Tag Archives: peace corps journey

A las Mujeres antes que yo.

I’m bored.

“Pues pontes a limpiar.” “start cleaning” My inner (mother) voice goes. I look at my surroundings, take out the trash, organize my counter space, and fold my blankets. I look at my laundry, I just did it yesterday but the trick with laundry is it’s never truly done. So I take it the bathroom and start the hand-washing process, filling the buckets with water, adding the detergent and fabric softener, I tie my house dress up to stop it from getting wet( y asi tu sabes que soy una mujer viejita) (and that’s how you know I’m an old lady), and I assume the position, squatted aside the buckets taking my dirty laundry in hands and scrubbing them against each other.

I laugh, if my grandfather could see me now. Laundry day was a day of excitement for him when I lived in Puerto Rico, mostly cause it was the only day he would ever see me clean. He truly believes that I’ll never find a man because I don’t like cleaning and according to him I couldn’t keep a house to save my life…or keep a man. It’s a very antiquated thought process but it’s how he was raised.

Then I start thinking about his mother. Abuela Candita. I’ve never met her, only seen pictures and heard stories. Apparently she was a hard-ass, and I can believe it. The one picture of her that hangs in my grandfather’s house has her in what appears to be the living room, with an expression that just says “Atrevete.” “I dare you”. I think about how she must’ve looked when doing the laundry the way I am now. I wonder if she had a machine or had to do it by hand, and if my memory serves me right I think she had to do it by hand, going down to the river and cleaning whatever laundry she had and hauling it up, then hanging it in the Caribbean sun to dry.

Then I think of my other Abuela. Abuela Carmen. She had four daughters so I wonder if this process was more work or less, women are typically expected to take on the chores in a Latino family. But still, was it the same process?

Abuela Carmen and Myself

At this point I am almost done the laundry, but still thinking on the women before me. My Tia Nilda says the women in our family are Amazons, I’m never sure if she’s referring to the way we are built or our personalities. But I know she means our strength, both physical and mental. The women in my family are incredible, each in their own way, I look at my direct bloodline and I have my triathlete madre, my world-traveling, highly educated Abuela, and the matriarch of our family, the woman who started this line, my Bisabuela Carmen. My grandfather says that I will continue the line of strong women, he says that I remind him so much of my Abuela that it’s crazy, and he says Abuela Candita would’ve loved me for my strength.

And now the laundry is done, it’s hanging to dry in the Thai sun. Maybe the next time I’m bored I take a hint from my grandfather and just watch the day and listen to the birds.

Or just take a nap, like mom

Pero ma, estoy bien.

So I’m on a call with my biological mother, (I say biological because now I also have a Thai mother) and the lights go out and the call ends. Third time this week, and every single time I get Hurricane Maria flashbacks, I prepare myself for the potential days without electricity, starting oddly enough with first checking my water, and then checking my flashlight, then backup batteries, I even begin to dig my solar panel out of my luggage. But then before I get to far into my bags, the lights are back on. I wait about five minutes for the wi-fi to kick in and get back on the call with my bio mom.

Bio Mom for Show cause she’s adorable

“But are you okay? You can’t hang up on me like that!”

“Ma, I’m good, the electricity just went out for a minute. It’s normal”, I say exasperated.

“But why is that normal? I thought you said you were in a good area!”

“I am mom, but come on, it’s still the Peace Corps I’m not in the lap of luxury.”

“Okay, just next time let me know when you aren’t going to have electricity.”

“Yeah, cause I totally know when that will happen.”

The Latina mother is one to always worry, and mine is no exception. She pretends she doesn’t with her motto of I raised you to be strong. But deep down she always worries, and I can tell because she’ll tell me to control things that I clear as day cannot.

I’ve noted that Thai women and Latina women are cut from the same sheet. Both want you to eat, and honestly when push comes to shove, will make you eat. Both want to just take care of you, especially if you’re a boy, cause girls should already know these things. Both are super nervous about you getting hurt, my Thai counterparts have already matched my mother on holding my hand while we cross the street, they even scream if I go without them.

And worst/best of all. I can always hear my mother saying “Pero nina, tu eres gorda” or “Pero nina, tu eres bien flaca, ponte a comer.” as my Thai Mother would tell me, “Very skinny, eat much” or “Very big, eat little”

I miss my bio mom, and I miss my Thai mom. But it’s amazing to see how motherhood transcends cultures. But Moms, I’m fine. I’m eating. I’m not hurt I swear. And yes, I tell you the next time the electricity is about to go out.

So how’s Goal Two going?

“Soy primeramente Boricua, Americana Segunda.”

Those words are pretty important to me when people ask about my background, since many still struggle to understand that Puerto Rico is part of the United States. It translates to “I am Puerto Rican first, American second.” and while that sounds more harsh in English it’s just our explanation that we love our island, and align with our culture more than the American culture.

So when I explain to people at my site that I am Puerto Rican most don’t even know where that is. So I pull out my trusty little phone map and show them that it is off the coast of Florida, then I explain further and say that the USVI is also part of America, just further out. This helps many understand the concept much more, and even when they don’t fully understand it most just say “Okay.” and move on from the subject. They know that I am still the volunteer that they signed up for, and I feel happy because I got to share my culture for a bit.

