, borinqueño
que han dado la señal!
¡Despierta de ese sueño
que es hora de luchar!
[Arise, boricua! The call to arms has sounded! Awake from the slumber, it is time to fight!]
A ese llamar patriótico
¿no arde tu corazón?
¡Ven! Nos será simpático
el ruido del cañón.
[Doesn't this patriotic call set your heart alight? Come! We are in tune with the roar of the cannon.]
Mira, ya el cubano
libre será;
le dará el machete
su libertad...
le dará el machete
su libertad.
[Come, the Cuban will soon be free; the machete will give him his liberty, the machete will give him his liberty.]
Ya el tambor guerrero
dice en su son,
que es la manigua el sitio,
el sitio de la reunión,
de la reunión...
de la reunión.
[Now the war drum says with its sound, that the countryside is the place of the meeting.]
El Grito de Lares
se ha de repetir,
y entonces sabremos
vencer o morir.
[The Cry of Lares must be repeated, and then we will know: victory or death.]
Bellísima Borinquén,
a Cuba hay que seguir;
tú tienes bravos hijos
que quieren combatir.
[Beautiful Borinquén must follow Cuba; you have brave sons who wish to fight.]
ya por más tiempo impávido
no podemos estar,
ya no queremos, tímidos
dejarnos subyugar.
[Now, no longer can we be unmoved; now we do not want timidly to let them subjugate us.]
Nosotros queremos
ser libre ya,
y nuestro machete
afilado está.
y nuestro machete
afilado está.
[We want to be free now, and our machete has been sharpened.]
¿Por qué, entonces, nosotros
hemos de estar,
tan dormidos y sordos
y sordos a esa señal?
a esa señal, a esa señal?
[Why then have we been so sleepy and deaf to the call?]
No hay que temer, riqueños
al ruido del cañón,
que salvar a la patria
es deber del corazón!
[There is no need to fear, Ricans, the roar of the cannon; saving the nation is the duty of the heart.]
ya no queremos déspotas,
caiga el tirano ya,
las mujeres indómitas
también sabrán luchar.
[We no longer want despots, tyranny shall fall now; the unconquerable women also will know how to fight.]
Nosotros queremos
la libertad,
y nuestros machetes
nos la darán...
y nuestro machete
nos la dará...
[We want liberty, and our machetes will give it to us.]
Vámonos, borinqueños,
vámonos ya,
que nos espera ansiosa,
ansiosa la libertad.
¡La libertad, la libertad!
[Come, Boricuas, come now, since freedom awaits us anxiously, freedom, freedom!]

September 18, 2008

Racial, regional, and political satire--all in one!

This article by El Ñame (Puerto Rico's response to The Onion) is probably the best I've ever read. It is simply hilarious. You must go read it!

September 16, 2008

Puerto Rican Spanish "Mistakes"

I found this and I thought it'd be worth looking at. It's a "Glossary of Doubts and Difficulties regarding the Spanish Language in Puerto Rico". It's not complete by any means, since that'd be impossible, and there are at least a couple I would argue with, but it's still interesting nonetheless.

September 15, 2008

Pueblo - Luis Palés Matos

Because I can. And because I think this poem is quite important still today.


¡Piedad, Señor, piedad para mi pobre pueblo
donde mi pobre gente se morirá de nada!
Aquel viejo notario que se pasa los días
en su mínima y lenta preocupación de rata;
este alcalde adiposo de grande abdomen vacuo
chapoteando en su vida tal como en una salsa;
aquel comercio lento, igual, de hace diez siglos;
estas cabras que triscan el resol de la plaza;
algún mendigo, algún caballo que atraviesa
tiñoso, gris y flaco, por estas calles anchas;
la fría y atrofiante modorra del domingo
jugando en los casinos con billar y barajas;
todo, todo el rebaño tedioso de estas vidas
en este pueblo viejo donde no ocurre nada,
todo esto se muere, se cae, se desmorona,
a fuerza de ser cómodo y de estar a sus anchas.

¡Piedad, Señor, piedad para mi pobre pueblo!
Sobre estas almas simples, desata algún canalla
que contra el agua muerta de sus vidas arroje
la piedra redentora de una insólita hazaña...
Algún ladrón que asalte ese banco en la noche,
algún Don Juan que viole esa doncella casta,
algún tahur de oficio que se meta en el pueblo
y revuelva estas gentes honorables y mansas.

¡Piedad, Señor, piedad para mi pobre pueblo
donde mi pobre gente se morirá de nada!

September 13, 2008

A comment

Hey everyone, sorry it's been so long. I've been really busy! As of right now I can't promise to be posting a lot either... we'll see what happens.

As proof of that I'm still checking on you guys, I thought I'd share this comment I got on this post. It's from Vicious Misfit.

Great blog. Really glad I found it. I just returned from my 2nd trip to San Juan (between hurricanes), and I was able to adventure out from Santurce this time around. And being a redhead, I found your commentary entertaining.

However, I actually found that once I left Condado, people were happy to converse with me in Spanish, once I'd responded or initiated a conversation in the language, although they tended to ease off the accent and expressions. Those that I met loved to talk, which seems to be yet another source of pride. Just asking for street directions could prompt a 30-minute conversation which wanders off into stories, politics, and usually will engage other bystanders. Sometimes the conversation would drift in between languages (I'm not fluent by any means), but there didn't seem to be a particular preference other than simply communicating in the way they felt would be most helpful/effective.

As for their English fluency in general, even in the tourist areas, I've only met a handful of people who speak English beyond a functional or informative level. And as far as I can tell, while English is taught throughout school alongside Spanish, it's the latter that is used in instruction and other school functions. Once I wanted to discuss opinions or anything in depth, Spanish was a necessity.

I was pleasantly surprised. As you'd stated, the culture is essentially from Taino, African, and Spanish influence, and I think it's great that the language has not succumbed to English due to U.S. occupation. To be honest, I was a little apprehensive to travel there initially for fear that the guides were right about all locals being fluent in English. I was worried to find something like Hawaii, but that can't be further from the truth.

