Puerto Rican Jew

First: Kudos to Hector for getting what ‘yadragonchaser’ means. He correctly guessed that I am desperate for the omnisensory high of Young Adult reading, movie-watching, kissing and dancing. The truest of the pithy: youth is indeed wasted on the young.

He and I trade emails once every few months to remind one another that we’re friends. It’s my favorite kind of relationship and so will last forever. His emails are thought- and guffaw-provoking; impressive, as I only thought guffaws happened to Riverdale High seniors.

A question in his email:

Pardon me if you have addressed this in some post before, but have you ever written about growing up multi-ethnic? I grew up the only Latino in an a predominantly Jewish (I have to be careful here to note that Jewish is not a race) area, and my parents had also decided to give me the most Spanish sounding name they could think of. Did you feel it gave you a presence to “belong” in multiple communities? Maybe this is a boring topic but I was curious as to what, if any, affect your puertoricanjewness had on your formative years.

I love that he knows ‘Jewish’ is not a race. You’d be surprised how many people don’t. People like to use ‘race’ and ‘culture’ interchangeably.

So, I lived in Miami until I was thirteen. Miami is where I forged an unbreakable bond with Christopher Pike, Z. Cavariccis, and Boyz II Men. At thirteen I was living in Miami Lakes and going to a Solomon Schechter Jewish school. And Hebrew School. And temple every Saturday. My mother is Puerto Rican.

‘A Puerto Rican Jew?!’ you might be exclaiming. I assure you, we exist. Just like black jews. I know, it’s crazy.

Miami was unsurprisingly accepting of my ‘multiethnicity’-ness. There were hybrids of all shapes and sizes, and it was not uncommon to bring tostones to a Sukkot potluck. I still had thighs and boobs before everyone else, but you could see it was hovering in their horizons, also.

Now. Off to Pittsburgh. Where kids pegged their jeans and listened to Ace of Base. I was a jalapeño in a sea of peanut-butter sandwiches. They were a little less accustomed to my kind of flavor, and WAY less discreet about it. But they were gracious and eager to learn. They even branded onto me a loving nickname: Jewrican.

So, had I stayed in Miami I might have been less self-conscious about my massive ass. Highschool yinzers are toothpicks, and Old Navy did not have a ‘curvy’ option back then. Or maybe they didn’t stock it in the midwest, I don’t know. But I rolled with it, and got many an affectionate ass-pat along the way.

More than anything it was a wicked ice-breaker. I ran in fairly affluent circles in Miami, but that first day of 8th grade I sold myself as a back-alley thug. What did these ‘burgh kids know? I left one of my overall buckles undone, threw on a smirk and played like a punk. Yeah? You went to Kennywood last weekend? That’s cool, I’m a Puerto Rican Jew.

Those white (and a pinch of Greek) kids spiced my life with very special moments. I’ll never forget waterskiing with the Giannis, hiking with the Allmans, horseback riding with a Newcamp, going to Jew camp with a DeKosky. I’ll never forget seeing snow for the first time on Halloween night in 1993. It was the very most beautiful thing I’d seen up until that moment.

So, yeah. I think I got to ‘belong’ to more than one sector at a time. There was immeasurable warmth in introducing my friends to Puerto Rico. I literally did that on a college spring break: my very, very white roommates came with me to San Juan, where they ate ripe plantains and empanadas, met my cousins and refused to wear sunscreen.

Boca is a good middle ground. People are slightly flavorful here, if mostly at night or at the right restaurant.

Anyway, go hug a Puerto Rican Jew today. We’re good people.