‘The Boricua Way’ Slang Cards Teach Puerto Rican Lexicon Like ‘Brutal,’ ‘Corillo,’ ‘Pichea’ And More
In Puerto Rico, like most Latin American countries, the people have their own lexicon. Local slang, inspired by various languages and cultures, as well as regional pronunciations are heard throughout the Caribbean island. For islanders, it’s a way of life. For travelers, even those coming from other Spanish-speaking countries, it can cause confusion. But for Camelia Rojas, it’s cultural pride and a way to invite others to learn and enjoy what it means to be Boricua.
That’s why Rojas started The Boricua Way, an illustrated art and memento project that explains Puerto Rican sayings, traditions, food and more. The short lessons, which are fun, accessible and humorous, are taught by a bacalaito, salty cod pancake-like fritters beloved on the island, named Pablo. Whether through flashcards or social media illustrations, Pablo the Bacalaito, along with his fritura friends, teaches the “Boricua” way of things — and he’s starting with local language.
“Puerto Rican slang is very funny. We create words every day or give other words new meaning, and only we understand it,” Rojas, 25, told FIERCE. “We take different cultures and languages and mix them together en un pilon and get Puerto Rican slang.”
The idea for The Boricua Way came when Rojas, a Trujillo Alto-based freelance graphic designer, was working on her graduate degree at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore. Away from her island, she was often on social media, laughing at memes and videos from her Puerto Rican friends that made her feel, even if for a moment, like she was back home. But the confused looks on her classmates’ faces when she burst out in laughter to jokes they did not understand soon reminded her that she was not. To get her new friends in on the fun, she began explaining Puerto Rican slang and customs in a way they could grasp: art and design.
“I took that approach because I didn’t want anyone to be intimidated by the language. You see the character and laugh and learn something,” Rojas said.
Through a crisp and golden bacalaito, a treat that always reminded Rojas of tropical beach days, she was able to create a scenario for each word that helped her classmates understand the meaning of the language and then the joke and also brought her an unexpected joy and closeness to home.
“When you live somewhere every day, you don’t notice your culture and tradition until you step back and look at it. I realized my identity and culture, and how awesome it is, when I moved to the US and had to explain it there,” she said.
Rojas’ class lessons turned into a school project and today is her own small business. Through social media, like Facebook and Instagram, she shares illustrations of Pablo the Bacalaito hilariously explaining the meaning of words like “brutal,” which refers to something or someone being awesome, cool or thrilling, “corillo,” which describes a close group or crew of friends, and “pichea,” which is to ditch or ignore someone or something, among other local terms and expressions.
Posting once a day, Rojas finds inspiration for new content everywhere, from casual conversations with friends that are filled with common slang to suggestions from her followers. She says just living on the island, where culture bursts through music, community and everyday activities, offers her a plethora of topics that keep her project flowing without interruption.
On Wednesday, Rojas released her first product: The Boricua Way slang cards, a set of 24 lesson cards that turn the illustrations fans love online into physical learning tools or keepsakes that teach Boricua jargon and phrases. It’s the first in a line of products that she hopes to begin selling soon, which includes stickers, clothes, T-shirts, tote bags and, hopefully, an educational card game.
Rojas, who hopes to get her items sold at airports and souvenir shops, wants her products to be fun, educational tools that could keep tourists who visited the island excited, interested and aware about Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican culture even after they leave.
But more importantly to her, Rojas would like The Boricua Way to be a connection to the island for all the Puerto Ricans living in the diaspora, whether they are longing for home after fleeing the devastation left by Hurricane María or they are second-generation Boricuas who are eager to learn about a culture and land they love but don’t know firsthand.
“I started this because I was in the US and missing home. I want this to be for anyone anywhere who misses Puerto Rico and wants a piece of home with them everywhere they go. I want to give them community, something to hold onto that’s part of their identity, so they don’t feel they lost connection,” she said.
To purchase Rojas’ newly-released The Boricua Way slang cards, send her a DM or email.