The Teresa Jusino Experience

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Caprican in a Tauron Body (or, Remembering Mom)

From whence I get my good looks! Mom in the late 50's/early 60s.

My mother, Mariana Hernandez Jusino, passed away on April 5, 2006.  I’ve been posting the eulogy I read during her wake for the past couple of years as a memorial.  This year, though, what I’ve been thinking about are my feelings about my mother and how they relate to my connection to sci-fi.

Yeah, I know.  Yes, I am that much of a geek.  Bear with me.

I actually addressed it in a blog post shortly after my mom’s death, where I talk about watching the “Sarek” and “The Offspring” episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation to help me through the grieving process.  But lately?  It’s Caprica that makes me think about my mom.  However, it isn’t the stuff actually having to do with death that does it.  It’s the Tauron elements.

But first, some back story…

Joanna, Me, and Eileen. I was about 13 here.

Some of you may have heard this one before: I was in seventh grade, and it was just after gym class.  I was getting changed, when two girls in my grade, Bridget and Myra, came up to talk to me.  This was strange, because they were “popular girls” and never voluntarily came up to talk to me.  They were also fellow Puerto Ricans.  “What are you?” one of them asked (I forget which one, as they’ve become a composite blob in my memory).  I knew what she was asking, but I wanted her to ask me outright if she was going to ask me.  “What?” I replied, playing dumb.  “What are you?” the other one asked. “I’m a New Yorker,” I said, a bit annoyed that they were asking me this out of the blue when they never talked to me before. “No!” the first one said, frustrated. “What are you?  Like, what’s your background?”  “I’m Puerto Rican,” I said.  The two of them in their doorknocker earrings and slathered-on red lipstick looked at me as though I had five heads.

With knit eyebrows, one of them said “Really?”  And the other said “You don’t act Puerto Rican.”  And then they just walked away.

I was 12, and I wasn’t prepared for my identity to be called into question like that.  Certainly not while I was putting my pants back on after gym class.  I didn’t say anything, and I tried to forget about it for the rest of the day, but I couldn’t shake it.  On the walk home from school, their words kept playing over and over in my head.  You don’t act Puerto Rican. I wondered what this meant.  I speak Spanish, and spoke it at home.  My mother watched novelas on Univision every day, and sometimes I’d watch them with her (Maria Del Barrio and Te Sigo Amando were favorites).  I was raised loving arroz con pollo even though I hated pasteles (“But they’re the food of your people!” my mom would say, to which I’d reply “Well, the food of my people is gross!”).  I attended Spanish-language mass with my parents… It was one of the first times my being Puerto Rican was called into question, and it wasn’t the last.

A couple of years ago, Robin and I went to Puerto Rico on vacation and stayed with my aunt Ana on my father’s side.  We visited my mom’s relatives in Guaynabo, and I nicknamed it The Place Where Everyone Looks Like My Mom.  On a day trip, Robin and I took a cab, and I chatted up the cab driver in Spanish.  After a while, he asked me where I was from.  I said “Yo soy Boricua!”  He asked me in Spanish, “No, where are you from?”  I told him I was from New York, and he said “Ah…you’re ‘Nuyorican.’ That doesn’t count!”

I’m rarely given a hard time about my ethnicity by non-Hispanics.  There was one instance in my teens when I was walking down the street with a non-Hispanic friend and when we were stopped by a cop and asked a question about a robbery that had happened near our high school, that “friend” said completely seriously, “He probably stopped us because of you.”  But usually, I just get surprised reactions from them when I mention I’m Puerto Rican.  “Really?” they ask, and I know they’re thinking But you speak so well! even if they’re not saying it.  Also, as an actress, I’ve definitely been “too ethnic” for many roles.  However, I’ve always been given the biggest hard time by fellow Hispanics, fellow Puerto Ricans.  Because for some reason, despite the language I was raised with and the food I grew up eating, despite my skin tone and a town on a Caribbean island where everyone kinda looks like me, I’m never Puerto Rican enough.

