Humor as a tool for revolution and coping mechanism for the current Puerto Rican situation  

Puerto Rico no se deja - Natalia Benitez

Photo credit: Natalia Bénitez

My friend said that if memes could be properly monetized, Puerto Ricans right now would be making bank. In the midst of a political crisis and arguably the start of a revolution for change, Puerto Ricans have shown no fear manifesting their beliefs with creativity, both physically and virtually. From divers underwater showing their protest signs to yogis leading a peaceful yoga class in front of the governor’s mansion – our creativity knows no bounds. If you are Puerto Rican, I bet you are receiving a constant flow of memes from family members, friends, and even coworkers. You have to admit they are good! 

How can a country that is undergoing what has been said to be a historical manifestation have the strength to continue to fight, while also entertaining millions with constant hysterical remarks?

The two coexist as part of a conscious or unconscious strategy, as one of the obstacles that important education and political messages often face is the ability to reach those who need to know said message. From a basic communication standpoint, humor is easy to share, it even strengthens interpersonal relationships. I have seen memes circulating social media that have encouraged me to do my own research to further understand the jokes and/or claims being made. In a culture where we are so overwhelmed by information and opinions from every device imaginable, researching has become key. I have had conversations with my grandma in which it is evident that solely relying on one TV station for your news is never going to be enough again. It is simply impossible to properly capture an entire movement when it is happening virtually and physically, EVERYWHERE.

Puerto Ricans are loud and proud, and it is in our nature to find humor in all situations, for some, in too many situations. You can blame the tropical climate for our “warmth” but perhaps, it is more accurate to look at years and years of situations (political or not) that are so beyond ridiculous that all you can do is laugh. People often say “hay que reír para no llorar” (essentially, you have to laugh to keep yourself from crying) and although that shows our resilience and spirit, it uncovers another big issue that Puerto Ricans are facing: a vulnerable mental health state.

After Hurricane Maria, the suicide rates reportedly went up in the island. The entire nation lived day after day full of worries, desperation, and angst. Those in the island were too busy surviving to have the time to call out shady government actions or even worse, lack of action. Those in the diaspora essentially dropped everything they were doing to desperately try to find feasible and effective ways to help, overwhelmed by the inability to connect with family members on the island. I am no medical professional, but I think it is safe to say that the island has gone through trauma. By definition, a coping mechanism is an adaptation to environmental stress that is based on conscious or unconscious choice and that enhances control over behavior or gives psychological comfort.

Interestingly enough, you could argue that this “humor as a coping mechanism” strategy was the governor’s own downfall. He claims the expressions said on the controversial leaked Telegram chat (charged with sexist and homophobic remarks) was his way of “releasing tension” from the pressure of his job. So while humor is a powerful tool for awareness and joy, it can also be poisonous and dangerous. Nonetheless, it is undeniable that the majority of the humor utilized lately in public conversations has been positively fueling the right for people to manifest themselves and hold the government accountable. It has also been key in the spreading of information and unification of a country that had been divided for far too long. Now, nothing will ever be perfect and while I can assure you there will be future memes mocking the fighting spirit of Puerto Ricans these days, it is important to remember what fueled the humor from the beginning: indignation and the overwhelming feeling that Puerto Rico has had ENOUGH.

5 Places I am Thankful for

I love this time of year. There are so many reasons to celebrate, be with family and EAT. In spite of everything people have to say about Thanksgiving and how we are superficial for celebrating one day and then shopping our lives away the rest of the season, I still love this day.

This year, I decided to  count my blessings in the form of places, thankful for everything these places represent and what they have offered me.

IMG_13055. Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

The oldest settlement in Puerto Rico, this old town is full of wonders. You can’t get bored in Old San Juan. You can find all types of food, from food trucks to fancy latin fusion cuisine. You can also find all sorts of drinks, from Puerto Rican “moonshine” or “chichaito” to a classic passion fruit sangría. I am thankful for all the fun times Old San Juan has given me, from late night with friends to fun days with family, it all happens here.

 4. Strasbourg, France

Yes, I love Paris and all of its enchantment. Still, I am completely biased to Strasbourg. This city in the region of Alsace, just minutes away from Germany, is very underrated. The unique fusion you find here is quite incomparable. L’Alsace for dummies? Like if France and Germany had a baby, but of course, there is so much more to it. I am thankful for Strasbourg’s culture and history, this city opened my eyes to so many things and I will always be thankful for that. Thanks to Strasbourg and my wonderful host family, I also discovered my true love for food.

 3. Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is always on my list. It is a special city I am always waiting to return to. Have only been there for a few days, but I fell in love with it. I’m thankful for this city’s vibrant colors, inspiring architecture and delicious food.