What else has been done to share my Puerto Rican side, well some methods are very low-key. As simple as making my classroom playlist consist of albums like “Marc Anthony for Babies”, some students enjoy it, while others don’t know what to make of it. Even when I’m getting ready and hanging out in my classroom most of the visitors are welcomed by some form of salsa, bomba y plena, or reggaeton. Then for the adults when we are out on the town and they want to cheers we take the second to learn how to cheers in English, and in Spanish, saying loudly and for the first couple of tries messing it up. But at the end of the night everyone is saying “Arriba, Abajo, Al Centro, Pa Dentro!”

Then there’s other times where my Puerto Rican influence goes all out. It’s going to take a killer experience to overshadow the night that my host family and I gathered in the kitchen to make Mofongo and Coquito. With my aunt and I managing the Pilon, my Yai handling the fryer, and my mom peeling all the plantains, it was a wonderful time where I got to explain to my family how Puerto Rican culture is. Why we use plantains in most of our food, what else do Puerto Ricans eat? Why is mofongo called mofongo? and one question that had nothing to do with food but I could tell was driving them crazy since day one I told them I was Puerto Rican. What is Puerto Rico? No matter how odd the question was I answered it, and shared my culture and stories with them. Did they enjoy the mofongo you may ask? No they didn’t really care for it, they wanted spicier food and that got answered with “Most Puerto Rican food isn’t spicy”

I am a Puerto Rican first, an American second, in Thailand. The joy of travel is the sharing of cultures and I’m happy to be in a country so intrigued by mine, I can’t wait to share more and see the connections that it can make. Who knows maybe my school will have the first Bomba Club in Thailand.

Con Sabai Sabai

What do you get when you mix Thai enthusiasm with Puerto Rican zest? You get a wild cooking night.

So this past week the Peace Corps 131 had American Day, a lovely day meant to share our culture with our Thai Families. I took this opportunity to show my family one of my favorite foods. Mofongo. Now if you’ve ever even met a Puerto Rican you’ve probably heard of this dish but for those who haven’t it’s mashed plantains (or unripe bananas because Thailand doesn’t have plantains), seasoned with an abundance of garlic and onion, deep fried and covered with olive oil or garlic butter. All together it’s absolutely delicious.

So I assumed that my family wouldn’t want to cook this because of how labor intensive it is but I was so pleased to come home to my host mom, host aunt and grandmother all at the ready. Mom peeled the bananas, grandma handled the fryer, and auntie mashed. We talked for around 6 hours while making around 50 mofongos. I explained how the dish came to be and they laughed at the pronunciation each time I said it. We giggled about how our boobs would sag if we spent too much time mashing the plantains.

All together it was a wonderful experience and reminded me how thankful I am to have such a fantastic host family. It truly completes the experience and they will always have a special place in my heart for being able to welcome this strange Puerto Rican into their home.

A look around

Have you ever just looked around and thought “I wonder who has it easiest in this group?” Well since joining the Peace Corps it’s a thought that hasn’t crossed my mind in awhile, after all, we are all here, we have the same-ish stipend, we do the same work and we have the same goals and mission. For once it seemed that I was in a group of people that was like minded and had similar experiences…or so I thought. Now yes, some people said certain things that I was quickly able to attribute to privilege but in my head at the time it could have just been a regional misunderstanding? After all NYC humor versus Cali humor must vary. But then came a day where we were told to stand in a line, and I knew the game all too well. The Privilege Walk. For those who don’t know, a group stands in a single line all facing ahead and certain scenarios are read off; “Parents divorced?” “Faced racial aggression?” “Faced aggression based on Sexuality?” etc… well sooner than later I found myself at the end of the group, I was the least privileged, and I was a little surprised but not incredibly so. I looked up to the first person and unsurprisingly I see the white, straight, cisgender male. I looked at the room again and saw the variety of faces and people that I had come to know over the tumultuous month, and thought should I be angry at their privilege and my lack thereof? And when I came to my conclusion the answer was simply “no”. How could I? The same way that my lack of privilege was by no fault of my own, neither was their privilege. Later I even talked to the gentleman who was the “most privileged” and mentioned in our current scenario our privilege didn’t matter, we were all here together and had a fantastic support system and as long as you remember where you come from and all the things you have to be grateful for then everything should be alright.

So who am I? I am Latina. I am bilingual. I am from a single parent household. I worked in high school. I maintained honor roll grades. I went to college. I worked through college. And I am currently a Peace Corps Volunteer. Happy to be here with all of my colleagues whether we started at the same line or not, I am sure we will end at the finish line together.

Things To Remember When Peace Corps Gets Rough.

Why did you join? Was it to better yourself? Or better a community? Well yes and yes. Travel has always been a fantastic way to better yourself, and when you return you have stories that inspire and fascinate. Through some of these stories you encourage others to travel and the chain begins, each traveler shares their story and from that everyone benefits and everyone learns. Bettering the community? I can only hope I affect the whole community where I am stationed but I imagine that it will end up being one person or a small group that I inspire and that most certainly will be enough. I joined so that I could see through new and refreshed eyes, for though I love my home, both Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico, life was hitting a standstill and becoming routine. May I never go back to being the bitter bartender closing one restaurant and opening the other the next day. May I never be the server having to force out laughs, or repeating the same question 150 times a day, “Black beans or refried?” May the next time that I hear mariachi music be on the shore in Mexico, and god forbid I sing another franchise happy birthday song. When times are rough, and they will be. Think of the anticipation you had before coming to Thailand. Think of how you anxiously counted down the days before you left and eagerly stashed away the money hoping to eat every Thai dish imaginable. Think of how proud your family is and will be when you complete your service. Think of the next journey, but remember to enjoy the day. Count your blessings for they are so obviously in front of you and remember, it may be a bad day, but it’s a bad day in Thailand.