Gringos Ain’t Welcomed (Day 3 3/4 in Puerto Rico)

We got back to Felicia’s house and Nick was standing in the drive shirtless. Ink accented his rib cage, his forearms, shoulders, chest.  There wasn’t a region that hadn’t been at least semi-tagged.  He said he needed help delivering his TV to a buyer in the projects.  We offered to help, but he refused.

“Only Marck,” he said.  “It’s dangerous and us gringos ain’t exactly welcomed.”  Felicia was born in America and though Nick’s dad had been Puerto Rican, Nick had lived for a few years in Chicago.  “The first time I went I spoke hardly no Spanish and I thought I won’t coming back alive.”  While they were gone, Tom and I helped Ramón haul a refrigerator to a neighbor down the street.

It got dark and we helped Felicia carry a big bowl of rice to the grandparents’ house two doors down.  Miguel, a man nearing 65, spoke no English, but mixed us drinks just the same.  His wife had just returned from a several month visit with family in New York and her return was the occasion for the pig.  On their back patio we sat in a circle talking and waiting for the pig.  Tom and I were included in the conversation casually and when the time came we were given a heaping plate of rice, roasted pork and egg salad.  The meat was fatty and tender and sweated its tasty juices.

Sometime after dinner we heard loud music and shouts from a bull horn. Though the adults didn’t rise, they encouraged us to go out front and watch.  A parade of cars and mopeds was passing.  Girls held signs from the beds of pickup trucks with the face of some pretty celebrity.  The same flyers were taped to the doors of the passing cars.  You would have thought they were marching for a political or social cause the way they chanted and shouted over loud speakers.  But according to Nick, they were just driving through the neighborhoods to announce the recent arrival of the pop star whose face was the flyer.

The entire family sat around talking and laughing for a few more hours: Felicia and Ramón, Marck, Jen, Lexi, Nick, Gabby, los abuelos and their son Chaco—a 30 something comic who told stories about bar fights and drug trips.  It got late and we stumbled back to Felicia’s in the dark.  We pitched our tent in her backyard, underneath stars that reminded me of Charlotte County.  We went to sleep full, happy and staring into a clear night.

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