Fierce

‘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.”

Courtesy of The Boricua Way

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.

Courtesy of The Boricua Way

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.

Courtesy of The Boricua Way

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.

Read: This Puerto Rican Illustrator Uses Art To Explore Her Sexuality

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Today, Puerto Rico Celebrates Emancipation Day–the Day When the Island Officially Abolished Slavery

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Today, Puerto Rico Celebrates Emancipation Day–the Day When the Island Officially Abolished Slavery

Photo via George W. Davis, Public Domain

Today, March 22nd marks Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud in Puerto Rico–the date that marks the emancipation of slaves in Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, enslaved peoples were emancipated in 1873–a full decade after the U.S. officially abolished slavery. But unlike the U.S. mainland, Puerto Rico celebrates today as an official holiday, where many businesses are closed.

The emancipation of Puerto Rican slaves was a very different process than the United States’. For one, the emancipation was gradual and over three years.

When the Spanish government abolished slavery in Puerto Rico 1873, enslaved men and women had to buy their freedom. The price was set by their “owners”. The way the emancipated slaves bought their freedom was through a process that was very similar to sharecropping in the post-war American south. Emancipated slaves farmed, sold goods, and worked in different trades to “buy” their freedom.

In the same Spanish edict that abolished slavery, slaves over the age of 60 were automatically freed. Enslaved children who were 5-years-old and under were also automatically freed.

Today, Black and mixed-race Puerto Ricans of Black descent make up a large part of Puerto Rico’s population.

The legacy of enslaved Black Puerto Ricans is a strong one. Unlike the United States, Puerto Rico doesn’t classify race in such black-and-white terms. Puerto Ricans are taught that everyone is a mixture of three groups of people: white Spanish colonizers, Black African slaves, and the indigenous Taíno population.

African influences on Puerto Rican culture is ubiquitous and is present in Puerto Rican music, cuisine, and even in the way that the island’s language evolved. And although experts estimate that up to 60% of Puerto Ricans have significant African ancestry, almost 76% of Puerto Ricans identified as white only in the latest census poll–a phenomenon that many sociologists have blamed on anti-blackness.

On Puerto Rico’s Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud, many people can’t help but notice that the island celebrates a day of freedom and independence when they are not really free themselves.

As the fight for Puerto Rican decolonization rages on, there is a bit of irony in the fact that Puerto Rico is one of the only American territories that officially celebrates the emancipation of slaves, when Puerto Rico is not emancipated from the United States. Yes, many Black Americans recognize Juneteenth (June 19th) as the official day to celebrate emancipation from slavery, but it is not an official government holiday.

Perhaps, Puerto Rico celebrates this historical day of freedom because they understand how important the freedom and independence is on a different level than mainland Americans do.

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Puerto Rico Lost Its Giant Telescope But Now It Hopes To Build A Giant Space Port

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Puerto Rico Lost Its Giant Telescope But Now It Hopes To Build A Giant Space Port

Puerto Rico’s famed Arecibo telescope collapsed in December after years of neglect and damage from earthquakes and hurricanes. But the island is looking to the future with the hope that the U.S. territory could become a major hub for space exploration as a potential space port.

Puerto Rico seeks to be a hub for international space travel.

Puerto Rico may best be known for its tourist packed beaches and its bankrupt finances, but as the island continues to recover from the economic disasters in the wake of hurricanes and earthquakes, it’s looking to the future.

And to many officials on the island, the future is in space exploration. The Caribbean island has put out a request for information, or RFI, seeking companies interested in turning a sleepy airport at the base of the El Yunque National Rainforest into a space port.

The island’s location between North and South America and close to the Equator gives it “viable trajectories to a large range of desirable low earth orbit launch inclinations,” Puerto Rico’s Port Authority said in a notice posted Friday.

The potential base could be a major boost to the Puerto Rican economy.

The site is currently a small airport that already houses an 11,000 feet runway and offers flights to various points in the territory. But with the existing infrastructure, officials state it could easily be converted into a space port.

If the site does generate interest, it would be a major boost to Puerto Rico’s small but vibrant aerospace sector. Honeywell Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney and Collins Aerospace all have manufacturing plants on the island.

Puerto Rico would also join a growing number of U.S. states and jurisdictions that are vying for pieces of the commercial launch business, which is expected to become a trillion-dollar market over the next decade.

The executive director of the Puerto Rico Ports Authority (APPR), Joel A. Pizá Batiz, believes that “The aerospace industry is one of the economic sectors that is experiencing the most rapid growth. In fact, in the midst of the pandemic it was one of the few sectors that did not receive much impact,” he explained.

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