After the hurricane, my father stares at the news channel, glued to his chair. He’s been like that for the past couple days, watching, waiting for updates. But there’s nothing. Puerto Rico is unresponsive. No one in my family has heard from my grandparents since before Hurricane Maria, and usually they would have sent a text, but so far the lines have been dead. I tell him that it’s because of the awful power grid on the island but he ignores me. I see a photo of a satellite night picture of southern United States and the Caribbean one day as I scroll through my social media feed. I don’t show him. He’s quieter than usual those days. Work, news, phone calls, sleep, repeat. Until one day I hear my mother tell me Your father heading to Puerto Rico. No one is surprised.
My father would call me from the mountains and tell his tales of the damage and the hours and hours of tree clearing, the line would go dead, and then a few minutes later, my phone would ring again. It’s an odd few weeks without him; the TV stays off, there’s no snoring from the bedroom, and no one’s peering over my shoulder, looking at my math homework like it’s written in French. But a few weeks later, my father does return. He’s spent hours on end in the sun, unshaven, sunburnt, and worn out. It’s the first time I’ve had a real conversation with him since he left. He tells me stories about only seeing bareback trees, and all he and his brothers would do was clear the broken ones. They would take chainsaws and lug branches up and down the hills of my grandfather’s backyard. He even excitedly tells me how using the generator, they were able to watch TV, because my grandparents satellite wasn’t destroyed in the storm. But he shows me photos of the destruction, of houses that were once covered in lively green plants and oceans that were once deemed “beautiful.” I look, and I see him deflated because there’s still thousands out of reach, thousands without generators, and thousands going hungry. My father and I both wonder, what happened?
When I was in 4th grade my family went to New York City to visit some of his cousins. It was the first weekend in June, which meant my father made us hit the streets of Manhattan for the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Down Fifth Avenue, two million people were all decked out in Puerto Rican shirts necklaces, hats, pants, sandals and more. Puerto Rican flags waved around while everyone cheered Yo soy Boricua pa’que tu lo sepas. I was in awe that there were so many Puerto Ricans congregated in one place. Meanwhile, my father was yelling along, waving a flag a neighbor gave him while dancing to a salsa song that was playing from a float on the main road. He looked proud; proud to be a part of a nation filled with culture of influence.
My father is a classic Puerto Rican. Walk into my house, and that would be clear as Flamenco Beach in Culebra. Pictures of old Puerto Rican farms decorate the walls, and an occasional flag sticks out. My father placed them there when we first moved in. He was born in Puerto Rico but moved to Boston as a kid, getting a taste of two cultures. From Puerto Rican to black influence and culture, my father would then pass down his two worlds to me. He always told me that if he knew the world was going to end, he would go to the beach in Puerto Rico, and flip hamburgers on his grill while a tsunami loomed over him. At heart, he’s an island boy.
When I was younger, I would ask my father what made Puerto Rico so special. He would widen his eyes, and stare at the window for a bit, then stare at me and sit down. It was lecture time.
Adalia, how many people live in Puerto Rico
“Dunno, maybe like 3 million?”
How big is that island
“Google says it’s smaller than Rhode Island”
Now name as many famous people from Rhode Island as you can
“Papi, I have zero clue.”
List out how many famous people you know from PR
I sat and thought: Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Roberto Clemente, Ricky Martin, Miguel Cotto; the list was endless.
Do you see what I’m talking about? We’re everywhere in this country, and we ain’t leaving anytime soon.
