Orgullosa: How I Learned to Love My Heritage

05/22/2016 08:02 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017
Puerto Rican flag in Old San Juan
Puerto Rican flag in Old San Juan

When I was a young girl I spent every Sunday at my grandfather's house. While dinner was the precursor that brought us together, it was not the principal reason everyone gathered at his Brooklyn apartment. The time spent together was critical to nurturing our family bond. Human nature naturally causes families to stick together. You tend to be loyal to those who share your last name, your bloodline, or even just your shared experiences.

Family has shaped most of who I am. Being part of a large Puerto Rican family instilled in me a strong and powerful sense of orgullo. It is a fusion of the love I have for our culture, our food, and our music. It's the reason my eyes tear up every time I hear Preciosa or Que Bonita Bandera.

Cultura for me has always been rooted in family traditions and customs like the sleepless nights spent at my abuelo's house watching the adults make pasteles for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. It was watching my aunts become glued to the television whenever Walter Mercado came on and revealed to them their fate through their horoscopes.

Orgullo was me proudly wearing the brown leather chancletas with Puerto Rico inscribed on them in bright golden letters. It was being able to brag to my friends that I'd spent my summer vacation on the island even though I could barely communicate with my Spanish speaking tía. And familia didn't necessarily always mean someone in your bloodline, but instead could be found in that one friend who you proudly claimed as your cousin even though there was no ancestral relation.

For a long time when someone asked me "What do Puerto Ricans have to be proud of?" I could never give a well thought out and educated answer. I equated pride with the love I received from my family, the adoration I felt for the island that birthed my ancestors, and the joy I felt whenever I saw our flag; a flag that for years was outlawed. As I got older, I realized those were reasons enough to be proud. I no longer feel it's necessary to justify my pride.

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While the island is now suffering the greatest financial crisis in its history, we must remember Puerto Ricans come from a long line of hardworking individuals. Many who have made indelible contributions to the world, be it on the island or here in the States. There's a long list of Boricuas who have contributed to politics, science, medicine, music, and the arts. We have produced poets (Julia de Burgos), astronauts (Joseph Michael Acaba), scientists (Olga D. Gonzalez-Sanabria), inventors (Ángel Rivero Méndez invented Kola Champagne soda),athletes (Roberto Clemente), actresses (Rita Moreno), musicians (Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Tito Puente) even Supreme Court justices (Sonia Sotomayor). We are credited with inventing the hamaca and cooking grill which were first invented and used in Puerto Rico by the Taino Indians. Our contributions are everywhere.

My father recently said to me,

Just remember that when it comes to our history and culture it was handed down to us. We are just caretakers for the next generation.

He is correct; history and orgullo are passed on. It is our responsibility to honor and preserve our history while also adding to it, so that we leave our children a legacy they can be proud of.

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My family showed me by their example to be orgullosa of my Puerto Rican heritage while simultaneously teaching me to love everything this country of ours has to offer. They have taught me that pride is instilled. It is what you carry with you every day of your life.