Sam and Joseph Adama on Caprica

Sam and Joseph Adama on Caprica

So on Caprica, when Sam Adama tells Joseph Adama that he’s a “Caprican in a Tauron body,” I know how it feels to have someone in your family, your culture, your tribe say that to you.  It hurts.

Honestly, the Taurons are the reason why I love Caprica rather than just like it.  I understand Willie Adama not liking the Tauron food his Tsattie makes for him (pasteles, anyone?  Ick.).  I understand Joseph Adama and his desire to be educated and successful and part of the establishment, even as he’s proud to be Tauron.  I understand his frustration at being too Tauron for some people and not Tauron enough for others.

But I also understand Sam Adama.  I understand being the youngest in a family and clawing at your heritage, desperate to hang on, because you’re the furthest away from it.  I understand being frustrated by the distance of years, and by seeing that your heritage doesn’t seem to mean the same thing to your older sibling(s).

And I understand that culture means even more to you after you start to lose family.

It’s always upset me when people call my heritage into question, because I’ve never believed that Being Puerto Rican required any one set of criteria.  “Puerto Rican” is a broad label that encompasses a million shades,  body types, interests, and experiences.

Though both my parents are Puerto Rican, I’ve always associated my own Puerto Rican-ness with my mother.  She was the one I spoke Spanish with at home.  She was the one who cooked the rice and beans, and it was with her that I watched trashy Spanish-language TV.  It’s mostly her family I visit when I go to Puerto Rico, because most of my father’s family came to New York.  So it’s especially painful to think of Not Being Puerto Rican Enough in the years after her death.  It hurts that I’m starting to lose my Spanish from lack of practice.  It hurts that I never asked my mom to teach me how she makes her rice and beans.  And it hurts that, for whatever stupid reason, my memories and the life I’ve lived aren’t enough to “qualify me” for Puerto Rican status to a lot of people.

So, let’s make a deal, OK world?  Let’s just agree right here and now that this IS what Puerto Rican looks like and acts like.  I was raised in Queens and on Long Island, and I’m Puerto Rican.  I spoke Spanish only at home, and I’m Puerto Rican.  I’m a sci-fi geek, and I’m Puerto Rican.  I’m a writer, I’m smart, I’m well-spoken, and I’m Puerto Rican.  I’m Puerto Rican whether anyone likes it or not.  I, however, happen to like it.  I’m proud.

I only wish my mom were here so that I could practice Spanish with her.  I always imagined that she’d help me teach it to my future kids.  I’ll have to do that myself, I guess.  And I will, in her memory, with lots of love.

RIP, Mommy.  I love you.

Photo from Mom & Dad's first date! Late 1950s. The inscription reads: "For Ray, Save this as a memento of our first day together. With all the care and love I profess to you, Mariana"

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23 Comments

  1. What a beautiful tribute to your mom! She looks to have been one classy, wonderful lady.

    I’m kind of a white-bread Anglo (German, really) and have never run into the 1st/2nd/3d generation immigrant dilemmas you’re talking about, but I know plenty of people who live with them every day – from all kinds of backgrounds. (South and East Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American, African, etc.) And I’m guilty of having made some clueless comments in the past… but I hope that’s changed (or is changing, in me).

    Am wondering if you’ve ever read Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel Middlesex? It’s partly about growing up Greek American in Detroit during the 50s-70s, with an Old Country family. I think you’d probably like it a lot. Eugenides is very insightful, and he also is able to look at his own background (along with that of his characters) with both humor and respect.

    (btw, *love* your Tor post on Caprica’s cancellation.)

    • Thank you for your comment! About what you said re: “clueless comments” that you may have made, the important part is recognizing when you’re doing it, and trying to do it less. 🙂 We ALL say ignorant stuff about things sometimes, but once you’re no longer ignorant, it’s the making the effort to make those comments less that’s important.

      I’ve not yet read Middlesex, but I want to. I’ve heard nothing but good things about that book, and Jeffery Eugenides is one of those authors that I always mean to get to, but don’t.

      And thanks for reading the Tor post. Glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

      • Oh, I loved your Tor post! And thanks so much for your kind words about clueless comments – you’re right about *everybody* making them, I think. (And the need we all have to work on our sensitivity to other people.)

