A couple of years ago, I had the honor of being asked to attend an annual luncheon hosted by El Diario La Prensa‘s for “Mujeres Destacadas“, where not only was I being recognised for my contribution to the Latino community, but the keynote speaker was no other than my hero and mentor,  author, Esmeralda Santiago. With her usual grace and dignity, Esmeralda proceeded to the podium at the appointed time, and proceeded to give a speech on “Orgullo”, or “Pride”.  As usual, Esmeralda’s words moved me tremendously, giving articulation to feelings I had no words for, and this weekend, just in time for The National Puerto Rican Day Parade, I would like to add my two cents to the pot, so to speak.

One of my earliest memories growing up in my abuela’s two family house, was running down into abuela’s bedroom on Saturday mornings, and climbing onto her giant (or at least it seemed giant to three-year old me!) four poster bed. After torturing her by pulling her braids, and sticking my fingers in her ears (perdoname abuela!), she would get up and take me downstairs to her kitchen, and make me breakfast while The Thunderbirds played on her 12inch screen TV. “Ven mijita”, she would call when my hot rice cereal, or soft-boiled eggs were ready, and I would sit at her table where she serve me while she drank her first cup of coffee of the day, the faintest trace of a smile on her lips. The language at home was Spanish, and surrounded as I was by extended family and friends, it was as much as I needed to know…everyone spoke the same language. There was a 10 year old girl who lived in the house next door, and I would make garbled made up word-sounds to try to communicate with her; at least that is what her words sounded like to me…

After my family moved away from abuela’s house in Brooklyn, I had the rude realization that while my language was Spanish in my parents’ home, things were quite different on the outside, and my made-up sounds were not going to cut it. I entered the first grade without knowing a word of English (there were no bilingual classes in those days), and while I was quite the novelty for the first few days of school, my parents impressed the importance of learning the language and doing well in school. Papi would read the daily newspapers with me when he came home from work, smelling faintly of smoke from his job as a firefighter with the FDNY. By the end of the first grade, I had the highest reading level in the class. My parents said, “Que orgullo“.

Fast forward to my sulky adolescence, again walking with my abuela, and being one of the clumsiest kids I knew…forever tripping over everything including my feet. Awkward doesn’t start to define me as a tween…in fact, my nickname from my cousins was “Skeleton-a-Go-Go”! So anyway, here I am one day, carrying abuela’s bags and looking down at the floor while walking, because anything less than that was going to land my spindly self on the floor, when abuela (who never had even a cross word!) comes up behind me and smacks me upside my head! I whirled around in disbelief, the protest already formed on my lips, when abuela looked at me square in the eye and said, “Pick your head up! I never want to see you walking with your head hung down like that; your abuelo and I have worked way too hard so that you can hold your head up high!” Orgullo

My parents and my family taught me the beauty of my culture and how to celebrate it. The advantage of having Spanish as a first language allowed me to score off the record in vocabulary and English, as I was able to decipher the meaning of hundreds of words from their “Latin” roots. The joy of our music, the “sazon” of our food, our love of family and tradition: those were a few of the many gifts my family gave me to celebrate my heritage and enrich my contribution as an American. Summer vacations in Puerto Rico listening to Mami and Las Tias talkng about their mischief while growing up in Puerto Rico, about the struggle and journey in Nueva York, and their misadventures there…listening to abuela tell stories about baking sweet potatoes that my abuelo would put in his pockets to keep his hands warm in the winter, while walking over the Brooklyn Bridge to go to work, then eating those same batatas for his lunch.  Orgullo

As a grown woman, I knew that this pride in who I was and where I came from was something I wanted to instill in my children, because I’ve come to realize how many times that gift has shored me up. This heritage is part of the legacy I leave them, and I wanted them to know that although there will be many instances where there will be people who are threatened by who they are and where they come from; this can be chalked up to ignorance mostly and should be forgiven, but not forgotten, for how are we to educate the world, if not by teaching? This lesson was never better exemplified than by an experience I had with my oldest son when applying to college. He had his heart set on going to Cornell University, but his guidance counselor told him not to bother wasting his mother’s money on the application, because he would never get in. I told him that he should not let anyone ever tell him what he was capable or incapable of; I believed he could do anything,so he sent the applications along with my check and my blessing.

