blogs, books, life, San Juan, Puerto Rico

On The Americanized Elite

Preface

I wish that these words that I’m about to write could all be in Spanish. And I could make this wish a reality, but I’m trying to be as organic as possible writing this book so the truth of the matter is that it’s going to be mostly English with bits here and there in Spanish. First thing you should know about me: I was raised in the world of a private prep school student. Born and raised in the metropolitan area of Puerto Rico, I’ve lived most of my life in Guaynabo (a city whose inhabitants are affectionately called guaynabichos/as*). I’m not laying this out here facetiously, although a few points in this book will seem facetious and unnecessary, but to get back to the point, I’ve grown up speaking, reading, and writing in English, so it’s safe to say it’s my first language. And Spanish almost ties with English, but it comes second because even though I feel in Spanish, my thoughts are in English. What all of this babbling comes to is that, in this sense, I’m alienated from my fellow Puerto Ricans whose first language is Spanish. Maybe some can’t read this. I’ve already made this book for English speakers and although it alienates me from one group, I want that English-speaking group to understand how the language they speak is a product of our colonial history and to not be ashamed of it but use it as a tool to communicate. Spanish is also part of our colonial history, but we’ve made it our own. With English, it’s a different story. (Only #% of people in PR speak English—and for some reason it’s an official language*). Those that dominate the language probably studied at American or bilingual schools like I did. 
I was brought up in the Puerto Rican elite, the privileged group of people that can afford to send their children to schools such as Baldwin, Commonwealth, and Saint John’s, to name a few. These are the kids that are told, from day one, that their future is to live in the United States. These are the college preparatory schools where they start drilling the SAT’s into your head since seventh grade. These are, what I like to call—criaderos de mentes americanizadas—breeding places for Americanized minds. Now what’s the deal with Americanization? Why is that a bad thing? Well, not all think it’s a bad thing. The problem with me, personally, was the weight placed on knowledge of the United States, its history, culture, people, vs. the weight placed on the knowledge of Puerto Rico and its history, culture, and people. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I learned a little bit about Puerto Rican history, when I should have been learning it since elementary school. And it wasn’t until college, in a small liberal arts school, that I would understand what colonialism was and how that formed part of my identity as a person and as a Puerto Rican. 
As a literature student, I was never passionately involved in the material I was learning in class. I was never sprurred to tears or brought joy by the texts I had to study. But everything changed when, somehow, the words on the page were no longer symbols floating on paper. The words began to convey something deeper than just plot, characters, and metaphors. I will never forget sitting in a classroom full of American students (very bright young minds), the only Puerto Rican in the class, and thinking to myself: “What the hell am I doing here?” I will never forget reading Memmi* and trying to make sense of everything without bursting into tears because my whole life has been lived without an understanding of who I really am. I’ll go more into detail about that later on in the book but I experienced a moment of enlightenment in the midst of my crippling mental health. After all of my hard work since seventh grade, after all of my sleepless nights, after all of my effort in those SAT’s and college applications, after two years of tireless work in college, I said “fuck it.” I was tired. I was tired of pretending. I was tired of assimilating. I was tired of lying to myself. I was tired of being in a place where I didn’t belong, although it was kind to me and I met incredible people and professors. It just didn’t rock my boat and I was beginning to crumble under schoolwork, pressure, and the incredible aching I felt to be home. This book is about what went down and how, in just a short amount of time, it became important to me to feel like I belonged somewhere; it became important to find my niche in the middle of limbo. I wanted, for once and for all, to resolve my “colonial identity tug-of-war.” It wasn’t enough for me to say, “I’m Puerto Rican.” No. I wanted to live there, I wanted to bathe myself in its history, I wanted to understand when it became normal to want to escape and why so many choose to escape. I call it that because that’s what I did and it took me a while to admit that to myself. I wanted, for the first time in my life, to rid myself of my privilege and elite and find the Puerto Rico that exists outside of the periphery of this elite. This here is about a physical and mental journey, a written account of what it feels like to have a war inside of you.

In the preface to her wonderful book Luz sobre Luz, Luce Lopez-Baralt quotes Valente* to describe her inner turmoil of silencing what could not be silenced. Finally, she had to say what could no longer be left unsaid: [<entre la imposibilidad de decir y la imposibilidad de no decir>.]