        Re. Caprica, I have one qualm about the Adama (well, Tauron) storyline, and it’s a big one: the violence. (Oh, and the way in which they seem to be referencing all of The Godfather movies + the many Little Italies that used to be a staple of American city life.)

        That said, I love Sasha Roiz!

  2. If only more than 43 people could hear this.

  3. Angela

    This post was the bomb diggity! I remember your LJ posts when your mom passed away, but I didn’t know you then like I be knowin’ you now. I’m glad that even though it’s a sad anniversary, you found a way to put a positive spin on it. You knows how I likes me some perspective. I love the pictures in this post too. Your mom looks like she’s posing for Vogue or something in that first picture.

    Also, I’m way behind on Caprica, but I have so been feeling the same way about Taurons and the Adamas as you! I completely know what you mean about not being cultural enough for your own culture too, and as I have so many groups to answer to in that arena, I don’t even worry about it anymore. I don’t care if I ain’t from mainland Asia, I will never eat batlut (fermented duck egg, with the baby duck inside *GAG*) to prove my Asianess! Also, funny story. Found out what “chink” meant after being called that when I was 5, yelling at the girl that I’m not a chink, crying to my dad about it, and then finding out that I am actually part Chinese. *cue Wonder Years theme song*

    Being in TX though and having dark features, everyone automatically assumes that I’m Mexican, so I get the, “But you speak so well!” treatment too. Then the Mexicans get mad when I don’t speak Spanish because I’m denying my heritage, but I’m not even Mexican!

    Sorry for the long comment. I’m not supposed to write online after 9pm or I get babbly. I just so loved this post and love Caprica and loved your mom’s dress that I had to.

    • PERSPECTIVE!!! 🙂 I <3 you. This COMMENT was the bomb diggity. Seriously.

      And yes, I love old pictures of my parents. They were rocking Mad Men fashions like WOAH. There are some great ones of my dad looking all GQ, too, but those are for another post.

      I can imagine that you must understand exactly what I'm talking about. And I agree that batlut sounds horrific. I'm not a fan of duck anything…

      Anyway, you need to get to NYC again soon! Or I need to get to Plano. Now that I've met you, I need a more regular Angela Fix! 🙂 BTW – did you get your pants?

      • Angela

        Well Father’s Day is just around the corner, so might I suggest GQ Dad Post???

        I want to get to NYC like, yesterday, but I think the next time I’ll be visiting is when I move there. Stupid no vacation school. Then my dad’s getting married in August and I’m buying the cakes. Then, if I can save enough money after that, between Christmas & New Year’s I want to visit family in TN that I haven’t seen since I was 14. You have an open invitation with me too though and can show up on my doorstep like Balki Bartakomous anytime!

        I haven’t gotten my pants yet, but I check my mail on Thursdays and Saturdays. It’s getting too hot for pants now anyway.

  4. You don’t like pasteles?! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? LOL, just kidding. There are some things I can’t eat either: pig’s feet and morsilla top the list.

    I don’t mind people thinking I’m different or not Puerto Rican if they have no way of knowing. I’ve been “different” all my life. A combination of living in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and a 3-year stint in the Peace Corps has labeled me, at different points: the religious one, the agnostic one, the brown one, the light-skinned one, the one with bad hair, the one with gorgeous hair, the geeky one, the party girl, the one that CAN’T DANCE SALSA WTF, and lots of other categories. So when people can’t figure me out I find it amusing. To the “what are you?” question I answer “what do you think I am?” because I’m keeping a list. I like getting different responses. I look all kinds of mixed. I *feel* all kinds of mixed. I embrace my inner and outer diversity.

    I think accents are beautiful. I don’t have a strong accent in English, but of course I have the Puerto Rican accent in Spanish. Other Latin Americans have made fun of it. It is bizarre, since there is no right accent of Spanish, just correct use. Which is why I can’t get behind Spanglish. It irritates me. That might be a flaw, but there it is. I blame my militant Spanish teachers and the Real Academia Española.

