Monthly Archives: December 2017

Killing Us Softly With the US Colonial Song: Puerto Ricans Matter

This blogpost is dedicated to my 2nd great-grandfather, Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo, who was assassinated in 1890 by the Spanish Civil Guard for being a member of the Puerto Rican Autonomous Party. Juan Eusebio pre-deceased his comrades, who in 1897, took part in La Intentona de Yauco, the last uprising against Spanish colonial rule. It is likewise dedicated to my 3rd great-uncle, Pedro Lajara Guerra-Mondragon, a captain in the Spanish Militia, who took part in El Grito de Lares — the first uprising against The Spanish in 1868. These men spoke truth to power about the conditions of the Boricua people.  I am humbled to know that I descend from Puerto Rican revolutionaries who were truth-tellers. Me siento honrado de saber que su espíritu de resistencia está en mis genes. Que descansen en paz eterna.

Finally, this blogpost is dedicated to each and every one of my Boricua Branches. Like branches of a tree, we will continue to grow together. I have been blessed to have made all of your acquaintances. There are way too many names to list, but you know who you are. Besitos y un abrazo fuerte.


L Artist: Rosenda Alvarez, Old San Juan


On Becoming Comfortable with My Rice & Beans & Collard Greens Self

On December 27th, 2013, I wrote one of my first blogposts about what it meant to find my Boricua Branches — my father’s side of my family. I will always say, without an ounce of hesitation, that the best part of taking my DNA tests was finding my Puerto Rican cousins. My father’s absence for 20 years of my life — from the age of 3-years old until 23-years old — resulted in a critical disjuncture in how I saw myself. While I always knew I was half-Puerto Rican, my pre-23 year old self did not know what that meant having been born and raised in Brockton, MA, a suburb of Boston. Brockton was not the diverse community it is today when I was growing up. It was a predominately white community with a small African-American and Cape Verdean population. We were often seen as Black and sometimes as Cape Verdean. Pre-23-year old Teresa was definitely Black culturally-identified. Though I always knew I had a diverse maternal extended family and equally diverse ancestors, having been raised by my maternal grandparents, I grew up within the confines of an African-American community.



I arrived in New York City in the Fall of 1990 to attend graduate school in a city that had one of the largest populations of Puerto Ricans outside of Puerto Rico. With a name like Teresa A. Vega, I had a hard time convincing anyone that I was anything other than a Latina. People assumed that I was either in denial about being a Latina or had some sort of hangup about speaking Spanish. It never occured to most people that maybe I didn’t grow up with my Puerto Rican father, that maybe Spanish wasn’t my first language, or maybe I was raised in a place that didn’t have a Latino community.

Two months after my mother passed away in December 1990, my father walked back into our lives. Boom! There he was. It was nothing short of an earthquake that shook up our lives. My siblings and I had different reactions to his re-emergence. None were more valid than the others. Our reactions were what they were. As I stated in another postI left graduate school in the Fall of 1991 and moved to Cordoba, Spain, where my father retired, to get to know him. That is a decsion I will never regret. For all his faults — he had many — I learned what I inherited from him and, more importantly, what I didn’t.

Though I had 10 years (1991-2001) with my father before he passed away, he was always a step away from Puerto Rico for me. There was only so much I could learn from him about Puerto Rico as he left the island when he was a child and was raised in New York City. Even though I had been to Puerto Rico before, I felt disconnected to the island because I didn’t know anyone who was related to me and he didn’t remember any relatives there either. When I thought of Puerto Rico, there was always a sadness present due to the loss of family. Sometimes we mourn for that which we know we should have received automatically, but we didn’t. We are just left with a bottomless void…. so I thought.


23andme DNA Cousins in 2017


Receiving my first DNA test results in December 2013 was certainly a life-changing event. I went from having 1200 DNA cousins on 23andme in December 2013 to having 1933 in 2017. On AncestryDNA, I went from having 1800 DNA cousins to over 35,000 today and, on FTDNA Family Finder, I went from having 145 DNA cousins to having 1489. On all three of my DNA tests, the great majority of my matches are Puerto Rican. So, now I know that voids can be filled and hope should ALWAYS be kept alive.


