By Brandon A. Gracia

What’s up? Or should I say hola?

My name is Brandon, and I am 23 years old. I am of Puerto Rican and Spanish descent, but I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. My American upbringing has shown me what a culturally and financially diverse society looks and feels like, but unfortunately, it has distanced me from my cultural roots. I am sure that many others in America feel the same way as well. Being a Nuyorican, a term for a Puerto Rican living in New York, can be an overwhelming feeling, but it is still a humbling one.

My roots go back to Spain. My great grandfather, abuelo Amarecio, was a sailor from Spain and my great grandmother, abuela Tomasa, was a young woman from Puerto Rico. They came to New York City in the 1930s with a vision to build a family of their own. My great grandfather was set on the idea of having his own business, so he opened up a bar and a deli on Atlantic Ave in Brooklyn. Shortly after, my grandmother and her siblings were born. Nearly 30 years later, my grandmother gave birth to my mom and her sister.

Both my mother and aunt are fair-skinned so they easily blended in with caucasians Americans, yet they still wanted to express their Spanish traits. At the age of nine, my mom along with her sister taught themselves how to speak, read and write in Spanish. I admired their drive to learn in a time when computers and cellphones weren’t as available as they are now.

My father’s side of the family subtly reflects my Puerto Rican roots. My abuela Maria was a dark skinned woman and my abuelo Jorge was a fair skinned man. These two factors could have caused them trouble in the 1960s, but they still embraced each other for who they were, regardless of the color of their skin. I carried this as a valuable piece of knowledge growing up, and never cared what the social consensus was.

Fast forward to February 20, 1996, the day I was born. My knowledge about Spanish culture growing up was absent, but luckily I was introduced to my Puerto-Rican side and some of its Spanish-derived traits. I learned a few sentences and phrases, like “si, no, por favor, yo quiero jugo”, and of course I learned the bad words. I used them at school whenever a kid got on my nerves, but never at home.

Since my mom and dad were separated, I grew up in two musically-diverse households. My mom introduced me to Hip Hop, R&B and House music. She wouldn’t go a day without dancing around the house, as she cooked and cleaned. At my dad’s house, I was introduced to “Freestyle”, a genre created by Nuyoricans in the late 1980s. It was popularized by artists like Stevie B and Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam. At our family gatherings, I was introduced to Spanish genres such as Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, and Reggaeton. I loved how the music brought everyone together, both young and mature. Learning how to dance was a challenge, because each style required true rhythm in the hips.

When it came to cuisine, I quickly learned that rice, whether it be white, yellow, or brown, was a staple in the Latino community. Paired with some red beans and baked chicken seasoned with Goya Adobo and Sazon, this was the main dish at every dinner. My grandmother, abuela Esther, made it my all-time favorite.

When my mom was busy at work, I would spend a lot of time with abuela. We used to watch Telemundo and eat Goya saltine crackers with coffee all afternoon. As a kid, it seemed like every product in the kitchen was made by Goya. We would watch everything from Sabado Gigante to 12 Corazones, and I would laugh every time. These shows were full of antics that American daytime TV just couldn’t match, and they were easy to follow for non-Spanish speakers. From the game shows to the soap operas that every woman in my family loved to watch, there was always something on.

Growing up in a culturally-diverse community, I realized that we all share similar memories with our families growing up. This is what I love about New York City; the diversity is unlike any other, and you never know who you’ll relate to. Having the opportunity of growing up here taught me to embrace everyone, because each of us contribute to a bigger community. For that, I am grateful to be a Nuyorican.

How does your cultural background influence you? Just leave a comment below or tag us on social media @thepaperccny