This audio excerpt is from a recent American Boricua interview in Seattle, Washington.
Ray Cabatit describes his father Ramundo’s migration from San Marcelino, the Philippines,
through San Francisco, California, to the Yakima Valley of Washington. When Josefina Cabatit
landed in the mainland U.S. from Gurabo, Puerto Rico after WWII, her love of Washington
State was instant. Ray and Josefina are featured in ‘Under My Skin’, a new exhibition at The
Wing Luke Museum in Seattle’s International District. ©Wanda Benvenutti
To learn more about American Boricua Ray Cabatit, and the history the Philippines and Puerto
Rico share, go to The Wing Luke Museum blog: http://beyondtalk2.wordpress.com/2013/05/09/future-is-now/
It is with deep grief that I share the news of the passing of poet and author Piri Thomas. Through the years we developed a treasured friendship and became family. He really is a beloved Tío.
Tío Piri, as I mourn your passing the hardest thing is accepting a world without you in it. I simply cannot do that yet. I know you are smiling down on me, your laughter and word music still ring in my ears loud and clear. My deepest sympathy to the family, and to your beloved Suzie.
My last visit with Suzie and Piri was about a year ago. I shared a video clip with him for feedback on the progress of the American Boricua documentary film. He cracked a thousand and one jokes (I’m gonna be in your MOVIE? Wow kid, you’re alright! Let me change my shirt, I look good, but I want to look GOOD you know–HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!) and teasing me mercilessly about not being married yet. Then the usual loving complaint that I didn’t visit often enough.
That was Tío Piri.
It is eerie, yet somehow perfectly fitting, that I asked him this question over two years ago:
How do you want the world to remember you?
His answer: As me. As Piri.
He then began another beautiful flow of words, life, and poetry.
It is your generous spirit and love that have kept the fire of American Boricua burning bright.
Descanse En Paz Tío Piri.
American Boricua is the first modern visual history of Puerto Rican life in all 50 states of the U.S. Wanda is traveling throughout the country to interview and photograph Boricuas who live, work, love, and carry on the business of being Puerto Rican here in the United States.
What most people do not know about Puerto Ricans is that while we have been citizens of the U.S. for nearly 100 years, we are born as U.S. citizens on both the island and the mainland. What this means is that who we are is rooted in deep tradition, yet living within the U.S. creates cultural transformation and new traditions. The word “Boricua” itself, as a term of endearment Puerto Ricans use for one another, is steeped in history. It is derived from the Native Taino word for the island, “Boriken”, which means “Brave Noble Lord”. It is the essence of that “sabor”, that flavor that makes Boricua culture unique. This documentary project examines how Boricuas define home, family, culture, and identity.
About five years ago, when I found myself in Orange County, (Southern California version) I met several OC Boricuas who insisted that I meet Don Jibaro. So off we all went to the home of Orlando, a kind and funny gentleman who was a rock musician of all things in his youth on the island.
Don Jibaro has graciously asked to run a story about American Boricua on his website:
To connect with our official American Boricua Facebook fan page:
Friday, October 16, 2009, 12:12 PM
Well. After several months and scheduling issues we now have a couple of wonderful interviews out in the Universe of Television about American Boricua. Before getting to what it was like to have cameras pointed at you, I have to admit two things:
One: My computer is so old that it doesn’t want to upload the DVDs (so when I figure this latest technological opportunity for growth I will post them both here on the blog)
Two: After asking many friends and colleagues about how to handle the experience, I was still scared out of my mind. (!) Which, when you really think about it, is helpful because isn’t it our minds that often scare us in the first place? Think about it.
Being first generation U. S. born, in a Spanish-only household until I was in the second grade, of course my Spanish wouldn’t sound like the Spanish my Papi speaks. (If one or both of your parents arrived from another land, you can relate. I am much too hard on myself with my Spanish. I am not perfect yet! Grrr!) He had the benefit of growing up on the island. I had the benefit of North Philadelphia. Hum. So after several humbling days of only speaking in Spanish to practice, I got my thoughts and my Spanish together.