As luck would have it, he got every acceptance letter back with the exception of the letter from Cornell. I invited him to visit other schools with me in the eventuality that the response from Cornell would be a negative; he declined. The day the letter finally arrived, I beeped him (remember those?), and asked him if he wanted me to open it or if we should wait for him to get home. He asked me to open it, and I was thrilled to read his acceptance to Cornell to him over the phone. He ran home, took the letter all the way back to school, went to the counselor’s office, and said, “My mother said I can do anything”. That application fee was the best money I’ve ever spent. I remembered the incident as I stood in the campus stadium as my son graduated Cornell University’s class of 2004. Orgullo

Today, I am asked  to come to schools and speak to the point of my experience is as a Latina in today’s world and of my journey to my achievements. I love the opportunity to meet with young people, and hopefully leave them with a few words that will take them through rough waters should they ever face the ignorance and ugliness of prejudice. The first thing I tell them is to thank their family and their teachers for the gifts of love, encouragement, history and wisdom they receive every single day; those gifts are the armor they  will wear when face with the challenges that opportunities invariably bring. The second thing I tell them is that they should be poised “on their mark” right outside the door, so that when opportunity knocks, they are ready to pounce through that door! Thirdly, and maybe most importantly, I tell them that no one gets to tell them that they are not smart enough, strong enough, pretty enough, fast enough…fill in the blank! Their “Latinism” is to be celebrated! No one gets to define them but them; they start out as young Latinos and Latinas, from there, they should learn to soar, and learn the meaning of orgullo.

Thankfully, I have had innumerable moments in my life where I have felt pride; attending the promotion ceremony when my  father was promoted to Captain in the FDNY, my childrens’ first words and steps, their first days in school and their accomplishments, the day I mastered my taillage at the FCI, and won first prize for my Final Project, the days my books were recognized. From the outside looking in, those are small enough moments, but they are some of the moments that defined my life.

I am a Latina. I was born in this country of mainland Puerto Rican parents who came here like everyone else did (with the exception of Native Americans) looking to fulfill the American Dream. I speak two languages fluently, and I straddle two cultures, which makes me a more interesting, culturally rich person. I could not be who I am today, or achieved all I have done by denying any part of my persona; I am rabidly proud of the racial inheritance my parents have so proudly left me. My ethnicity is not an embarrassment or an excuse, it is my battle cry and my contribution to today’s society. It is my orgullo

This weekend, if you attend the parade or watch it on TV, take a moment to remember all of those who have forged a way for the rest of the community, in whatever humble way: the mothers, the fathers, the grandparents, the teachers, the physicians, the nurses, the lawyers, the business people, the Supreme Court Justices,…all of those who have struggled before us, and to all of those who will follow,  let us honor them… with orgullo.

21 Responses to “Orgullo”

  1. 1 raminganeshram June 11, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Daisy, as always your words ring true–not just for those in the Latino community, but for all children of immigrants. In other words ALL Americans. We would do well to remember the lessons learned from the hardship of growing up and living as hyphenated-Americans, and the TRIUMPHS and pride we also gain. You, Daisy, are one of those sources of PRIDE and triumph. Kudos to your parents and your abuela. Orgullo, indeed. I look forward to the day, btw, when YOU are the Grand Marshall of the Puerto Rican Day Parade, it will come soon, I know.

  2. 2 Issa June 11, 2011 at 8:59 am

    As a fellow Boricua, this was deeply moving to me. Thank you for this!

