If you think you’ve met a Puerto Rican, you haven’t. You’d never have to question it, because where there is a PR…there will be the flag. Even if the car is a rental, there will be a temporary flag on the rear-view mirror. Few West Coast residents understand Puerto Ricans or the culture. They don’t understand our insane loyalty to our families, even when members have been stabbed by each other. They don’t understand our Spanglish capabilities, our slang words (lunché), our commonwealth status that makes us citizens, but not able to vote for the Presidency. They don’t understand the urge in our brain to uncontrollably shout out “wepa” whenever we hear the beginnings of the clave. I doubt we understand it all either.
As I climbed the academic ladder passed my great-grandmother, my nana and my mother,there came an expectancy to leave the barrio behind. In order to not offend my acquaintances and friends during their every waking moment, I’ve had to control the head rolling, the animated hand gestures while telling a story, and cursing out the random stranger that stepped on my kicks. I FEEL (it’s important to start the sentence with “I feel”) like in many ways I’ve completely homogenized myself. I feel bland. The way I always wanted to feel when I was a kid.
While many of my friends escaped the grips of their parents during the summer and headed for the water park, unlimited access pass in hand, I was reluctantly helping my mom and nana pack for our annual Boriquen trip. The trip where I listened to a dialect spoken faster than I recalled coming from my mother, where I sat on the porch and chewed on raw sugar cane while I watched a 300-pound Hector eat aguacate, mango, bananas and anything else in his path. I ate rice and beans and chicken stewed in bell peppers, onion, garlic, achiote and culantro. I listened to salsa music while I was forced to clean the kitchen after the family consumed their soda crackers from an emerald green tin and cafe con leche. My summer was dominated by Hector, my titi’s boar, guisada in sofrito and Hector Lavoe. I hated all of it.
These days during the summer, I grow incredibly achy for the music, food, dominoes and fast-speak of my Taino descendants. Coincidentally, the BorinquenSoul - Boriquen being the indigenous name of Puerto Rico – food truck tweeted during an incredibly achy episode, 30-minutes before descending upon Lake Merritt. It wasn’t entirely surprising to me that I could spot the truck from the other side of the lake by the big ass Puerto Rican flag wrap on the truck.
$15 for a pastel, arroz con gandules, platanos and a Goya pineapple soda. It’s a hefty price, but I know what a pain in the ass pasteles are to make, I didn’t mind.
The pastele (essetially a Puerto Rican tamale) masa, a combination of guineo, platano, yautia and potato, was firm and silky. The meat inside, tender. It was wrapped in a banana leaf that imparted a subtle grassy and umami flavor. Unfortunately, the rice was so incredibly dry that the little gandules had turned ashy. The real jewels were the Platanos Maduros. Cut into relatively thick and meaty pieces, sweet and earthy and crackling crisp around the edges. I doubt I have had them this good. So damn good I had to return to the truck just to ask them how they were made. My companion asked me why there were packets of ketchup that came with our plate, and I told him in PR, they eat MayoKetchup. I suppose this was supposed to take the place of it.
Today, when acquaintances and friends ask me about what Puerto Rico is going to be like on their honeymoon, I generally respond with the same answer, “Hot. Sticky. Lots of pork to be eaten.” I haven’t gone back to my mother’s motherland in eight-years, since my grandfather died and my familia sold off our legacy. I’m hoping that when I finally do return, as an adult, I’ll throw myself backwards into the ocean like Miguel Piñero reportedly did and reconnect with my obvious affection for the isla del encanto.
And while my beloved and national dish of PR was a disappointment at the truck, that won’t stop me from representing and passing the word along. It didn’t stop me from almost roundhousing a passerby that told his friend, “Yeah, it’s a Cuban food truck and it’s horrdenous.” To which I replied, “It’s actually Puerto Rican and it was probably horrendous because you expected Cuban food.”
That moment gave me back hope that I haven’t entirely left my head rolling days in the past. It gave me back parts of my summer. It wasn’t an entirely Borinquen summer, but at least it still had the soul.
BorinquenSoul Food Truck
[Greater Bay Area]