 2. New York, New York

Ah, where to begin with this little gem? I have a love/hate relationship with this city. It is easy to forget it’s electric magic when you are deep in the trenches questioning your life choices, but this place makes you better and stronger by just being there. I am thankful for everything this city inspires me to be and for all the food from the world I have at my reach. New York, you make me stronger and wiser with each passing day.

20131226-170718.jpg1. Puerto Rico

You think I would limit Puerto Rico to just Old San Juan? Wrong. Puerto Rico is my favorite place in the world. I doubt any of the places in my bucket list could ever change that. I am thankful for Puerto Rico’s people, we are not perfect, but we are pretty awesome. I am thankful for the incredible ecological diversity you can find in this little island. I’m thankful for all the amazing food you can taste here, from my mother’s cooking to the many restaurants that offer hundreds of plantain plate varieties. I am thankful for Puerto Rico because it is an intrical part of who I am.

What places are you thankful for? Would love to hear your stories!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Porque yo escribo en inglés…

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Nunca he escrito en español en este blog. Es más, dado a algunos cambios en mi trabajo, no recuerdo la última vez que escribí algo completamente en español más largo que un simple “post”.

Es interesante ver como poco a poco las cosas van cambiando tan lentamente que no te das cuenta hasta que te detienes a mirar atrás. Me gustaría decir que hablo español todos los días y me parece que todavía es así. A pesar de tener un novio gringo (no se preocupen, se lo digo de cariño), vivir en los Estados Unidos y trabajar en una oficina donde casi ni el 1% habla español, todavía encuentro la manera de ejercitar mi lengua materna que llevo en la sangre.

Siempre me ha gustado escribir, en español y en inglés, dependiendo del tiempo o la inspiración. Pero cuando comencé este blog elegí el inglés porque hay mucha gente especial en mi vida que no podría entender mis escritos en español y pues la verdad del caso es que con el inglés llego a más gente. Con esa excusa, por más cierta que sea, he ido poco a poco elevando el inglés más allá del español. Es un poco triste y a veces me da vergüenza, pero ha sido un poco necesario.

Por ejemplo, he pensado hacer una mini serie de escritos en español como dos veces al mes para resaltar lo bueno de Puerto Rico. Parte de lo que me apasiona sobre esa opción es compartir lo bueno que tenemos con personas que no conocen mucho a Puerto Rico. ¿Qué pasa? Ninguna de las personas a mi alrededor me va a entender.

Así termino yo escribiendo en inglés, pensando como rayos explicar lo que es un mofongo o buscando la palabra ideal para traducir patria. Termino envuelta en un “spanglish” que suena ridículo porque poco a poco se me hace más difícil encontrar palabritas en español y es mucho más rápido decirlas en inglés, porque el puertorriqueño siempre me va a entender si hablo español con palabras en inglés, pero el americano no me va a comprender cuando en medio de una oración me tiro la palabra colcha (ha pasado).

Mi inglés se ha vuelto mucho más profesional por necesidad, de eso depende mi cheque y oye, no lo resiento. Me siento orgullosa de poder decir que mi inglés es mejor que el de muchas personas que solamente hablan inglés (por más triste que suene y por más imperfecto que sea mi propio inglés). Cuando se trata del español, por más que lo tenga en la sangre, es como hacer ejercicios. Hacer el aguaje con varias conversaciones por teléfono no es suficiente. Hay que mantenerlo vivo con ganas.

Por eso es que al fin y al cabo, terminé escribiendo este post. Aunque solo me entiendan ustedes, también lo hago por mí. Porque no solo pienso en la medalla de español que me gané en mi graduación cogiendo polvo ahí en mi closet en Puerto Rico, pero también pienso en todos mis compatriotas que también andan por aquí lejitos conmigo. Pónganse a ver películas en español o a leer noticias en español de vez en cuando pa’ ejercitarse. Ya saben, no hay cosa que más moleste que un “status” de Facebook mal escrito y sin ningún tipo de aportación a esta sociedad que tanto necesita.

*Photo by Cristina Nogueras ©

Un Poquito de Sazón

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Puerto Rican food is amazing.

I grew up eating rice and beans with almost every single meal. All my meals were full of flavor and color (although I probably did not add green into the mix until I was older). I grew up expecting some sort of plantain as a side and wondered how people could ever eat anything else. Nothing said comfort like the smell of delicious food coming from my kitchen, whether it was my mom’s doing, my grandma’s creation, or a whole family effort for a special occasion.

I love all sorts of food, serve me a plate of pasta and I’m sold. Put a sushi boat in front of me and watch it sink into my belly. Living in New York City, you get spoiled with food. You are able to tour the whole world, one plate at a time and that, my friends, is the dream.