Wow. Its a good thing that the kind interviewer from Univision neglected to tell me the 3-minute spot was LIVE or I would have had time to freak out. HA! Three minutes goes by very quickly and now whenever I see people speak on television I understand why they can sound rehearsed. They probably DID rehearse! You don’t get enough time to even say “um”, or form an original thought, in the Universe of Television. Who knows? Maybe with practice it’ll be less stressful.
One thing that kept me in good spirits during the whole experience is that I kept imagining the hulking studio camera as the Eye of Mordor, all knowing and all seeing. En serio, it cracked me up and I found myself laughing silently at what a trip this experience is.
Gracias to KCTS Channel 9 and KUNS Univision, both in Seattle, for turning their eye toward American Boricua. More to come! Yes.
Finally! Our first formal exhibition for American Boricua has opened here on the West Coast. If you are in the Seattle area, go see it! We’re working on booking more Western cities for this show. Have ideas where? Contact me here on the blog!
I was very touched that some folks drove all the way up from Olympia (this is an hour away) to see this work. Gracias to all that were able to attend the opening last Friday.
Here is the information, please forward to everyone!
Wanda Benvenutti: Boricua
Puerto Rican Life in the American West
August 28-September 24, 2009
Jacob Lawrence Gallery
University of Washington School of Art
Seattle-based photojournalist Wanda Benvenutti’s book in progress,
American Boricua: Puerto Rican Life in the United States, travels out
West in this new exhibition of work. Puerto Rican cultural life, showcased in
photographs and interviews, has spread throughout the entire American Western
landscape. From tattoo artists in Utah to poets in Northern California,
see for yourself what the changing face of America looks like.
Thursday, September 3, 2009, 01:36 PM
The blog updates continue, I wrote this the night I arrived in Denver right after my time in Laramie, Wyoming. There is one more blog post to go before I begin the Colorado entries. Enjoy.
25 July 2009
Getting lost on a rural Wyoming road is not a bad thing. The wind has secrets.
The earth broke open to make room for mystical red rock formations anchored by lush green grasses, some began to creep up into the edges of the road to say hello.
I spent most of Friday afternoon on Wyoming State Route 34 looking for Carlos, his address is just a few miles North of the Wyoming/Colorado border. Red streaks of mud covered my car as I made my way outside of Laramie, stopping twice for directions (once at a Veterinary clinic, once at a cement plant because google maps lie I tell you) and yet I only found his mailbox. I even stopped at what I thought must have been the ranch next door—mosquitoes feasting yet again on my wrists and knees—but the neighbor, a craggy rancher with blankets tacked up on his walls for curtains, didn’t know of the Jimenez ranch.
“Well you know the Colorado border is right there at Camel Rock,” he said. Perhaps he lives further down the road across the border. “Even with a Laramie address?” He nodded. I thanked him, smacking mosquitoes dead while trying not to scratch. Suddenly I was aware of the fact that I was alone with a stranger in a land that is completely unforgiving. Time to go. “I never knew I was a city person until the mosquitoes.” I said by way of apology.
The road of red dust beckoned as clouds rolled in. I caught some air coming over a hill, the car seemed to enjoy the adventure as much as me and it no longer mattered that I might not find this Puerto Rican rancher in Wyoming today.
Families of antelope galloped elegantly away as the sound of a car got closer. Cows crossed the road, taking their sweet time. I stopped, chuckling and afraid. They stared back at me, unimpressed. Finally they made their way across to graze, not without some resentment. This place—where the Northwest and the Southwest dance and collide across the landscape—puts you in your place. There is no doubt, mother nature is completely in charge.
A small group of cowboys herding horses on the prairie turn toward the sound of my car, their faces cracking open into the biggest smiles I have ever seen. How many times in your life can you say you have seen something, in person, that you have never seen before? Wyoming cowboys! They laughed at my pleased astonishment. These men wear Wranglers because they are working the land, not going to brunch in L.A. Much respect to that most American of visual icons: the cowboy.
People wave hello as they pass by in their pickup trucks, happy to see another human being. I like that. A simple recognition of another in this place that more animals than people call home.
There is a reason for this. Most people could not hack it, Wyoming winters are long and the sun mocks your straw hat and sunscreen. At 8,300 feet in the air, oxygen is thin and physical movement is slow, deliberate. In town there are an abundance of drive-through liquor stores and billboards warning of the dangers of meth use. Winters are long.
