The Good and Bad of Growing Up In Puerto Rico

We Are Happy People

Patron Saint Festival (fiestas patronales) Patillas. Source:

Perhaps I am the outlier, but most days I feel like the only person who had a happy childhood, who loved school, particularly high school, and who did not grow up with a lot of baggage. Then again, I was blessed to be born and raised in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Ricans are happy people who love to laugh and party even if there is a hurricane coming. Not because we are careless but because we trust in the Divine Providence (which by the way, it is our patron saint).

Growing up I learned to fear hurricane season. Even if the hurricane or tropical storm missed us, the amount of rainfall would be enough to cause major flooding. Eventually, the waters would return to its riverbed and life would go back to normal.

Plaza Pública, Ponce/Ponce’s public square

And yet, no matter what, we would joke about it afterward. We love to have fun. We love to dance and tell “chistes coloraos” (literally, red jokes–of a high sexual content). There is no hurricane or natural disaster who can break our souls and joie de vivre.

Furthermore, who can be unhappy when you live in a tropical paradise?

Good weather all year long, delicious tropical fruits growing up everywhere, the ocean never far away. Where the sea breeze kisses you and the coquí’s song puts you to sleep. The flamboyant tree painting the landscape… What is not to love?

Racism? What is that? As we like to tell each other, “Y tú abuela dónde está?” (Where is your grandma?). Meaning even the whitest Puerto Rican have some Native Taíno or African blood in them. Racism is not something we live daily. Racism is a cultural shock for us whenever we visit the USA or live here. We are just not used to it.

No wonder we are happy people. We love music, we have a long Christmas season (because, why not?), and we are family oriented. Our families are large, truly large. We even include those who are not relatives by blood but who are our relatives by “compadrazgo” or friendship.

When you have a large family, you are never alone. We all watch out for each other. How could we not? Family matters to us. A lot.

Trouble in Paradise?

La Guancha, Ponce, Puerto Rico

Nonetheless, not everything about Puerto Rico is perfect. No country is. I am not blind to the bad about my island. Does not take away my love for her.

The island is densely populated, especially the metropolitan area. Because public transportation is limited, traffic jams are an all-day occurrence. We are used to tapones. Does not mean it is a good thing.

The south is hotter than the North. The Cordillera Central has springlike weather all year. Not Ponce or Juana Díaz. It is hot and sticky. To complicate matters, unlike San Juan where it seems it rains daily, in the Ponce area does not.

There is a lot of crime, too many drugs, and too much gun violence. I believe the combination of permanent hot weather, unending traffic jams, and drug trade exacerbate the crime rate.

Furthermore, there is too much corruption. Honest politicians, cops, and public servants are endangered species. We are used to it but we should not have to.

Jayuya, Puerto Rico

Likewise, we love gossip (bochinche), we are noisy. I know I am. We love sex, perhaps too much. We do not have the hangups or prudish attitudes American have about sex. We live by the Spanish concept of picardía (slyness?).

Similarly, we are no politically correct. Quite the opposite. We call things by their names. And no one gets offended. More likely they will answer with a readily wity comeback (“gorda tu abuela, cabrón”).

By God, do we curse. Profusely. Coño! No me critiques.

We can be vain. Puerto Ricans love to dress up and look sharp before going out. Go to a mall. Any mall, there are hundreds. They are always packed. IVO be damned.

And yes, we procrastinate. We have a different concept of time than Americans. We will get to it. Eventually. It can wait until tomorrow. We do not stress about it.

Sometimes I feel instead of dominoes, basketball, boxing, paso fino horses or baseball, bochinche and shopping should be our national sports. IVU (Sales and Use Tax) be damned.

The Advantages of Growing Up in Puerto Rico

Jayuya, Puerto Rico

We looked at the downsides, now let us look at the advantages. There were plenty. Granted, this was my experience growing up in Ponce and Juana Díaz in the 198os. I cannot talk for kids growing up now.

Advantages? Besides zero snow and no winter? All year Summer. Incredible beauty and colorful scenery. Yes, advantages. Please allow me to get personal.

Rivers and beaches were not only nearby but enjoyable all twelve months. Likewise, you could play outside all year. Did we play a lot? Did we have lots of friends? Did we fight today and hang out the next day? Grudges are for adults, not for kids.

We have a rich culture and lots of traditions to be proud of. We are a combination of three cultures: taíno, African, and European.

We have lots of people to be prouder of. Real life role models who put our name in the international scene. People like Eugenio María de Hostos, Julia de Burgos, Roberto Clemente, Eduardo Lalo, Héctor Lavoe, Pablo Casals (we adopted him–yes, he is ours.), José Campeche, and yes, Don Pedro Albizu Campos (my idol). And dozens more.

We were raised in the church (I was an altar boy) and we followed the Catholic holidays with solemnity (for example, no music or dancing on Good Friday; no meat on Lent Fridays, etc.). Three Kings days is bigger than Christmas, specifically in my hometown of Juana Díaz.

Granted, we Puerto Ricans are socially conservative. Perhaps too much. Even so, we were taught good manners, respect for our elders, and the importance of self-reliance. The jibaritos (peasants) lived by those values.

Flying chiringas in El Morro

Speaking of church, who did not look forward to having ice cream (parcha or tamarindo) in the plaza pública after mass on Sundays? We all did. And who did not look forward to the fiestas patronales or the festival del pescao? Again, we are party people. It is in our blood.

And who did not fly chiringas (kites) in El Morro. It is almost a childhood rite of passage. The handmade ones were the best. Are you truly Puerto Rican if you never flew chiringas in El Morro? It is okay, you are never too old to do it.

Remember when I wrote about those things I miss the most about Puerto Rico? There is the one I miss the most: us coming together to celebrate a special occasion. Bautismo, quinceañero, boda, primera comunión, velorios, navidad, año nuevo, pascua, graduaciones… It does not matter.

Because when you are Boricua, we belong to a big family. We are all cousins. We get each other. Better yet, you are never alone. As Cheo Feliciano used to say: Familia! Yes, we are on big family–a family of 3.5 million from 78 different townships.

To be Puerto Rican means to be part of a big family. A naughty, partying, fun loving, loud, caring, humble and yet, proud, warm, open, never boring family. Family nonetheless.

A family who never leaves you alone and it is always there for you. Yes, I have a happy childhood. Do not hold it against me. Growing up in Ponce and Juana Díaz was awesome.

Reader, did you grow up in Puerto Rico? What do you remember the most?



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March 2023