Interview with a Puerto Rican teacher

Oct. 5, 2002, midnight | By Robin Hernandez | 21 years, 4 months ago

Location: Caribbean, island between Caribbean Sea and North Atlantic Sea
Area: Slightly less than three times the size of Rhode Island
Climate: Tropical marine, mild: there is little temperature variation
Population: 3,937,316 as of July 16, 2002
Life expectancy at birth: 75.76 years old
Ethnic groups: white (mostly of Spanish origin): 80.5%, black 8%, Amerindian 0.4%, Asian 0.2%, mixed and other 10.9%
Religions: Roman Catholic 85%, Protestant and other 15%
Government type: Commonwealth
Capital: San Juan

Puerto Rico's heritage blends the traditions of the Old and New Worlds. Because of its connection and closeness to the United States, the island's culture is a mixture of modern and traditional life.

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage is a daily occurrence for Spanish teacher, Elba Castro. Surrounded by Hispanic dress and pictures, Castro takes pride in her Puerto Rican heritage.

Puerto Ricans, like most Hispanics, place importance on a close-knit family life. Family is an essential part of the culture in Puerto Rico. Even when children have grown up and moved out of their home, "we continue helping family, even when you're 25," Castro said.

Being the only child in her family, Castro has a responsibility to visit all of her relatives when she goes to Puerto Rico. "When I go to visit my mother, I have to go to [everyone]. If I don't, they would kill me," Castro said.

Castro has learned many valuable lessons from her family and life in Puerto Rico. "I learned from my parents how to be a good person," Castro said.

Castro admires the good in people and the progress her people have made. "Think about advances Latinos have made in their country and in the US. In baseball, at ground zero, in Vietnam," Castro says thoughtfully.

Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to remember and consider the achievements all Hispanics have made, but to Castro the month has strayed away from the true meaning of heritage. "I hate to celebrate the culture only thinking it is food, dances; it is about people. It is more important to understand the people," Castro says.

The people of Puerto Rico are said to be welcoming and hospitable, and Castro is a perfect example of that. Any student can feel at home in her classroom; the walls and white board are decorated with Hallmark cards full of gratitude. Dolls with long dresses and brown smiling faces stand high above the heads of the students on top of cabinets in the classroom. But the most prominent display of heritage is the red, white, and blue flag of Puerto Rico hanging from the white board.

Castro hopes to leave her mark on all those that she meets and tells her students to "put something in the heart of everyone you know."

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