Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Cultural Exchange Proposal: Galesburg, IL and San Juan, PR

I read a story about a high school graduation in Galesburg, Illinois, where four students were denied their diplomas because there were cheers in the crowd.

That sounds really stupid, I know. When I saw the headline, I thought I'd better go read the story because there had to be more to it than that.

Indeed, as these students came up to the podium, their families cheered for them. Diplomas almost in hand, they were retracted, and the students will in fact not be getting them at all unless the school system can find a way for them to "earn them back".

This is all a result of a graduation ceremony two years ago, where the cheering got so rowdy that some students were unable to hear their names being called, robbing them of their special moment. So the school now makes graduates and their parents sign a behavior agreement to ensure that the ceremony is kept "honorable and dignified".

Aside from how stupefyingly inane it is to punish the students because their families expressed joy at their rite of passage, I couldn't help but think how such a rule would go over in Puerto Rico. An island where the slightest reason for celebration is accompanied by loud music, loud laughter, and a fair amount of cerveza.

When I was making plans to make my first trip back home after leaving to go to college in New York, my mom joked that they'd meet me at the airport with banners and music. At one hint of my agreeing to such a spectacle, I have no doubt they would have done it - not just because they have no shame, but because it's a scene I've seen myself at the always-lovely Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport.

How do Puerto Ricans celebrate honorable and dignified events, such as, say, Christmas? Do we sing dainty carols? No, we swarm en masse on some poor friend's home around, oh, midnight, and sing songs with lyrics like "If you didn't think I'd be showing up, you're really screwed". We also force them to feed us, and keep them awake with loud music for a couple of hours. Do we make mugs of hot cocoa and marshmallows? No, we make a coconut drink and spike it to within an inch of its life with enough rum to stun a horse. A couple of Christmases ago, at my grandparents' house, a karaoke machine made an appearance. The mic was cranked up to 11 - residents up and down the street got to hear us sing every Christmas song we knew, and that we could make up.

During election season, do politicians wear sharp suits and regale us with inspired rhetoric? No, they come out in their rolled-up shirtsleeves and develop armpit stains faster than you can say Mennen, rent a sound system the size of a one-bedroom bungalow, cue up the most danceable jingle they could pay for, and park it in a quiet neighborhood for an hour or so. In fact, you haven't lived until such a monster soundsystem blares David Bisbal bleating Bulería right next to your house.

I think Galesburg and Puerto Rico could learn from each other. Sometimes, yes, dignity and decorum need to be observed so that people can learn to be polite and considerate towards each other. It certainly is not right to shout so loud at a graduation ceremony so that no one else can enjoy it. But being polite and respectful of others doesn't mean that you can't show happiness, that you can't celebrate an important milestone in someone's life. Puritans may have rapped you on the head if you smiled in church, but I think we've all come a long way since then. So Galesburg could teach us to settle down a little bit and remember that other people don't always want to hear you hooting and hollering, and we could teach them that exhuberantly expressing happiness is natural - and makes life a lot more fun.


El Bilo said...

Funny that you bring this subject up.

When we went to Lindsay's graduation last week, her school's principal requested that parents, relatives and friends be considerate of others and not cheer over other student's name announcements.

Her class consisted of about 700 or more students. As the evening slowly progressed, I realized how many hispanics were in her graduating class. And yes, they were the loudest, but still polite.
They even had whistles and air horns to boot.

We were not to be outdone by all the other hispanics relatives that night.

When Lindsay's name was about to be called, my wife, my son, myself and three of her friends yelled at the top of our lungs.

By the looks of us, they would have thought that we were from a place that resembles Galesburg, we were one loudest groups cheering for a loved one, and without any shame.

They must have looked at us thinking, damn!, they sure don't look latino!?

Anonymous said...

Jen, prepárate cuando vengas en septiembre con Dave, te voy a llevar una tumbacoco y muchos cartelones dándoles la bienvenida a la Isla! Te quiero, Annie

Anonymous said...

Genial writing.

Puertoricans celebrate even for the governors'nephew's son's daughter's first tooth!

I do have to admit that we can be roudy at times. It's in our nature to celebrate loudly and proudly for any ocasion but to others this would be considered loud and obnoxious.

Oh well, that's being a PUERTORICAN for ya!