My Boricua Branches, Global Family Reunion, 2015

My Boricua Branches, Global Family Reunion, 2015  

DNA Cousin Gathering 2016
DNA Cousin Gathering 2017
DNA Cousin Gathering 2017
When I look back over the last 4 years, I realize just how blessed I’ve been in the company of my Boricua Branches. Just knowing and being among them gave me my birthright — my ancestral heritage — back. My cousins have always maintained ties to Puerto Rico. They were never one step away from the island, but always kept one foot there. Over the past couple of years, in addition to meeting my cousins here in New York from all over the country, I’ve also traveled to Puerto Rico and met my cousins there. Like I’ve said before, we are all branches on the same tree that is firmly rooted on the island. It has been my Boricua Branches who taught me what being Puerto Rican truly meant and there is nothing like two back-to-back hurricanes, Irma and Maria, that have brought that message home to me in stark terms.

Happy 100th Anniversary: American Citizens and Colonial Subjects

When Hurricane Irma and Maria hit, my Boricua Branches and I were frantic. Phones were ringing off the hook and FaceBook IMs and text messages were flying back and forth. All of us trying to locate our family and friends. Some of our kin were readily located and others went missing for weeks. For the first time in my life, I feared for my family and friends in Puerto Rico. My cousin Maddy and I called each other trying to find out about our relatives in Yauco and San Juan. So many calls were made to my cousins to find out if they heard from their relatives that I lost count. Every day we checked in with each other to see who had been located and who was still missing. Sometimes all we could do was pray as we waited. Tears flowed as the devastation became known bit by bit.