And to get back on topic (sorry for rambling), I agree the "Boricua Spanish" is too often discounted because it deviates so far from the academy. And there's something about the tone and rhythm of the speaking which I now miss, having returned back home.
I don't really have much to say about this, except yes, guidebooks lie, and they lie viciously. And the last sentence also rings true for me. To me, Puerto Rican Spanish sounds kind of soothing and comforting (depending, of course, on who's talking--some people are really nasal and it kind of hurts).

Thanks for stopping by, everyone. Hopefully we'll get more material up here soon!

September 5, 2008


Hurricane Ike should be passing north of Puerto Rico tonight and tomorrow, which means there will be lots of rain. That, plus the fact that it's been raining a lot there recently anyways, made me want to share this little warning with all of you...

When you lose power, especially if there is a hurricane (God forbid), don't expect to get it back right away. With big rains it may be a couple days; bad hurricanes, a couple months.

September 4, 2008

Say it ain't so, Héctor el Father!

According to El Nuevo Día, reggaetonero Héctor el Father has decided to devote his life to Jesus and retire from reggaetón. (Those of you who are lost at this point, stick with me)


Not only did Héctor el Father (formerly known as Héctor el Bambino... guess he grew up) have a large role in the reggaetón genre, he also was a producer for a lot of other reggaetoneros. So his presence will be missed.

If you were a fan, he's having a farewell concert the 25th of October in the Choliseo (you can get tickets on For those of us who can't really make it to the island then (or--ahem--don't really care), you can just watch the Dale Castigo video over and over again. Warning: it's a little strong.

August 31, 2008

Back from the island

Well, I've returned from the island, only a few hours after the near collision of two jets just north of San Juan. Yikes! (and yes, Petchie, that meant that I was probably at the airport the same time as you! But we got there later, I think a bit after your flight left... unless you were on our flight, in which case... whoops! Either way, I missed you)

Anyways, this trip was different... almost.

  • No one spoke to me in English... almost. Actually, English-wise (or lack of) this was one of the best. Everyone I talked to defaulted to Spanish, which was great. I'm not sure what was so different about this time... let this be encouragement for everyone who keeps hearing English on the island--you can do it!
  • I didn't see any cockroaches... almost. The only ones I saw were outside, which I don't mind--except that I was outside at the time and they were huge. Gross! But they weren't inside the house, which is what counts. Those of you living there know that cockroaches are in your house, no matter how clean it is. It's just a fact of life. So not seeing any was quite an unexpected and pleasant surprise.
  • I didn't get any bugbites... almost. I didn't start getting any until a couple days before I left. Since then, I've gotten a lot, though. Worst part is, they're all mostly on my face. Bizarre, right? They're even on my lips. Ugh! Apparently gringo skin is just too tasty... or maybe they're trying to tell me something.
The trip other than that was pretty uneventful. I didn't get too many pictures but most of the ones I do have are pretty useful so I'll be using them in posts later.

By the way--I know a lot of you have been leaving comments for me. I really do appreciate it. I'm sorry I haven't been able to reply to all of them as of yet. I know I've gotten a few requests from people on some older posts and I honestly haven't been able to find answers. Sorry! Anyways, keep commenting, because I have been reading and a lot of you are adding interesting information that is really important. Thanks a lot to everyone!

August 26, 2008

Daddy Yankee and McCain: An Uncommon Couple

Last night I could not believe what la comay was telling me. Daddy Yankee endorsing John McCain? Would such a thing be possible?

Well, it is.

You can see the video of them together and some... commentary right here.

August 22, 2008

Photos, Río Piedras: Urbanization meets Nature

I thought I'd share a couple of the photos from yesterday's adventures.

Fruit stand on the corner.

I know everyone hates the strange color choices on the island. Don't ask me why, but I love it. It's "trashy" and I love it.

"yo soy la fokin maravilla y si no te gusta brega k-bron" (plus some other stuff)

Dirty rag by flamboyán...

I love this picture. Who decided to put these two trailers together and leave them in that perfect spot, anyways?

August 21, 2008

Props to El Nuevo Día...

... for posting this on the main page.

Yes, that's right, it says, "Thirst for vengeance". That plus that particular photo is just genius.

Between this, Ricky Martin's twins which he fathered through a surrogate mother, and the corpse that was kept standing up for the wake, the media has been having a field day.

Río Piedras

Yesterday we took a short field trip to Río Piedras so I could go book-shopping. I'm a closet voracious reader and the only way to get books from the island is to go shopping here, or at least until the bookstores get their act together and start selling them online (one having already started--I'll get to that in a moment). While I'm guessing there are bookstores all around the island, the only ones I know of and the ones that are most familiar to Puerto Ricans in the metro area are the ones in Río Piedras. Because the University of Puerto Rico's main campus is located there, bookstores have been built all around it. I really do mean all around it--the streets right off of campus have plenty of bookstores. Not surprising since the university publishes nearly all the books about the island.

First we stopped in this one in the photo; I can't remember its name for the life of me. Yes, it was incredibly disorganized and dusty. My friend with asthma couldn't even come in. This is my favorite kind of bookstore, though, since you don't know what you're going to find. There were a lot of older books which caught my eye, with pages so old they were disintegrating. But I was specifically looking for Puerto Rican books, which they had in the very back.

Then we headed to Librería Isla, which is an exceptional bookstore for 3 reasons: 1, it was organized, 2, they have a website, and 3, central air conditioning. I would bet it was the only place with it on the street, if not the whole neighborhood. Awesome. Anyways, it was a really nice store and I would recommend it.