The summer of 2016 is a special one. This is the time of the Olympics in Rio De Janeiro where Puerto Rico got their first gold metal. At the beginning, no one can see it coming. Ranked at 34th in the world, we all assumed Puerto Rico’s women’s tennis player Monica Puig would loose early, including my father. But she doesn’t. Puig keeps on winning. Pretty soon, social media begins to get wind of this 22 year old kid from Puerto Rico beating Grand Slam champions like Petra Kvitova and Garbiñe Muguruza. All of a sudden, she’s in the finals, competing for gold against the number two seed, German Angelique Kerber. I’m in Texas at the time, unaware of what is actually going on. One day, probably right after Puig advances to the finals, my father calls me, ecstatic. His cousins in Puerto Rico tell him that everywhere they go, that’s all they hear. Win or lose, they couldn’t be more proud. Except they can, and are because Puig gets gold. Even my brother, who doesn’t post anything of Puerto Rico screams on Snapchat as Puig is on the floor, crying. My father is also crying. It’s been 68 years since Puerto Rico has gotten a gold; it’s the first time a woman’s won a medal there as well. In the end, Puig stands with her medtal, and Puerto Rico’s national anthem is in the background. My father stands with the millions of Puerto Ricans around the country and on the islands, clapping and shouting for joy; showing people who this island really is.
His loves his country, and won’t let anyone forget that, including his children. He holds salsa mixtapes in the glove box of his car and when I was growing up, and as soon as I would buckle myself in, I would begin to hear the stums of the Spanish guitar as Marc Anthony’s Preciosa would echo out the speaker. Only in the mornings on the way would my brother and I listen to English music, but once afternoon and weekends hit, we knew it was all over. Those songs remind him of his time in Puerto Rico; those songs he would get up and dance with his cousins during family get togethers. I asked him later where he how he got ahold of those mixtapes, and he stared at the wall, trying to remember if it was him or his friend who did that, back in the day when CD burning was actually a thing.
My father does love music, but he always will grunt in annoyance and smack the radio dial to another station every time he heard a song that was “new school”. Any recent music that I would hear from friends or school he’d listen to with his stank face because they’re speaking straight trash. Eventually, my father would put up with my brother’s and my music; we’d roll down the windows blasting T-Pain or Drake while he hummed another tune in his head. But he would only do this for rap and R&B because he grew up with those things as well. After living in Puerto Rico when he was a toddler, his family moved to Boston, where rap and hip hop was emerging as the “big thing” in America. Like the rest of the kids down his street, they fell in love with the rhythm and groove it created, and my father became the boombox man. He would saunter down busy roads with his afro bouncing up and down to whatever song blasted out of the boombox perched up on his shoulder. This music would follow him until the turn of the century when I was born.
Besides all those salsa mixtapes he would play in the car, my father would lecture me on what today would be called “throwback music.” I would sit and complain about how the songs were too slow, and One Direction was so much better than Lauryn Hill, while he stared at the One Direction CD in my hand, wanting to throw it out the window. Sometimes, he even sat me in front of my computer and would show me the same music video, Someone to Love Me by Mary J. Blige. That song wasn’t even a throwback, but my father claimed that it shows the “Queen of R&B” in action. We sat and argued who was the best because I knew it was Beyoncé, and he sat there with his head and his hands saying that Beyoncé didn’t write all her songs and I shot back by saying Mary J was irrelevant. But years after the last time he showed me that video and I forgot the name of it, I still remembered Mary J standing on a broken bridge wearing all white, singing along to the chorus.
In the summer, my father hangs up his speaker on a nail he stuck in the side of my house years ago. He drags me out, telling me to pick up little twigs for his grill while he begins to shred newspapers next to the coal. He places each piece of paper delicately in the grill because we don’t use no fake stuff to start this fire, as he scans the backyard for larger wood pieces for his other fire pit. My father will be carefully tending to two flames later, one open pit where our old tree used to be, and his regular grill. Food that would send me to heaven will be marinated and created in these fires, from pastelitos to tortitas to steak to s’mores. He wears his old t-shirt, fumed with the permanent smell of smoke. He probably won’t get a new one until I leave for college, for he believes that as long as there aren’t that many holes, any shirt is usable. There’s a photo of him and me as a baby, and I still see the sweater he wore hanging in his room. In the end, my father will stand overlooking the smoke, satisfied and accomplished at his work.
