This week I will travel to Puerto Rico to honor my father’s last request. It will be a simple ceremony. I will simply scatter his ashes into the Atlantic Ocean at the most northern point of the island and say my last goodbye.
Because I’ll be travelling there I thought I’d share a simple glimpse into the island itself and if you ever have the opportunity to visit I would highly recommend it.
Folks always ask me where I’m from. Not saying for sure why I get asked that or what leads them to believe that I’m not from the states since the U.S. is a melting pot and should be perceived as such.
People are naturally curious which there is nothing wrong with. It’s nothing to get offended about.
My parents are Puerto Rican which gives me a Puerto Rican heritage and it’s one that I’m also very proud of. In the end, we’re all Americans. But we also have a history.
I always get questions like:
“Do you need a passport to get there?”
“Does anybody there speak English?”
“What’s their currency?”
Oh and my personal non-favorite: “So, you like tacos?”
I try to bite my lip at that last one. Doesn’t always work. In light of questions like these I thought I’d try to clear up some misconceptions about the island.
Puerto Rico is small in size but grand are the people. At 100 miles long and 35 miles wide you can drive the entire island in a few hours. You can stand on the beach and stare at the crystalline waters of the Atlantic and turn around to face the El Yunque National Rain Forest. At night you can hear the call of an indigenous frog known as El Coqui which can only live on this island. So beautiful is the call that in the 80’s a barge left the island in route to Miami to export the frog and bring its music to the states. They all died on arrival.
El Yunque National Rain Forest is the only tropical forest in the United States National Forest System and has a land mass of 28k acres. It’s highest peak (El Toro) is 3,494 feet high. Twenty-three of the 200 species found there cannot be found on any other place on the planet. It rains year-round and has been measured at 240 inches per year.
Puerto Rico was discovered by Columbus and is a commonwealth. The official name of the island is “The free and associated state of Puerto Rico”. It is U.S. property and all Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens under the Treaty of Paris in 1898 which ended the Spanish-American war. While the 3.8 million people that live there do serve in our military, pay taxes (to the state) and Social Security (to the U.S.) and operate under the same constitution that we do, they cannot vote for President. They are represented in Congress though. You don’t need a passport to get there and they use U.S. currency.
Their main exports are medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, sugar, coffee, canned tuna, rum and others with their main trading partner being the United States followed by Ireland and Japan. Tax incentives previously in place for companies operating in Puerto Rico were drastically cut during the 90’s and has hurt the economy there tremendously. The unemployment rate now is 16% with 44% living below the poverty line. Their system to measure the poverty line (RPL) is roughly half of the U.S. Tourism is not as large an economic boon as it should be. It’s a beautiful place to visit.
The official languages there are Spanish and English. The latter is required learning in school. Puerto Rico has a high productivity ratio ranking in the world which attests to a very strong work ethic which I’ve commented on before when I spoke of my dad.
I think the thing that I am most fond of (aside from the natural beauty of the island) are its people. I remember when at my dad’s restaurant folks would come in and would talk to other folks at other tables as if they had known each other for years. Since there is such a mixed heritage in its people (Spain, Indian, European and native Indian also known as the “Taino”) there are no race barriers. Contrary to the perception of some, Puerto Ricans come in all different shades. Some are blond with blue eyes while others are darker with brown eyes so there is little to no distinction between one or the other. Even though I admire that, we’re all fallible and imperfect so it’s not a cause for rally for me.
The food, however, is to die for. My favorite is a dish that my father used to make called mofongo con carne frita. You take semi-fried plantains and smash them along with garlic and pork crackles and serve it with beef cooked with onions and a local spice called sofrito. My sweet wife, knowing my affinity for the cuisine, took it upon herself to learn to make a favorite rice dish of mine called arroz con gandules which translated is rice with pidgeon peas. Don’t tell my mom but my wife actually does a better job at making now and I look forward to this dish every Thanksgiving. In any case, Puerto Rican food is nowhere near as spicy as Mexican food or the like. That’s another common misconception!
If I can peddle enough books I hope to someday buy a home there that I can take my family to and spend some time there and familiarize them with the island as well as the culture there because despite the gorgeous beaches, the breathtaking forest and the amazing cuisine, Puerto Rico’s greatest asset are its people who work hard and value family.
It’s not all about the rum. ;o)
As a side note, Jupiter Chronicles: The Secret of the Great Red Spot has just been made available on Amazon for pre-order. We’ve gotten back some amazing reviews which we’ll include in the book and you can also read on the site book page here.
Leonardo Ramirez is an author of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Please visit http://leonardoverse.com and sign up for the blog.
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