My Bonilla Cousins in San Juan 
Theresa aka T2 and Ralph
Four years earlier, I didn’t know one relative in Puerto Rico and now I had so many to track down. One of the longest waits I had was for Theresa and Ralph to show up. It took a month. The two of them have the honor of being designated as my “First LIVE Puerto Rican cousins that I met in Puerto Rico.” The NYC honor goes to my cousin, Raul Cruz Delgado, who earned that title back in 2013. Though Theresa, Ralph and I are forever linked in the AncestryDNA commercial we filmed together, we are also spiritually-bonded through the libation ceremony — overseen by our primo Luis Sanakori Ramos — that we gave my 2nd great-grandfather that honored both his Taino ancestry and his Puerto Rican revolutinary spirit. Both were with me when I met my Bonilla cousins for the first time, an experience that is forever seared in my mind that is too precious to adequately put into words even today.
Libation Ceremony in honor of Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo 
The day I met my Bonilla Cousins on my dad’s 80th birthday
My Boricua Branches and I watched as the President of the United States sat by as both hurricanes devastated our beloved island and offered minimal help. As American citizens, we expected more. We did not ask to become United States citizens, it was a condition imposed on us by the United States in the form of the Jones-Shafroth Act of 1917 which granted Puerto Ricans full American citizenship. A couple of months later, in May 1917, Puerto Ricans began to be drafted to fight in World War I. Over 20,000 Puerto Ricans served in the military then and continue to do so today.
Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States ever since it was won as a result of The Spanish-American War of 1898. At no point ever have Puerto Ricans been able to control their island. Though Puerto Rico is self-governed through a local constitution whereby Puerto Ricans can elect their own Governor, Assembly and Senate, the United States government still oversees and controls the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. There is no President of Puerto Rico other than the President of the United States. We are not citizens of some other country. We are citizens of the United States of America. It’s a damn shame that I even have to say that in 2017, but I do.
When the current President of the United States, in a heinous, blatantly ignorant act of utter disrespect, threw paper towels at us and joked about about how Hurricane Maria was not that bad compared to Hurricane Katrina, my Boricua Branches — even those cousins who voted for him — and I cringed. It was as clear as day that we did not matter to HIM. We were seen as “The Other” because of the color of our skin and the language that rolled off of our tongues. It did not matter that we were American, that a lot of us were bilingual or only spoke English, or that we only had to move to the mainland for our votes to count.
We also sat by and watched as the Governor of Puerto Rico became politically impotent and agreed with the President’s shenanigans in early October. We were all shocked as both the President and Governor undercounted the death toll by the hundreds, if not thousands, and made light of our very real pain and denied what our own eyes were witnessing. The gaslighting of Puerto Rico’s hurricane victims was in full effect on every television network worldwide. Though the Governor now realizes his mistake, the damage was done. History will remember that it was the Mayor of San Juan who stood up with cojones and spoke truth to power in real time. She represented all Boricuas wherever we are found in the world. Her name is Carmen Yulin Cruz. Say HER name, Say HER name, Say HER name…
It was Carmen, along with many other Puerto Rican activists, who sounded the alarm about the compounded impact that the Jones Act of 1920 would have on Puerto Rican hurricane victims. Under the Jones Act, any foreign vessel must pay expensive tariffs, fees, and taxes to deliver goods to Puerto Rico. These taxes are then passed on to the Puerto Rican consumer. As a result, consumer goods are much more expensive. Of course, humanitarian aid was and has been hindered by this Act which was waived for a month after Hurricane Maria. The United States has since let that waiver expire.
There are many government officials and other Americans who look to blame Puerto Ricans for their current situation. It is far too easy to render blame to people who don’t look like you and who speak a different language than you. It’s so easy to also assign blame to others when you yourself are ignorant of United States history as well as the definition of what a colony is. Puerto Ricans are not responsible for their current situation when the US government calls all the shots, especially as they relate to the Puerto Rican economy. For example, when we look back to 1976, we see that Congress decreed that American companies could relocate to Puerto Rico and operate tax-free and many pharmaceutical and manufacturing companies did just that. However twenty years later,  Congress then decided this was too costly and ended these tax breaks. Companies fled the island and took their jobs with them. This pullback ultimately led to the current debt crisis that existed before the hurricanes hit — a crisis that has meant that the Boricua people are at the whim of the United States government (e.g., PROMESA). As far as I am concerned, every president who has been in office has been complicit in the underdevelopment of Puerto Rico.  Over the past decade, thousands upon thousands of Puerto Ricans have fled the island for the mainland and poverty has become deeply entrenched. Again, the Boricua people are victims of policies that are regulated by Washington by people who have no ties to the island. We are at the mercy of a President and government that believes that Puerto Ricans don’t matter.
How can you explain the fact that Puerto Ricans have been left to die by the hundreds, if not thousands, and the real body count will never be known? How do you explain that, 100+ days after Hurricane Maria, only half the island has power and may have to wait until Spring to get it —-in the “greatest” country in the world?  How can you even look the world in the eye and claim that you want to “Make America Great Again” when the policies that you espouse have resulted in the PREVENTABLE death of innocent people? How can you sleep at night when you just passed a tax-reform bill that treats Puerto Rico like a foreign country and will further devastate and economically ruin American citizens of Puerto Rican descent? It is so clear that the United States is are being led by people who follow a false prophet and adhere to a false religion. Do not talk to me about a Christianity that is 1000% un-Christian. Talk to my hand because the God I KNOW would never let his flock suffer like we are now. NEVER! The devil is real, folks!
Anyone with a heart and soul knows that Puerto Ricans matter. We matter because we are human. How do you not recognize another person’s basic humanity? Throughout history, I know there have been those who walked among us and denied others the right to exist just because they were different from them. I will never understand that.
Some of us are brave though and we follow the ways and knowledge that our ancestors passed down to us. We will stay, resist and fight back against our intended demise, and aid our brothers and sisters by any means necessary in their time of need. We are here for the long-term. Puerto Ricans MATTER! We don’t need anyone’s pity and we are not asking for unjust handouts. We ask for that for which we are due for all 119 years of colonial subjugation. People and companies profited off of Puerto Rico and it is time that the Boricua people receive payment back. We want hurricane relief with no strings attached. We don’t want to be saddled with outrageous debt that we did not create. We want the Jones Act repealed as it has placed an unfair burden on the Boricua people. We want something that goes beyond the current FEMA programs whereby people are able to stay in their homes or are able to be resettled nearby. We want to live in a clean environment with toxin-free water…..among other things.
We are, without a doubt, the canaries in the coal mine. Just a thought, if the current US government does this to us, as American citizens, who else is next given all the forthcoming cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, the ACA, health organizations, etc.?



“We Puerto Ricans are also a heroic people, because we resisted Spain for five hundred years, and now we have resisted the United States for a hundred and nineteen years. We are like trees that not even a hurricane has been able to uproot, because our roots grow so deeply. Our leaves may be torn off, but they will grow again. These are the fruits of what we have sown

 -Heriberto Marin, one of the last survivors of the Jajuya Uprising in 1950

 (The New Yorker Magazine, 12/27/2017)


I am proud of the Boricua Branches that I have because they prove time and time again just how resilient we are as a people. I can’t stop bragging about them. Here are just some of the cousins I have who have stepped up, before and after the hurricanes, and set an example to be followed.


Adopt Arecibo

In the days after they resurfaced, Theresa and Ralph started to immediately organize to not only help others in need, but also to coordinate hurricane relief donations from the mainland to their home. They then began distributing these donations to places that were not being reached by anyone and they have continued to do so ever since. They even created a Closed FB group, along with Dee Smalling, Rose Turner and others, where they keep track of donations sent, when they are received, and then they post where those donations ended up. This is the only Puerto Rican relief group that I am working with that I can 100% confirm are legitimate and do what  they say they are going to do so. They have been delivering food donations, sanitary supplies, solar lights, water filters, tarps, and other items. They have also been working with our other cousins on the island and conscripting them into their great cause. Of course, our mainland Boricua Branches have also been sending supplies in earnest. Together, we are handling it BIG TIME.