    So is ‘Niuyorican’ offensive? I always thought it was OK to use. I guess it is if you add a “that doesn’t count” to it. (Wow, you’d think people who think like that would keep it in their heads.) We put the -rican label on just about anything, most recently Twitterricans. Caprican with the right accent could qualify too. 😉

    Your mom seemed like a super cool lady! My condolences to you. So nice that you have a tradition to remember her by.

    Oh, and mi casa es su casa if you’re planning on visiting PR soon. I promise plenty of Caprica discussion and no pasteles!!

    • Thank you so much for your comment! It’s cool to hear the perspective of someone living on the island! I totally get a LOT of the differences you cited. Whenever my dad would pull me up to dance at parties, I was an embarrassment to my people. 🙂 BUT, I recently took salsa lessons, and the talent ingrained in my DNA came out. 🙂 Like an acquaintance of mine said “It’s all in there…you just need to rearrange it.” Heh.

      Nuyorican totally ISN’T offensive at all. It was more the emphasis that cab driver put on keeping it an “other” that made it offensive. It’s like he was ignoring the “rican” part and only focusing on the “Nuyo” part.

      I was lucky a couple of years ago that I had a job that required me to speak and write a lot of business Spanish on the phone, it helped me improve my vocabulary. But it’s been over a year since I’ve had that job, and I’ve lost it all again. I kind of sound like a 10 year old when I speak Spanish. 🙂

      Anyway, thanks again – and next time I’m in Puerto Rico, would you come to the Arecibo telescope w/me?? I’ve never been, and I want to go w/a fellow nerd! 🙂

  5. Liz

    As always, your writing is beautiful. I am so sorry that you lost your Mom so young…she seemed like a total badass. I can’t believe you have a picture (with inscription!) from your parents first date! That is some family HISTORY. And you are definitely Puerto Rican…I totally see your mom in your face. You’re totally my favorite Mexican 😉 *HUGS*

    • I know, right? I love that I have that photo. And you’re so sweet – thanks, Liz. Even when you’re calling me a Mexican. 😉

  6. Joanne

    beautiful … I love reading your blog Ms. Teresa, you sexy Latina!

  7. Awesome post. Most of my friends were Puerto Rican growing up including my (to this day) best friend. None of them fit the same box. They were all unique, some loved sci-fi, some didn’t, some loved freestyle, some loved metal. Where anyone gets the idea that your ethnicity ties you into fitting only one box I have no idea.

    • Yeah, you’re in the BX, right? LOTS of us over there! 🙂 But yeah, I don’t get it either. And it’s doubly frustrating when it comes from within the community, because at least an outsider has the excuse of not understanding because they’re not in the group. But other Puerto Ricans or other Hispanics? I’m like, really? We should all act a certain way? Really?!

  8. Strega Rossa

    Simply beautiful – well stated.

  9. i just finished reading the article and i just wanted to say sorry for your loss. your mum sounds like an incredible woman. 🙂 and what a wonderful testimony to her memories.

    a lot of the points you bring up and touch on really resonated with me. there are of course cultural differences since i’m not puerto rican, but i can relate with similar feelings and experiences from growing up in my own family.

    anyway, just wanted to say thanks for sharing this. your mum would be quite proud.

    • Thank you for reading, and for your kind words. I’m so glad you found something in it to relate to as well. I think a lot of the things I mention are true for many ethnicities, especially in the United States. Are you in the States, or are you elsewhere? In any case, thanks again. It’s nice to know my mom’s getting read about today. Writing about her is the best and only way I know how to honor her memory…

      • i agree. it’s what makes caprica interesting to watch. although i will be the first to admit, i prefer watching the tauron storyline any day of the week, and not just because of sam. the representation of tauron society as a minority/more ethnic group rings more true and relatable to me so i feel like i identify with it more and thus and more drawn into it.

        i’m state-side! and like i said in my tweets, i’m the first american born in my family. my siblings are about a decade apart from me but they also grew up in america, but obviously under different circumstances and a different era.

        please keep on doing so! and not just in her memory. i’ll also take this opportunity to say that your articles are always very interesting and a pleasure to read. 🙂

  10. Eileen

    priceless…

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