Ask a Local: Mara Pastor, Ponce, Puerto Rico

 

Ponce Carnaval

Answers appear first in Spanish, and next in English translation.

Your name: Mara Pastor

Current city or town: Ponce, Puerto Rico

How long have you lived here: Desde enero del 2016. / Since January 2016.

Three words to describe the climate: Caluroso. Húmedo. Mucho. / Hot. Humid. Very.

Best time of year to visit? Mis meses favoritos son febrero-marzo, durante el carnaval, cuando el calor no arrecia como en verano. / My favorite months are February and March, during the carnival, when the heat waves are not as intense as in the summer.

1. The most striking physical features of this city/town are . . .

Ponce está ubicada en el centro de la costa sur de Puerto Rico, a orillas del Mar Caribe. El casco urbano se encuentra en una planicie entre ríos, cerca de la costa y termina con la colina de El Vigía, desde el que se solía vigilar el puerto. En el pueblo, se desarrolló un estilo original de arquitectura española criolla y vetas neoclásicas, combinado con la modernidad parisina de los bellos chaflanes. La arquitectura del pueblo destaca por su originalidad y belleza. Hay un momento del año en que la ciudad se llena de robles amarillos florecidos. Además de la parte costera, gran parte del territorio queda entre las majestuosas montañas de la cordillera central, con ríos caudalosos como el Inabón o el Portugués y hermosos lagos como el Lago Cerillos. Desde las montañas, la vista del Mar Caribe y la frondosidad de su flora embelesan a cualquiera.

Ponce is located in the center of the southern coast of Puerto Rico, on the edge of the Caribbean Sea. The urban hub stretches across a coastal plain between rivers and ends at a hill called El Vigía (Lookout Hill), from which the port used to be guarded. The town has developed an original Spanish and Creole architectural style that has neoclassical accents, combined with beautiful Parisian beveled edges. The town’s architecture is therefore distinguished by its uniqueness and beauty. There’s a time every year when the city fills with flowering yellow oak trees. Beyond the coastal part of the city, there’s a grand expanse of territory situated between majestic mountains that form part of the central ridge, where there are abundant rivers, such as the Inabón and the Portugués as well as beautiful lakes like Lake Cerillos. From the mountains, the view of the Caribbean and its luxuriant vegetation is enthralling.

2. The stereotype of the people who live here and what this stereotype misses . . .

A Ponce se le conoce como la Ciudad Señorial. El estereotipo del ponceño es que es sumamente orgulloso de su origen ponceño, por lo que en el resto de la isla se les considera arrogantes y engreídos. El ponceño es el contrincante innato del sanjuanero pues una de las aspiraciones de Ponce en el siglo 19 era volverse capital. Además, es la segunda ciudad más poblada después de San Juan. Sin embargo, el orgullo ponceño responde a que, de hecho, es uno de los pueblos que mayor empeño ha puesto en conservar su historia y cultivar su cultura. La ciudad es también cuna de figuras importantes de la cultura como el abogado nacionalista Pedro Albizu Campos, los pintores Miguel Pou y Elizam Escobar; el poeta Pedro Pietri; los cantantes Héctor Lavoe, Ruth Fernández o Cheo Feliciano; la escritora Rosario Ferré, por mencionar algunos.

Ponce is known as the Manorial City. The stereotype of el ponceño is a person who is proud above all of his Ponce origins, someone who is considered arrogant and snobbish by the rest of the island. El ponceño is the natural adversary of el sanjuanero (San Juan native) because in the 19th century Ponce aspired to be the island’s capital. It’s also the second most populous city after San Juan. However, the pride of el ponceño is related to the fact that one of the city’s greatest efforts is conserving its history and promoting its culture. The city is also the birthplace of important cultural figures such as the nationalist lawyer Pedro Albizu Campos, painters Miguel Pou and Elizam Escobar, poet Pedro Pietri, singers Héctor Lavoe, Ruth Fernández and Cheo Feliciano, and the writer Rosario Ferré, to name a few.

3. Historical context in broad strokes and the moments in which you feel this history. . .

La ciudad se fundó en el siglo 17, y ya para los siglos 18 y 19 contaba con uno de los puertos más importantes del Caribe. Además, fue una meca de producción de azúcar y ron. Como saben, en el Caribe, donde hubo cañaverales, hubo esclavos. Todos estos factores hacen que la mezcla étnica y cultural sea sorprendente y compleja. Esta historia se siente en los grandes caserones en ruinas que circundan el casco urbano, como el que se encuentra donde hoy se lleva a cabo el Mercado Agrícola Natural de Ponce.

También, dos eventos históricos han marcado el imaginario colectivo en los últimos 200 años: El Polvorín (1899) y la Masacre de Ponce (1937), sucesos que el ponceño conmemora con respeto y solemnidad. El primer evento, remite a un incendio que tuvo la potencialidad de destruir la ciudad pero que fue evitado gracias a un grupo de bomberos que no acataron la orden gubernamental de evacuar la zona. A esos bomberos se les declaró héroes nacionales y el municipio le construyó a cada uno su propia casa en lo que hoy se conoce como la Calle 25 de enero, una calle muy pintoresca con casas de madera pintadas de rojo. El segundo evento rememora una masacre cometida por la policía en contra de manifestantes pacíficos partidarios del nacionalismo. En el lugar de este trágico evento, hoy se encuentra el Museo de la Masacre de Ponce.

Por último, donde hoy ubica Ponce, hubo importantes asentamientos indígenas que aún siguen siendo de gran interés para arqueólogos e historiadores.