Adopt Arecibo


Adopt Arecibo Info

Adopt Arecibo Donations Delivered

Adopt Arecibo Donations Delivered

Adopt Arecibo started out as a small relief organization, but is turning out to be a lot more.  Adopt Arecibo now partners with the following organizations:

American Black Cross
Boondocks K-9 Search & Rescue Unit Inc. – CERT
Cajun Commissary
Caras Con Causa
Casa Bonuco
Casa Pueblo
Coalition of Hope
Coblian Med
Comedores Sociales
Commit 2 PR
Connect Relief
Coqui Nation
Cuerpo De Emergencias Medicas Estatal Base De Arecibo
Direct Relief
Disaster Relief Alliance – DRA
Empowered by Light
Familiares en Puerto Rico,Comunicate aqui,con tus fami
Flamboyan Foundation
Fundación Stefano Steenbakkers Betancourt
Fundacion Surfrider Rincon
Fundadacion Oye Aguadilla
Generate Some Love
H3 Tech Conference
Habitat for Humanity, PR
Heath Pro Med
Initiativa Comunitaria
Institute for Socio-Ecological Research
Levantando el Valle Relief
Mano A Mano Aydando Puerto Rico
MAP International
Mentes Puertorriqueñas en Acción
New York Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS)
Operation Agua
Operation Puerto Rico
Para La Natureleza
Power 4 Puerto Rico
Programa de Asistencia Tecnológica de Puerto Rico
Project Coqui_Puerto Rico Relief
proyecto esparciendo amor inc.
Puerto Rican Family Institute, Inc
Puerto Rican National Chamber of Commerce
Puerto Ricans in Action
Puerto Rico Diseña
Puerto Rico Distribución de Filtros de agua/ Water Filter distribution
Puerto Rico Love—Disaster Online Support Team
Puerto Rico Mercy Corps
Puerto Rico por Puerto Rico PRxPR
Puerto Rico Recovery Fund
Raices Cultural Center, A NJ Nonprofit Corporation
Raise Your Hands For PR, Inc.
RBC Maria Relief
Reconstruccion de Puerto Rico
Remote Area Medical
Rescate Playas Borinquen
Ricky Martin Foundation
Samaritan’s Purse
Shop+HirePuerto Rico
Texas United for Puerto Rico
Together Puerto Rico / Juntos Puerto Rico
Tree of Life Counseling Center & Foundation
U Mass Amherst
Unity Warriors Group
Veterans At Sea
Veterans For Puerto Rico
Warrior Angels Rescue
Water Filters for Puerto Rico
Water For Puerto Rico Foundation
Water Mission
Waves 4 Water
World Water Solar

If anyone one has a charity organization that would like to deliver hurricane relief items to Adopt Arecibo, please feel free to contact me at directly for further info.


Padre Jose Antonio Oquendo-Pabon

Padre Jose Antonio Oquendo-Pabon

What can I say about a cousin who truly lives according to the word of God and could teach those in Washington a thing or two (make that many things) about how to live a Christian life? What can I say about a man, who could leave Puerto Rico in a minute, but has chosen to remain in horrible conditions to minister to his flock despite his own medical problems? What can I say about a man who is keeping a Hurricane Maria Diary to bear witness to all he has seen and who is intent on telling the truth until the very end? This cousin of mine has my utmost respect. He is a true man of God and I KNOW God knows his name. I pray for him every day because the work he has to do is more than noble. I ask people to also send prayers, love and light his way to lift Padre Jose Antonio Oquendo-Pabon up because the work he is doing is not easy. May the blessing of the Lord be with him always. Amen.


Jesse Gonzalez

Me and my cousin Jesse Gonzalez

A big thank you goes to my cousin Jesse, the founder and CEO of Comelco, Inc., who stepped up and donated a 1-million watt generator to The Mennonite General Hospital in Aibonito, PR, an area that was heavily hit by Hurricane Maria. That act of generosity, not only saved 209 jobs, but will also save countless future lives. The generator left Jacksonville, FL last Thursday and will be received shortly. Jesse is one of the most generous people I know and I love that he has never forgotten where he came from. He is still that kid who grew up in the projects on the Lower East Side. Respect in the highest of the high!