  3. 3 Joyce Colón June 11, 2011 at 9:28 am

    Daisy, your story sounds A LOT like mines….I too entered kindergarten, not knowing a word of English. I was raised by my bis-abuelita!! My father’s grandmother!! Spanish was the language spoken in the house, I learned English in school back in the day, when there were no bilingual teachers or ESL. I struggled to learn how to read in English. My abuelita was illiterate, so I never learned my ABC’s or even how to write my name. I clearly remember copying my classmate’s name sitting next to me on my paper, then the teacher would get 2 papers with the same name. I remember a VERY impatient 1st grade teacher who scolded me because I was having a hard time comprehending written English. But once I learned the language, and how to write both in cursive and regular….I took off!!! I remember I was always writing in my notebook, even gibberish, and saying to myself that when I grow up, I want to be a teacher or a writer. I ended up being a writer. My abuelita was very influential to me. I loved her cooking and always wanted to be in the kitchen with her, but she didn’t want any kids bothering her, so she never taught me. I ended up moving in w/my father and stepmother when he married a white American. My father never spoke the Spanish language to me and I started to lose it big time. When I went to visit my abuelita, she hated that I was losing my Spanish!!! It is sad to say, that now my English is perfect and much better than my Spanish. When I got married at age 19, I needed to cook, so I picked up the phone and called “Dona Maria” or for me “Mama” (abuelita) and started asking her for recipes for all our P.R. foods….my fave…Rellenos de Papa. Of course, she didn’t have recipes, so she just told me off the top of her head what ingredients she used and how to prepare and cook it……This is when you, Daisy came into the picture as well as our mutual friend “Esmeralda Santiago”. I just had to reconnect back to my roots. You see my husband was an African American, career military man, and I couldn’t go to him for help. So I set about to reconnect w/my heritage through both you and Esmeralda. I watched your PBS show “Daisy Cooks” way back when you ventured out on your own after apprenticing w/Lidia Bastianich (which btw, I love her cooking too). I took out your book “Daisy Cooks” from the library and set about to cook some good P.R. food…..your book and show instantly brought back fond memories of the food, the family and growing up w/my abuelita. I still remember u talking about your abuelita on the show. I devoured Esmeralda’s books, and when I saw her on one of your episodes, I just about died!! What? The two P.R’s that helped me to reconnect to my roots, since I had traveled all over the world w/my military husband, I was craving my own culture, and you and Esmeralda helped me to reconnect to my P.R. roots!! What even tripped me out even more, was that I too had a “Turkish Lover”, my 2nd husband!! So when I read Esmeralda’s book, I was like, “this is surreal” because Esmeralda and I had similar experiences w/our Turkish men!! In conclusion “ORGULLO” is an understatement for me. I am full of P.R. pride and proud of our culture and heritage!!!

  4. 4 Adriana V. Vujicevic June 11, 2011 at 9:30 am

    Simply thank you Chef Martinez for being who you are!!!

  5. 5 Cristal J June 11, 2011 at 10:04 am

    Beautifully written, Daisy! I remember in high school when my guidance counselor suggested that “college wasn’t for everybody.” I was shocked at his discouragement, and thank God I didn’t listen. I was (and still am) first in the family to graduate college and hold a 4-yr-degree! What others see as a stumbling block (my ethnicity, “other” language, “different” family life) was for me to use for my benefit! God made me this way and it is a blessing! Keep marching on, Daisy, with your head held high. Orgullo Boricua!!!

  6. 6 Mike D. June 11, 2011 at 10:31 am

    Your words have hit the mark so eloquently that nothing more needs to be added. Every American should take heed in these words since NONE of us (exception noted) came from this land – WE ALL CAME FROM SOMEWHERE ELSE! Only when each of us accept and celebrate our own cultures and those of others will we, as a nation, move forward. And as your recent experience has aptly (and sadly) shown, this nation is still just fronting.
    As always, you make me proud, hermana! You are a bright light for our people, our culture, and for anyone else who cares to listen and understand.
    Como siempre, sigue pa’lante!

  7. 7 Janette Acosta Ortiz June 11, 2011 at 11:51 am

    ORGULLO!!!!! is all I have to say!!!!

  8. 8 Mimi June 11, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    Simply AMAZING. Thank you, another lesson just learned!

  9. 9 Margie Velez June 11, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    You give me such inspiration with these beautiful words, thank you Daisy! ORGULLO!!

  10. 10 Chantilly Patiño June 11, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    WOW! Beautiful! Thank you for sharing your story, your son’s success and el orgullo de su familia! Very uplifting! ❤

  11. 11 Rachel June 11, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    Beautifully written and the tears are just streaming. You have been instrumental in my life from the first time I saw you on the screen and it just keeps getting better and better. Thank God for women like you. XO

  12. 12 Yvonne Maisonette June 11, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    Daisy, I have had the pleasure of making your acquaintance on several occasions and what can I say, you floor me! Not only is this another must read for all latinos everywhere, print a copy for your kids. Thank you for so eloquently articulating what we all feel but can’t put into words. Bravo! Eres mi favorita Latina.

