Uniquely Mi Vida

Confounded by Culture

A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” -Mahatma Gandhi

I was 7 years old and we had just arrived in the “mainland”from the Island. More specifically, we had arrived at Texas. As I walked out of the airplane it was night already, and I was freezing. The thin jackets from Puerto Rico couldn’t stand up to the cold of south Texas. I tried to stay warm standing close to Mom with her arms wrapped around me. It was November, and I was excited and scared at what was to come. I was soon embraced by my first real coat, and Dr. H.O. Espinoza, whom came to be like my “grandfather.”

recien llegamos a San Antonio 1977
Our Recent arrival to San Antonio (recien llegamos a San Antonio)

We had been in the mainland of the U.S.A. for approximately a week, and we were getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving. At the time my understanding was that we were having a huge meal with other pastors and their families at the Espinoza’s home, where we were staying temporarily until our own house was ready. I came into the dining room area where tables had been setup with all kinds of food. My curiosity of what we were having got the best of me. Asking constantly, “what is that?” I came to the giant bird on the table.My eyes were amazed at its size. My mother came over and I looked up and exclaimed with my unbelievable amazement, “Mami the chickens here are HUGE!” 😆 She looked at me with the eyes of a mother and smiled hugely, “Mamita, that is not a chicken. It is a turkey.” Then she carefully laughed…  🤔 I was confused, and could only say, with a bit of disappointment, “Then what is a turkey?” She tried to explain to me, and then left to obviously go to tell Sister Espinoza what had transpired. Bro. Espinoza heard of my confusion so he pulled me aside and not only showed me pictures of a turkey, but introduced to me the story of the first pilgrims in America.  And here I thought we were simply having a special meal to give thanks to God for all that He had provided. 👼 Little did I know that there was a whole historical story behind it.

Next thing I know, I was learning songs about someone named Rudolf with a red nose and Dashing who throws the snow at who knows who (and why are we singing about someone being so mean? And wouldn’t snow hurt somebody? I heard it was cold like ice?) … and the more I was introduced to the stories of American Christmases I wondered, wow I didn’t know the reindeer were animals that could fly with names even. 😲And they told me unicorns🦄 didn’t exist.. Thank goodness to all those movies that set the record straight for me, and explained all the songs… except about this “Dashing” kid…and this horse that opens something called “slay.” (Shamefully, I didn’t get the story straight until I dared to ask 3 years later🤦‍♀️.)

..And while many celebrated Santa, we celebrated the birth of Christ, which apparently Santa celebrated in a different way here in the USA. Then, while the songs of Christmas faded in the background and people put away their lights and trees, in came the new year and our tree was still up, as it is for all Puerto Ricans. For us, Christmas was not over. We waited patiently for the coming of the “3 Magi Kings” (As some call it “epiphany.”), who delivered gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus. Though the kids at school made fun of the 3 kings and their story, and I felt sorry for them because I got more gifts… not once but TWICE. That’s right, on the eve of Jan.6, good boys and girls in Puerto Rico, gather grass and water for the camels,write a letter to the kings and in the morning we have MORE presents. 🤗

          When Todd and I were engaged, I introduced him to our way of celebrating Christmas. raqui blog pic002We married soon after Christmas day and made a decision to include both cultures. ✨Though the stories of Frosty and the red-nosed reindeer were not on my top 10, not even my top 100, I conceded to allow my kids hear the stories, take a photo with Santa, and open at least 2 presents on Christmas morning and sing the solemn Christmas, English music. In exchange, Todd (and the girls), had to hear “parranda” music, eat pasteles, lechon, flan and more, celebrate 3 Kings Day, and join in the parrandas and trullas, the real way to go “caroling”. (Of course to do that you would have to be among Puerto Ricans and be willing to stay up way past bedtime and eat during the night). In many ways, my daughters got an extended Christmas and different celebrations for almost 2 months. Eating different things for Thanksgiving, opening presents the night before Christmas from each other (like we did growing up), then in the morning from “Santa,” and then on Jan. 6, the ones from the 3 kings. It wasn’t easy combining it (and budgeting for it)… but we did it. We added a 4th aspect to our family traditions, the American “Black Friday” sales… which started with us getting presents for hundreds of other children which eventually led to teaching our girls the importance of giving with joy and love. (I was co-director of a compassionate ministry center and it this was a part of our Christmas assistance program I was God-led to create, called “Gift of Hope” in 2004.) It wound up being a budget friendly way to do all the gifts and a late night (early morning) of fun for all. It was always funny to see the reactions of the Walmart cashier as she wondered why anyone would by ten of the same board game,or have 4 carts loaded with kids toys. It was always a joy to be able to tell them we were wisely using donated money to get as many presents for poor children as we possibly could.

