Ay, ay, ay, that the slave was my grandfather
is my sadness, is my sadness.
If he had been the master
it would be my shame;
"Ay, Ay, Ay de la Grifa Negra" - Julia de Burgos
I only met my mother’s father once. The first time I was four and living in Puerto Rico. I remember my mother was crying and my grandfather was arguing with my father. I remember feeling sad and frightened of him. With my little girl thinking, he didn’t seem very nice and he made my mom cry.
Years later I learned more about him, how he had been a very successful businessman. He had also given us the pink house we lived in, in Puerto Rico and made my dad a manager in his store. After he divorced my grandmother, he married a few more times. What stood out the most was that it was through him that I have African genes.
This caused controversy during my parents courtship and subsequent marriage. Our African heritage was not talked about often in my childhood, I knew that both my father's family and mother's were not happy with the other. My father's family was very European and my mother’s had not only European, but African and Taíno influences.
I have learned that this is not new. This is something that has gone on for hundreds of years in Puerto Rico. Tainos did not like the Spaniards; the Tainos did not like the Africans. The Spaniards were not supposed to mix with Tainos or Africans, but all three happened. All three races mixed and became the beautiful people of Puerto Rico today. How did it happen? Libertos are Puerto Rican’s of African lineage who came to the island with the Conquistadors. The Conquistadors and Africans brought disease to the native Tainos and coupled with oppressive treatment, the Tainos almost completely died out. Africans became the laborers on the island.
The African influence in Puerto Rico is felt in the music like Bomba and Plena. I still remember hearing the congas on the beaches of Puerto Rico. The drums, timbrels and marimbas represent the Afro-Antillean influence. Okra, yams, sesame seeds, sweet bananas, plantains, other root vegetables and Guinea hen all came to Puerto Rico from Africa. African American Slaves introduced fried food to Puerto Rico. Santería and Palo Mayombe all originated in Africa. As a child I would accompany my grandmother to botánicas that sold artifacts from these religions.
Puerto Rico is a complete melting pot. My family heritage is a mix of everything from Indian, French, Spanish, English, Irish and African. I am proud of my heritage and proud of the melting pot called Puerto Rico.
I am not African. Africa is in me, but I cannot return. I am not taína (Name eines Indianerstammes). Taíno is in me, but there is no way back. I am not European. Europe lives in me, but I have no home there. I am new. History made me. My first language was spanglish. I was born at the crossroads And I am whole.
"Child of the Americas" - Aurora Levins Morales
- Child of the Americas Aurora Levins Morales