Today is the first day of June and here in New York City, Puerto Rican Pride is at an all time high. Flags are hung from windows, fire escapes and draped over car hoods. Living in The Bronx, you don’t have to walk far to see a stand of Puerto Rican items for sale: slippers, fuzzy dice, t-shirts, bandanas, socks, key chains, beach chairs and more.
Sunday June 9th is the National Puerto Rican Day Parade. And if you’ve never been in New York to see the parade you have missed out on one of the best party parades this city has to offer. The excitement is electric!
Raising a young son with autism, pride, heritage, and culture are abstract concepts and difficult for Norrin to understand. And going to the Puerto Rican Day Parade may be too much for him. The crowd and the noise would be sensory overload. But I want Norrin to have some understanding of where we come from. I want him to be familiar with our culture and heritage. While we don’t speak Spanish fluently in our home, I am doing what I can to teach Norrin the words that I know. His interest in speaking Spanish has really inspired to want to learn more.
I didn’t grow up not speaking Spanish even though my parents are fluent, so I’ve been accused of being ashamed of my heritage. But as an adult, I have immersed myself in Puerto Rican history, literature, and art. Cultural pride goes beyond speaking a language. That’s what I want for Norrin. I want Norrin to understand that he doesn’t need to speak Spanish in order to proud of his heritage.
Puerto Rican Pride in our Day to Day Life 1 of 7
Click through to see how we incorporate pride, culture and heritage in our daily life.
Reading Books with Characters that Look and Sound Like Us 2 of 7
When I was growing up there wasn't a book in my home written by or about a Puerto Rican. And we had a lot of books (my dad used to work in a book factory and bring them home). The reality was, not many existed. I am proud to say that our home library is filled with many books written by and about Puerto Ricans. We have a variety of fiction, poetry, history and memoir. Norrin will know that Puerto Rican writers and poets exist and he will know that our stories matter. These three books are ones that I wished I could have read growing up:
- On This Beautiful Island - this bright beautiful picture is one of our favorites. Perfect for youngsters. (Available on Amazon prices vary)
- When I Was Puerto Rican is one of my all time favorite books. It's the first book I ever read by a Puerto Rican author (I was 21 when I first read it) and sparked my passion for Latino Literature. I would recommend for young adults or it could be a book you and your independent reader can read together. (Available on Amazon for $12.25)
- An Island Like You: Stories of El Barrio is a realistic portrayal of life in El Barrio through the eyes of its young inhabitants. A perfect summer read for independent readers. (Available on Amazon for $6.99)
Surrounded by Art 3 of 7
If you live in or near New York City or you're planning a visit - be sure to visit El Museo del Barrio. "The museum cares for a diverse, 6,500-object Permanent Collection of Caribbean, Latino and Latin American art, unique in the United States." We went a few years back and picked up this beautiful piece of art in the gift shop. (It's also where we purchase On This Beautiful Island.) Now that Norrin is a little older, we'll be visiting again soon.
We have many pieces of art and photographs around our home of Puerto Rico. Whether we realize it or not it's an everyday reminder of where we come from. And when people come over for the first, they almost always ask about a mask or picture. It's a nice way to talk about where we come from and where we've been.
Can You Feel the Beat? 4 of 7
I grew up listening to old Salsa music and Latin Jazz. My dad especially loved Tito Puente, Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon and Eddie Palmieri. He played their records constantly and I heard them at every party we attended. My dad loved to sing along, dance and every so often he'd pick up his gÃ¼iro (shown bottom right) and play with his favorite song. I don't speak Spanish but throw on some Salsa music and I can sing along well enough to fool anyone.
When out driving we put on Salsa music and while Norrin doesn't really appreciate it now (I didn't either when I was his age), I hope he will recognize that music is a big part of our culture.
Photo credit: iStock photo
Feeding The Soul 5 of 7
Oh my goodness...the food! The food is such a big part of our culture. It's how we greet, comfort and celebrate. Whether you speak the language or not, the cuisine is usually the first introduction a child has to his/her culture. I am lucky that Norrin likes a variety of food: Italian, Chinese, Mexican, Vietnamese. But his favorite remains rice and beans - the Puerto Rican dinner table staple.
Photo credit: iStock photo
A Remembrance of a Baseball Hero 6 of 7
Anyone who knows me, knows I am not a fan of baseball. But I am fascinated by history, heritage and an amazing life story. The first time I saw Roberto Clemente's biography on PBS I was in complete admiration of him. Not only was Clemente revered as one of the greatest players of all time but he was also a respected humanitarian. He died tragically in a plane crash en route to Nicaragua bringing supplies to earthquake victims. Clemente was the first Latino to be inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame. We keep this figurine of Roberto Clemente in Norrin's room. We have yet to take Norrin to a baseball game but it's something we plan on doing this summer.
Leaving on a Jet Plane 7 of 7
I've only been to Puerto Rico four times in my life and the first time doesn't really count because I was a baby and have no memory of that trip. But the three times I do remember left huge impressions in my life. When I went at twelve, it was my first time on a plane and the first time I was away from my parents (I went with my godparents.) We traveled around the entire island and I got to see how people in Puerto Rico lived. It gave me insight to how my parents grew up. It really opened to my eyes to completely different way of life. The second time I was in my early twenties and I got to experience San Juan and the nightlife. And the third time I went, I went with my husband, Joseph. We stayed in my godmother's home and once again, we traveled the island. We ventured to Vieques and it was the trip that inspired me to write my novel. I really want to take Norrin to Puerto Rico some day soon - I want him to experience it, to smell its air, taste its food and to dip his feet in the clear blue water.
Photo credit: iStock photo
What do you do to teach your children about their culture and heritage?
Read more of Lisa’s writing at AutismWonderland.