Luis Sanakori Ramos


Me and my cousin Luis Sanakori Ramos

My cousin Luis is a treasure, not only to me, but to many of our cousins. We met almost 4 yeara ago. He is our cultural ambassador and educator who connects us to our Indigenous ancestors in very tangible ways. He guided Maddy, Theresa, Ralph and me as we sought to honor Maddy and my 2nd great-grandfather in the way that celebrated his Indigenous Tano roots. Luis has also aided many cousins on their own quests to connect with their Indigenous ancestors and has given them their Indigenous names in a beautiful naming ceremony. He is the founder of the Mobile Indigenous Library, a Fancy Dancer who connects with various Indigenous cross-cultural groups nationwide. Moreover, he also performs healing ceremonies and acts as an Indigenous educator throughout NYC. Luis is a member of the Naguake Indigenous Community in Puerto Rico/Boriken and is working on fostering greater ties with this community in the future.


Our Leaves May Be Torn off, But They Will Grow Again….And Again

It’s the very end of 2017 and around 300,000 Puerto Ricans have already left the island for the mainland and more are packing up ready to go. 2018 is now here. Because we are resilient and love our island, we will never forget those who left us to suffer and die in prime time. We will vote, as American citizens, this coming year, and in 2020, and our votes and voices will be heard nationwide. Make no mistake. Our votes will be our greatest form of resistance.


We WILL remember EVERY name on the lists below.

Here is the full list of Representatives that voted against disaster relief for Puerto Rico:

Justin Amash (R-Michigan)
Jim Banks (R-Indiana)
Andy Burr (R-Kentucky)
Joe Barton (R-Texas)
Jack Bergman (R-Michigan)
Andy Biggs (R-Arizona)
Mike Bishop (R-Michigan)
Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee)
Rod Blum (R-Iowa)
Dave Brat (R-Virginia)
Mo Brooks (R-Alabama)
Ken Buck (R-Colorado)
Ted Budd (R-North Carolina)
Steve Chabot (R-Ohio)
James Comer (R-Kentucky)
Warren Davidson (R-Ohio)
Scott DesJarlais (R-Tennessee)
Sean Duffy (R-Wisconsin)
Jeff Duncan (R-South Carolina)
John Duncan (R-Tennessee)
Tom Emmer (R-Minnesota)
Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina)
Trent Franks (R-Arizona)
Mike Gallagher (R-Wisconsin)
Thomas Garret (R-Virginia)
Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio)
Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)
Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia)
Paul Gosar (R-Arizona)
Morgan Griffith (R-Virginia)
Andy Harris (R-Maryland)
Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas)
Jody Hice (R-Georgia)
French Hill (R-Arkansas)
George Holding (R-North Carolina)
Richard Hudson (R-North Carolina)
Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana)
Walter Jones (R-North Carolina)
Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)
Trent Kelly (R-Mississippi)
David Kustoff (R-Texas)
Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado)
Jason Lewis (R-Minnesota)
Barry Loudermilk (R-Georgia)
Kenny Marchant (R-Texas)
Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky)
Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina)
Luke Messer (R-Indiana)
Alex Mooney (R-West Virginia)
Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma)
Kristi Noem (R-South Dakota)
Ralph Norman (R-South Carolina)
Gary Palmer (R-Alabama)
Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico)
Scott Perry (R-Pennsylvania)
Robert Pittenger (R-North Carolina)
John Ratcliffe (R-Texas)
Todd Rokita (R-Indiana)
Keith Rothfus (R-Pennsylvania)
David Rouzer (R-North Carolina)
Mark Sanford (R-South Carolina)
David Schweikert (R-Arizona)
Jamex Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin)
Jason Smith (R-Missouri)
Chris Stewart (R-Utah)
Mark Walker (R-North Carolina)
Jackie Walorski (R-Indiana)
Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio)
Roger Williams (R-Texas)

Here is the full list of Senators that voted against disaster relief for Puerto Rico:

 John Barrasso (R-WY)

Bob Corker (R-TN

Tom Cotton (R-AR)

Mike Crapo (R-ID)

Mike Enzi (R-WY)

Jeff Flake (R-AZ)

Jim Inhofe (R-OK)

Ron Johnson (R-WI)

James Lankford (R-OK)

Mike Lee (R-UT)

Rand Paul (R-KY)

David Perdue (R-GA)

James Risch (R-ID)

Ben Sasse (R-NE)

Richard Shelby (R-AL)

Luther Strange (R-AL)

Pat Toomey (R-PA)