I used to walk past the Julia de Burgos mural on 106th street almost every day when I lived in East Harlem. I had never read anything by her before and I loved the daily, poetic reminder she gave me. While I was in Puerto Rico last week, I kept thinking of that mural and the connection between NY and Puerto Rico, two places tightly tied together by culture, love, and pride.
I was a little nervous and unsure of what to expect heading into San Juan since the hurricane. While I pretty much only spent time by the Convention Center and Old San Juan, the damage from the hurricanes still poked through here and there. Traffic lights weren’t working, the electricity flickered a few times at the hotel, and there was a lot of construction.
Overall, though, the tourist areas were pretty well restored and, I’m hoping, that will help bring some resources to the island. Driving to the airport, however, you could see the tell-tale aftermath of the hurricanes poking its head through in the form of fallen trees with buildings crushed under their weight.
I was very lucky to have the chance to visit. I explored a bit of Old San Juan, including La Factoria, a really cool speakeasy bar. So speakeasy-like that we stood outside for at least ten minutes pushing on locked doors trying to figure out how to get in. While the quality of my own dancing was nowhere near that of the salsa music, it was amazing. They also make a mean take on an old fashioned.
It surprised me how familiar San Juan felt. I’m not sure if it was because I was coming from Brazil, which has a similar climate – as well as, what I would call, an equal love for barbecued meat and dancing – or if it’s because of the cultural influence in New York and New Jersey. Either way, it was a pretty cool feeling and I was overcome by how gorgeous the island is. (Sunset at the San Juan National Historic Site? Oh my god.)
On the first day, I texted Gustavo: “You have to come here.” I’m really looking forward to another opportunity to go back, visit, explore. It took me thirty years to get there, but it’s so worth it.