by Carlie Derouin
Our first full day in Mayagüez fell on a holiday: Día de Los Reyes (Three Kings Day), a holiday celebrated by many countries in Latin America. We learned the holiday is an important part of the holiday season here in Puerto Rico to be spent with family. The evening before, children gather grass to put into boxes under their beds for the three camels that will bring the three magi (kings) overnight with gifts. Being here for the holiday served an early opportunity for us to experience the unique culture of Puerto Rico that is born out of a complex blend of different cultural influences and colonization. Our group had the opportunity to spend much of the holiday with INESI leaders, Marla Pérez Lugo and Cecilio Ortiz Garcia, and a few of their family members.
The evening passed quickly with a great deal of conversation (along with excellent food and some ‘Just Dance’ competition). From discussions about the holiday, to stories about damage from Hurricane Maria, to conversations about the tension that can arise between local culture and national conservation policies (in the context of El Yunque National Forest), our group got a taste of both the complexity of the problems Puerto Rico is facing post Hurricane Maria, and the learning and knowledge exchange that can occur in informal spaces as our group continues to engage with leaders in Puerto Rico.