My Trip to Puerto Rico: Lessons on Race, Independence (Day) and Sports

July 8, 2015

What I Learned About Race, Independence (Day) and Sports in Puerto Rico…

I recently travelled to Puerto Rico for a decompression vacation. One of those vacations to get away from the daily grind. A vacation to enjoy and be in the now. A vacation to remind me that life is full of the unexpected – and ALL of the unexpected needs to be accepted.

I have been to Puerto Rico before, but on a resort in Fajardo, away from the bustling San Juan. My sister and her friends were planning a trip to San Juan and I did not expect to be able to go, but unexpectedly I could. So I took the opportunity and went.

We stayed at the happening Marriott Stellaris which boasts a key beach location with a pool and happening nightlife full of bands in the lobby and a bright casino. We had fantastic service full of helpful people including Waldo at the concierge desk.

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We partied in La Placita and Brava,

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Stuffed our faces full of authentic Puerta Rican food – aka meat and carbs, hiked a rainforest in a downpour,

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kayaked a bioluminescent bay,

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puddle jumped in a puddle jumper to the sleepy island of Culebra,

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and painted the colorful town of Old San Juan red.

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Needless to say it was a busy trip, but I enjoyed every moment of it and wanted to share a few things I learned while in Puerto Rico.

1. Independence Day isn’t really celebrated the way we celebrate it. Sure, Puerto Ricans take the holiday because they take many holidays, and they barbecue because they can but their culture just celebrates being able to enjoy the moment whatever the reason may be. Perhaps that is the reason for their economic crisis, but in the end they believe everything is just going to be ok so enjoy now for what it is.

2. Puerto Rico is one of the few places I don’t stick out like a sore thumb when I travel – maybe because black people love to travel to PR – but it’s a great destination because it is so unlike the United States yet still part of it. And no passport required! I have travelled to many destinations and still get looked at sideways for being black yet American, Nigerian yet American, and American. I never knew how to classify myself because I feel like I come from so many parts. I am Nigerian due to my parents, American due to my nationality, black due to my skin, Catholic due to my religion and I grew up in a predominately white area full of European immigrants. These things make me who I am. Yet I constantly had to defend myself for not being enough of any one of those things growing up and still do to this day. I gave up on trying to be one thing a long time ago because I refuse to separate the parts of me to fit in to a box outlined by others.

I appreciated PR because the separation of race seems so much less apparent in Puerto Rico even though they are part of the United States. In the United States that is all I see and feel – this separation. Puerto Ricans are a mix of Spanish/European, Taino/Native, and African/black, yet I saw families of all shades and colors together. They are unified by their culture, the language and the fact that all those mixes make Puerto Rico what it is. The US needs to learn from our territory. I am sure there are subtleties that I could not pick on while I was there, but I believe Puerto Ricans see each other as Puerto Ricans ultimately. There doesn’t seem to be this need to classify people as black, white, brown, etc…So my question is why can’t Americans appreciate that part of being American is this mixture and we are all unified by living in this great country known as the United States where we can be independent and free to be what makes us us?

3. The last thing I learned in Puerto Rico involves sports of course. I unexpectedly ran into a basketball legend while I was out with my sister and other travel companions on a night I didn’t even want to go out. As I walked into the Hotel San Juan, I was beyond excited when I spotted the University of Louisville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino (I have been referred to as a celebrity hawkeye). I was promptly told by my sister to act cool. Since my last brush with an athlete – you can read about that HERE – I made it a goal to not be afraid to say hi and to put myself out there. So I did and I am beyond happy that I did.

Coach Pitino was very kind and generous. He bought us drinks and invited us to meet the Puerto Rican National Team that he is in Puerto Rico coaching for the next two months the next day. We of course took the offer and met the players, including JJ Berea. Coach Pitino was a fantastic host and even offered to host us in Louisville for a home game and send us his book on success. I already feel like a success for putting myself out there to say hello, but I will happily accept the book from one of the most successful active college basketball coaches.

This experience just reaffirms my belief in seizing the moment. Life will always offer opportunities. It is a choice on whether or not to take life up on it’s offers. So I say thank you to life for the opportunity to meet Coach Pitino. I can’t wait to see what else life has to offer.

Enough of this life lesson stuff. It’s time for my highlights on what happened in sports while I was in Puerto Rico…

Soccer

Soccer balls don’t have to be black and white anymore…

Two huge soccer tournaments just wrapped up this week.

The Copa America: The Latin version of the World Cup for men just concluded and Chile took home the prize after beating Argentina. I didn’t really watch but many national teams from top countries played in this tournament.

The FIFA Women’s World Cup in Vancouver – which I think is bigger news because it is – ended with my home country winning. The United States National Team took home their third cup after beating the team that beat them last time. Japan was going to clearly lose after the US scored 3 goals in the first half. The US beat them 5-2. This is great for women’s and girl’s soccer and sports everywhere. I hope this win only brings more attention to the sport and the value of women in sports. U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A!!!

Tennis

Players are still donning their whites at Wimbledon…

The Men’s and Women’s quarterfinals of Wimbledon have just ended and the Women’s Semifinals will occur tomorrow.

The Men’s Semifinals will include Richard Gasquet who beat #4 Stan Wawrinka in the battle of the backhands. Frenchman Gasquet will play #1 Novak Djokovic who took down the tall Croatian Marin Cilic in straight sets. I am pretty sure Gasquet has only beat Novak once out of 13 meetings. I know who I would bet on…

The more interesting match will occur between the King of the Grass versus the Hometown Hero. #2 Roger Federer beat the other Frenchman standing Gilles Simon today. Roger has only dropped one set but not the opportunity to bring celebrities to his box. Bradley Cooper is the latest, but I’ve seen Tiger Woods, Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale to name a few.

#3 Andy Murray brought out his own celebrities including the Wills and Kate. He beat the young Canadian Pospisil in 3 sets. The match between Andy and Roger should be epic – knock on wood because they are now evenly matched head to head.

On the ladies side…

It’s less 1, 2, 3, 4 – more like #1 meeting #4. #1 Serena Williams will meet #4 Maria Sharapova again in the Semifinals tomorrow. Serena leads Maria 17-2 and has beat her the last 16 times they have met. Serena is going for the ultimate Grand Slam of Grand Slams. She has already won the Australian Open and French. She just needs Wimbledon and the US Open to complete the year slam and make history. I am rooting for her because she’s awesome to still be in the game at 33!

The other half of the semifinals involves Aggie Radwanska of Poland and Garbine Muguruza of Spain.

Thank you for reading my Puerto Rican vacation/Independence Day blog! It’s going to be an early morning for me tomorrow to watch Serena go for her Serena slam!

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