He’s never been one for words. I’ve become a pro at what he really means at the tone of his hue (a word he’s made up) or how he reacts with facial expressions. He’ll stand at my softball games, arms crossed and a scowl stuck on his face. My friends tell me he looks like he wants to fight someone but I know that’s really just his relaxed face. When he does speak, it’s loud and commanding, attracting attention. During my games, he would yell at me, trying to get me to swing a little faster or keep my eyes on the ball. I ended up putting a quick stop to that because like I said, my father can be a loud man when he wants to be. His meatly hands make thunder; booms echoing through the field. Later, while I eat my dinner he rants about how I should sit the summer season because my knee isn’t fully healed and I stare at him arguing back, you aren’t a doctor Papi. He stares at me and I stare back, too stubborn to change our minds. Every day I walk past him, and he finds another reason why I should watch my knee.
PEDROIA THE DESTROYA, my father shots as Red Soxs second baseman Dustin Pedroia does some cool play as we watch the game from the TV. Baseball is the only thing we aren’t rivals in; every other sport is a shouting match. In the fall, Sunday’s are reserved for the Cowboys; I lay in my bed as claps erupt from my living room followed by my father’s hoot of satisfaction. Nothing will change the fact that in his eyes, the Dallas Cowboys are the best football team to ever be created by the NFL. Also in his eyes, the New England Patriots are the worst team of the NFL; so much that during this Superbowl he rooted for the Philadelphia Eagles, which are the Cowboys arch rivals. Like I said, he hates the Patriots.
Every Monday in elementary school, my father would pick me up from a math course I took. Probably every other week, he would lecture me about dating and crushes. As soon as the words Adalia, don’t be slick, I knew exactly what was coming. Sometimes, I would talk about having a boyfriend for kicks and he would whip his head around exclaiming What can he do? Drive you at 10? I would then proceed to throw my hands up and yell at the top of my lungs, “BUY ME CANDY!” I wonder what my father thought of me, as he banged his head against his seat.
My uncle nicknamed my father “Grouch Man.” He stood, shaving my brother’s head at his barbershop and he glanced at my father. I’m not sure what they were arguing about, but it probably was football. My uncle glanced at him, and then at me. He winked, and began to bob his head to a beat going of inside his brain.
The only time he smiles is when he’s on the couch watching the Cowboys
If they don’t make the playoffs it’s gonna be OUCH mannn
My brother and I busted out laughing; yelling how it was true while my dad sat, muttering hue. At first glance, he seems so serious, no-games-here-kid, and as mentioned before, always seemed mad. This lead to the jokes about him being “Grouch Man” or my brother and I saluting him as he walks past.
My father didn’t quite know what to do with me when I was born. He already had two sons and was the oldest of 5 boys. Dealing with girls was totally out of his comfort zone. My mother chuckles at the story where I laid in his arms after I was born and my father looked at me, clueless of what to do. He was expecting a boy, but of course that all changed when he found out. I was his little girl. He used to have a small book on his desk that was filled with things to say to your daughter. Once, I read that a page about singing and I sat on his bed, shocked that he got it from that book because he would always sing a certain tune that he made up when he saw me. I also got away with a lot. Up until third grade, my father would carry me everywhere, from the car to school, to down my staircase. I got used to it; I was his little princess. But he didn’t know how to sit and watch Dora or Disney Channel with me; he would watch for two minutes before changing the channel to a movie like Coming to America or a sitcom like Sanford and Son. I hated when that happened, but my father would always throw his head back and cackle every time we saw the same scene.
He didn’t know how to play with my Dora toys or listen to the Wiggles CD’s or help me with homework. But in his own, weird way, he taught me to be passionate. My father loves his country. The music, food, culture; he thrives on that. His eyes light up and can spend hours talking about Puerto Rico and everything about it. Since I came out of my mother’s womb, my father has drilled into my head: don’t you forget where you come from. I was born with his stubbornness; the answer no has never quite been in our vocabulary.
We don’t really know how Puerto Rico got to where it is today. No one knows exactly how. But my father will raise his fist in the air as he watches some Facebook video about Puerto Rico telling me, we’ll be back soon as the screen changes to my grandmothers name as she calls him. Soon, before the end of the week, I’ll be waking up from my nap to hear some Latin or old school song playing over the speaker in my house as my dad hums along, making his famous rice and beans with plantains or marinating some meat. My father showed me hope, and how it’ll never disappear for as long as we stand on this planet.