Bad Categories Prevent Smart Conversations


thought provoking indeed. Need to think about this one

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The Weeping Woman, A Banshee, A Huldra, Or Something Else?


The following story is based on real events.

For the past 3 years, I have been driving up and down Bayshore Boulevard in South Tampa at various times of the day – morning, noon, evening…

South Tampa has a small town feel to it and the Bayshore area even more so.  The world’s longest continuous sidewalk is that along Bayshore Boulevard and locals have converted it into the Bayshore Boulevard Linear Park. The sidewalk is 10 feet wide and is popular among bikers, walkers & joggers, dog owners walking their dogs, rollerbladers, and people doing TaiChi, Yoga, meditation, or crossfit.  Everyone is doing something different.  And if you’re a daily participant of any of these activities, you surely become acquainted with other locals who are there everyday.  You may never talk to them, or even smile at them, but you surely know who they are.  You may even draw assumptions of them based on the type of exercise, change of routine, clothes they wear, and you miss them when you don’t see them at the regular time. Bayshore boulevard also has some of the best urban scenery along this stretch in Tampa. The famous linear park is on the water side.  Opposite to it, across the boulevard, is another sidewalk along with a row of some of the largest and most beautiful homes in Tampa.

It’s rare to see anyone walking or jogging on the side of the road where the houses are.  Everyone wants to walk along the water.  Who can blame them? On any given day, you get to see dolphins, manatees, sting rays, mullet fish jumping out of the water, schools of various species of fishes, aquatic birds.  Watching nature doing what it does best while exercising is better than watching TV – any time!

Because of all these reasons, when you see people walking on the other side of the boulevard, you notice.  And I began to notice a seemingly young woman who walks up and down Bayshore everyday at all times.  I use the word “seemingly” because I’ve never seen her face.

She’s thin and not very tall. Not abnormally thin, but a healthy state of thin – or so I think.  As I said, I don’t know her and I’ve never seen her face.  She also wears a long grey wig and sometimes -more often than not – she wears a baseball cap.  From what I’ve gathered, her skin projects a sun-induced bronze tan.  She’s not difficult to spot.  Her wig and her demeanor when walking gives her away.  She has a depressed kind of walk.

Considering that the stretch of sidewalk from one end to the other is about 7 miles roughly, and the fact that we can see her at various points along the way at any time of the day – everyday – my partner and I suspect that she walks the entire 7 miles back and forth (that’s a total of 14 miles) daily.

Remember when I said you get to make assumptions of people? Well, we even suspect that she performs this routine twice daily; and that she is possibly mentally ill or bulimic.

We see her everyday at all times whenever we drive on Bayshore Boulevard, but we have never seen her face.

My partner attend the local gym in the mornings, and one of those mornings, when he returned home, he told me excited: “I saw your friend, the walking lady, in the parking lot”.  Excited, I asked him: “well, what does she look like”?  “I couldn’t see her face” – he replied.

I was shocked! He was a few feet from her – both walking – and he couldn’t manage to see her face?  But at least we know where she parks her vehicle, and therefore we have to add more distance to her routine, perhaps an extra 1/2 mile each way.

The very next day, in the morning, I was driving to work, and I spotted her walking on my side of the road.  She had just started her routine because she was coming from the direction of the gym.  Eager to see her face, as I am driving, I turned my entire body facing backward to see her face.  I purposely turned to see her.  And I didn’t get to see her face!

This has been going on forever.

Just recently, my partner was driving and I was the passenger.  We spotted her again and this time, he slowed down and I rolled down my window to take a closer look at her while someone else was driving.  I had the perfect angle.  And just when I am about to see her face, what does she do? She covers her entire face with her arms as she was fixing her cap and wig! My partner started laughing and I started screaming!! It’s uncanny! It’s impossible!

We have tried to make every attempt possible to see her face for years and we have not been successful at it.  We are starting to think that my partner and I are the only two people who can see her.  Jokingly, my partner told me to give it up. She’s a ghost witch and I will go blind the moment I get to see her face.

I guess he’s right.  There’s a reason for everything and perhaps there is no reason as to why we need to see her face.  Walk happy, my dear!

“Puerto Ricans Are Loud”


On a recent trip to Puerto Rico with my friend Monica, I was curious to know why Puerto Ricans are stereotyped as being “loud”,

The island of PR is small.  My friend told me that sometimes it doesn’t even show on maps.  A simple Google search of various maps made me aware that this is indeed true.  Depending on the map publisher, the island of PR may not exist at all.  It makes me wonder, since the Lesser Antilles are much smaller islands than PR, why is it that the archipelago appears on the map?  Perhaps because it’s a grouping of islands? Most likely… Other times, PR does appear, but it’s so small, there is no room to add its name. It’s just a drawing of an unnamed piece of land.  So, it’s just another little piece of land in the Caribbean Sea.

I was told about the “coqui” – a tiny little frog that sings at night. It’s so tiny, you can’t see it.  And what a beautiful song it sings! Their singing is loud, especially in areas with lots of vegetation. And even though you may think that one is close to you and you go looking for it, you will not see it.

One day, I heard a sound coming from a tree nearby.  I asked what it was and my friend was prompt to tell me that it was a múcaro.  “What is a múcaro?”, I asked.  “It’s an owl, only very small and you won’t be able to see it”, said my friend.  It measures about 9 inches!

I had also heard about the Puerto Rican parrot, considered to be a “critically endangered species”.  I asked my friend about this native bird – what it looked like; how big was it; how many there were – and I learned that the efforts in trying to breed them have been somewhat successful and that they mostly live in the rain forest, where they are protected.  They are green and they are very small, so unless you see them flying in a flock, you won’t be able to see them at all.

