When in Rincón…

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    “When they are at Rome, they do there as they see done”                —Robert Burton,The Anatomy of Melancholy

Recently, I was back in my hometown and had the opportunity to visit some very close friends of the family, whom I hadn’t seen for years. They were like my second family when I was growing up, but as the story so commonly goes, once I left for college, and then left the continent for good, our paths didn’t cross very often. Since my mother had moved from the area some years before, I hadn’t much reason to go back and we had missed out on most of the significant events in each others lives, like marriages, births, graduations, and the like.

When I arrived at their house, I effusively greeted their father, who was now nearing 90, but looked to me as he did when I was a child. I then hugged and kissed my old friends, brother and sister, who did look slightly different than when we were kids. Finally, my old friend’s husband was there with his hand extended. As I took his hand and leaned in to kiss him as well, he recoiled back and said with some degree of surprise, “Have we met?”

It was then that I realized that the boricua in me was showing. I’ll admit that when I first came to PR, I found strange the custom of greeting everyone – friends, family, complete strangers that you were just introduced to – with a kiss. I found it particularly strange when it happened in the workplace. Don’t get me wrong – I was not adverse to physical greetings – I grew up in a large Italian family and we were expected to greet each other with a kiss. But that’s kind of where it ended.

Over the years, like any species engaged in self-preservation, I’ve adapted and adopted. Because of his profession, my husbands knows lots of people and I often find myself in social situations where I am being introduced to people I will mostly likely never see again. And yet, I now have no compunction about bussing the cheeks of these complete strangers.

Once you’ve lived in a new culture for a while, some of your behaviors are bound to change, consciously or unconsciously. I don’t remember the exact moment I got over my surprise at the practice, and just started smooching everyone I met. But I do know that living here has allowed me to kind of pick and choose those customs from each of my cultures that best suits my true nature. In the process, I guess I’ve developed my own, unique culture — some mix of my family’s Italian heritage, my American upbringing, and my Latin living. Will all this cultural melding improve my chances in evolutionary terms? I’m not sure. But I know that for right now, it feels just right.

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My Message in Bottle

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“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
– Robert Frost

Hola! Thanks for checking out my blog — The Accidental Boricua. My name is Paula Corapi. I was born and raised in chilly upstate New York, but I live in warm and sunny Puerto Rico . I came here when I married my husband, Carlos. I live here with my two children and my three dogs. My professional life spanned 20 years working in marketing for multinational corporations here in PR – Colgate-Palmolive, Microsoft, Kodak, and AT&T – all of which I left behind in 2003.

For the uninitiated, boricua is a local term, which refers to someone born in Puerto Rico. This term comes from Borikén, the name given to the island by its indigenous people, the Taíno Indians. Living on a tropical island was never part of my grand plan when I was younger. When I had envisioned myself living abroad, it was always someplace in urban Europe – Paris or Rome or London. I’m not sure I even knew which of the jumble of islands on a map of the Caribbean was Puerto Rico. And once I came to live here in September of 1984, the plan was that it would only be for two years. That was 30 years ago. Hence, The Accidental Boricua.

After having my two children, I found that the hardest thing to deal with was not the lack of sleep, or balancing my work/personal life, but rather the loss of personal time – the time to pursue my own interests – writing, reading, studying, cooking, exercise, genealogy research, and traveling. So I stopped working to spend more time with them and with myself.  In this process, I also started to gain a new appreciation for not just “how” I was living, but also “where” I was living.

In the past 11 years, something else happened I hadn’t planned on — I started to think of myself as a local. Don’t get me wrong — I still identify my self as an Upstate New Yorker and I still miss kicking leaves in the fall.  My Spanish still needs some help (just ask my children), and I still am baffled by the way some things work here. And although I feel very comfortable here, many people still think of me as a “gringa”.  But my connection with PR is undeniable — and it is home.

So I started this blog to start a conversation around what it is like to be transplanted, willingly or unwillingly, into a new place with a different culture. This blog is for anyone who is new to PR or has been here forever, like me — whether you came here to follow a true love, for work, for adventure, for family or for friends, I want to talk with you. To talk about what it is like to be surprised, to be frustrated, to be happy and to be disappointed when living outside of your comfort zone. To discuss how to raise and educate children in a way that respects local customs, yet is true to your own cultural values and beliefs. And I want to share what it is like to have one foot on the US mainland and one foot on PR, and how I manage to reconcile these pieces of myself and not get torn asunder.

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