Young Julio

(This post originally appeared on my old blog, Signaldotnoise.com, a year ago. I had wanted for it to be the start of a series, but never got around to it. It fits more with this blog, anyway. So here I am re-posting, re-titling, and updating it.) 

Here’s a small factoid that may shock some of you: I’m a faux Hispanic.

Sure, my parents were born and raised in Puerto Rico, and I was born and raised in Pennsylvania (save for a brief 8-month stint in which I lived in Puerto Rico, but that’s an entirely different story for another time), which makes me Puerto Rican (once removed). I’ve never hid the fact that I was Hispanic; the perma-tan skin and afro-lite hair made that impossible. But even if I were an albino Puerto Rican (once removed), I still would have not denied it, despite the minimal likelihood of being believed; after all, when can you ever believe anything an albino says?

All of my life, growing up in the mainland USA, in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I could never really identify with being Puerto Rican. Or perhaps, more to the point, Hispanic culture. I never looked at myself as being different from Joe White or Billy Black in school; I always thought of myself as a person, an American, and the differences stopped there. Oh, how naive I was.

The first signs of that facade cracking came in first grade, when I had the most enlightening conversation with a classmate:

WHITE CLASSMATE: Are you Puerto Rican?

ME: Yeah, I guess.

WHITE CLASSMATE: Does your Dad have girlfriends?

ME: Eh, no. He’s married to my mom.

WHITE CLASSMATE: My dad says that all Puerto Rican guys have lots of girlfriends, outside of their wives.

I thought that was the oddest thing to say.  My  6-year old brain began turning this concept over, trying to come to grips with what my classmate had said. “What does my dad being Puerto Rican mean he’d have girlfriends?” *Cue laugh track*

Anyway, as boys are wont to do, I got older. We moved to Puerto Rico when I was 7, and as my parents are undoubtedly tired of me saying to this day (and do you blame them? I’m surprised they still pick up the phone when I call), it was a mess. I was a mess for weeks, missing my friends terribly, because I was 7 and what the heck did I know about the fact that the friends you have at that age are most likely not going to be the friends you have the for the rest of your life? But again, I digress.

After our brief side-step in Puerto Rico, I came back to the US being fluent in Spanish (something I wasn’t before we moved down there), and I had a wicked tan. So, in retrospect the 8-months in Puerto Rico proved most beneficial, and I was even happier that we moved back.

So I got older and attended schools where I had mostly non-Hispanic friends (Julio Fun Fact: I went to 10 different schools by the time I graduated high school. Second Julio Fun Fact: I went to school with mostly white kids.). Nothing wrong with that, obviously. And my tastes skewed in that direction; music-wise, I loved rock / modern rock (the Cure, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden). I loved reading and writing. I became your typical early-90’s teenager. I realized that I was, unfortunately, fairly lacking in the area of rhythm. I didn’t care for Spanish music at all. Every time the sound of the horns, congas, and claves would kick in, my brain would suffer a small seizure and I could only imagine my mother and father downstairs, dancing in the living room to the Salsa rhythms, which in that wasteland of teenage years meant embarrassment for me.

I did like my parents’ cooking, except for beans; I don’t know why. Yet, it never stopped my dad from asking me, every single time, if I wanted to have beans with my meal.

DAD (with thick Spanish accent): Julio, you want beans?

ME: No thanks, pa. I don’t like beans.

DAD: Okay.

(Next day)

DAD (with thick Spanish accent): Julio, you want beans?

ME: No gracias.

(One week later)

DAD (with thick Spanish accent): Julio, you want beans?

ME: Dad, you always ask me that. I don’t like beans.

DAD: Okay, okay.

(Eighteen years later)

DAD (with thick Spanish accent): Julio, you want beans?

ME: No!!! (Rip my shirt to pieces in angst)

But that’s my dad, you gotta’ love him.

So, to review:

  • I don’t like living in Puerto Rico.
  • I can’t dance.
  • I love the Cure.
  • I don’t like beans.

I don’t see how it doesn’t get more faux Hispanic than that.

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