Born and raised in Boston, Mass, I never really got to know my island as a child. I never made the connection even after visiting it at age 5. I vaguely remember being there. I did; however, always feel it in my blood. Spanish was my first language and my parents raised me old school “jibaro” style. As a kid, I watched my mother bring the traditions of the island to life within our home here in the states. I didn’t know much of the American way but I knew a whole lot of the country Puerto Rican way. As I grew older, I watched my mother learn english and many traditions changed to the more modern way of doing things. Although those things changed, I still carried them in my blood and in my memory. Turns out that wasn’t the only thing I was carrying.
My mother as a teenager in Puerto Rico always kept a penny in her pocket, by that I mean she always made sure she was never broke. She used to hustle the local supermarket to let her work whenever ever she wanted (no applications needed) but her main hustle – Selling her HANDMADE clothing door to door. My mother used to make dresses and sell them to the women in her neighborhood DOOR to DOOR. She says she always made good money doing that and the women in her hood LOVED her makes. Not only was my mother a seamstress on the side, her grandmother before her was too. As a kid, my mother always had me in some cute little number she made and as a teen she used to style me while shopping. I was so boyish and when I asked for my first skirt, my mom was super excited to take me to find it. From there on I fell in love with style.
My mother isn’t the only ‘maker’ that makes up my DNA. My father was also a maker! My father also used to sew back in his day. He made clothing and he worked with leather making leather bags. He has also mentioned making his own shoes so that he didn’t have to work the sugar cane fields of Puerto Rico barefoot. I remember the stories of him trying his homemade shoes that somehow contained metal together and throwing them around his neck when he didn’t want to mess them up and how he used to run around barefoot until he learned to make his own shoes. Growing up my father worked as a carpenter and he built and/or rebuilt rooms and classrooms at churches and community colleges here in Boston. My father’s mother was also a maker, she was a seamstress. My father made me want to be a carpenter/maker.
Here I am, 30 years old, and I am just getting better at the craft I have carried in my blood this whole time. I tried making headbands, later moving on to jewelry and finally landing on sewing. Everything before sewing was great but it just didn’t feel like me. I am now what we call a sewist and I love it.
For my 30th birthday, I went back to my island where my craft began with my parents and their parents and grandparents before me. I went to the little town that they both grew up in living just across the street from each other. My father coming first and my mother a whole 20 years later. The big structure you see in my picture is what was called a molino or a silo in english. In these molinos is where the sugar cane would be stored. The side of the island I come from was big on sugar cane and my father worked those fields making this structure an important part of my history. The murals came just after the horrible storm Hurricane Maria as a way to beautify what the storm has damaged. These murals are important to me because I flew out to the island just five days after the storm and witnessed all the destruction the storm had caused. To see this project brought a softness and happiness to my heart. It proves that no matter how hard the storm hits we will always rise. This is similar to my personal life as I have been through many storms.
Arroyo, Puerto Rico is what my heart has been missing my whole life. It is where my blood originated as well as my craft and the need to pursue it. These photos in my place of origin are very important to me and even more important is that I wore clothing made by my hands using the knowledge of my ancestor before me. Sewing isn’t just something I picked up because I wanted a cute pair of leggings, It is what my ancestors had been guiding me towards the whole time.