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books, writing

BOOK REVIEW: “Wasted”

I read this book around last Spring. After reading a sample of it, I couldn’t resist purchasing it. The story is intriguing from beginning to end. The author’s writing is key to telling the story–the prose is beautiful and captivating. I don’t think I would have been as interested in the book had it not been for Hornbacher’s skill at writing her own story so brilliantly. It is a dark tale, but a necessary one to hear. It informs us of the psyche of an eating disordered person, and how difficult it can be for both the person and those that are close to the person.

Something that I took away from the book: An eating disorder is never cured, you can only learn how to deal with it. The difficult part is coping with it, because it is an everyday thing. For her mental and physical struggle, and for sharing her story, I have to give kudos to Marya Hornbacher. Powerful story. Powerful book.

books, writing

BOOK REVIEW: “The Bitch in the House”

Overall, I thought this was a good read. It mainly focused on the struggle of the working woman and how she balances work/marriage/family. I could relate to some of the struggles of the younger women who contributed essays to the book, but, considering my age (20 yrs.), I could not entirely relate to the women struggling with their marriage or parenting. On the other hand, the book reminded me of my mother’s plight. She is a mother of four and after reading some of the stories, I realized how my own mother fit the bill for the “bitch in the house” when she has to assert her authority, or when she is tired of doing chores or dealing with her husband. I understand how a lot of these women are privileged, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have something to share that we could learn from.

books, writing

BOOK REVIEW: “The Lovely Bones”

I think this is the book that has made me cry the most out of all of the books that I’ve read. It was an emotional journey to read the terrifying and horrific experience of the main character. Despite what some people think about the book, I found that there was character development with Susie. After her death she was angry at her killer, she was angry that she was not able to be with her family and live her life, but she was able to move on in the end. I think there is a change in her mindset that allows her to feel free and finally go to heaven. It’s not a perfect book, but it is both sad and hopeful, a better approach than just writing a sad story without any optimism or hope in its resolution.

books, writing

BOOK REVIEW: “Not That Kind Of Girl”

I was ok with the book until the last chapter–“Guide to Running Away.” There were some parts of the book that were enjoyable, some parts that inspired laughter, and others that were cringe-worthy. I felt that near the end, the the author was at a loss as to what was pertinent to the story. Or maybe she wasn’t, but that’s how I perceived it.

I liked the fact that it wasn’t your typical memoir. For instance, Dunham provided her food diary, which I found humorous, but I understand how some would consider this an unnecessary addition. I also got a kick out of her lists, but I admit, there were parts in her story that I could have done without.

Having said that, I think that being the controversial figure that she is, Dunham did not expect us to praise her book. I think that a lot of things that she says are tongue-in-cheek, and the fact that she does poke fun at herself and the fact that she vacillates between self-deprecation and narcissism, is just a testament to her character. One thing is for sure, I did not get bored reading her book. Was it amazing? No, I’ve found other tales more intriguing. However, there is something to learn in everyone’s story.

books

On Reading Heidegger

After reading excerpts from Heidegger’s Being and Time, I didn’t know whether I loved the book or hated it. At first, I was intrigued by the ideas presented in the book, ideas such as existentialism and hermeneutics (interpreting texts,) but then I thought more seriously about what I had read and realized how some readers might interpret some of Heidegger’s ideas as being objectivist rather than subjectivist because of its description of human beings as vehicles that serve or do not serve a purpose. His writing is not flexible in the sense that it allows readers to speculate, it is more declarative in its nature.

What came into question when reading the book was the discussion of time and the quotidian. I read the book in Spanish, so this section would be Cotidianidad. Heidegger discusses a condition called dasein or “being there,” existing. Sometimes, I wonder how human beings deal with the mundane world and the quotidian—I find it tiring to do the same thing every day! But living in a routine is a must for many of us—it provides organization and structure. Now, for free spirits like me, this can get very tiring, but reading provides a way to explore topics that I find interesting. With the concept of dasein, Heidegger gives us an idea of the essence of being:

{Dasein does not fill up a track or stretch ‘of life’ — one which is somehow present-at-hand — with the phases of its momentary actualities. It stretches itself along in such a way that its own being is constituted in advance as a stretching-along. The ‘between’ which relates to birth and death already lies in the being of Dasein … It is by no means the case that Dasein ‘is’ actual in a point of time, and that, apart from this, it is ‘surrounded’ by the non-actuality of its birth and death. Understood existentially, birth is not … something past in the sense of something no longer present-at-hand; and death is just as far from having the kind of being of something … not yet present-at-hand but coming along … Factical Dasein exists as born; and, as born, it is already dying, in the sense of being-towards-death. As long as Dasein factically exists, both the ‘ends’ and their ‘between’ *are*, and they are in the only way possible on the basis of Dasein’s being as *care* … As care, Dasein is the ‘between’.”}
― Martin HeideggerBeing and Time (quote found on goodreads.com)

