Saturday, December 29, 2007

End of the Year Madness

Puerto Ricans love to celebrate the holidays. New Years' Eve celebration, literally speaking, can sometimes end with a bang. Every holiday season, especially after Christmas Day, I see banners and newspaper ads with the following phrase: "No me quites la vida con una bala perdida." (Translation: "Don't take away my life with a stray bullet.") We were also quite use to hearing sporadic gunshots from our living room as well, during New Years' Eve, even though they were fired from quite a distance.

It's a sad reality but some Puerto Ricans mark the New Year by firing bullets into the air. One would think, if he or she has a decent amount of brain cells, that someone can get hurt as a result... and in fact, many people have been killed. The police and various non-profit organizations, such as United Way, have worked hard to discourage people from engaging in such dangerous behavior by launching media campaigns and community outreach programs. According to the police, such efforts have been quite successful as the number of reported injuries and death has gradually decreased.

Besides stray bullets, as in many other countries in the world, drunk driving is also a serious problem here. A few days ago, I came across an interesting set of statistics in the local paper. In the state of South Carolina, which has a population of 4.25 million, there were 8,645 drunk driving arrests in 2005. Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico, the number was more than twice that amount at a staggering 19,837. Keep in mind that this island has a bit less than 4 million inhabitants. Interestingly, the article also states that the percentage of alcohol consumption, during the holidays, goes up from 51% to 82%.

Why is it that the holidays seem to provoke such outrageous behavior amongst some of us?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas in Miami

It has been quite a long time since my family and I went on a vacation together. So, I found our recent trip to Miami to be really special. We've all been there before, but I find it especially memorable this time. Perhaps, it's because we rarely made any family trips together when I was young. It's the holiday season, and with the year coming to an end, I can't help but reflect. I have so many things to be grateful for, and I feel blessed to be able to spend the holidays with my family.

When we arrived in Miami, the airport was filled with travelers. Although it was a bit chaotic, I loved the energy. I can sense the anxiousness of people rushing to be with their loved ones. Perhaps, that's what I love most about the holidays. It usually gives us a chance to reconnect with our family and friends. We did just that during our trip to Miami, and we also managed to leave work behind us! I also rediscovered how interesting Miami really is. Although I was in the mainland U.S, I felt as though I was in Latin America. Literally everyone speaks Spanish. Of course, this is nothing new. However, this time, I felt a lot more confident speaking to people in Spanish. I also enjoyed listening to all the different accents as well. We were always trying to figure out where people were from.

I do like accents, and I also like to eat different types of cuisines. One of the things I was eagerly waiting to purchase was a batida de mamey (mamey is a Cuban fruit, a bit like passion fruit and batida simply means "shake"). We also had dim sum, a Chinese cuisine which we seldom get to have in Puerto Rico. While in Miami, we walked around the trendy South Beach (excuse me, "SoBe"), and the beautiful Coral Gables and Coconut Grove. When I saw the flamingo and wreath, I knew I was in Florida and I just couldn't help but laugh. We had a great Christmas, and I hope you did as well.

Monday, December 17, 2007

'Tis the Season

The holiday season has arrived! Today, I was in the local shopping mall (as pictured on the right), which was quite packed for a Monday morning. As I was walking around, I couldn't help but feel a bit nostalgic. I do miss the beautiful store displays of Fifth Avenue, and the lights that adorn New York City this time of the year. If you've never been to the Big Apple during the holidays, I highly recommend it!

When I lived in New York, I often flew down here to spend the holidays with my family. Despite my frequent trips, I never quite got used to the idea of a warm Christmas. However, I am not usually one to complain, especially since I got to enjoy the sun and the beach. Anyhow, December is usually a busy and stressful time of the year for many of us. It is also that time of the year where we are surrounded by excess. Come on, how can you resist from having that extra slice of cake, or another glass of wine? People also tend to run up a huge credit card bill. This leads me to conclude that the holidays has become a test for each and everyone of us. 'Tis the season to exercise some willpower. Find a way to celebrate the holidays without digging yourself into a mountain of debt. Also, try to eat healthy and balanced meals.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

It's Not Always so Pretty

Ricardo Diaz Serrano/AP Photo

Besides boxing heroes and corrupt politicians, beauty queens always seem to captivate the headlines of the local papers. In this case, the latest story also appeared on the BBC's Web site. This recent scandal involves Ingrid Rivera, who was crowned as Miss Puerto Rico 2008 a few weeks ago. From the very beginning, her participation in the beauty contest has been considered to be unfair. Many believe her extensive experience in other pageants puts others at a disadvantage. After all, she was a judge in last year's contest. However, she was triumphant despite such criticism and having her makeup and dress, supposedly, exposed to pepper spray. The police are now investigating this incident, and they have even solicited the help from a prestigious forensic institution. However, about a week after the pageant, some began accusing Miss Rivera of fabricating this story. Furthermore, there's a possibility that she might have to take a polygraph test to prove her innocence. Aren't you just amazed with this fascinating drama?!

