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Cementerio Maria Magdalena De Pazzis

Foreign Blood

By Natasha CollazoPublished 24 days ago Updated 23 days ago 4 min read
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Like a bird that had been domesticated, then set free into the wild is the narrative of my trip to Puerto Rico. You have a desire to convince the other birds that you're a bird too, but don't quite fit in. There are so many missing pieces to being a wild bird or in my shoes, Latina. You so eagerly want to convey that, you too, are one of them but don't speak their language, or know how to make most of their authentic dishes like they do. Or sway your hips with that little foot toss they do spinning their bodies in a circular stiff motion during Salsa and Merengue.

My parents speak the language fluently, but I know nothing about the true heart of the culture. Yet, something about being here feels connected, in the most foreign way.

Walking down the streets of a place you've never been feels like everyone knows you're not from there.

Inheriting a Hispanic heritage and not speaking a lick of Spanish can feel redundant and a bit doltish. But something about just being on the grounds felt intimate knowing I have cousins and family here- first cousins! Both of my paternal and maternal grandparents are from here and brought up my parents to speak Spanish as their native and first language.

Once I put my toes in that yellow thick island sand (which is very different than Florida sand) it felt like I belonged. Almost like a Moana moment. As if the gritty sand was calling me. It was a sentimental experience.

Due to the Covid lockdown coming to an end, we didn't quite get the chance to do a lot of the excursions that we had planned, like spelunking one of the largest caves in the world. So, instead we did a spontaneous cross-country road trip of the island which allowed me to visit some of the places my ancestors settled.

Ponce was where my grandfather, (my dads father) was from, and also Latina icon J.LO (couldn't leave that significant information out).

Again, knowing nothing about this place or my grandfather felt like I was getting to know them both, spiritually. Ponce was quiet. It could be because of the Covid regulations invoked, but it felt pretty deserted. Exploring the streets and tasting the food, meeting the people and smelling their bookstores was all a bit of a different experience for me than it was for my friend who embarked on this unplanned spontaneous vacation with me, but she took just as much of it in.

We stopped in the popular colorful town called, Yauco. The local community occupied this place as a tourist attraction to explore the grounds. The painted abandoned vacant homes that previous storms had ravaged through, was an art exhibit in support of the towns youth. Once we parked, there was a man selling items on a table off to the side. He offered if I wanted to take a picture with a very large Puerto Rican flag they had set aside as a prop for ‘picture-taking’. I nervously laughed, alluding that I couldn’t possibly. It would feel somewhat fraudulent, but then quickly caught on this was only my insecurities of “longing to fit in” talking. So I figured what the heck, I’ll hold the flag. As they took pictures, I posed and raised the flag up high. Immediately, I was empowered. I ended up framing this picture as it now sits on my desk at work in a leopard print frame.

Yauco

From there, the adventures only got easier, as I let my black hair down and became one with my brown skin and street empanadas. I jumped off of a cliff yelling “WEPA” in Cañón Blanco, which was extremely cringey watching back. Why did I yell that?!

We ate tamales made by a poor islander off the side of the road. If your tamale isn’t hovering with flies complimented with a cooler of iced cold Coco Rico you’ve missed out on the true authentic experience of Puerto Rico.

My friend looked a bit confused when we were served a piece of bread straight from the loaf but participated in the experience. For me, this meal acknowledged my mother on a whole other level as I grew up on this exact meal.

The most immaculate part of the entire trip for me was the cemetery on the fort in San Juan. Cementerio Maria Magdalena De Pazzisits is hidden off the side of the fort that leads out to the edge of a cliff overlooking the city and it’s roaring ocean. The ocean which steered us into total absoluteness. Nothing but the intimidating vastness of blue for miles.

As we walked the cemetery, which was probably the most breath-taking place I’d ever been to date, it was more than a cemetery, but an art gallery of monumental catholic sculptures as chickens roamed throughout the graves. My eyes grazed across the tombstones of different last names. Fernandez, my mother’s maiden name. Then respectfully strolled along other ancestral names of members throughout my family, Gonzalez, Hernández, and Irizary, concluding I wasn’t as alienated as I thought, as I didn’t see any ‘Palmers’ which was the last name of my Caucasian friend I was with. Surely this proved I was an inch closer to these roots than her. It seemed this whole trip I had to convince myself.

Then stood before me, one colossal tombstone labeled, Collazo. I had no idea who these people were, but I knew that we shared the same last name.

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About the Creator

Natasha Collazo

**Studying Modern Journalism @ NYU **

Student @ American Writers & Artists Institute

Project: The diary of an emo Latina

Content and freelance creator

✍🏽

Inquiries: [email protected]

Instagram: @sunnycollazo

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Comments (2)

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  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarran23 days ago

    I love that you felt empowered as you posed with the flag! Also, I've never seen Coco Rico before. Was it good?

  • Hannah Moore24 days ago

    What an extraordinary tension between being home and being foreign.

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