So I bet now you're wondering which books I got. Here's a list in some sort of order:

  • Arqueología linguística: Estudios modernos dirigidos al rescate y reconstrucción del arahuaco taíno, Manuel Álvarez Nazario
  • El habla campesina del país: Orígenes y desarrollo del español en Puerto Rico, Manuel Álvarez Nazario
  • Estudios de lexicología antillana, José Juan Arrom
  • Lengua, identidad nacional y posmodernidad: Ensayos desde el Caribe, Carmen Centeno
  • Esclavos, prófugos y cimarrones: Puerto Rico, 1770-1870, Benjamin Nistal-Moret
  • Historia de la esclavitud negra en Puerto Rico, Luis M. Díaz Soler
  • La mujer negra en la literatura puertorriqueña, Marie Ramos Rosado
  • Los otros cuerpos: antología de temática gay, lésbica y queer desde Puerto Rico y su diáspora
  • Dos centimetros de mar, Carlos Vázquez Cruz
  • Vida y obra de Luis Llorens Torres, Nilda S. Ortiz García
  • La guagua aérea, Luis Rafael Sánchez
  • Felices días Tío Sergio, Magali García Ramis
  • Las Horas del Sur, Magali García Ramis
  • Esperando a Loló, Ana Lydia Vega
  • Falsas crónicas del sur, Ana Lydia Vega
  • La cabeza, Pedro Cabiya (brand new and recommended to me)
Before anyone objects, this isn't meant to be a list advising people on what books to start with if they want to learn more about the island. These are specifically books that fit the following criteria: I don't already own them/I can't get them easily from the local library, the subjects are interesting to me, and they are unavailable online. Actually, if I had to compose a list of books to start with, it would look similar to this list from before, give or take a few... mostly give since that is a really short list. If anyone has any suggestions, English or Spanish, I'd happily make it.

Anyways, I'm eating the most juicy and delicious mango I've ever had in my life as we speak! Sorry, but I had to share. You can't go wrong with a combination of perfect fruit and great reads (unless, of course, the fruit gets in the book... happens more than I'd like to admit).

August 19, 2008

A couple of observations

Being here, as opposed to relying on accounts from friends, is forcing me to take note of things that have changed since I was last here about a year ago. A few thoughts:

  1. Elections are coming up. I mean, not that I didn't know that before; even from afar it was pretty obvious. But the intensity of these elections contrasts with the as-of-yet lackluster American elections--or rather, maybe they seem that way because I've been here a bit over a day and it's already rubbed off on me. Anyways, there are political ads (several of them pretty funny) on the television every couple of commercials, the signs are everywhere, and yelling names of candidates at random strangers is perfectly okay.
  2. Puerto Rico is starting to catch onto the whole "green" trend. Every couple of news items includes something about it. But of course, the island still has a very far way to go and it'll be a long time before things really change.
  3. This is a bit more personal but man did I miss the food! Coming to a home and getting fresh food with all the flavor I haven't had in forever has just been great. I'm really going to miss this.

In other news, Aníbal is being charged with 5 additional crimes, bringing him up from 20 to 25. I have nothing to say about this, it's that pathetic.

August 18, 2008

A surprise

I am back on the island!

I know you're excited about that; if not, I am excited enough make up for it.

The next week and a half (I'm not going to be here too long, unfortunately) will hopefully bring lots of pleasant things to this blog! Or perhaps not; most of my writing while I'm not on the island is nostalgic memories, and now it will probably be more like non-nostalgic grievances as I get re-acquainted with reality.

... just kidding, it's not that bad.

Anyways, I'll be trying to post often while I'm still here.

August 17, 2008

A couple tourism ideas

First off, Petchie points out that buses are currently free until December. As she accurately points out, it is a cheap and sad voting ploy--but it still is a free ride. Take advantage of it.

The ever-reliable Renee has written about rum and how to get it for free... at least as a starting point. A side note: if you ever want a great guide to drinking in the island, there is a TV show called "Three Sheets" which hilariously introduces some of it here. The show is on some obscure Cable+ channel but you can watch it on Hulu for free. Go watch it.

August 15, 2008

Sad news...

I'm only being slightly sarcastic.

Daddy Yankee's film "Talento de Barrio" is now the Puerto Rican to sell the most tickets in a single day, passing the internationally acclaimed "Maldeamores", it seems.

Despite the complaining, I'm not actually anti-Daddy Yankee. Actually, I have a decent amount of respect for him for his role in the reggaetón genre. And I'll probably watch this movie at some point, just to see if it's decent. Those numbers are just disappointing though.

August 12, 2008

Asthma in Puerto Rico

So Renee has written up an excellent post about asthma in Puerto Rico, both pointing out the astronomically high rates, even among Puerto Ricans living in the States (20% of children, by far the highest of any ethnicity), and theories as to why.

I was meaning to write a post about asthma at some point myself, but as usual she has both beat me to it and written far better than I would have. Anyways, this is a very important issue for Puerto Ricans so I highly recommend you read up on it.

A Head's Up

Just warning everyone: there are two large tropical storms heading towards the island, both supposed to hit on Thursday. There's a possibility they get weaker first though, or even miss the island entirely, of course. Anyways, be ready, don't move into that low-lying house on the beach quite yet if you can help it and don't make hotel reservations on Culebra for Wednesday and Thursday night. Seriously though, most houses, especially those not on the water (or perched precariously on the tops of mountains--you know who you are), are pretty sturdy. Close your windows and doors and use common sense with the storm... if it comes.

August 9, 2008

La situación política de la isla

Como yo lo veo, nuestra isla es como una novia siempre a punto de casarse. Si algún día Puerto Rico escoge ser un estado de la Unión, tendrá que aceptar el inglés, el lenguaje de su futuro esposo, como su lengua oficial junto con el español, no sólo por ser el lenguaje de la modernidad y del progreso, sino por ser el lenguaje del poder en el mundo de hoy. Si la Isla escoge la independencia y decide quedarse soltera, por otra parte, tendrá que sacrificarse, y aceptar la pobreza y el atraso que significará vivir sin los beneficios y la protección de Estados Unidos. Independientes no seremos más libres, porque los pobres no son libres. Desgraciadamente, es muy posible que caigamos víctima de uno de nuestros caciques políticos que siempre están velando tras bastidores el momento de usurpar el poder. No me cabe la menor duda de que la independencia nos atrasaría más de un siglo, y que significaría un enorme sacrificio. Pero ¿cómo dejar de ser lo que somos?
Isabel en La casa de la laguna, Rosario Ferré, 1996 (p97)
I'm not going to bother trying to translate that, seeing as there is an English version of the book and inevitably my botched attempt would be compared to that. No thank you!