Personally, I have no interest at all in beauty contests. So, you might say, why am I bothering to blog about it? Well, it's because I am now living in the "Island of Enchantment" and Puerto Ricans take these things very seriously. Obviously, it has a lot to do with the local culture and I like to dig beneath the surface of things. Like many Spanish-speaking countries, such as Venezuela, physical beauty is extremely important. I don't think I've ever seen any Puerto Rican woman leave the house without makeup on. They also never seem to leave the house without 3-inch heels either. There are indeed many beautiful ladies here, and they certainly know how to flaunt it.

Perhaps, the focus on beauty explains why this small island of just under 4 million inhabitants has seen five of its beauty queens become Miss Universe. Thus, after the U.S, Puerto Rico is the second country to have held the title the most. I believe the focus on things, such as beauty pageants, is simply a distraction for people. This island has its fair share of problems, i.e rising unemployment and a huge government budget deficit, but people don't like talking about such issues. It doesn't surprise me at all to see an increasing number of Puerto Ricans move to the mainland U.S in search for better economic opportunities. Nevertheless, Puerto Ricans will always be proud of their beauty queens.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Growing Divide

Please note: the photo on the left was obtained from Flickr

We often avoid talking about issues that may open wounds, or perhaps may seem controversial. Obviously, we also skirt certain topics in order to avoid shame and embarrassment. Poverty is one such topic in Puerto Rico. Based on the findings of Linda Colón Reyes, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico, income inequality in the Island of Enchantment is the fourth worst in Latin America. Brazil, Nicaragua and Paraguay obtained the first three spots, respectively. Unfortunately, Latin America is notorious for having a huge gap between the rich and poor. However, I was quite surprised to find out that Puerto Rico came in fourth, or perhaps I shouldn't be. It just never occurred to me that the wealth distribution is so unevenly spread here, much worse than in other Latin American countries.

The pictures above illustrate the tremendous divide between the haves and have-nots. On the left is La Perla, a poverty-stricken area in Old San Juan. On the right is Palmas del Mar, located in the Southeastern part of the island, which is filled with million-dollar homes and yachts. In many areas of Puerto Rico, one will find public housing projects (known as caserios) located close to upscale neighborhoods. The other day, I was taking a stroll in one such neighborhood, called Condado, I took a left turn on one of the main streets (Calle Loiza) and found myself in a whole different world. According to my late father, this form of city-planning was an idea from the 1950's, of the island's first governor Luis Muñoz Marin, who believed that the poor can be inspired by the wealthy to do better.

These days, the rich seem to be in a mad sprint to get away from the poor. The past ten to fifteen years, Puerto Rico has been constructing countless number of exclusive gated communities, something which continues today. This time, they are located nowhere near the caserios. Sadly, this growing divide is rarely mentioned in the newspapers, and politicians don't bother talking about it either. I commend Professor Reyes for bringing to light this serious issue in her book, Pobreza en Puerto Rico, radiografia del proyecto americano. As citizens, we each have a responsibility to be aware of what goes on in society. It's dangerous to have a nonchalant attitude, such as foolishly believing that what doesn't affect "me" directly isn't considered to be "my" problem. We live in a world where things come in full-circle.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Puerto Rico's Treasures

One of the best things about living in the caribbean is the weather. I am absolutely loving the island breeze and sunshine! For someone who likes being outdoors, Puerto Rico is definitely a great place to be. I also love the fact that I can keep my wardrobe nice and simple, just t-shirts, tank-tops and jeans. I know, I know, I just enjoy rubbing it in. So, I'll just stop right here....

