Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Reaching Back

My parents, and their parents and grandparents before them, were born and raised in Puerto Rico. They, like thousands of others from the island, came to New York during the Great Migration of the 1950's. I and nearly all my generation were born and raised in New York, either in Brooklyn or the Bronx. Being raised in a country other than that of your cultural heritage has one great are physically disconnected from your cultural roots. All the daily routines, rituals and activities that are integrally tied to your culture are taken out of their natural context and must be adapted to your new surroundings. If you don't make an effort to maintain your culture, you can easily lose yourself in a new set of customs, losing your cultural identity in the process.

As an adult, I have made it a priority to learn as much as I can from my elders so I can pass that information on to my children who, as second generation Latinos born in the US, are even further distanced from their cultural roots. So it was a rare treat when my father recently brought me a coconut. Not only had I not eaten fresh coconut in many years, I had never seen one opened before. For me, a coconut is not just a tropical is something that I associate with the Caribbean, in particular Puerto Rico. I took the opportunity to photograph this cultural lesson for future preservation. My father bored holes into the soft "eyes" on the top of the coconut, afterwards handing it to me with instructions to insert a straw and drink the coconut milk. Mmmmm. Delicious. He took pains to show me the proper way to crack the coco without shattering it. With measured and deliberate strokes, he rapped around the coconut with a hammer until it cracked into two halves, exposing the creamy white flesh inside. I never knew that fresh coconut was so soft and tender. My father told me that the flesh hardens slowly after it has been exposed. My parents and I ate fresh coconut together, as they had done with their parents back in their native country.

Cracking a coconut is not a big deal but it was for me. I was reaching back for a piece of a past life that I did not participate in. I was looking at a page of my unknown history. The experience was priceless.

Ballo ergo sum,
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

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