That said, if you don't speak Spanish you should really get your hands on a copy in English, and if you do speak Spanish, there is one on Amazon for you as well. Actually, Rosario Ferré is, unfortunately, one of the few Puerto Rican writers readily available on Amazon. Nevertheless, La casa de la laguna is a great read.

August 7, 2008

A smaller presence

I'm sorry if anyone is feeling abandoned, my social life caught up with me!

A couple of things of some importance:

So American Idol came to Puerto Rico and it was a huge bust. Only about 300 people showed up, as compared to about 10,000 for normal stateside auditions. Objetivo Fama, feel free to gloat.

Also, the final count is in and... there are only 22 Puerto Rican athletes going to Beijing, the lowest number since 1952. Yikes!

And finally, there is a new documentary on reggaetón called Straight Outta Puerto Rico... you can watch the trailer here. It doesn't sound great but I'll see if I can catch it anyways and let you all know how it is.

July 31, 2008

The coolest thing I've seen so far today

As you may or may not know, for a long period during Spanish colonialism Puerto Rico was home to contraband and pirates, the most famous one being one named Cofresí (heard of him?). It also was a very important for stops coming from Spain for a while.

The reason I mention this is that they have found parts of a sunken ship, complete with human bones, right by the very popular Luquillo beach.

Read about it here on the marvelous Dondequiera blog, or on the Associated Press if you prefer.

Honestly, that's pretty cool.

July 30, 2008

Words of the Week: Pari and more

Per request I'm tackling some English words used to pasarla bien... nothing complicated, just a few words in case you want to go out. This isn't a complete list by any means (or really even a list), mostly because I'm hardly mentally conscious at this point, but I wanted to get something up anyways. Please add your own.

As you know English has had a profound effect on the island's speech, particularly slang. However, I'm not really up to getting into a whole linguistic and cultural analysis at the moment, although I'm not sure there'd be much of one. It's not uncommon for one language to adopt slang or vocabulary from another, particularly in cases like that of Puerto Rico where there is a close, sustained relationship with another country, its language, and specifically its media (American television and movies usually do the trick). Puerto Rico has constant exposure to English and countless words are Spanglicized each year. So I'm sorry, Janine, but tracing pari/party to its original Spanglish roots (as in when it made the transition from English to Spanish) would require great etymological feats that I am simply incapable of performing. Regardless, this does merit a bit of reading on the topic in general, so I'll see what I can find next time I'm on the island.

Just a couple words in the meanwhile to whet your appetite:

  • Pari - From the English "party". While it can be written any combination of ways (party, parti, pari, pary, etc.), particularly online, generally the t is not pronounced. Other words from pari are parisear (to party, not surprisingly) and pariseo (from the verb).
  • Janguear - From the English "to hang (out)". While hanging out in English isn't necessary thought of as partying, generally it does here. The verb form is janguear.
  • Chilin - From the English "chilling". It's usually spelled "chillin" but I decided not to confuse anyone with the double l here. For whatever reason every time I've seen it it's only been used as an adjective, as in "'Tá chillin"... the best way I can think of to translate it is "It's pretty sweet" or something to that effect. Suggestions?

July 27, 2008


What with all the hype about the Batman movie, I thought I'd remind people of a couple things.

  • Movies in PR generally open a day or so earlier than in the U.S. If you are a film buff and like seeing a movie as soon as it comes out, or if you have a friend who does and you can brag that you got to see it first, you may want to move.
  • Caribbean Cinemas is the main movie theater chain. They show all the main movies in the U.S., sometimes a couple foreign ones in Spanish, and whatever Puerto Rican movie is out (if there are any). Also, ticket prices are $5.50 and I think Wednesday is "Ladies' Night", with tickets only $3.50. The first showing of each movie Monday through Friday is also only $3.50.
  • Unless the movie is already in Spanish, it will have Spanish subtitles. Popular movies are often shown both in English and dubbed in Spanish in another theater. The Spanish dubbed versions don't sell nearly as many tickets as the originals, so if you're desperate to see a movie and it sells out, try that.
As I'm sure you can imagine, catching a movie is a great (and in Puerto Rico, relatively inexpensive) way to avoid the heat. Or giant killer clouds of dust.

July 24, 2008

Puerto Rican Coffee, or why you've never had any

Before the Spanish-American War, coffee was one of the strongest industries of Puerto Rico. Along with sugar and tobacco, it dominated exports. So why is it today nearly unheard of?

One of the most abrupt changes that the war brought was the devastation of the industry. This can be blamed on a few factors: 1, the U.S. had already entered in a deal with Brazil for their coffee, 2, the taste of Puerto Rican coffee was too strong for most Americans (most of its success was in Europe), and 3, American interests in the Caribbean laid mostly in the sugar industry, as seen with Cuba. Sure enough, the sugar industry exploded overnight, causing ruin for most coffee-growing families who could no longer export to Europe or the U.S.

Despite this, the coffee companies have hung on. On the island, there are a few companies that keep their products on local shelves. Sadly, however, quite a few of these include coffee from outside the island. Both output and demand aren't high enough to change this.

Yauco Selecto has previously been reputated to be an excellent coffee, equal to Jamaican Blue Mountain and Hawaiian Kona (some of the most consistently high rated coffees in the world), although apparently quality has been hard to maintain lately. Right now, according to Coffee Review, the best coffee Puerto Rico has to offer at the moment is something called CaféBello, which I've never heard of before. Sounds good though.