Last week, we had a group of visitors from New York and I had the pleasure of showing them around the island. The photos above were taken from some of the highlights of my tour. Naturally, we did see quite a few palm trees. We also went to see the caves at Rio de Camuy, which is quite a popular spot for tourists. My most memorable experience was having coconut ice cream at Ponce's King's Cream. I've been there on numerous occasions and their homemade ice cream just seems to get better every time. Another highlight was the tour of the Bacardi distillery, because they provide you with free drinks! Try the coconut rum with orange juice. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Last but not least, Old San Juan is a "must-see" on every visitor's list. Its narrow, cobble-stone streets are a delight to navigate, as are the colorful buildings and architecture. It is the most ancient part of San Juan, and the influence of the Spaniards is quite obvious. However, it is now overwhelmingly dominated by American commercial interests, such as Starbucks and (sadly) Payless Shoe Source. Nevertheless, Old San Juan still maintains a lot of charm. The old Spanish fort, El Morro, is also located there. It is not only a national landmark, but it also holds a very special place in my heart.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The American Dream via Puerto Rico

Illegal immigration is a serious issue affecting many countries in the world. The hope for a better life, and the search for economic opportunities, has driven many people to abandon their countries and begin a new life abroad. The Mexican border might be the most publicized frontier in which illegal immigrants enter the U.S. However, as the recent arrest of a group of Asian human traffikers in Puerto Rico may indicate, the "island of enchantment" is also on the radar. This latest incident involves a group of 15 Asian men, mostly of Chinese origin, who are accused of smuggling at least 11 people in a period of nine months. The smugglers received between $11,000 to $15,000 per person.

In this case, these illegal immigrants' long journey began in China and involved making stops in faraway places, such as Italy, France, South America and the Dominican Republic, before arriving in Puerto Rico. Eventually, most will make their way to the mainland U.S to fulfill their American dreams. Illegal immigration is a controversial topic in the U.S. There is no easy solution to this problem. I don't believe the construction of a taller concrete barrier or the increase of border patrol officers, and the coast guard will deter the drive and ambition of those who desperately seek a brighter future. Debates regarding this topic will only become more heated as the 2008 presidential elections draws near. This is an extremely important topic, and I think we need to be honest with ourselves. The U.S economy, as well as Puerto Rico's, depends on illegal immigration. We need to have a discussion and come to an agreement on how to resolve this issue. Furthermore, it also involves the dialogue and cooperation between the U.S and countries, such as Mexico, which most illegal immigrants originate from.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Beauty of Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is something I always look forward to. Although it's an American, as well as Canadian, holiday it is also celebrated here in Puerto Rico. For me, it's a day to give thanks to all of those who have made a positive difference in my life. Nowadays, I think many of us are so focused on our daily lives, with work, and so many other responsibilities, we've begun to lose sight of the importance of giving thanks. A few weeks ago, I got a flat tire and I was forced to pull over. There was simply no way that I was going to make it home. Luckily, I was able to make it to a garage, where the mechanic told me that they can change my tire for me. In just fifteen minutes, my car was good to go. I asked the gentleman how much I owed him. He just shook his head and told me not to worry about it. I couldn't believe it, he did all that for free? He doesn't know me, I'm a stranger! As I was driving away, I couldn't help but think not just how lucky I was, but also how grateful I should be.

We have all been blessed with the kindness and generosity of others. Unfortunately, as we are currently living in such a fast-paced world, we often fail to realize that we are surrounded by people who have touched our lives in many wonderful ways. I think we should slow down and reflect a little, while we gobble down all that turkey and stuffing. Thanksgiving is a reminder for us to recognize the beauty of humanity, and to appreciate those who have a kind heart. Regardless of your religious or cultural background, I believe it's a day where we can all celebrate together. It transcends boundaries. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Death of "Al Pacino"

Photo was obtained from

Please take note of the following: the "Al Pacino" I'm referring to in the title is not the actor himself, star of Scarface and other fantastic movies, but a Brazilian show dog. Yes, unfortunately, this is another entry about the death of animals. However, this one occurred under different circumstances. This incident happened last week, when the the owner of "Al Pacino" (aka "Bob") a Brazilian man who was in PR for the International Dog Expo, stopped to ask for directions. He left his rental car unattended and, upon his return, he found his car missing, along with "Al Pacino." The next day, the police found the car. "Al Pacino" was inside, but it was already too late. The poor dog died because the thief who stole the car didn't bother opening a window for him. They could also have let him go, a thought which probably didn't cross his or her mind.

