Growing up in our family and much like many other families was something that needed to be experienced not simply described. Describing it would make you think that we were seriously over exaggerating our very colorful, loving up bringing. That there was no way in the world that we actually had a mother who would show up to school in Madonna-esque bustiers that she made herself, or spiky spray colored hair. That she had six ear piercings and would wait for me at the bus stop to fill me in on the latest scandalous MTV music video. That we never really ate out because she cooked us amazing food every night and to this day- my father and I practically refuse to eat anyone’s chicken and rice or arroz con gandules and habichuelas – because if it my mother didn’t make it why waste your time. Explaining that growing up my mother didn’t speak English so she would try to learn from us when we got home from school or that she had the best catch phrases from The Price is Right, Police Academy movies and Coming to America. That when she said “beach” it sounded like “bitch”- we always got a good laugh at that. And now 32 years later she has learned to speak perfectly – yet its somehow a mystery that her accent gets thicker by the day.
We often spoke by yelling – not that we were mad – that’s just how we talked. A fact that upset my very American born son who for the first years of his life thought we were just mad when in fact it was the opposite. Ive explained to him that we talk super loud as to make sure you understood that you were loved lol. He now at 11 has no volume whatsoever.
My father like many Puerto Rican men is simple and quiet – and that’s not because he wants to be but he really cant get a word in edgewise in a room full of 3 Puerto Rican women. My brother has also gone mute. He proudly and faithfully served the United States Air Force for 26+ years and is the reason we all have amazing, productive lives and a million friends, we are open minded, kind, loving, resilient, peaceful and trustworthy an example he taught us from early on. On top of growing up Puerto Rican we were also Military BRATS. Which is a different experience altogether, we were used to moving with short notice, we knew how to make friends fast and easily leave. We adapted to our surroundings fairly quickly and did our part to hold onto the honor that was my fathers life. Supporting him meant supporting our country. So you can say we had pride and passion running through our veins from our roots to our nation. We love hard, fight hard and dream big. We honored the red, white and blue of both our flags and wore them both with great pride.
Wherver we moved we took our traditions with us. The flag and several flag emblazoned items were prominently displayed in the house. There was no secret where we came from and if you forgot we would remind you. My mother taught me the history of Puerto Rico and even bought me my own set of Puerto Rican Encyclopedias. I was taught and can still sing the national anthem of the island “Oh tierra de Borinquen, donde nacido yoooooooo”
Our friends were always welcome. A warm hug and kiss from both my parents are what greet you when you enter our home. We adopted EVERYBODY. No one has ever been turned away and a belly has never left our home hungry. You were also yelled at and disciplined because once you set foot into our house, you became one of us. My parents didn’t see a difference between birthed and non birthed children. Everyone was their child. I remember my father coming home from deployment and the doorbell ringing and the neighborhood kids asking if Big Dennis could come out to play. Myself, my brother Tito and my sister Nana would yell out “Dad! its for you” and he would go outside and play with all the kids. By the way this wasn’t creepy, we lived on a military base so oftentimes everyone’s dad were gone on deployments so we just took care of our own. It was understood living on base that you were taken care of by the entire community. Sometimes kids didn’t have either parent at home and its hard. My dad grew up an Army BRAT so he understood and he stepped up to the plate and played neighborhood dad with everyone. My mom would let them spend the night or let the mothers know that their kids had eaten or whatever was needed. We had that house. All were welcome, none where turned away.
Now having this type of family also meant we partied hard and food was a barter. My mom would cook her famous chicken and rice,pack it up in Tupperware and my best friends mom would trade her collard greens and corn bread. Its still like this 20 years later.
Again this is pretty hard to explain and sometimes downright unbelievable. So when the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was released we died laughing at the similarities. It was our family on screen but in Greek! It literally went by the book in our life so much so that the scene where Gus introduces his family as “Nick, Nick, Nicky, Maria, Maria” is where my family goes “Dennis, Denise, Dennis, Jenny and Jennifer” No lie, hand to God! The movie perfectly shows how we are so much so that i own a copy and I show everyone who has not seen it as preparation for my family.
We recently had our very own first wedding in our immediate family. My brother Tito (real name Dennis) was married last week. I wanted to share pictures of the REHEARSAL DINNER – I wont post photos of the wedding as my brother and sister in law paid for really great pictures and that would be in poor taste for me to put those up without permission. However feast your eyes on this 🙂
She had requested beforehand that people dress in traditional Puerto Rican dress and I have to say that everyone was a great sport about it. It really turned out nice. Much like Toula in MBFGW i snickered at the thought but had to eat my words with a side of arroz con pollo as it really did turn out very nice.
I really am fortunate to have them as my family. And much like Toula realizes in the movie, that there just is no better way than growing up Greek, i will say that I have been blessed to grow up Puerto Rican. To know my family is to love them, embrace them and know that instantly you become one of us. Cheers to the ones that started it all. This is my love letter to you. ❤