Growing up in a Puerto Rican home had its cultural perks, as well as some comical quirks.
The Salsa and Merengue music playing in the background throughout my childhood was definitely a perk…
…While my Mom cooked dinner.
As she stirred, mixed, and chopped the ingredients, there were times that her body would become one with the music, especially those hips of hers. They would sway back and forth.
She was in her own world.
…While my Dad washed his car on the street in front of our house.
As he sprayed water from the hose, rubbed the sponge filled with dish washing soap, and dried the car with old torn bath towels, my dad would sing his heart out.
He was in his own world.
…While my Mom, Dad, sister and I, had our very own family dance off on a Saturday afternoon – usually triggered after watching The Soul Train.
As my sister and I watched our parents dancing, we would pay close attention to their posture: spine straight, chin up and shoulders back, their feet were in sync. The hand exchanges and turns were smooth and controlled.
They were in their own little world.
And when we would finally get our turn, we became a part of their world too.
…While we had our family holiday and celebration gatherings: New Years Eve, Halloween parties, weddings, birthday parties.
As we celebrated, we usually would enjoy a delicious home-cooked meal together. We would sit around and talk. And sometimes you couldn’t tell if we were arguing or just having a good time, because of our loud, sharp, and robust voices.
And then, there were those times when the music was accompanied with some exquisite and vivacious dancing.
In that moment, we were in our own little world. We were family!
Then, there was the Jibaro music that played during the Christmas season for La Parrandas Navidenas (Puerto Rican version of Christmas caroling).
In the early 80s, I remember being at my Abuela Maria’s house on Christmas Eve, and some tipsy musicians and singers showed up at the house unbeknownst to us.
But, they were very much welcomed and so were their Latin- American percussion instruments- cuarto (4 string guitar), tamboriles (tambourine), guiro (wooden instrument that had a metal scraper), maracas and palitos (sticks).
They played their instruments and sang with my family for about an hour. And when they left they took a couple of my family members along with them for the next surprise visit.
Another time, at my Tia Socorro’s house, the traveling group ended at her house at around three or four in the morning. Once they were finished playing it was my Aunt’s responsibility to have the asopao de pollo (traditional soup) ready for them.
Our music knit us together with one beautiful memory after another.
Then, there are the comical quirks of being Puerto Rican.
One example is the nickname – an endearing, and yet funny name assigned by a family member. At times the nicknames were flattering, and then there were those downright embarrassing, and belittling ones.
Usually, family members and extremely close friends to the family knew the name and were entitled to enforce the nickname, so that it would stick.
When I was a baby, my Uncle Ramon, who happened to have a dark complexion, liked calling me Casper. However, the nickname didn’t stick for long.
My Mom preferred Hincha– pale, which eventually altered into Hinch. I never knew what it meant, until recently.
My Mom also liked calling me Mami (slang for baby), which eventually morphed into Mimi, the nickname my family members still refer to me as.
I remembered loving that name when I was little, since it was quite similar to Minnie, which happened to be my favorite cartoon character.
When I was around the age of five, my Uncle Davy bought me a beautiful mirror with the Minnie image on it.
I also still remember owning a pair of minnie earrings. I can recollect that tragic day when one of the earrings fell into the bathtubs drain.
But those weren’t the only nicknames my mom gave me, I was also her Flaca (skinny).
I wasn’t the only family member that had the privilege of having a nickname.
My sister was Gorda (fat girl), my brother was Duno (derived from Junior), my Mom was Goddy (Margarita), and my Dad was Cabezon (big head).
I had cousins, aunts, and uncles who had nicknames like Fatgirl, Football, Negrita (dark skin), Gordo (fat boy), Lola, Rocky, Bolly…
Yes, some of them weren’t so nice- Gorda, Flaca, Fatgirl.
Some of us eventually grew out of our nicknames, and asked everyone to please call us by our legal name.
But, I know the nicknames were said with love and endearment.
Our nicknames drew us closer.
It made us a part of our very own private clan.
It gave us an identity within our family unit.
And, it separated us from the rest of the world.
Those were the good old days. Things seemed so simple back then.
We were bonded together by my grandparents love for us. But, once they left to be with the Lord, the seal was broken, and thus we were also.
When I reminisce about those times, my heart overflows with joy. Family meant everything to my grandparents.
Today, I still go by Mimi, but my identity is defined by my relationship with Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ has over 200 names. Each one speaks towards who He is.
To know Him by these names is to be a part of His family, and to experience Him to the fullest.
A few Names of Jesus Christ…
Alpha and the Omega
the I Am
First and Last
Jehovah Jireh- Provider
Jehovah Shalom- Peace
Prince of Peace
Yes and Amen