Coffee, by the way, is definitely one way to Puerto Rico differs from the U.S. It's usually enjoyed in small cups with milk (and sugar, if you want), making a perfect café con leche, common throughout Latin America. Extremely bitter black coffee is called café puya (in comparison to café prieto, which is sweetened) and is also popular. Starbucks and the entire idea of fancy coffee drinks is really unpopular, kind of startling considering Puerto Rico's incredible sweet tooth. Cold coffee is a no-no and milk will often be heated up on the oven as well. Apparently warm coffee is seen as rude gesture in restaurants. So if you have guests over, don't give them cold coffee! Not that anyone would do that on purpose...

Generally whenever I get read to leave I make sure to pick up a little coffee to take with me. It's difficult to get it away from the island otherwise.

July 23, 2008

More on Milk, which would hit the minimum hourly wage except...

As suspected, the price of milk is increasing tomorrow, 8 cents.

Also, minimum wage might be increasing from $6.55 to $7.25. I am going to take a bet and say this is heading towards disaster, seeing as the increase isn't high enough to satisfy the people who need it, while being high enough to discourage American companies (particularly with factories on the island) that Puerto Rico is too expensive, something that is already happening with devastating results.

If you have asthma, beware!

From what I've heard, a volcano has erupted in Montserrat, so the air is filled with dust again not unlike the Sahara dust from before. It's really severe and I know it's causing some people I know there to really suffer. So if you have asthma or another condition and are traveling to the island, please be careful!

July 21, 2008

Thinking of Puerto Rico

Out of curiosity, when you think of Puerto Rico, what image pops into your head? Is it one of the countless beaches? Maybe the jungle and el Yunque? Las garitas in San Juan (a popular one off and on the island)? The city of Old San Juan? Salsa dancing? Cacos and their reggaetón? A specific dish? A specific person?

For me, it's always the houses. The combination of gates everywhere, cement, rooflessness, and bright colors guarantees that the houses are always going to be what I think of first when I hear "Puerto Rico". Maybe it's just because I spend a lot of time in them.

How about you?

July 20, 2008

Total Defeat

So Puerto Rico, after a victory over Slovenia, and a loss to Greece, has now lost to Germany, eliminating them from the Olympics. Too bad...

July 16, 2008

No freaking way

Apparently there is a very high possibility of the price of milk rising even more.

If you haven't been keeping up with the island in the last year or so, you'd probably have no way of knowing that the price of milk has risen exponentially, making it out of reach for most Puerto Rican budgets. Right now, according to the article, a gallon of milk costs on average $5.30. In comparison, in the states it's at an average of $4.00, with prices around $5.00 in some areas. Factoring in the huge difference of incomes, clearly the prices are ridiculously high. That's why most families have stopped buying milk.

So I find it shocking they can even consider rising the prices more than what they already are. At those prices, you may as well buy your own damn cow and raise it in your cramped backyard (or at least a goat, if I'm going to pretend to be halfway realistic).

July 14, 2008

And by "Yeah Puerto Rico!", I meant... not so much

Miss Puerto Rico, in case you are not Puerto Rican and hence weren't glued to your TV sets last night, did not win Miss Universe. Actually, she got cut the very first round (or whatever it's called).

How are they taking it on the island? I'm thinking not well.

It doesn't help that the DR and Venezuela both made it to the end, with Venezuela winning. That means that Puerto Rico and Venezuela are again tied for 2nd place for most winners (both have 5, as compared to the U.S. in the lead with 7 ).

Here is part of El Nuevo Día's bitter response (along with a translation, of course):

De inmediato pasaron a las preguntas finales. Ninguna pregunta impactante y tampoco las respuestas.

They suddenly skipped on to the final questions. There were no shocking questions or answers.

-Miss Colombia ha sido feliz toda su vida. TODA.*

-Miss Colombia has been happy all of her life. ALL OF IT.*

-Miss Venezuela cree que las mujeres no van directas al punto.

-Miss Venezuela believes that women aren't direct.

-Miss República Dominicana se ha tenido que sacrificar bastante en la vida, pero todo ha valido la pena.

-Miss Dominican Republic has had to sacrifice a lot in life, but it was all worth it.

-Miss México entiende que las mujeres están completamente satisfechas cuando tienen una vida balanceada entre la familia, el trabajo y la comunidad.

-Miss Mexico understands that women are completely satisfied when they have their life balanced between family, work, and the community.

-Miss Rusia está clara en que las mujeres cada vez son más fuerte y más inteligentes.

-Miss Russia is sure that women just keep getting stronger and smarter.

I warned you it was bitter.

*This part cracks me up.

Yeah Puerto Rico!

My friend caught this commercial for me on TV and had to send me the link... then I was forced to post it. First off, it's hilarious, and second, it's so true. This is the essence of Puerto Ricans, I think: they don't always win (or it's a smaller victory; hey, it's a small island you know!), but they're damn proud and enthusiastic anyways. Good stuff.

July 13, 2008

How to Beat the Heat, or, Words of the Week: Manteca(d)o and Piragua

It's not really that much hotter in Puerto Rico now as it is the rest of the year, but it's summer here, hence I'm reminded of these things. And it still is pretty hot right now on the island anyways.

Air conditioning is something confined to public spaces rather than private, generally speaking, which basically means the best way to get some is to head to the mall rather than hide in the house. Unless, you know, you're in a hotel, but then why are you staying in your room on vacation? If it's too hot to hit the streets of Old San Juan, there are plenty of museums around to check out. Or you can get a free ride to the beach (until the end of August, anyways).

The vast majority of houses, however, do not have air conditioning. Most do have those window air conditioners (although many times in the wall rather than in a window) or fans. Side note: if you stop using those a/c units, they fill up with cockroaches. You've been warned.

