How many generations has your family been in the United States?
I am the first born on the mainland.
Since you’re from Puerto Rico, do you consider yourself and your family immigrants?
That’s tough. Culturally, I see us as different, but we are American.
How does it feel to be bicultural? Do you find yourself “switching” cultures depending on who you are spending time with?
I completely find myself switching around. I try to stay genuine as my own individual, but there certainly are the different perspectives that you can apply to both cultures.
Do you consider it a power?
Are there any specific parts of American culture and Puerto Rican culture that are different?
The most glaring difference that I’ve noticed is that the culture I grew up with, the Puerto Rican culture, is a matriarchal society. And in saying that we have often three or more generations in a house. So, that’s the biggest difference that I see as far as here in America with friends and what not.
What is your experience with American culture versus your parents experience? Are there different struggles or advantages?
The biggest difference that I’ve seen is, the American standard is to go out and make your own life and continue, whereas in the Puerto Rican culture we go out and make our own lives so that we can bring it back. It’s similar to what happened with my grandparents’ generation. In my grandparents generation, many of them came over during the big migration in the 50’s, and many of them went back in the 70’s and left their children, my parents, aunts, and uncles, here.
Do you think that ideology of going back to your family is better than the American ideology of continuing for yourself?
Yeah, I do. There’s nothing like family, and to leave your family behind is a tragedy, that’s the only way to put it.
Do you have a story about when your grandparents came over to the mainland of the United States?
My grandparents on my mother’s side came here because of the economy, The Great Migration of the 50’s. My grandfather left Puerto Rico as a butcher, he was an excellent butcher, but he couldn’t get a job here as a butcher so then he worked at the Domino’s sugar plant over in Brooklyn. And he lived right across the bridge and could see the plant. So that’s a vision and a memory from my childhood. Since my grandfather used to take care of me after school, I would look out his window and see the Domino’s sugar plant.
Do you go back to visit your family a lot?
Many of them actually live here now. Yeah, now the family I have in Puerto Rico are very distant relatives. They’re the Cortez’s.
When was the last time you went back?
Last time I was there was probably about 6 years ago.
How did it feel to go back?
I did see myself switching. I stayed very American, you know, and it felt awkward. It did. Puerto Rico economically is very different than New York. And you know, everyone was telling me “be careful, be careful”, and I didn’t feel like I had to be careful because I felt regular, but at the same time I felt the difference that I was an American in Puerto Rico.
What did they mean by be careful?
Crime is very high over there. Traveling from one place to the other, it’s not necessarily safe. So they wanted me to be careful, and I just couldn’t snap into that mode, I just couldn’t. Even though I felt different, I did feel like I was going home, because the time before that I spent the entire summer there as a teenager. When I first came in, I was the kid from America, and then by the end of the summer people were throwing rocks at my window telling me “come on, wake up, let’s go!” I became one of the local kids. It was a tremendous experience since I had so much family throughout the island I got to see the wealthy side, the middle class side, and the poor side.
What was being that age like in Puerto Rico? What was it like to hang out with the other kids?
We hung out at the park most often, or someone’s house. A lot of the times we would, traveling from one place to another, sneak into somebody’s backyard and eat some fruit, because in a tropical climate you had passion fruit that grew in this neighbor’s house, and the house I was staying at was my great aunt’s house and she had a lime tree. So everybody came over and we made limeade.
Is there anything you miss about Puerto Rico that you wish you could bring to the U.S. and have around you?
Just family. The island itself is in a great state of disrepair, not just in the infrastructure but in the society itself, and it needs some of that old school back in there to fix it up. The old school frame of thought, old school thinking. You know, less leaving family behind.
So do you see the society in Puerto Rico becoming more Americanized?
Yes. It was different visiting my grandparents generation, you’d go to the house and it’s "Are you hungry? Sit down for a while" and every time you went into someone’s house it was an hour or two hours. Whereas someone from not so much my generation, but maybe a little bit younger, says “Okay, what are we doing? Where are we going?” and moves on to the next thing. There was no offering of the food and coffee in the same way. There are cultures where you know, saying hello is a half an hour, whereas sometimes we have people who just move on, and they don’t say hello.
What do you think it means to be American?
What do I think it means to be American? To be American is about opportunity, and the responsibilities we have in regards to those opportunities.
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