Grandmotherly Wisdom (With a Dose of Prejudice)

Edit: This post was written just before Thanksgiving 2005, so it’s a bit outdated. My grandparents had come to visit from Puerto Rico and I got a chance to spend a couple of days with them, something I hadn’t done since summer of 2001. This post is one of a few I still have in the backend which chronicles some of my thoughts on our conversations. It’s not a story, just a set of observations based on a conversation I had with that day. While it looks like I never quite finished what I was thinking, since this took place over a year ago, I won’t attempt to complete it, since I don’t suppose the same thought process I had I would have now.

It’s kind of funny. I listen to my grandmother talk, and realize that she is like every other human being on the planet, interested in herself and her experiences first and foremost. (If you’ve ever read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.) Not being selfish or greedy, mind you, but I mean when talking, she often talks about how she’s either been wronged and how she handled it, or how other have been wronged and she went in to rectify the situation. I first really noticed this when she started talking about some of the Cuban ladies she’s met living in Puerto Rico.

Her opinion on Cubans, shared with me last night, isn’t exactly the most “enlightened”. Specifically, she claimed that Cuban women will tend to charm men and take them away from their wives. (She said this when taking to me and The Wife, who was just then getting a crash course on Puerto Rican Spanish.) After a bit, I found out why she had that opinion: my aunt’s (her daughter’s) ex-husband divorced her to be with a Cuban lady who eventually left him and took half his stuff.

Yeah, that’ll leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth.

My grandfather, on the other hand, has a high opinion of the Cuban business men in Puerto Rico. Being a businessman himself, I’m not surprised.

It’s funny, though: I listen to them and think about all the “enlightenment” (and I use the term loosely) of our age, and all accumulated wisdom of their years. It’s a bit of a conflict, really. While I love that they share their stories about the past, and learn from those, I also find myself dissecting a lot of the knowledge with the wisdom (or lack of foolishness, to be more accurate, because there’s plenty of that to go around) I’ve accumulated in my quarter century on this planet. For example, my grandmother’s opinion and my opinion on Cuban women is very different. While she thinks of them as being no better than temptresses, most of the Cuban women I know are rather respectable, at least no less so than any other type of woman.

Another thing I’ve put under the scrutiny knife is her mistrust of my parents’ house-help. My grandmother has been complaining for hours about how she can’t find her rings, and has taken upon herself to inform the rest of us that the help has stolen them. She says it has to be them because my mother decided to allow them to stay in the house while we were all gone, and of course we all know that the “poor trash” taking care of the house isn’t above petty and ill-gotten gains for their financial betterment, even if it would mean a swift firing.

I, like the rest of the family, simply thought that she just couldn’t remember what she did with them. We were right. Two hours later, she found the rings.

In addition to that — or maybe because of it — my grandparents also don’t have a high opinion on Cuban Spanish, claiming that Puerto Rican Spanish is much more beautiful. Not the jibaro (hee-bah-roh) or “hick” Spanish which tends to be associated with Puerto Ricans (like the hillbilly twang is associated with Americans), which most famously includes the use of back-of-the-throat pronounciation of double-r words (perro, carro, etc.), but the civilized Puerto Rican Spanish, the one which doesn’t require any phlegm. Frankly, I don’t exactly agree with them here. Although the Puerto Rican accent sounds like “perfect” Spanish to me — it was what I was raised on — the cleanest Spanish speakers in Latin America are probably the Colombians and Costa Ricans. These, I’ve found, are by far the closest to the Castilian Spanish spoken in Spain, while being even more devoid of identifying accents. That said, I’d take Puerto Rican Spanish over any other almost any day.

Through this entire conversation, I also learned that there are a lot of Cubans in Puerto Rico, most of them from the pre-Castro era, most of who hate and loathe what Castro’s done, even going so far as to create conspiracy theories involving Castro and the 9/11 attacks. My grandfather apparently spends a good amount of time with them, I suppose, which is why he spends so much of his time talking about Cuban politics (or the lack thereof).

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