Anyways, if you do decide to go out, there are a couple good ways to handle the heat. Which brings us to the words of this week, which are mantecado and piragua.

Unlike most Spanish-speaking countries, Puerto Rico doesn't use the word helado for ice cream. It's mantecado. They'd figure out you wanted ice cream if you asked for helado, I suppose, but go with mantecado.

Piraguas are basically tropical snow cones. I'm not sure how to explain them more than that. They have them all over Old San Juan in little carts and they are great--my favorite flavor is coconut. The word supposedly comes from the Taíno word for some kind of long boat, but now they're snow cones.

So enjoy your vacation, and keep cool!

July 12, 2008

Let's talk competition for a minute

So the Olympics are rapidly approaching and, if I'm right, so is the Miss Universe contest. I don't really know much about either sports or beauty competitions, but things look promising for Puerto Rico. Miss Puerto Rico Ingrid Marie Rivera (famous for being victim of sabotage in the last beauty competition) is rumored to do very well, and the basketball team, despite losing to Slovenia recently, did beat the U.S. last week--but then again, they do have superstar Carlos Arroyo on the team. And let's be honest here, Boricuas are amazing at boxing and I'm expecting a lot from them.

I do have one hesitation about all this though--what is this outfit?! Traditional costume of Puerto Rico my ass! It's a Pocahontas-Rio de Janeiro hybrid, neither of which is Puerto Rico. Give me a regular old jíbaro outfit instead, at least it'd be halfway accurate. And it's not such an impossible idea. Although then again, it could be worse. It could be this.

July 10, 2008


What can I say, I've been busy. I'll catch up this weekend I suppose.

In the meantime, here is another very informative, and still fun, post on dengue fever (what it is and why you are going to get it) by Renee. There are also tips to avoid getting it... which basically amount to that you are going to get it if you're going to get it and unless you're a recluse you don't have much of a choice. I mean, chances of getting it are still kind of low, although, as Renee oh-so-correctly pointed out, last year there was a crazy epidemic and I was pretty much afraid for my life (not really!)... I don't know what it is with gringo skin, but every single time I get bitten up countless times more than any Puerto Rican I know. Maybe all the mosquitos are just pipiolos and they want the Americans out...

Okay, bad joke, really lame. Sorry.

July 6, 2008

Café Salsa

Que le pongan salsa, Que le pongan salsa, Pa' mojar pa' mojar Que le pongan salsa...

This weekend I went to old town Alexandria to celebrate the 4th. And of course, what do I run into but a whole bunch of Puerto Ricans... including a Puerto Rican restaurant! I could have sworn there weren't any around DC at all.

Of course we had to go. Even if my friend is returning to the island in less than a week.

Café Salsa technically calls itself "Nuevo Latino" cuisine but it mostly draws from Puerto Rican food, plenty of Cuban and a couple other things as well. It's a pretty small place but the food isn't bad. Here come the pictures...


July 4, 2008

The blog

Also, you might have noticed, I'm working on a new layout. Expect a couple more changes soon...

More Daddy Yankee

Those of you who suffered through the only slightly over-dramatic Daddy Yankee post (and the new video) will be happy to know that he has a new single out and it's much better. I mean, it's no classic (does reggaetón even have classics?) but it's a huge difference.

Here's the video.

June 30, 2008

Obesity and casinos in Puerto Rico (hmm...)

My new online obsession is this blog. Honestly, I think I like it better than mine.

That's probably not a good thing...

Anyways, Renee has two great posts about obesity in Puerto Rico and a guide to casinos in San Juan. Plus more amazingness.

Seriously, go read.

Goodbye, Starbucks!

There's been a lot of attention about a couple of Starbucks on the island closing, and I for one say good riddance. I realize that it's more than just Puerto Rico, seeing as the economy both there and here is in shambles, but I honestly don't know anyone there who likes Starbucks, although I do know lots of people there who despite it very sincerely. And whenever I've been in one on the island (not that I went often or have been to all of them, but still) they're usually half as busy, or less, than American Starbucks.

They're still going to open another one though.

June 29, 2008

A review of When I Was a Puerto Rican/Cuando Era Puertorriqueña

As promised, here are my thoughts on When I Was a Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago...

Ms. Santiago opens up the book talking about the guayabas in a supermarket. She ties the unripe fruit to her childhood, recounting her departure from Puerto Rico (which involved a guayaba). The sensual description is the first sign that the book to follow is an exercise in exotification. After all, associated/confusing environment with its inhabitants is a common way to establish the exotic, particularly with tropicalization.

She portrays herself, her life, and all of Puerto Rico as both suffering and yet astoundingly exotic--certainly not how Puerto Ricans see themselves. Rather, she's marketing to a specific audience that is seeking out the exotic. Her fate, a combination of Harvard education and broadway shows, is exactly what the audience is looking forward to--it's the tipical "successful immigrant" story, the kind that doesn't point fingers but rather convinces people that if this one person could escape poverty, anyone could do it. Nevermind that the situations experienced by Santiago and others do have a cause and have solutions. But this is a feel-good story for all with an extra pat on the back for being interested in another culture... without having to, you know, change anything or do anything.

The book is a sell-out. Santiago creates an exotic image of Puerto Ricans and sells it to Americans for the cash. It's an old technique used by plenty. That's it, plain and simple.

On a less critical note, the writing is not terrible, and I suppose the book has exposed people a bit more to Puerto Rico. But really, this isn't a book about Puerto Rico. It's a book about what America wants to hear.

June 26, 2008

Yes! Yes! God, Yes! What I've been thinking forever but in better wording

I happened across this moments ago on El Nuevo Día and I really have no choice but to post the entire thing. A most likely shoddy English translation follows, along with my comments.

