“Most of the bakeries in San Juan are run by old Spanish guys,” Gil, Vanesa’s husband told me. La Ceiba is a sort of deli-style bakery with concrete floors, white walls, and lots of typical Spanish dishes.
“Did you see the desserts?” Vanesa’s dad asked me, pointing to the cases filled with Spanish pastries and desserts.
Vanesa ordered for the lot of us – Gil, her dad, her brother, her sister-in-law and baby niece, and me. They ordered Cuban sandwiches and seafood paella and other tapas to share.
“You probably understand him better,” Gil mentioned to me, indicating the blue-eyed Spaniard with the weathered tan who was serving us. I ordered a tortilla española. It had been so long since I’d had a good one; since it seems the only good tortilla españolas are to be found in Spain. (It was okay; finding a good tortilla española outside of Spain remains elusive.)
To end the meal, Vanesa’s dad ordered a plate of quesitos to share. “You can find these anywhere in Madrid,” he said, grabbing one of the long, flaky pastries filled with sweet cream cheese.
There seems to be some pride in their Spanish heritage in Puerto Rico. They speak the language. And for 400 years, they were Spain’s colony. It shows. The language, the food (the quesitos!), the whole quarter of Old San Juan feel very Spanish. With a Carribean twist.
In 1898, the U.S. took Puerto Rico as its own “unincorporated territory”. And while we ate, Gil and Vanesa’s brother Luis, took their time to explain to me Puerto Rico’s situation – from a Puerto Rican perspective.
“We’re a stupid ass colony,” Gil said, not one to mince words. Vanesa’s family are independentistas. They don’t want to be an “unincorporated territory” of the United States. They certainly don’t want to be a state. They want to be their own country.
“We independentistas are in the minority. It’s about 10% of us. Typically the more educated Puerto Ricans are pro-independence. Other Puerto Ricans want to be a state, because they think it’ll make us instantly rich. ‘We’ll be like Miami!’, they think.” Gill laughed.
“What do you think would happen if Puerto Rico gained independence?” I asked.
“Well, it would be hard at first,” Gil said, and left it at that.
It was time to head to the airport. After kisses on the cheeks and goodbyes and gracia’, it was good to meet you, see you in Chicago, Gil, Vanesa, and I drove the rental car back to the airport, to leave that sunny island and head back to the urban north. It was time.