Missing the pasteles but still enjoying a mixture of Puerto Rican food and american. (Roasted pork, rice w/piegon peas, tostones, rolls and greenbreans)

 Yes, Thanksgiving and Christmas are BIG in our house. With the uniqueness of the American traditions, (did I mention learning how to bake pumpkin pies and Christmas cookies?😉) and the uniqueness of the Puerto Rican ones. We have created a colorful mix of cultural celebrations. When others thought that our cultures clashed, we were enjoying the colorful mixture they create. It is a joy to find ways to celebrate, and yet find the biblical perspective of them. We have opted out of some cultural celebrations because they are not compatible with our subculture that we share, Christianity. We see the uniqueness of others and the stories behind them, and based on these we add them in. So no, Peter Cottontail does not come through our home… (I said it when I first heard about it, age 7, and I will say it again, a rabbit should NOT be laying eggs… that is just wrong!), nor do we bother much with Halloween except when the girls were little, and dressed up as princesses to pass out candies and share the love of God.

           It is the mixtures of cultures and their traditions that, when they seem to clash, their combination makes our family culture unique. From the New years and Easters, to the 4th of July celebrations, to quinceañeras (sweet “15” instead of “16), to Thanksgiving, Christmas and more, it is this unique cultural traditions that have made our Home joyous. Figuring out how to celebrate is not that easy, but knowing the story behind the traditions and celebrations certainly helps. It is the story that makes them worthwhile and as unique as the celebration itself. So, for Thanksgiving, we will have our turkey on Thursday with our American family and then have a Puerto Rican dinner, including “lechon asado”(roasted pork), with my side of the family.

         During this holiday season, I encourage you to find those traditions that make your culture unique. You can even add your own family traditions into the mix. Teaching and learning celebrations that others around you have is fun to do as well. You may not celebrate it, but you can learn about it. History is full of traditions and every culture has those that have been around for 100’s of years. Every culture has its unique traditions and celebrations and many are family fun. So next time you hear Puerto Ricans“caroling” at your neighbors doors at 2 A.M., don’t huff and puff and call the police, instead pick up any instrument you have, and join them… believe me, it is fun plus, you get to eat… again. It is so unique!

To celebrate with my people and see how we do “trillos” (parrandas during the nights) click here

Uniquely Mi Vida

I Am Loud

{APRIL 2: So I went to see my doctor today… after weeks (literately weeks maybe even months) of allergies with congestion and loss of voice. While I’m there I figured, I might as well ask for a hearing test.
Me: Oh, can I have a hearing test? I mean,
I know Puerto Ricans are loud and all, and I’m Puerto Rican. Everyone keeps telling me I’m loud even when I don’t hear myself being loud… so I figured: Maybe I need my hearing test.😀
Doctor: {smiles, then laughs…and laughs}
Well, I guess that was that and I came out with a steroid shot and ant
ibiotics…for my sinus infection…. but what about the hearing test??? Not even an appointment…🤨 Well people, I tried… you are just going to have to deal with my Puerto Rican loudness….smiley laughing     …until the doctor stops laughing.} 

I am loud. It seems like everyone in the USA likes to tell me that… and for years, I didn’t realize it. After it was brought to my attention, I didn’t understand it. You see, it’s not just me. If I’m loud, so are over 3 million Puerto Ricans across the world.

I suppose that sometime in college, I realized what some students told me, but then they said the same about another friend of mine from Puerto Rico. I started to realize that this “loudness” was maybe a cultural thing.  It made me wonder: why are we loud? Well, we are emotional and excited, passionate and opinionated (very opinionated… or is that just me?).  It became clearer to me when my soon-to-be-husband came to Puerto Rico and brought his parents down for our wedding.

We all gathered at my grandmother’s house (I mean, when I say “we” I’m talking about almost 2 dozen family members; my family and Todd’s parents, and his brother and his girlfriend.) We gathered to discuss the wedding. My family met Todd and his family. We talked about our daily life, and so on. There were conversations galore, coming from all different directions, and covering a variety of different subjects all at once.  I thought this was normal. It is the way my family always behaves when the get together. We shared laughter, excitement, opinions, and more, all in a small 11 by 15 ft. room. The volume ran high with the emotions. I saw my future in-laws had concerned facial expressions. Then I saw my mother-in-law lean towards Todd, who had come to sit by her. She asked him a question, I saw him smile and respond, and her face relaxed. Later, I asked Todd about it. He told me, “My parents were concerned because they thought there were a lot of arguments going on, and asked if they should step outside.” Todd laughed, “I told her that you all were just communicating. There were no arguments; you were all just happy, emotional, and loud. The more excited or passionate you get the higher your volume was. I explained to her that it was okay…you don’t hide anything from each other not even disagreements.” This is when I realized “is cultural!”