  13. 13 Donnialda June 12, 2011 at 6:30 am

    To clarify for historical accuracy, ” I was born in this country of mainland Puerto Rican parents who came here like everyone else did (with the exception of Native Americans) looking to fulfill the American Dream.” This was not the case for the original Chinese or Africans who were forced here.

    With this clarification, note that this story will be included in my Drama classes when we study a few specifically “ethnic” plays to help my students research their characters. You’re quite a profound writer. Am looking forward to finding this TV show your Blog fans keep referring to.

  14. 14 Daisy Martinez June 12, 2011 at 11:08 am

    Thank you all for your support, comments, tweets and retweets. Soy una Puertoriquena orgullosa!

  15. 15 margot June 13, 2011 at 5:34 am

    Encantada de conocerte y de estar en tu facebook y aquí Daissy,
    supongo que por tu nombre hablarás español o quizás no.
    Nos seguimos leyendo.
    Un abrazo

  16. 16 Mike D. June 16, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    While this post doesn’t deserve a response, I must interject since it was in response to a post about having pride in one’s heritage. It is a total slap in the face to every person of color and was uncalled for. If this person wanted to make snide remarks about the Emeril incident, (s)he should have posted it under the appropriate thread and NOT this one.
    It’s unfortunate that the moderator allowed Slippery “as an eel” Mermaid’s comments to slip through. Please remove this crap from this post.

    BTW, Daisy doesn’t need to trash anyone to sell her books – she is doing just fine on her own merits!

  17. 17 Francesca Tate June 22, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    Dear Daisy,

    Dios me ha bendicido con buenos amigos puertoriqueños/nas, y son mis hermanos. Yo cocino para ellos-comemos juntos. Gracias para todas las recetas.

    ¡Dios te bendiga, siempre!

    Francesca de Brooklyn

  18. 18 Marissa July 25, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Daisy, I love your show and recipes! Wish your show was on more in my area.

    Here’s my two cents: It’s great to be proud of one’s race and racial heritage. I certainly am of mine although I’m proud to be an American first. However, what is happening all too often these days is an obsession of one’s racial identity. It is happening to the degree that people are becoming literally imprisoned by race. Many feel the need to walk, talk, think, even vote, etc. like everyone that is of the same race – or they feel the need to continually talk about race. Racists are actually those who only think of people based on what racial group they belong to. There’s a glaring lack of individualism in this country these days, the very thing that made this country great. Moreover, with all the latino pride, why are so many beautiful, dark-haired women feeling the need to “whiten up” – hair color, hair texture, skin color, eye color (contacts)etc.?? No one can deny the whitening-up epidemic that is so prevalent, not only here, but in many countries around the world.

  19. 19 Racheal August 5, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    Dear Daissy,

    I recently went to Mexico and fell in love with this type of cookie (pastry) made there. It was sort of oblong with a cinnamon cookie center in it. I was wondering what the name of this was and if possible how to make it? I love cooking and since my husband is Latin I try and make him food that reminds him of home.

  20. 20 Bilingual Program Graduate August 11, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    Your son’s story reminded of my story. I kept to this country as an adolescent and attended a bilingual program in a community college where I maintained a 3.8 gpa throughtout. At the end of the two years I needed to apply to a 4-year college. When I expressed interest in applying to a couple of ivy league schools, my guidance counselor advised me to not even try to apply. The ironic thing is that the guidance counselor called Jenny Roman was Puerto Rican and was attending graduate school herself at Columbia University at the time. So despite her predictions I was too accepted at Cornell but at the end decided for NYU. Just to show you sometimes there are small minded people even in our own communities. The sad part is that some of those people are in positions where they can do a lot of harm.

  21. 21 Ramona Yulfo May 25, 2015 at 7:29 am

    Ms Martinez
    Nothing speaks louder than down home pure education. You are eloquent and inspiring. I am proud to be Boricua and that you are as well makes me ooze with satisfaction.
    I wish you well.

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