Reading this, I still find it quite difficult to understand but the conclusion that I came to was about being present in moments of “boredom.” My concern was the following: how to rid myself of boredom when things get absolutely boring. But Heidegger makes a couple of things clear: just exist and be who you are. If we, in essence, exist in a state of “being-towards-death” and we are in the “between” than in every moment that we exist we should remember not to feel anxious or despair. We are beings in the middle of this time and this space and we just exist—we are beings in time—going with the flow.

I would love to read interpretations of Heidegger’s quote (above.)

books, mindfulness

Reading Pema Chödrön

Highlights from Chapter 1 of her book, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change

Chapter 1–The Fundamental Ambiguity of Being Human

1.Of the Three Commitments discussed in the book, the first is the Pratimoksha Vow. This vow highlights the importance of being good to people by not causing harm to others. Not even in thoughts.

2.Understanding the fundamental ambiguity of being human is being aware and accepting one of the laws of the universe: everything changes—

3.And: “When we resist change, it’s called suffering.”

4.What happens when we let go of our self-destructive habit of resisting change? We experience freedom and freedom—as Chödrön simply puts in her book—is nothing more and nothing less than accepting change. Accepting that everything changes.

5.But how do we begin to accept change? And accept it on a daily basis? Chödrön says that we tend to hold on to things rather than letting them go by truly experiencing them in the moment. Experiencing them in the moment means not repressing bad feelings, but being truly aware of them. Holding on to our feelings is called ego-clinging and a way to deal with it is by identifying our attachment or our shenpa. “Shenpa has a visceral quality associated with grasping or, conversely, pushing away. This is the feeling of I like, I want, I need and I don’t like, I don’t want, I don’t need, I want it to go away.”

6.If ego-clinging is one of the causes of our suffering, then how do we deal with it? Besides understanding that we must accept change and renounce to the practice of holding on to things. Well, we let go by being fully mindful of both the good and the bad feelings. A good practice is thought labeling. Once we identify shenpa, we can welcome all of the feelings that we experience, but rather than cling on to them for hours, days, or even longer than that, we hold them for a couple of minutes.

7.For instance, I’m angry that somebody cut in line at the supermarket but rather than stay angry until I get home, I will embrace it for a minute or two, perhaps take a few deep breaths, and then let it go. Because, after all, these feelings are transient Feelings of sadness, anger, joy, etc. are all transient and when we identify these we begin to accept one of the most important lessons of the book:

8.Our identity is fluid—not fixed. As Chödrön beautifully highlights: “Rather than living a life of resistance and trying to disprove our basic situation of impermanence and change, we could contact the fundamental ambiguity and welcome it,” and “The way to weaken the habit of clinging to fixed ideas and contact the fluidity of thoughts and emotions is to shift your focus to a wider perspective.”

9.This means not only labeling out thoughts but experiencing them in time and space. Chödrön advises to let them arise, dwell, and return to space. When we practice this instead of “rehashing” the same feelings over and over again we strengthen our practice of dealing with negative emotions.As for the positive emotions, though fleeting as they may be, we shouldn’t pressure ourselves in dismissing. At least, that is my advice. For me, thought-labeling is useful in dealing with distressing emotions and avoiding obsessing over them. But if you’re happy, who’s to say you should immediately let go of it. Enjoy it!

10.As for the positive emotions, though fleeting as they may be, we shouldn’t pressure ourselves in dismissing. At least, that is my advice. For me, thought-labeling is useful in dealing with distressing emotions and avoiding obsessing over them. But if you’re happy, who’s to say you should immediately let go of it. Enjoy it!

 

Nevertheless, the practice is to be fully aware of thoughts and emotions as we become more mindful of them.