Still, Puerto Rican food is at my core. It’s the bite that makes me feel at home even when I’m a thousand miles away, that’s where the inspiration for this piece came from. I have a brand new kitchen (which I’m loving, by the way) and I wanted to bring in a little bit of home into the mix. I looked at some cool prints from Etsy but then I realized I could easily do this myself. So I bought a frame, made a list, printed it out and done.

Here’s a little bit of background into what each of these mean…

Sofrito – This is the essence behind pretty much every single Puerto Rican plate. I’ve always thought about sofrito as that weird green paste that my grandma made. Mix some garlic, peppers, onnions and God knows what else and you get sofrito!

Adobo – People make fun of Puerto Ricans because apparently we use a lot of adobo (as seen on this Vine, which I actually love). But hey, adobo is awesome so no shame there. This special seasoning is used on anything from chicken to scrambled eggs. It’s better than your average salt and pepper, but that’s just my humble opinion.

Mamposteao – If rice and beans is not a wonder on its own, this takes it to the next level. Take your average rice and beans, mix it with your choice of anything from onions to sweet plantains, do some magic and you’ve got yourself a nice mix.

Pegao – Pegao is that crunchy, almost burned rice that’s stuck to the bottom of the pan when you’re making rice. Not exactly what the dentist ordered, but oh my, it’s good. Some people may see it as a mistake to burn the rice, but in my house people actually fight for that special bottom.

Sazón – What helps make yellow rice yellow? Sazón. This special seasoning brings a lot of flavor to the plate. It’s also used for non-food references when you want to state that something needs that extra little something, or sazón.

Bacalaito – Bacalaitos are hard to describe, my first attempt sounded too gross, but trust me, they are awesome. Thanks to Wikipedia, I can now better describe them as salt cod pancake like fritters. Think less pancake and more fried, way more fried. Still a little gross, but give it a try.

Pastelón – Imagine a lasagna but instead of pasta, you use sweet plantains and then you add all that ground beef in between (no salsa). This is, of course, served with rice and beans. Again, not so sexy when I write it, but so delicious.

So, one thing is clear. I’m definitely not fit for writing a Puerto Rican cuisine dictionary but I can attempt to make words look pretty in a piece of paper. To strangers, it looks exotic and that’s cool, right? To me, it looks like home and that’s all I need.

[Old San Juan] Castillo San Felipe del Morro

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I was listening to Ricky Martin’s new album on Spotify today (you know, as you do on your average Wednesday) and although I wasn’t quite blown away by the album, a special track really hit the spot. “Isla Bella” (which you can listen to here) is a song for all of those Puerto Ricans (like me) who are currently living away from the island but miss it sorely and attribute who they are to their roots.

I love New York, I do, but when you are from a place like Puerto Rico, it’s really hard to compare. There’s a reason why we love to brag about it, it’s really paradise and I am beyond proud to call Puerto Rico by true home.

Anyways, let’s not get too nostalgic over here, I shall be back soon enough.

Why not take this chance to share some more pictures from my last trip to Old San Juan? Go ahead, you say? Thank you.

All these pictures are from el Castillo San Felipe del Morro in Old San Juan, more commonly know as just “El Morro”.

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Joyuda, Puerto Rico – Take One

 

It’s always sad when one exciting trip ends, but there’s always the comfort of coming home to a bunch of photos. This was my first trip with my DSLR camera, which obviously means I took more photos that I now can handle. I must admit I am obsessed and can’t get enough (something I have no problem with).

Here are a few to begin with from my days at Joyuda, Puerto Rico

IMG_1512Joyuda is one of my favorite areas in Puerto Rico, located in the South West, you can get amazing seafood (which I had) and pass out by the beach with a food coma (which I did). In my humble opinion, this area has some of the nicest beaches in Puerto Rico, but I know that can be highly debated.

IMG_1640I love the fact that you can find a handful of seafront restaurants in Joyuda, allowing you to have your fish by the sea (you can think that’s awesome or tragic, your pick). I also love this random picture that I took of my boyfriend, he might seem serene but I can tell he is a little freaked out by the huge fish swimming right below (they were like 4 feet long!).

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For better or for worse, I am a steak person, but seafood here is so good that I can totally make an exception. You can find seafood empanadillas, seafood mofongo … seafood EVERYTHING. I would show you pictures, but most times I was very excited to eat and forgot to shoot first (I know, horrible how I dared to enjoy my food without any technology). I do have some good places to eat that I will be sharing soon, more to come!

 

 * All photos in this post were taken and edited by Cristina Nogueras, please do not use without permission *

Wordless Wednesday: Back to Reality

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Yesterday I flew back to real life in New York City after spending two wonderful weeks home in my warm Puerto Rico. I took this picture during take-off and felt inspired to edit it on the spot.

Can’t wait to start sharing all the great pictures I took, stay tuned!