- Posted January 25, 2014 by
St. Louis, Missouri
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Travel photo of the day
IN SEARCH OF MYSELF IN SAN JUAN PUERTO RICO
As a woman of color born in a small town in South Texas in the 1950s I have always struggled with my sense of place, my sense of belonging. So when I turned eighteen I left my hometown to explore the world and cultivate the seed of self worthlessness that had been planted in my heart from the time I left my mother’s womb. I was born with skin in a bluish purplish tint, a sure sign at birth I would have a dark complexion.
Later the kids called me names in the playground and my own mother pointed out my less than European features when I disappointed her, which was often. After years of searching for my self worth, I say thank you! Because of you I have made it my mission in life to find out where I come from. For myself, it involves educating myself in history through books, research and travel.
Ever since I read an article about Castillo San Felipe del Morro I have wanted to visit Puerto Rico. This month I finally had the opportunity to visit San Juan.
I felt right at home as soon as I stepped out of the airport and into the warm breezy afternoon sun. There was a sense of freedom there I have never experienced. Some people were speaking English, while others were holding their conversations in Spanish, the two languages floated side by side without reference to one being superior over the other. With no references to accents and no one taking offense to a vocabulary they couldn’t understand, words drifted over the crowds in English, Spanish, German, French and other tongues I have no reference to. There was an acceptance of our differences I have been searching for, for years.
Going back to El Morro, I thought that was where I would feel a sense of place since most of my ancestors came to the Americas from Spain in the 1700s. Like many other Latinos in the United States, I identify more with my Spanish roots since they have been easier to trace than the branches which hold my Native and African American heritage. Those branches were broken off the family tree generations before I came along.
So to my surprise my sense of place and belonging surfaced during a walk as part of the Old San Juan Food Tour. Our tour guide Victor met us at Carli’s Bistoro where we had appetizers and so begun our introduction to the cuisine of Puerto Rico. From there he led us to different places where we had more appetizers, pina coladas, dinner and finished with dessert.
The food was delicious and culturally infused, but it was the walking between places as we listened to Victor’s oral history of Old San Juan that sparked my interest. On our way to Cafe La Princesa we walked down Paseo de la Princesa and stopped in front of a beautiful landmark, Raices Fountain. Our guide explained, “This fountain represents the different cultural and ethnic backgrounds in Puerto Rico. The naked goddess we are facing is holding up three feathers representing our Taíno Indian, Spanish, and African heritage.” When I heard this serenity came over me, my breathing took it all in. I was finally in harmony with the way I look, the two languages I speak and the way I feel. I looked around at the people strolling down el paseo; there were white, black and all shades of canela, many the same color as me. Some people had good hair; others had curly, kinky or frizzy hair like mine. There were a few slender women, but most had bodies with curves. Some curves were slight while others more pronounced, with most of the women curved somewhere in the middle range, like me.
At the end of the day the lesson learned is this, home is where we feel acceptance.
Wish I could say I brought the positive feelings back to the Midwest with me, but as soon as I got home I examined myself in the mirror to make sure I had not tanned too dark, pulled my flat iron out from underneath the bathroom sink and stood naked in front of a full length mirror to see if my curves had become a little fuller from the succulent food and the creamy pina coladas. Then I stepped on the scale, to find out I needed to lose a few pounds before I go on my next adventure. Oh well a small price to pay for life lessons learned away from home.
Until we meet again, ciao my friends.
Edna Campos Gravenhorst
Writer & Historical Researcher living in St. Louis, Missouri