Growing up in Connecticut and being Puerto Rican, I never really knew much about the “motherland,” as my grandparents would call it. They would say things like “It’s a beautiful place” and “It’s very hot!”, but they never actually described what Puerto Rico was socially or culturally. They would talk about family and the past, but I never really got to know more. This past summer I had the opportunity to go to Puerto Rico. When Mr. Dave & Mr. Dan (creators of Arte Inc., the SLATE program and mentors) told me about this trip, I did not hesitate to accept. I had absolutely no clue what it was going to be like in Puerto Rico. All I knew was that I had a lot of family from there.
Upon arriving in Puerto Rico, we were given a tour of the University of Puerto Rico. U.P.R. is where we would be housed and take part in this learning experience. I was thrilled to be staying at a university and having the opportunity to take classes and learn about my history, culture and the people of Puerto Rico. The university staff and teachers were amazing. Everyone was so friendly and open. Every day I learned something different about who I am and where my ancestors came from. We learned about the history of Puerto Rico, the geography, the environment, culture, music and dance. I heard about the Taino Indians, who were native to the island, and about the Spanish that came and the African slaves that were brought there. I see now why Puerto Ricans are different skin colors and we are made up of so many different people. I learned about Bomba, in which a story is told through lyrics and dance. One day a group of students came from the U.P.R. high school. They were very friendly and outgoing. We hung out with them, played games and got to know people our age. I was impressed that 100% of the students go to college.
Each day we took trips to different parts of the island where we saw underground caves, a lighthouse, a giant telescope and El Yunque, the largest rainforest in the US. We walked through Old San Juan and saw the stone streets and El Morro fort. All of this was over 500 years old and my family is a part of this history.
The last two nights we stayed in a beautiful hotel on the beach. We were able to enjoy the beautiful ocean (the water at home is nothing like this), the pool and relax with our friends. I was so impressed with what I got to see and do. The people were so vibrant and full of energy and I found the experience amazing! I took home a sense of pride and a taste of what my father and grandmother experienced. I took home what it means to be Puerto Rican and a better understanding of myself. I took home memories that will last forever. I will definitely return.
Editor’s Note: CTLatinoNews.com previously published an article regarding Arte Inc’s planned trip to Puerto Rico. You can read that story here: https://ctlatinonews.com/2016/08/16/arte-inc-gives-new-haven-students-opportunity-to-travel-and-learn-about-puerto-rico/