Wandering around the downtown Laramie farmer’s market, I met a woman named Stephanie. Her parents came to Laramie from Mexico. She is a Laramie-born Chicana and I could see how this stark and ruggedly beautiful land has shaped her. Her eyes were clear and flinty, there was a steeliness in her gaze that made me admire the chance her family took in coming to this place so long ago.
She was very curious about what I’d discovered about the Puerto Rican experience here in Wyoming. To choose to live in such a different and sometimes alien place—what drives us as humans to migrate away from all that we find comforting and familiar?
A chance. An opportunity. The possibility—even just the possibility of a better life—it was worth it for her family.
The United States is by no means a perfect place and yet people from all over the world sometimes risk their lives during the journey to our shores. So clearly there must be something that is magical, something worth giving up the life you had without hesitation, that is uniquely American. This experiment of Democracy. Imperfect and bumbling and forever striving for perfection.
There is beauty in the messiness of life, grace in our constant effort to be, live, do better. In this journey we are all Americans.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009, 01:28 PM
Yes, I did type that title correctly. While the state of Wyoming ranks last in the nation for population size, there are indeed Puerto Ricans in Wyoming and I managed to find a few of them during my time there in July. My apologies for not blogging directly from the road, a laptop will materialize soon so this will be possible again. This week I’ll be updating the American Boricua blog with stories from my summer 2009 travels for the book.
July 23, 2009
We’re 8,200 feet in the air and the Rocky Mountains cradle this little University town in dust and open sky. This has to be the only place where people must fight the unrelenting presence of the sun. It is nearly 6pm and all of the curtains are drawn. Otherwise this house would bake like a hot potato.
Cecilia, known as Cici, is an artist and Professor at The University of Wyoming here in Laramie. Originally from Albuquerque, she met her now husband Jed in Arizona at a grocery store. Jed moved from Puerto Rico to the U. S. with his family as a boy, they settled in Sandy, Utah, now part of Salt Lake City proper. He told me he remembers a girl from Guatemala in his elementary school class, otherwise his family was Puerto Rican in a sea of White America. Jed works as a Physician’s Assistant in Cheyenne.
Yesterday I went hiking with Cici and their lively two-year-old daughter Skye in Vedauwoo, Wyoming. She exclaimed throughout the day, “I jump Mama!” as we walked amongst boulders, butterflies and rock climbers in the distance. We all felt the occasional fatigue of high altitude kick in. Honestly. I am not that out of shape, I kept huffing through the trail and thinking to myself. Especially traversing some pretty big crevasses with a small army of neighborhood kids Cici brought along ages eleven, seven, and four. Despite a bit of whining toward the end of the hike (is it possible to slightly sprain one’s toe? Ouch.) we emerged triumphant. I shooed bold chipmunks away while snacks were devoured.
Oh. The Wyoming mosquito is not a creature to mess with. I haven’t seen welts on my arms and legs so big since the last time I was in Puerto Rico as a kid. Don’t touch the welts. Hurts worse. Yep.
So of the 89 or so Puerto Ricans the 2000 Census says are in Wyoming, our least populated state, I have so far found two and photographed one. There is a Carlos here in town that may be a rancher of sorts. So I have a call into him and his address. Perhaps I will show up at his house and introduce myself and American Boricua to see if he would like to be a part of la familia.
Skye knows how to chant in the wilderness. While hiking we suddenly heard a bird. Then another. Cici stopped and whispered, “Listen! Listen! The birds, they’re talking to each other.” Then Skye turned her little round face up toward the sky and began to howl a joyous sweet howl. The other kids joined in and Cici turned to me. “I taught them all how to chant when we’re out in here hiking.” Saying hello to the land, to the animals? I ask. She smiles and nods yes. I found myself howling (and panting a bit in the high altitude) too.
How can I begin to explain the spare beauty of a Wyoming wind?
What I noticed during my first few hours here—was it really less than 48 hours ago?—was the quiet. A softness in the air that brings the seductive hush of prairie grasses to your ear like a familiar whisper. If you ever journey here, you will not shake the feeling that you have been here before.