26-Junio-2008 | Ángel Collado Scharwz -Fundación Voz del Centro
Un país agrícola sin agricultura

En la década del cuarenta, el último gobernador extranjero en Puerto Rico, Rexford G. Tugwell, exclamó con asombro: “Imagínense, la comida es importada. Han perdido el arte del trópico. Nadie bajo ese sol, con buen terreno y con cuarenta pulgadas de lluvia, debe pasar hambre”. Puerto Rico goza del escenario perfecto para ser autosuficiente en lo que respecta a su capacidad terrestre y marina de satisfacer las necesidades alimentarias de sus ciudadanos.

Hace muchos años la agricultura desempeñó un rol protagónico en nuestra sociedad y nuestra economía. En 1935, el secretario del Interior, Harold Ickes responsabilizó a los Estados Unidos de destruir nuestra agricultura: “Puerto Rico… ha sido víctima de una economía de 'laissez faire' que ha originado el crecimiento rápido de grandes corporaciones azucareras absentistas, las que han acaparado mucha tierra que antes pertenecía a pequeños agricultores independientes, quienes, en consecuencia, se han visto reducidos prácticamente a la servidumbre económica. Si bien es cierto que la inclusión de Puerto Rico dentro de nuestras barreras arancelarias ha sido sumamente beneficiosa para los accionistas de esas corporaciones, los beneficios no han pasado a manos de la masa de puertorriqueños. Éstos, por el contrario, han visto que las tierras en las que antes sembraban cultivos de subsistencia, se han dedicado a la producción de azúcar, mientras ellos han sido empujados gradualmente a importar todos sus alimentos básicos, pagando por éstos los altos precios producidos por el arancel. Hoy día hay más miseria e indigencia y mucho más desempleo en Puerto Rico que en cualquier época previa de su historia”.

Años después, la situación empeoró con la operación Manos a la Obra, la cuál continuó debilitando a la industria agrícola. Se asignó prioridad al programa de industrialización basado en inversiones extranjeras. Se buscaba resultados inmediatos, aunque fuesen temporeros. El propio Teodoro Moscoso me comentó en sus últimos años de vida sobre el grave error que fue abandonar la agricultura.

Es lamentable que hoy día el único alimento cultivado en nuestra tierra que supera el renglón de las plantas ornamentales sean los plátanos. La venta de estas plantas es cuatro veces mayor que la venta de los mangós.

Más lamentable aún es que los mangós cosechados en la Isla sean desplazados por guineos de Costa Rica y piñas de la República Dominicana en los barcos que llevan los productos a Europa. Recientemente se reseñó en la prensa que los barcos llegaban sin cupo para nuestros furgones de mangós. Esta industria produce 700 empleos y genera $18 millones anuales. Pero las leyes de cabotaje federales, al obligarnos a utilizar los transportes marítimos estadounidenses considerados los más costosos e ineficaces, no sólo perjudican la exportación de nuestra producción agrícola: también aumentan el costo de los alimentos que importamos

La calidad de nuestros productos agrícolas es insuperable. Tres ejemplos de reconocimiento internacional son la piña, la cual es considerada por los expertos como superior a la de Hawai; el café, el cual se ofrece en restaurantes de alta cocina en Europa como un delicatessen; y el mangó, el cual recibe en Europa una aceptación formidable. Experimentos como la siembra de arroz en la década del setenta fueron abandonados ante la incapacidad de los gobiernos de turno para incentivar a empresarios locales.Debemos ver a Israel como nuestro principal modelo de desarrollo agrícola. Han conseguido cultivar en el desierto. Satisfacen toda la demanda alimentaria de sus ciudadanos, más exportan su producto agrícola a Europa. Sin embargo, su economía no se limita a la agricultura: ésta complementa una moderna industria de alta tecnología.En Israel, la agricultura representa un 2% del producto bruto mientras que en Puerto Rico es menos de 1%. Israel tiene el doble de la población de Puerto Rico pero cuatro veces el número de empleados en la industria manufacturera.

Israel, al igual que otras colonias antiguas, ha alcanzado estos éxitos económicos desde una plataforma soberana.

En Puerto Rico, aunque el escenario actual permite mejoras a la industria agrícola, el status político limita su desarrollo y potencial. Las leyes de cabotaje federales y la falta de poder para negociar tratados internacionales constituyen una camisa de fuerza para este desarrollo.

El otro aspecto importante es la mano de obra, la cual es muy limitada, pues es mucho más cómodo depender del mantengo federal. Lo irónico de la situación es que tampoco tenemos el poder para importar mano de obra que cultive nuestras tierras.

26-Junio-2008 | Ángel Collado Scharwz -Fundación Voz del Centro
An Agricultural Country without Agriculture

In the 40's, the last foreign governor in Puerto Rico, Rexford G. Tugwell, exclaimed with astonishment: "Imagine, the food is imported. They've lost the art of the tropic. No one under this sun, with good terrain and 40 inches of rain, should suffer hunger". Puerto Rico enjoys the perfect scenario to be self-sufficient in respect to its terrestrial and marine capacity to satisfy the gastronomical needs of its citizens.

Many years ago agriculture occupied a lead roll in our society and our economy. In 1935, the secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes blamed the United States for destroying our agriculture: "Puerto Rico... has been victim of a 'laissez faire' economy that has given rise to rapid growth of huge sugar corporations run by absentee business owners, which have seized great quantities of land that belonged to small independent farmers before, who, in consequence, have practically been reduced to economic servitude. If it's true that the inclusion of Puerto Rico in our national boundaries has been extremely beneficial for the shareholders of these corporations, the benefits have not been passed down to the hands of the Puerto Rican masses. They, on the contrary, have seen that the lands in which before they planted subsistence crops have been dedicated to sugar production, while they have been gradually pushed to import all of their basic food, paying for these the high prices produced by customs. Today there is more misery and poverty, and much more unemployment, in Puerto Rico than in any other previous era in its history."

