Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Walking in a Goya wonderland

My family in PR has grown over the years to such a size that buying Christmas gifts for everyone is cost-prohibitive. The kids and my grandparents all get gifts, but the rest of the adults go the Secret Santa route.
I was the only one in the family not in PR for the holidays, but I participated anyway. I drew my cousin Melissa, and sent her a nifty Portland hoodie. My aunt Annie's husband, Tony, drew my name (for the second year in a row!), and this is what he and Annie sent:

Gandules, Coco Lopez, coffee, adobo, oh my! The two plastic containers in the middle are full of such treats as dulce de coco and ajonjolí. Also, please note that even before I took the picture Dave and I tore into the turrón.

There's nothing quite like a care package, full of goodies from home. My grandparents used to send me some every few months; aside from groceries, they also contained bags of pilones, which were a childhood treat but I still love, and magazines such as Vea and TV Guía. It was imperative that I be kept up-to date with the goings-on of Z-list Puerto Rican celebrities. I mean, I'm sarcastic about it, but I have a soft spot for that junk. At one point my grandfather gave me a subscription to Vea, and I always wondered what the mailman thought of these weird Spanish-language magazines with the obligatory cover picture of a shouldn't-be-in-a-bikini-but-yet-there-she-is-in-one starlet. Even silly things like that can really help one feel a little more connected to home, a little more like absence doesn't mean that you forget. As much as I know that I won't become disconnected from home, and would never allow myself to, a care package is kind of like a little bit of reassurance in a box.

Monday, December 24, 2007


Pardon me if I change stuff around here periodically. Sometimes it's hard to know whether or not a layout is a good fit until I live with it for a while. So if things change around here, bear with me!

Meri crismas

A couple of weeks ago, Dave and I went to a Christmas tree farm to get a tree:

Dave chopped one down for us:

And we ended up with this:

The trees at this farm were all beautiful and healthy. It was fun to see kids running around, trying to find the perfect tree. It was probably fun to see me getting lost, trying to remember where I saw that one tree that I liked. If anyone gets the chance to go to a farm instead of buying one off the lot, I'd recommend it.

¡Felíz Navidad!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Pork chop? Seriously?

The Philadelphia Phillie's Triple A baseball team, the IronPigs has a mascot -- a "large, furry pig". A contest was held to choose a name for the mascot, and PorkChop won. But there's controversy! It appears that in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, Puerto Ricans were once nicknamed Pork Chop.

I can see why, honestly. Personally, I love me a good chuleta, and I know I'm not the only one. However, there are people who still remember being called this name in the very region that houses this baseball team, and they're bristling.

The examples given by those interviewed in the article show that this happened "decades" ago. It doesn't appear to be a term that's currently in use. I'm all for being mindful of these kinds of things, but this strikes me as an exaggerated response to a name that was clearly not meant to insult Puerto Ricans or anyone else. A pork chop is an actual object that, independently of any sketchy usage in the past, means nothing nowadays but what it has originally meant -- a delicious part of the pig. And it ties into the mascot itself.

I understand that to those who rememebr this, it may bring back bad memories. But the way I see it, immediate condemnation is not always the answer. Sometimes we need to step back and look at the bigger picture. If hardly anyone remembers this usage, if it's a completely normal word that is still in use, and if it was chosen for reasons wholly unrelated to Puerto Ricans, wouldn't it have been better to not dredge this arcane slur back up? Isn't leaving it buried in the past better than giving it new life? At what point do we let go and move on as a community?

Deck the halls with boughs of banana leaves

Thanksgiving just came and went, and now it's officially The Holiday Season.

Preparing for holidays, and looking for ways to incorporate the traditions of your own country with those of your new one, can be interesting. My mom and sister came to visit for Thanksgiving, and while most of the spread was your standard Turkey Day fare (not to say it wasn't absolutely delicious -- I love a traditional Thanksgiving feast), we tried to include a couple of PR touches. My mom made arroz con gandules, and she and I made coquito.

The arroz con gandules was eaten, for the most part. The coquito was given only a cursory tasting. Why is that? If people will drink eggnog, then why not coquito? I know it's not the same as eggnog, but I have to say that a coconut and milk drink sounds better to me than an egg drink. And if it's spiked with rum, even better! I had my coquito and loved every bit, but it's not quite the same when not too many people join you.

Now that I'm starting to think about Christmas and New Year's, I'm looking for ways to bring a bit of PR to Oregon. But there are obstacles. For example, throwing a bucket of water out the front door when the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve isn't as festive if you consider that the cold temperatures will turn the water into ice, and then you've got a potential lawsuit on your hands. Or you could try to start a parranda, but forget about lawsuits: you'd likely have an angry friend yelling obscenities at you for waking them up in the middle of the night and demanding to be let in to party and be fed.

There are also traditions I'm happy to have left behind. To wit, the constant barrage of firecrackers that people like to set off just after Thanksgiving and all throughout the Christmas season. And what about those things that people call cuartos de dinamita? Are those really dynamite? But let's not forget about those who like to shoot their guns into the air at midnight on New Year's Eve. 'Tis the season for post-traumatic stress syndrome!

I'm starting to form new traditions. This year will be the second time that I'll head to a Christmas tree farm with my husband and in-laws to cut down my own Christmas Tree. I have some hand-me-down ornaments that my mom gave me -- I remember when she bought them, and hopefully they'll last me a long time. I love putting them up and remembering past holidays. And while in PR my New Year's Eves were spent with family, over here we've started to spend that night with friends. We get together at someone's house, or close our eyes and hand over a crazy cover charge to go catch some live music and festivities. But in one way or another, I hope to be able to bring the holiday season, PR-style, to Oregon. If I can't throw water out the door, I'll sweep out the bad juju instead. Or hand out grapes for people to eat (twelve each, for good luck on each month of the year). Sure, I'll have to take the time to explain these things to people. But if anything, I've found that my friends enjoy learning about these things, and will happily partake. It won't mean the same thing to them as it does to me, but there's something almost equally satisfying about showing people how things are done where you're from, and having them enjoy it.