24 March 2009

Where do I belong?

Today in one my classes, the instructor had the students break up into groups and write words on the board to describe four different categories: Feminine, Unfeminine, Masculine, and Non-Masculine. I don't want to comment, but rather I just want to post these. I think I might need to breathe in and out a few times before getting into how I feel about this.

High Maintenance


Sexual Prowess
Emotionally Detached
Work Driven

Over Concerned with Appearance
Push Over
High Maintenance

19 March 2009

What exactly happened during that trip to Puerto Rico?

You've seen the pictures, so you most likely already have a good idea of what "happened" during my trip to Puerto Rico with Jennie Ann. I do have to preface this post with the fact that something happened, something far more than I expected. I recognize the foreboding drama of the previous statement, but it is true- I feel like something shifted in me. I'm not sure I'm capable of putting it in words, but perhaps I should at least try. For the sake of documentation and working out in my own mind what took place.

Jennie Ann and I chose to stay in a touristy-style hotel in between San Juan and Condado. Partly we made this choice out of sheer ignorance about the area. With the benefit of hindsight, we both agree we'd probably choose to stay in another hotel, as well as venture much further on the island than just San Juan or Condado. I do have to say that my imagination of the type of vacation I wanted- which involved expensive frozen drinks and the ocean- the Hotel Caribe was the perfect place to make this dream come true.

Beyond the overly priced drinks and the jacuzzi and the pool and expensive restaurants, we also spent a couple of days/evenings in Old San Juan. Old San Juan was idyllic. It was beautiful- cobblestone streets and the brightly colored buildings. We also visited El Morro, which was breathtaking and massive. We walked around the city and visited a few bars in the area. Perhaps I could write this entire blog based only on the facts of our trip- the places we visited, the restaurants, the streets we walked.

I could talk about how absolutely perfect the weather was or how the smell of the ocean reminded me of the years I spent living near the beach. Though I'm not sure that this is what felt so compelling about the place. There was something else.

There were the unplanned aspects of our trip. Due to my hectic school schedule, I was unable to spend my normal hours upon hours of planning our trip. I picked a few travel books, but honestly, I threw these books into my luggage at the last minute. I decided instead of developing an itinerary- we'd just see what happened. And those of you that don't plan out every moment of your waking days know this- but sometimes, it is glorious to just go with it. If you feel like going for a walk, go for a walk. If you feel like having a drink by the pool, drink up. If you feel like going to the fort, hike on up. Having not traveled somewhere off the mainland, I also reveled in the joy of "discovery." Yes, this idea of my discovering the island of Puerto Rico does sound as contradictory as I intended it. For once, it was nice to not have a notebook with a schedule in front of me every morning upon waking. There were also the random events that took place.

And perhaps the most eye-opening experience we had during our trip. On my first night in San Juan, I still was faced with the task of submitting my statistics homework. Yes, I did homework while in Puerto Rico- (trust me, I'm not that wild- I recognized I still had obligations- at least for day one). While down in the Starbucks at the hotel (yes, I know) submitting my homework, I engaged in a conversation with one of the fellas working at the Starbucks. I'm pretty sure he was intrigued about why someone on vacation was doing homework on a Thursday night at 9pm in Puerto Rico. He asked about school and my interests. At this time, he informed me about the different places I might hear music while visiting. He also informed me that one of his co-workers was in a politico band.

A couple of days later, I ventured again into the Starbucks (give me a break, they have good coffee). The same fella was working and inquired as to my experiences with music on the island. Upon informing him we hadn't had the opportunity, he told me that his co-worker's (now fondly known as Jorell) band was performing at a festival later that evening. At this time, we were given the information about the festival. It would be taking place at the baseball stadium in Hato Rey.

After spending an evening stumbling through Old San Juan in heels (the tour books told us we should "dress up" to go out on the town- an erroneous claim), we decided a festival might be just what we wanted. We asked a person at the front desk about taking a cab to the stadium and informed him we'd attend the Claridad Festival. He said with a bit of trepidation, "The Claridad is wonderful. It is a very....liberal festival." As if we might not be interested, oh, he'd be wrong. Telling Jennie Ann and I that we'd be attending a "liberal" festival was like telling us there'd be beer and food.

The festival itself was fascinating. I was concerned at first. We walked around witnessing all the booths for liberation of political prisoners. I picked up some literature. I browsed the books at the socialist book stores. I felt sick to my stomach that I didn't understand Spanish. The insight it could provide in this environment. And then we found our way to the second stage, where I assumed the punk political bands would be performing. And that was when it changed. When it changed in a way that I wasn't aware of at the moment, but I was spellbound. A band started playing. They were shouting words of freedom, of liberation. They were infused with the spirit. And I thought to myself that these kids were young. Is this indicative of everyone here in Puerto Rico? The struggle fascinated me. Here is the first band we saw...only a 10 second clip....

And then there was the second band...

And if interested, I found another video...

Unfortunately, we had to leave to find a cab back to the hotel...but here are some of the bands we were suppose to see.

I hate that we missed them, particularly now in retrospect. The first band is Anti Sociales, which is the band of the fella working at the Starbucks. I stand corrected- not a politico band as I was informed.

Needless to say I'm captivated- by a language I don't yet understand, by a social movement I've yet to understand, by a people that I've yet to place in social-historical context. And it was then and there that I thought- how exactly can I discover more about what is happening. I had the fortunate experience of exchanging email addresses with Jorell in the band, Anti-Sociales- who has provided me (in merely one email) more information that I could have possibly obtained from months of researching articles and books.

There is so much information that becomes eclipsed about Puerto Rico. So much that I've yet to discover, but yet so much that is available when looking for it. And it was at this moment at this festival that I discovered what I really like about being a sociologist. Feeling inspired is the largest part of that journey. And I found that when I was on the island. Now for the hard part.

When the morning arrived to leave the island, I couldn't do it. I felt I couldn't leave. Jennie Ann left to board the plane and I stayed behind. I pushed my flight to the next day. In the rush to leave, I felt I needed to spend one more day on my own just taking it all in.

The morning that I left, I felt sad. In the cab to the airport, I shed a couple of tears. I wasn't sure what it was, why somewhere that I visited elicited this type of emotion. It felt melodramatic and over the top- but I couldn't stop wishing I had more time. It is a rich island with a history that I'm not familiar with given the historical context- and I felt sad to leave it behind. As I paid the cab driver, I told him to enjoy his lovely island. I said this flippantly, but now can think of the intricacies of issues that affect the people of Puerto Rico and the type of privilege that I spoke from in saying these words.

Remembering my trip in ways has carried me through my last couple of weeks. In some weird way, the lingering suntan, the pictures- they all made it still feel very present. In the last few weeks, I've noticed how as the suntan fades- I find myself feeling further and further away.

And it is true, Jennie Ann, the island wants us back.