 

 

 

books

Twenty Books to Read in Spanish

  1. Rayuela by Julio Cortázar (Hopscotch): a novel taking on stream-of-consciousness and an unorthodox structure; the reader must “hopscotch” through the chapters. Excited to read this one—I’ve heard good things.
  1. Cuentos de la selva by Horacio Quiroga (Jungle Tales): published as a children’s book, it features eight short stories that merge fantasy and nature. Quiroga’s darker-themed stories, more appropriate for older readers, can be read in Cuentos de amor de locura y de muerte (Love stories of madness and death.)
  1. El obsceno pájaro de la noche by José Donoso (The Obscene Bird of the Night): magical realism is exalted in this novel as the main character Humberto experiences a deconstruction of the self. This sounds like a trippy and mind-boggling novel, for those that enjoy that kind of reading experience.
  1. La tregua by Mario Benedetti (The truce): If you’ve read poems by Benedetti, you’ve read truly beautiful poetry (look up “Bodas de Perlas,” “Wedding Pearls”) Diary entries written by the main character form the structure of the novel. The narrative centers on a love story, but it is not ideal love that is depicted.
  1. Papeles de Pandora by Rosario Ferré (Pandora Papers): collection of short stories that dwell on the role of women in a patriarchal culture; some of the stories mimic archetypes in fairy tales—look up “La bella durmiente,” “The Sleeping Beauty”—this one is sure to surprise!
  1. Crónica de una muerte anunciada by Gabriel García Márquez (Chronicle of a Death Foretold): a novel using a narrative structure similar to that of a detective novel; the story was inspired by an event that took place during the author’s youth. I think this would be an interesting read for those that enjoy the style of Jorge Luis Borges’ short stories.
  1. Yo-Yo Boing! by Giannina Braschi (Spanglish novel): the book mixes Spanish and English in its narrative and a collage of literary genres is used to tell the story of artists living in New York City during the 1990’s.
  1. Luz sobre Luz by Luce López-Baralt (Light upon Light): Currently reading this gem of a book; the collection of short poems elaborate on divine love and the metaphysical concept of oneness.
  1. El túnel by Ernesto Sábato (The tunnel): the novel’s main theme is an existential one—the main character’s journey is to understand the motivation behind a crime. Here’s the kicker: the story starts with the main character’s confession.
  1. Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges (Collected Fictions): book of short stories featuring some notable ones such as “Las ruinas circulares” (“The Circular Ruins”) and “La muerte y la brújula” (“Death and the Compass.”) If you enjoy reading detective novels or putting together a puzzle, Borges’ detective stories are both captivating and challenging for the reader.
  1. Eva Luna by Isabel Allende: the novel recounts the story of an orphan girl growing up in South America during a period of political turmoil. Magical realism is explored in Eva’s gift for creating enchanting stories in the midst of an oppressive time and place in history for women in Latin America.
  1. Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada by Pablo Neruda (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair): a classic in Latin American poetry, most of the poems explore love and nature. Look up poem #15 and poem #20 (this would be a good time to break out the tissue box.)
  1. El alquimista by Paulo Coehlo (The Alchemist): This one is renowned for being a highly inspirational book; the truth is that it is an enlightening read: “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
  1. La tía Julia y el escribidor by Mario Vargas Llosa (Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter): this semi-autobiographical novel tells the story of Mario, a teenager who falls in love with his aunt. Moral dilemmas are moral dilemmas indeed: this isn’t just an age-gap romance, but an age-gap romance with family drama.
  1. Romancero gitano by Federico García Lorca (Gypsy Ballads): book of poems that explores themes such as love and death; notable ones are “Romance Sonámbulo” (“Sleepwalking Romance”) and “Romance de la luna” (“Romance of the moon.”)
  1. El Aleph by Jorge Luis Borges (The Aleph): this book includes seventeen stories that explore the meaning of life in concepts such as infinity, immortality, and reality. I think Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” was inspired by Borges’ work, particularly this book.
  1. El Principito by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (The Little Prince): this classic book in children’s literature is not solely for children; any reader can learn something fascinating from the adventures of the narrator, who ventures from planet to planet, learning something new in each of his encounters.
  1. Cien años de soledad by Gabriel García Márquez (Hundred Years of Solitude): this book is considered on of the best in Latin American literature: it tells the story of the Buendía family in Macondo (this fictional town—this fictional world—will the leave the reader in a tangle of uncertainty about time and place in the traditional sense.) This is not your typical novel, but it is definitely a must-read.
  1. Open spot for a recommendation. I’m up for anything!
  1. Bestiario by Julio Cortázar (Bestiary): As is expected with Cortázar, this collection of short stories might leave the reader utterly confused for days. A notable one was “Carta a una señorita en París” (“Letter to a young lady in Paris.”) The task at hand is to figure out why the narrator pukes bunnies. Anyone want to give it a go?