Years later, the situation worsened with the Manos a la Obra operation ("Operation Bootstrap", the nickname for it--and not translation per se--commonly used), which continued debilitating the agricultural industry. It assigned priority to the industrialization program based on foreign investments. It sought out immediate results, even if they were temporary. Teodoro Moscoso himself (the man for whom the large and famous bridge in San Juan, with the Puerto Rican and American flags in pairs, is named) commented to me in the last years of his life on the grave error that was abandoning agriculture.

It's regrettable that the only food cultivated in our land that exceeds ornamental plants in count is the plantain. The sale of these plants is four times greater than the same of mangos.

Even more regrettable is that the mangos harvested in the Island are displaced by bananas from Costa Rica and pinapples from the Dominican Republic in the ships that carry the products to Europe. Recently it was reviewed in the press that the ships arrived without space for our tons of mangos. This industry produces 700 employees and generates $18 million annually. But the federal coastal shipping laws, by obliging us to use the American maritime transportation considered the most costly and ineffective, not only damage the export of our agricultural production; they also increase the cost of the food we import.

The quality of our agricultural products is unsurpassable. Three examples of international recognition include the pineapple, which is considered by experts to be superior to that of Hawaii; coffee, which is offered in gourmet restaurants in Europe as a delicacy; and the mango, which has had formidable levels of success in Europe. Experiments like the planting of rice in the 70's were abandoned thanks to the incapacity of the governments to provide incentives to local businesses.

We should look to Israel as our lead model for agricultural development. They've figured out how to grow food in the desert. They satisfy all the demand of their citizens, plus they export their agricultural products to Europe. Nevertheless, their economy is not limited to agriculture; it compliments a modern industry with advanced technology.

In Israel, agriculture represents 2% of the gross product while in Puerto Rico it's less than 1%. Israel has double the population of Puerto Rico but four times the number of employees in the manufacturing industry.

Israel, like other old colonies, has reached these economic successes from a superb platform.

In Puerto Rico, although the current scenario permits improvements to the agricultural industry, the political status limits its development and potential. The federal coastal trade laws and the lack of power to negotiate international treaties are a straight jacket for this development.

The other aspect is labor, which is very limited, seeing as it's much more comfortable depending on federal welfare. The irony here is that we don't have the power to import labor to cultivate our lands, either.

Did I ever mention how much I love La voz del centro? I do. I think I have over 100 of their podcasts on my iPod, all interviewing fantastic people about fantastic topics. Thank you, Mr. Collado Schwarz!

Anyways, I want to reiterate the message in this article: Puerto Rico, you can do it!

I sincerely believe that one of the most empowering things Puerto Rico could do for itself to shake the chain of dependence it is now living is to turn to its own resources. Food is a huge part of this. As we are asked in the beginning of this article, why is a tropical island with the ideal natural conditions, practically mistakeable for Eden itself at times, importing food? It can't be that processed, old, preservative-loaded Kraft cheese packages are tastier than fresh (and free) avocado from the backyard.

I think Collado Schwarz doesn't quite show the truly devasting effects the American corporations intially had on Puerto Rico. While he does touch on it, it is one of those big deals, a monumental and decisive moment in history that even today still dictates what you find in each grocery store today. Having done my own minimal research on that period, I can promise that the period from the American invasion through the 30's was one of the most tragic moments Puerto Rico lived, only following slavery and the explosive results of the initial Spanish arrival.

Industry changed overnight from coffee (and tobacco to a certain extent) to sugar (Puerto Rican coffee was too strong for American tastes). The conversion from peso to dollar was very poorly managed, seeing as most merchants just changed the currency symbol and not the number next to it, in essence increasing prices by up to 40%, particularly in markets for the poorer sectors of the population. The owners of small farms, due to the change in industry and rising prices, soon had to sell their land and become migrant farmers. The land was bought up by the aforementioned absentee businessmen, who sped up Puerto Rico's path to monoculture with giant sugar cane plantations, all while making the island poorer by funneling the money into the United States rather than Puerto Rico. Within a short time period of this, 75% of all food was imported (practically all from the United States), and rural families, often previous land-owners, spent a whopping 94% of their income on food. Coupled with skyrocketing unemployment and an education that insisted on English even though both the students and the teachers didn't speak the language, opportunities to improve quality of life were few.

I don't really think I need to even say that many of the protests at the time were met with official censorship and state-sponsored violence. It should be obvious.

Now obviously things have improved in Puerto Rico, but looking back in history, we can also see that many haven't. Old habits and impracticalities are about to reach their centennial. It's just sad to see these idiocies that have obviously been harmful survive long past their expiration date.

The blame falls both ways. For one, Puerto Ricans earn some for complacency and an undeserved satisfaction with things how they are. Puerto Rico should be constantly striving for improvement... and no, I don't mean new SUV or widescreen improvement, but a better life for everyone regardless of what they can buy. This can only come about through breaking the chain of dependence. No, I am not calling for the independence movement to suddenly take over the country (although if that's what Puerto Rico wants, so be it). I am talking about a Puerto Rico that concerns itself with Puerto Rico over the United States. Less imports. In regards to this article, I think that the biggest step that Puerto Rico could take would be limiting imports, or, even better, putting tariffs on them (even though it would never be allowed by the U.S. government), and then pumping the money made from tariffs or not wasted on jacked-up import costs into agriculture. Puerto Rico can sustain itself. With the rising costs of both food and gas, hopefully soon it will realize the value of that message.

An equal part of the blame, however, also lands on the United States. The only surviving pretext for the current status is that corporations make a killing importing all that food and other consumer goods. They completely manipulate the market, making it nearly impossible for Puerto Ricans to compete. Do we really continue mantaining colonialism just to make the extra buck?

I am not necessarily against capitalism... it'd be a bit hypocritical, seeing as it's a part of my daily life and the lives of others. I don't want to say that Puerto Ricans don't have a right to want the same things I want, frivolous though they may be. But when the process for acquiring it becomes harmful and inescapable, I think we must find a solution. Clearly colonialism and capitalism are a deadly combination. How many years would it take to resolve this... if an effort is ever made?