The city was founded in the 17th century, and counted as one of the most important ports in the Caribbean during the 18th and 19th centuries. It was also a mecca for the prodution of sugar and rum. As is well known, in the Caribbean, where there were sugar plantations, there were also slaves. All of these factors contributed to an ethnic culture and heritage that’s surprising and complex. You can feel this history in the grand houses, now in ruins, that populate the outskirts of the urban hub, such as where the Organic Agricultural Market is today.

There are two other historical events that have impacted the collective imagination in the last 200 years: the fire known as El Polvorín in 1899 and the Ponce Massacre in 1937, events that locals commemorate with respect and solemnity. The first event refers to a fire that had the potential to destroy the city but was avoided thanks to a group of firefighters who ignored the government’s evacuation order. These firefighters were declared national heroes, and the government built each of them their own home on what’s today known as January 25th Street, a picturesque street with red-painted wooden houses. The second event recalls a massacre committed by the police against peaceful, nationalist demonstrators. Today, in the spot where this tragedy occurred, is the Museum of the Ponce Massacre.

Finally, where Ponce is today were once indigenous settlements that even today continue to be of great archeological and historical interest.

4. Common jobs and industries and the effect on the town/city’s personality. . .

Ponce cuenta con importantes atractivos para el turista como el carnaval de Ponce, cuyos orígenes pueden rastrearse hasta hace 250 años atrás, lo que lo hace uno de los más antiguos del Hemisferio Occidental. El carnaval tiene un gran efecto en la personalidad del pueblo durante los primeros meses del año. Por otro lado, gran parte de la población trabaja en oficios relacionadas a la industria farmacéutica, que fue la economía que sustituyó a la economía azucarera.  La ciudad cuenta con una buena escuela de Medicina y varias universidades, así que muchos empleos giran en torno a las carreras médicas y técnicas.

Among Ponce’s tourist attractions is the Ponce Carnival, whose origins can be traced back 250 years, making it one of the oldest celebrations in the Western Hemisphere. The carnival has a major impact on the personality of the city during the first months of the year. On the other hand, a large part of the population works in the pharmaceutical industry, which replaced the sugarcane economy. Because the city has a good medical school and various universities, many jobs are in medical and technical fields.

5. Local/regional vocabulary or food?

Por el rico transfondo étnico de Ponce, los ponceños usan palabras y expresiones que no se escuchan en el resto de la Isla. Por ejemplo, la expression “boa”, que tiene distintos usos, como mostrar sorpresa, agrado o, incluso, burla. Este término, que parece venir de la palabra “buena” en portugués, aún nos remite a un pasado de marineros y emigrantes. También, el ponceño dice que algo está “masa”, como sinónimo de cool.

Algunas frutas se conocen por otros nombres distintos al del resto de la Isla, como por ejemlo la fruta del pan bread fruit, que se le dice mapén, cuando en el resto de la isla le decimos panapén. En cuanto a los saludos, un ponceño saluda preguntando “¿Estás bien?”, a diferencia del “¿Cómo estás?”, que se usa en el resto de la Isla. Un plato típico de la zona es el de guanimes con bacalao, a base de rellenos de maíz y bacalao guisado.

Because of Ponce’s rich ethnic heritage, ponceños use words and expressions that aren’t heard anywhere else on the island. For example, the expression “boa,” which has distinct uses, such as to show surprise, pleasure, or even mockery. This phrase, which appears to come from the word buena in Portguese still reminds us of our history as mariners and emigrants. The Ponce native also says that something is masa, a synonym of cool.

Some fruits are known here by names distinct from those used on the rest of the island such as bread fruit, which is known as mapén here but called panapén elsewhere in Puerto Rico. Regarding salutations, a ponceño greets you by asking “Are you well?” instead of “How are you?” as they say on the rest of the island. A typical dish in this area is guanimes con bacalao, fritters stuffed with corn and stewed cod.

6. Local political debates frequently seem to center on . . .

Ponce trasmite esa sensación de haber sido una ciudad que soñaba en grande y que ahora está en un periodo de decadencia. Me recuerda en eso a Detroit. Esta decadencia se debe a la crisis fiscal, el mal manejo de las finanzas municipales, al abandono de la zona portuaria y de las instituciones culturales. Los debates suelen centrarse en el partidismo político y en cómo las medidas de austeridad resultan contraproducentes para el desarrollo cultural de la zona. Aún así, hay empeños comunitarios que buscan crear condiciones para la sustentabilidad alimentaria y el desarrollo cultural y turístico.

Ponce conveys the feeling of having been a city with big dreams that is now enduring a period of decline. In this way, it reminds me of Detroit. The decline is due to the financial crisis, the poor management of municipal finances, the abandonment of the port zone and of cultural institutions. Debates usually center on partisan politics and on how austerity measures are counterproductive to the development of the cultural sector. Even so, there are community efforts seeking to create conditions conducive to food sustainability and cultural and touristic development.

 

Translated by Jennifer Acker

 

[Read Mara’s poems in The Common here.]

 

Mara Pastor is a Puerto Rican poet. Her works include the translated chapbooks As Though the Wound Had Heard and Children of Another Hour, and, in Spanish, Sal de Magnesio, Arcadian Boutique, and Poemas para Fomentar el Turismo. She lives in Ponce, Puerto Rico.

Jennifer Acker is founder and editor-in-chief of The Common. Her short stories, essays, translations, and reviews have appeared in LitHubThe Washington Postn+1Harper’s, and Ploughshares, among other places. She has an MFA in fiction and literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars and teaches literature and editing at Amherst College. Her debut novel, The Limits of the World, will be published in April 2019. 

 

Photo by Flickr Creative Commons user Aaron Fellmeth Photography.

Griffin LessellAsk a Local: Mara Pastor, Ponce, Puerto Rico

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