June in New York City, Puerto Rican Pride is at an all time high. Flags are hung from windows, fire escapes and draped over car hoods. Living in The Bronx, you don’t have to walk far to see a stand of Puerto Rican items for sale: slippers, fuzzy dice, t-shirts, bandanas, socks, key chains, beach chairs and more.
The second Sunday in June is the National Puerto Rican Day Parade. And if you’ve never been in New York to see the parade you have missed out on one of the best party parades this city has to offer. The excitement is electric!
Raising a young son with autism, pride, heritage, and culture are abstract concepts and difficult for Norrin to understand. Going to the Puerto Rican Day Parade may be too much for him. The crowd and the noise would be sensory overload.
But I want Norrin to have some understanding of where we come from. I want him to be familiar with our culture and heritage. While we don’t speak Spanish fluently in our home, I am doing what I can to teach Norrin the words that I know. His interest in speaking Spanish has really inspired to want to learn more.
I didn’t grow up not speaking Spanish even though my parents are fluent, so I’ve been accused of being ashamed of my heritage. But as an adult, I have immersed myself in Puerto Rican history, literature, and art. Cultural pride goes beyond speaking a language. That’s what I want for Norrin. I want Norrin to understand that he doesn’t need to speak Spanish in order to proud of his heritage.
Puerto Rican Pride in our Day to Day Life
Reading Books with Characters that Look and Sound Like Us
When I was growing up there wasn’t a book in my home written by or about a Puerto Rican. And we had a lot of books (my dad used to work in a book factory and bring them home). The reality was, not many existed. I am proud to say that our home library is filled with many books written by and about Puerto Ricans. We have a variety of fiction, poetry, history and memoir. Norrin will know that Puerto Rican writers and poets exist and he will know that our stories matter. These three books are ones that I wished I could have read growing up:
- On This Beautiful Island– this bright beautiful picture is one of our favorites. Perfect for youngsters.
- When I Was Puerto Rican is one of my all time favorite books. It’s the first book I ever read by a Puerto Rican author (I was 21 when I first read it) and sparked my passion for Latino Literature. I would recommend for young adults or it could be a book you and your independent reader can read together.
- An Island Like You: Stories of El Barrio is a realistic portrayal of life in El Barrio through the eyes of its young inhabitants. A perfect summer read for independent readers.
Surrounded by Art
If you live in or near New York City or you’re planning a visit – be sure to visit El Museo del Barrio. “The museum cares for a diverse, 6,500-object Permanent Collection of Caribbean, Latino and Latin American art, unique in the United States.” We went a few years back and picked up this beautiful piece of art in the gift shop. (It’s also where we purchased On This Beautiful Island.) Now that Norrin is a little older, we’ll be visiting again soon.
We have many pieces of art and photographs around our home of Puerto Rico. Whether we realize it or not it’s an everyday reminder of where we come from. And when people come over for the first, they almost always ask about a mask or picture. It’s a nice way to talk about where we come from and where we’ve been.
I grew up listening to old Salsa music and Latin Jazz. My dad especially loved Tito Puente, Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon and Eddie Palmieri. He played their records constantly and I heard them at every party we attended. My dad loved to sing along, dance and every so often he’d pick up his güiro and play his favorite song. I don’t speak Spanish but throw on some Salsa music and I can sing along well enough to fool anyone.
When out driving we put on Salsa music and while Norrin doesn’t really appreciate it now (I didn’t either when I was his age), I hope he will recognize that music is a big part of our culture.
Feeding The Soul
Oh my goodness…the food! The food is such a big part of our culture. It’s how we greet, comfort and celebrate. Whether you speak the language or not, the cuisine is usually the first introduction a child has to his/her culture. I am lucky that Norrin likes a variety of food: Italian, Chinese, Mexican, Vietnamese. But his favorite remains arroz con gandules – a Puerto Rican dinner table staple.
Planning a Trip to the Island
I’ve only been to Puerto Rico four times in my life and the first time doesn’t really count because I was a baby and have no memory of that trip. But the three times I do remember left huge impressions in my life. When I went at twelve, it was my first time on a plane and the first time I was away from my parents (I went with my godparents.) We traveled around the entire island and I got to see how people in Puerto Rico lived. It gave me insight to how my parents grew up. It really opened to my eyes to completely different way of life. The second time I was in my early twenties and I got to experience San Juan and the nightlife. And the third time I went, I went with my husband, Joseph. We stayed in my godmother’s home and once again, we traveled the island. We ventured to Vieques and it was the trip that inspired me to start writing my novel.
I really want to take Norrin to Puerto Rico some day soon – I want him to experience it, to smell its air, taste its food and to dip his feet in the clear blue water.
Earlier this year we took our first ever Disney cruise. They now leave from New York City and they sail to Puerto Rico – it’s the best of both worlds and I can’t wait to take that adventure.