Becoming Country Rican

I left Puerto Rico at the age of 22, in 1996.  Yes, I know how old I am.  My friend Glianny and I had a bit of Olympic fever, so we came to Georgia.  This fever was compounded by the unemployment rate in Puerto Rico; and the fact that my older brother lived in Athens Georgia. 

I also had an R.E.M. poster on my bedroom wall.  That has nothing to do with anything, except that when I put that poster on my wall I knew nothing of Athens, UGA or the 40 watt. 

At that tiime, the last thing I was thinking was that I would marry a gringo - born and bread in the South.  Or that I would someday live in rural Georgia with my husband and baby girl, running a business, raising a family.

Where is all this coming from?  Well my mom  came to Georgia for the first time in February to help me with baby, and through her eyes I have been forced to relive what it was like for me when I first moved here.  I was a lot like her, after all she raised me and I was coming here from her house.  The difference is when one is young one is more adaptable and accepting - or at least I was.  She is in her sixties and like most people in their sixties set in her ways.  God bless her for all she does.  The woman is a work horse and a domestic goddess.  She did, however, have a hard time with how Michael and I live our lives, and who can blame her?  When one lives on a island for almost 30 years without leaving it is hard to adjust or accept a different way of life.

There was some culture shock.  My mom's English is pretty good, but she learned it New York City and let's face it, the southern accent is hard to understand at first.  I remember Glianny and I would tell people with thick Southern accents back in the day "I'm sorry.  English is not my first language, can you repeat that?"  When in fact we were thinking: "I'm sorry, you don't speak the same English I do, can you say that again in TV English?"  I live surrounded by the twang now, and I understand the Boomhowers of the world, but back then...not so much.

Seventy degrees is cold to a Rican FOB.  (Fresh off the boat, for those of you who don't deal with immigrants much.  It applies even if you came by plane, or drove or swam or walked).  My first job here was as a hostess at The Grill in downtown Athens, and I remember wearing a sweater over my black jeans and white t shirt when it was 70 outside.  I would look at the locals in shorts and tank tops and think "these gringos are crazy!"  Eventually I realized they all saw me the same way- especially when I was the only one in a sweater.  My mom had the same experience this time around too.  We were celebrating the sprung weather in late February while she had a turtle neck on. 

Throughout the years, I had the advantage of living through summers in Texas and winters in Germany, so I have learned the hard way that "hot and cold" are very relative terms. 

Driving from Athens to Dewy Rose one day my mom remarked "these houses seem fake".  It loses something in the translation, but she meant they weren't real.  I had the same thought when I was here for the first time.  She said they looked like "monopoly houses".  I think I said "Life"  You remember the game of Life?  The little churches with the steeples?  So many houses and churches around here look like that.  Architecture.  In Puerto Rico the houses are so very different.  There is a lot of old school Spanish colonial buildings, and modern day Caribbean  construction, that resembles Miami (in case you have never been to Puerto Rico).  Seeing the buildings around here is a little unreal to us in the beginning.  It takes getting used to. Again, nothing a little travelling would not cure.

Travel.  We all should do it.  I know we cannot all afford to, but even if it is just to Atlanta, or Florida.  It broadens your horizons in a way that nothing else can.  I say this as someone who was always a book worm and read a lot about a lot.  Trust me, reading about art history and learning about La Pieta by Michelangelo is no substitute for walking into St. Peter's and seeing it in front of you.  We all know different places do things differently, but until you go through it and experience it for yourself - it is just hard to understand. Like falling in love, or giving birth: the experience of it is key.

Daylight savings.  That's another biggie.    In Puerto Rico we do not change our clocks.  The difference between winter and summer sunset when you live that close to the equator is just an hour, so why change the clock?  It is something that I, after all these years, still can't get used to.  The first few weeks when the sun sets late really throws me off.  You can imagine how the 11 pm sunset of Germany made me feel.  Unnatural.

Getting to know people, not just traveling is also key.  When you live in Puerto Rico, you know what?  Most of th epeople you encounter are Puerto Ricans!  Just like when you live in the rural south most of the people you encounter are southerners.  Living in a college town, or in a city, forces you in a  way to interact with people from places you never thought you would.  It;s brings you the benefit of traveling without a passport.  I don't ever want to see my daughter look at someone froma different race/culture/country like they were from outer space.  Fortunately, Michael and I are blessed with multicultural friends.

Anyway, all of this has made me reflect on how I came to be who I am, and how I have been able to adapt to living in a culture so different than my own.  Traveling, reading, moving around... I think that's what did it.  I look at my mother, and look and my daughter and think about all that I need to teach her and expose her to.  My little Southern Rican Goddez must be at home in two cultures, and comfortable in any other - if I have anything to say about it!


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