Yes, we Puerto Ricans are loud. We express emotions in our tone of voice. We can share funny stories and laugh, loudly. We can share opinions and debate, loudly, and it doesn’t bother us one bit. We can have multiple conversations around the table and follow other conversations, yes, loudly. We can be brutally honest with each other. We just agree or disagree and life goes on. I truly believe that Puerto Ricans were born debaters. Our weakness? Sometimes our emotions overrule the facts. Yet, we listen to each other. Whether we like what we hear or not, we listen. Many of us may disagree, but will come back with an agreement after thinking about it. In many ways we talk before we think. Some more than others, me being one of them.

Yes, I am loud… I have learned to moderate it after marrying Todd, but boy is it hard! Even after 25 plus years of marriage, it is hard. But I turned him to the “dark” side and he too joins in the conversations. (But he still has the habit of thinking before he talks.) It has opened up a new way of communicating, because now he is able to balance his culture with my culture. He has learned to carry multiple conversations too. My family said once that I have “puertoricanized” him! However, I’m still working on thinking before speak. Frankly, it is difficult because you have to stop and access, and re-word, your thoughts, and I’m thinking, “Who has time for that?” I blame my ADHD! It really doesn’t help. In my mind, sharing my thoughts is more important than thinking it through. It isn’t an issue of pride or rudeness, it is just being part of the conversation. However, I can understand where the problem is seen by others, especially in the culture I live in. I have learned to bite my tongue more often than not, outside my home. It is painful, but necessary. (I have found it is much harder to do at home or with family, after all, home is your safe place. My daughters can attest to it. They were raised by a Puerto Rican mother with ADHD J ).

How then have I learned to mellow down in this culture? Or in areas of my ministry where it is extremely important? Through prayer, discipline and accountability.

girl-praying-hands-eyelashes-41942.jpegPrayer: I have had to humble myself often to ask God to help me control my immediate responses. Sometimes I flat out fail, sometimes I struggle and pause, but sometimes I do well. In order to succeed I have to stop and pray. It is not about a matter of stopping and thinking, per se, but a matter of stopping and praying. I must admit, sometimes it is hard, especially when I feel tired or stressed. It has been amazing how God has taught me to “not respond” when the old me would have. My prayers have been mostly about  speaking the truth in love, at the right time, and that it encourages, or challenges people to seek God more (Ephesians 4:15,25, 29). I must admit that sometimes what I think is not what I’m saying. I think it has to with how my mind translates my thoughts. But, I always pray that God may help me speak properly from my heart when I share my thoughts, and that they are according to His will.

Discipline: This is probably the hardest thing to do: to catching myself. This started later in my life. I realized that prayer was not enough but that I had to purposefully work at it. After 20 years among white Americans and other mixed cultures, it is still difficult to do this. It is easier for me to do this when I’m wearing my Pastor/Leader hat, but it is difficult to do it when I am not in my pastoral role. It is even harder when I’m with Latinos and forget about it when I’m among Puerto Ricans!selfie-portrait-picture-photo.jpg Self discipline is one of those gifts of the Holy Spirit, the more I seek to be more Christlike, the more the Holy Spirit helps me. I know that it will not completely disappear from my character, after all, it is part of my upbeat personality, but it can be mellowed down when God needs to do His work. I have learned that God doesn’t change who we are, He tweaks who we are, making us better and using our uniqueness to do His will.

pexels-photo-567633.jpegAccountability: My husband, and I guess to some degree, my daughters, have been great at this. Frankly, sometimes I wish they wouldn’t, but hey, I need them to. Just don’t tell them that because they will hush me all the time! Every one of us need an accountability partner. This person needs to be a person who we can not only trust, but know that they are in our court. They are there to help us be better and to encourage us to do better. They sometimes remind us when we have failed ( I think my family likes this part way to much). Yes, they need to be able to let me know when I fall short because honestly, my heads is not going to admit to me that! In the same way, the Holy Spirit also helps me in this area. However, allowing God to use a human voice to hold us accountable makes the voice of the Holy Spirit more solid. This is important to me because it keeps me from “hushing” the Holy Spirit and pushing Him down. I think He really enjoys telling me “I told you so,” or is that the voice of my mother I hear in my subconscious?

Yes, I am Loud! When I am happy, I am loud! When I’m excited, I am loud! When I’m sharing the word of God, you bet I am loud! But I am also quiet… when I need to be… and I’m sure my family enjoys that part of me most.

Doesn’t wisdom call out? Doesn’t understanding raise her voice?
At the highest point along the way, she takes her place where the paths meet.
Beside the gate leading into the city, she cries out at the entrance. She says,
“People, I call out to you. I raise my voice to all human beings.  You who are childish, get some good sense. You who are foolish, set your hearts on getting it. Listen! I have things to say that you can depend on. I open my lips to speak what is right.”

Proverbs 8:1-6 (NIRV)