Puerto Rico – I always go back to you

Tonight as I put my Pachi to sleep and I fight with thoughts of struggles and balances, I close my eyes and drift to thee, I listen to waves and birds in a beach that can never be far from me, I feel the warm breeze in my face, my bare feet feel the sand of dusk and my soul feels the cuddling of your warm waves.

In the cold of winter in a far place from thee, I imagine my children building castles in the sand, I tear as I feel that life has taking me so far from thee and many storms have past.
Your waves calm me and provide a rest to my soul.

I imagine you at night in the dark and listen to the waves, loud, powerful but steady and frequent, each wave is like a hug from my lover reassuring me that I will be alright.

The smell of your ocean is like the aroma of coffee in the morning unique and reassuring of a new day, I miss you and long to be with thee.

Please see this images and maybe you can put the sound of waves in the background and enjoy these images.

Click here for photo gallery.

The sinking of the SS Ocean Eagle in San Juan, Puerto Rico –

I remember as a kid in 1968 that a ship had sunk at the entrance of San Juan Bay. I have tried for many days to make memories of this event. I was 7 years old so I have a vague recollection of what it look liked. I did some research and I felt a torrent of memories coming to me.

I don’t know were I saw it from, I think it was from the Puerta de San Juan gate looking towards the entrance of the bay. I remember that I was looking from afar and I could see the bow straight up.

For the time from what I have read over 3,000,000 gallons of crude oil from Venezuela spilled into the bay, this was not as much as the Exxon Valdez but it was a major oil spill nevertheless.

My grandmother took me to see this, she was always interested in the latest news and I am sure that this was such.

Here is a report on the investigation which I find as fascinating reading.

Coast Guard report on sinking of SS Ocean Eagle

El Verde – Puerto Rico’s secret paradise and my friends Erik and Melba

Charlie Billups Puerto Rico Trip July 2015 On my last trip to Puerto Rico the last full day that I was there I had two experiences that took me back to my childhood and allowed me to feel grateful for  my heritage and the beginning of my life. The first was visiting my old church in Santurce (Parroquia San Jorge) and secondly visiting my friends Erik and Melba Perez in the El Verde neighborhood of   Rio Grande, Puerto Rico. Erik and Melba’s house  is a custom built home in which Erik did a lot if not most of the work to construct it. It is still a testament to his incredible sense of design as he is still one of Puerto Rico’s most successful graphic designers. The house built in the early 70’s maintains its unique character and for being so close to El Yunque and the rainforest is meticulously kept and maintained. To reach this home you must travel on Route #956 south from Highway number #3, immediately there is a breathtaking climb and as you make turns, El Yunque is in the background. el_verde_2-0196Before you arrive at Erik and Melba’s you cross the Espiritu Santo river and even though Puerto Rico is in estate of severe drought you would not know here since there is a small flow of water in the river and many people are cooling off from the hot summer in the pools that are formed by the river. el_verde_13-0249I have known Erik and Elba for most of my entire life and as I write this article I realize that I has been probably 45 years. I don’t have any close living relatives living besides my brother and my sister and some very distant nephews of my grandmother but I have not contact with them. So Erik and Melba and another couple which I will write about later are my only real connection as far as close people since they were the closest people to my parents. Erik even his retirement has been very prolific in his design work headlining a project called San Juan in Black and White, which through illustration and research has recreated the Old City of San Juan including areas that were demolished in the 19th century as the old city expanded into what is now San Juan. Please click here and visit The Office of Historical Conservation and learn more about the project. So this trip was like visiting home. I am so grateful for them.

Bomba y Plena – The Puerto Rican uniqueness

The last year I have had an identity crisis. I have lived in Chicago since 1989 except for a year that I tried to live in Puerto Rico but had to come back since I could not find a job. I have four children two from my first marriage which regularly visit Puerto Rico and I have two from my second marriage and one is a one year old toddler. So for the last two months we have been on a binge of all things Puertorican in our family and last week I went to Puerto Rico myself and when the plane landed I cried. I realized I can not in anyway shape of form divorce me from who I am. I feel more Puertorican now than ever and in my mind I am scheming a way that I can do a business that can more frequently allow me to visit Puerto Rico and Colombia.

With all of that being said, I thought of this, last night we went to the monthly “Bombazo” dance recital at the Placita de Don Pedro in Division Street in Chicago and as I walked in from the street my heart raced, and I felt a rush in my body that let me know that our culture is not dying and that there are people worldwide that are doing everything it takes to keep a tradition, a culture, a way of life, a heritage and distinct culture expression alive.

In the following images we see a Bomba dancer dance a rhythm that when properly executed is more soul than technique, originally it was a dance of black slaves probably performed as the only outlet to express the pain of living in the white european man’s bondage.

Bomba and Plena represent what I call the Puertorican uniqueness which I see in Chicago as a growing movement. Let’s keep it alive.

The place where you learned about God – Parroquia San Jorge

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.”

Charlie Billups Puerto Rico Trip July 2015

Today as I returned from having lunch at Bebo’s Restaurant in Loiza Street, I drove south on San Jorge Avenue to get into the expressway to go to my home away from home and as I passed by the Parroquia San Jorge (San Jorge Parish) and I thought should I turn around and go back? Thought about for several blocks and then My heart said yes! and so I turned around went back.

I took several pictures of the outside of the building and I went in. The mass was over so pretty much there was some people doing cleanup and there was a gathering outside in the parking lot were they were having a fellowship lunch so I was alone inside the church. As I came in I smelled the strong scent of candles burning, as I felt it, I was overcome with emotions and memories as the smell was the same as when I was a kid, and all of the sudden I remembered my catechism classes, the old lady that thought me the ten commandments, I remembered my first communion and I realized on thing, this is where the journey began, encouraged by my catholic grandmother Tata this is was the place where my love for God was first encouraged and nurtured.

I realized that this was a full circle moment deja vu experience and here I was. It was a very profound moment especially since I had left the Catholic faith many many years ago. I realized that I wont go back, but it was great to be there and it was a moment of thankful reflection for all the many years that God has been with me and has had the grace to saved me through difficult moments and decisions in life. So many moments in my life that I thought I was not going to make it, however I am always thankful for learning to confess my sins to God and ask for his forgiveness.

I thank my grandmother for all this. Everyday I think of the impact she had in my life. I hope that somehow I can have this impact in my children.

The moment when you return home – AfriCaribe Dance Recital

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Sarah Maria dancing Bomba at AfriCaribe’s recital

Last night was a night that I felt was a “Homecoming” night for me and I kept thinking of the song by Ruben Blades “Todos Vuelven”. Last night when I first heard the sounds of Bomba music as I walked to La casita de Don Pedro on Division Street, I felt the coming home feeling.

I remember as a child in elementary school how I would practice dancing to bomba music and how many of the kids I grew up with wanted to be Conga players. I was very happy to see AfriCaribe and other groups fostering this beautiful and expressive art form. Last night more then ever I felt very proud to be from Puerto Rico.

Charlie Billups Classic Images – Old San Juan Cemetery

Jose De Diego, Daniel Santos, Don Luis A. Ferre, Pedro Albizu Campos, Tite Curet Alonzo, Rafael Hernandez, Sylvia Rexach,  Muna Lee, Gilberto Concepcion de Gracia, Ismael Rivera, Sylvia Rexach and many more including my great grandfather Andres Fernandez even the inventor of Kola Champagne is buried there. I think it is an idillic setting maybe I can be buried there!