As you can see by the photo, "Al Pacino" was not some little chihuahua. I highly doubt that they didn't notice a huge cage in the back. This was actually the first time that Puerto Rico hosted the dog expo, which "Al Pacino" won. Perhaps, it will be the last. I don't know, but this incident certainly won't help PR's reputation. The thief is still looming large, and he or she most likely had no idea of "Al Pacino's" fame. He's considered to be Brazil's top dog. Sadly, I believe many people simply lack morals. I think the way we treat animals also reflects how humans treat each other. Is it a coincidence that PR has a very high crime rate as well? For the time being, I think we need a pet detective here in Puerto Rico. We need an Ace Ventura-type to solve all these pet crimes. Seriously, something needs to be done. Any ideas would be welcomed.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Battle of Testosterone

Photos above were obtained from

This morning, as I was reaching for the newspaper, I just couldn't believe my eyes. The front-page headline read as follows: "Como Heroé" (translation: "Like a Heroe") and it was accompanied by the second photo you see above. Here in PR, this past weekend, it was all about boxing. In fact, for two days in a row, the coverpage of all the local papers has been about boxing. This most recent match took place in New York's Madison Square Garden, and it was between the American Shane Mosley and (as you probably would've guessed by now) the Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto. As it turns out, there was no knockout. So, the judges had to decide the winner and they unanimously proclaimed Cotto as the winner. It was, by most accounts, an "excellent" fight.

Boxing, along with baseball and basketball, is extremely popular here. Personally, I just don't find boxing interesting. Inflicting pain on someone, and basking in the glory of it, is not something I enjoy watching. However, I think the popularity of boxing has to do with something more profound. Latino men are often stereotyped to be the macho type. From what I've seen, although there are always exceptions, I beg to differ. On the contrary, I see women as being more dominant and in control. Most of the gentlemen that I know are very attentive and loving to their wives/girlfriends and their mothers too! So, what to do with all that testosterone? Naturally, when they are amongst other males, they tend to talk a lot and they refer to their significant other as "mi mujer" (translation: "my woman").

The second outlet for Latino men to release their testosterone is through boxing. Perhaps, it allows them to maintain a sense of manhood. Sure, the men here are more aggressive and flirtatious. However, beneath that facade, you'll encounter a lot of love and tenderness.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Musical Implications

The image above is from

I am embarrassed to say this, but my first concert ever was to see Menudo. For those of you who have never heard of Menudo, believe me, you're not missing out on much. They were very popular in the 80's, a teenage boy band from Puerto Rico. Interestingly, Ricky Martin began his career as a Menudo member. Needless to say, Ricky has certainly moved on to bigger and better things. Latin music has also evolved over the years. As demonstrated by the 8th Latin Grammy Awards, which were held last night in Las Vegas. Most importantly, it is an example of how important the Latino population has become in the U.S.

According to the latest statistics published by the U.S Census Bureau, in 2006, Latinos comprise 14.8% (roughly 44.3 million) of the U.S population. Thus, making this the largest (and the fastest-growing) minority group in the U.S. Growing up in New York, many of my Latino classmates were Nuyoricans (New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent). Unfortunately, although they spoke Spanish, we only spoke to each other in English. Thus, last night, when Ricky Martin urged young Latinos not to lose the ability to speak their language, it struck a chord in me. I have numerous friends and acquaintances, whose parents immigrated to the U.S from other parts of the world, that can't speak their parents' native tongue. Obviously, it's not entirely their fault. However, I think it's a shame when we focus too much on being "American." There are many who strive to assimilate into mainstream society, to be accepted, which means to focus on speaking English only. However, I think last night's awards ceremony illustrates the conscientious effort of those who realize that you can be both Latino and American.

The Latin Grammys is a wonderful celebration of the beauty of Latino music in the U.S. It also goes to show that things in life are not necessarily always in black or white. The definition of being American can be very difficult and complicated, and it comes in many different layers. Instead of considering the U.S as a 'melting pot', I've always preferred the 'salad bowl' description, and this is one of the things I love most about the U.S. By the way, since this is my blog, I'd like to congratulate a friend of mine who worked on the Calle 13 album. He won a Grammy last night!! Woo hoo! Congrats!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Invading the South

Pictures of Guayama's town center

Being the coffee lovers that we are, I wanted to go visit Hacienda Buena Vista, which is a working coffee plantation located near the city of Ponce. It is the second largest city in Puerto Rico, and is located in the southern part of the island. So, my Mother and I hit the road. Driving around the island is something my family and I have always enjoyed. We love road trips. Amazingly, we rarely carry a map around with us. After all, we're in an island, how lost can we get?