We then visited the Camuy Caves – the third largest underground river system in the world – and a tour inside these magnificent caves revealed that in the water ponds inside the cave, there lives an almost microscopic “shrimp”, almost transparent in color and blind.  Which means, you can’t see it.

It was fun to watch the green iguanas roaming everywhere, but my friend quickly clarified that green iguanas are not native to PR.  They were introduced and have become an invasive nuisance. Puerto Rico does have some endemic iguanas – the large ones measuring up to 6 ft are found in other islands that are part of the Puerto Rican archipelago.  The one found in the main island in everyone’s yard is a much smaller version of the iguana as we know it.

So, it would be safe to say that everything in Puerto Rico is small, sometimes so small, you can’t see them.

As I learned more about the political relationship Puerto Rico has with the United States, things started to make sense.

Puerto Rico is a colony of the US and has been for over 100 years.  Prior to that, PR was a colony of Spain for about 400 years.  So, aside from when it used to be Boriken (a free Taino Indian-inhabited pre-Colombian island), Puerto Rico has been the “little guy” owned by the “big guys”.  And its people are confused about which direction to go: independent country, a state of the US or a “free but independent state” or commonwealth of the US.

Puerto Ricans are American citizens.  They travel and move to and from other states as any other American citizen does.  Yet, they are “invisible”.  It would be easy to call them the Invisible Americans.  They are considered immigrants when they clearly are not.  Or when discussing issues related to Latinos or Hispanics, most of the discourse and rhetoric used by the media relates to Mexicans or at a lesser extent, Cubans.  So, within the Hispanic population, they are bulked into one main category – if you’re Hispanic then you must be Mexican; and when acknowledged as Puerto Rican, they are still considered immigrants.  Even worse, sometimes they are completely mistaken by a whole different nationality altogether – Costa Ricans.

Wait! There is something worse: Internet purchases. When purchasing over the Internet and you scroll down to find your country, PR is not listed (because it is NOT a country).  When you use US as your country (because it is a US territory), and you want to enter your address and state… oops, there is no PR state (because it is not a state).  So Puerto Ricans are invisible even in the World Wide Web!

From my friend, and my trip to PR, I have learned some amazing things about PR and its people.  Here is a short list of well-known “facts” commonly heard from Puerto Ricans:

– Puerto Rican coffee is the best in the world. It’s so good, this is the coffee that the Pope drinks. Some say it’s the oficial coffee of the Vatican.

– The Camuy Caves System is the 3rd largest underground river system in the world.

– The Arecibo Observatory? The largest radiotelescope in the world!

– El Yunque? The ONLY rain forest in the US National Forest System

– The Bioluminiscent Bay is something else! There are 5 in the world and PR has 3 of them!

– Some of the beaches have been rated the best in the world

– The San Juan Cathedral and San Jose Church are the two oldest churches in the Western Hemisphere

– La Fortaleza is the oldest (continuously working) executive mansion in the New World.

– El Morro and San Marcos Fortresses (both in Old San Juan) are the oldest in the US

– Old San Juan is a UNESCO site as well as various other places in PR

– Walmart Puerto Rico broke selling records of all Walmart stores

– ‘Plaza Las Americas’ mall in San Juan is the most profitable mall per square foot in the world and the largest mall in the entire Caribbean Basin.

– Puerto Rico is the “country” with the most cars per square mile in the world: 146 vehicles per street mile and 4,300 vehicles per square mile.

– The highest grossing Borders book store in US was located in Plaza Las Americas Mall.  Too bad they closed. It was my favorite store too!

– The busiest Toys “R” Us in the world is also in Plaza Las Americas

– The highest grossing Sears store in the World is in Puerto Rico.

– The highest selling Kmart in the US is in Puerto Rico.

– The Radio Shack store in Plaza Las Americas mall is the busiest and highest grossing Radio Shack in the world.

– The largest JC Penney store in the world (a full 4 stories) is located at Plaza Las Americas mall

– Piña Colada was “born” in PR in 1954.

– Puerto Rico has won the Miss Universe pageant a record five times.

– The place in the world with more pharmaceutical companies per square mile is Puerto Rico.

– There are about 1,100 people per square mile, a ratio higher than within any of the 50 states in the United States.

– Puerto Rico is the third “country” in the world with more physicians in proportion to its population.

– The longest pool in the world is located in a hotel in Dorado, PR. (The hotel is currently closed).

– It is estimated that there is more Nickel in the mountains of Puerto Rico than the whole United States, including Alaska and Hawaii.

– The state of Florida was discovered by Puerto Rico’s first governor, Don Juan Ponce de Leon.

– The first shot fired by the United States in World War I was in Puerto Rico by Lt. Teofilo Marxuach.

– 86% of the rum consumed in the world is from Puerto Rico – Bacardi

– Puerto Rico has one of the world’s highest productivity ratios.

– Puerto Rico ranks 6th in the world when it comes to college graduates (considering it’s a tiny island)

– Puerto Rico has more gas stations, churches, cars, roads, and Walgreens per square mile than any other country in the world.

– The second radio station to be inaugurated in the US was in PR. Sally Jesse Raphael’s first gig in the media was in PR.

– The first Emmy went to Puerto Rican Jose Ferrer, who also got the Academy award for the same role.

– Rita Moreno (from PR) received both of those and one for Best Actress in a Broadway show. No one else has matched that.

– The most outstanding soldier in Europe at the end of the Second WW was chosen from the Puerto Rican 65th Infantry. (See BorinqueneersCongressional Gold Medal Alliance at http://www.65thcgm.org)

So, I’ve been thinking:

Like in Alice in Wonderland, when you visit PR, everything will seem small to you, because they are small.  So, when you hear a Puerto Rican talking loud, remember that they are like their coqui frog – sometimes invisible, but loud enough to always be heard.