Well, as it turns out, we got lost. We never made it to Hacienda Buena Vista. It certainly didn't help that the highway, which was newly constructed, didn't have any signs posted anywhere. We asked several people, but they just pointed us in the wrong direction and it also started raining quite hard. To make the most of our trip, we decided to visit Ponce instead. Unfortunately, we didn't find anything interesting. We started heading back to San Juan, when I saw a sign for Guayama, which is a small city not too far from Ponce. I was curious, and feeling a bit adventurous, so we just took the exit. We drove around this small city and came across various local bars and the town center. It was practically deserted, but I thought it was really pretty. Unfortunately, these days, most people prefer to visit the local shopping mall instead of taking a stroll in the plaza. What a shame!

All in all, it was great getting out of San Juan. We didn't end up at our intended destination. However, it was a fun and spontaneous road trip. Nevertheless, I'm going to purchase a map and put it in my car.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Quirks of Island Living

I am no stranger to island living. However, life in the island of Manhattan is quite distinct from life in the island of Puerto Rico and I embrace the differences. For starters, strangers actually greet each other here. The other day, when I was at the dentist's office, I found myself saying "buenos dias" to every person walking through the door. This is something I enjoy tremendously about this place, in general, people are just very warm and friendly. In New York, people don't even look at each other!

Needless to say, I've been breaking a lot of the social behavioral rules I followed from my days as a New Yorker. These days, I talk to strangers too... (gasp)! I suppose the local people find it fascinating... a chinita (translation: Chinese girl) who can speak Spanish without much of an accent. So, I am often approached by people who are simply curious. They usually ask me how long I've been living here, if I own a restaurant and if I have children. Oh, how I love defying stereotypes! People often look at me in awe, or perhaps they're just a bit disappointed. I suppose that's just one of the quirks of being me...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

It's Raining Cats and Dogs (literally)

Photo: Brennan Linsley/AP

We've been pounded by rain the last few days. So, the weather has actually been in the nice and cool 70s (20-24 celsius), which I don't mind at all. On the topic of raining cats and dogs... a few weeks ago, I came across a very disturbing article in the local newspaper. In the town of Barceloneta, which is about an hour west of San Juan, residents of a public housing complex were forced to give up their pets due to sanitary regulations. The local municipal government hired a company by the name of Animal Control Solution to transport and handle the dozens of cats and dogs to be seized.

Little did these pet owners suspect of the tragic end to this story. Instead of turning the pets over to an animal shelter, according to witnesses, the company allegedly threw an estimated 80 pets over a bridge. As reported by the Associated Press, about 50 carcasses were found. As I was reading this, I was just speechless. How can this happen? What has this world come to? For those of you who have visited Puerto Rico, you might have noticed that there are quite a bit of stray cats and dogs roaming around the streets. Unfortunately, it's a problem here in this tiny island. I just hope that the government finds a humane and ethical solution to resolve this issue, rather than simply throwing them over a bridge.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

From an Outsider's Perspective

After living in New York City for 21 years, a few of which were spent in Boston, I am back in my city of birth... San Juan! Having spent most of my life outside of La Isla del Encanto ("The Island of Enchantment"), I certainly don't consider myself to be very Puerto Rican. However, I am definitely enjoying the time I get to spend here. One of the things I love most is that I can practice my Spanish (or better said... Spanglish! Damme un break!). I also get to re-discover the Puerto Rican culture, which is full of wonderful flavors.

I decided to start writing about my experiences here because I find this island to be a fascinating place. It calls itself "El Estado Libre Associado de Puerto Rico," which is an oxymoron. "Estado Libre" literally means "free state." This is hardly true. Puerto Rico is a U.S colony. Every time a plebisicite is held over its territorial status, the results are practically evenly split between those who want to see this island become the 51st state and those who want to maintain the status quo. A very small percentage want independence.

From what I've seen, many Puerto Ricans here have a love-hate relationship with the U.S. The love comes in the form of pure economics. Life would be a bit more difficult without the financial backing of los gringos. The hate, obviously, is due to the huge American influence here. Puerto Ricans are very proud of their culture. Besides, who likes being told what to do? The fact is that Puerto Rico is not recognized as a sovereign state.