The Abandoned Island

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large
human

Puerto Ricans

there’s war on my people

sterilization, genocide

for years

 

crisis

abandonment of the island

I hear their cries — it burns

quieted deaths

coqui.

©2017 Liza Morales

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Janet ♡ Carlos

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In 1948, he was born in Aibonito, Puerto Rico, the first of four children, all born at home. My grandparents didn’t have much and lived in poor conditions; eating lots of eggs and rice, in a tin house which does not exist today. Despite the lack of money, they were extremely rich in love. As a young boy, my dad ultimately moved to New York and was raised in Spanish Harlem. 

By the time Mom was born in 1951, her family had already migrated to New York from Arecibo, Puerto Rico. She was born in Bellevue Hospital on 1st Avenue and was also raised in Spanish Harlem.

Mom and Dad met in ‘El Barrio’ and he became her boyfriend when she was 13. Eventually, he was drafted into the Navy but the separation only strengthened their love. As soon as he was honorably discharged, she married him at the age of 18 and gave birth to my brother at 19. My parents didn’t want to stay in Spanish Harlem, so they moved to the Bronx and lived in the second floor apartment at my paternal grandparents’ house. A couple of years later, we moved to Gun Hill Road until they were able to save enough money to buy a house of their own, which they eventually did. It is the same home I live in today. 

My parents were awesome providers and made huge sacrifices to ensure we lived comfortably. They had a total of three children. They fed us, clothed us, loved us, schooled us, sheltered us and placed us all in private school (which Mom always claimed, “Education is the best gift we could give you”). Their hugest priority was always us and for that I love them eternally. They loved us unconditionally and their example taught me how to love my children the same way. Even their love for one another was exemplary. They demonstrated love as a verb. 

In 2008, death separated them after 39 years of marriage but it was temporary. Only seven months later, he died and joined her. There was no life without the other. “Until death do us apart” was their mantra and now they rest in peace and eternal love … together, until infinity.

[Photo captured at the Copacabana, NYC, early 80s] 

Pastelillos – my way

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“Liza, you wanna pastelillo?” was music to my ears growing up. It was and still is one of my favorite cultural foods. Some people call them empanadas but my family called them pastelillos (meat turnover). With grandparents from Puerto Rico, who eventually migrated to New York, I’ve been privileged to indulge in delicious Puerto Rican cuisine all of my life. Dad was born in Aibonito, Puerto Rico and mom was born here in NYC, but she too, was well endowed with her cooking skills.  I remember when she died in 2008, mostly everyone who attended her funeral, mentioned how grateful they were for her cooking. She fed everyone, just as my grandmothers did. It’s traditional in our culture to show our love through food and we believe, there’s always enough for everyone – “¡ Dios da pa todo mundo” .. is what I always heard them say. 

I may not cook as authentically as my ancestors but I definitely cook with love and from what I understand,  that’s one of the most potent ingredients. 

Here, I share my version of pastelillos:

I start off with a package of dough (discos) and a pound of ground turkey. Traditionally, they use ground beef but you can substitute with ground turkey or chicken for a healthier version, as I do. 

I sauté sofrito, fresh garlic,  adobo, onion powder, black pepper and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan. Then I mix in the ground turkey with the sofrito over medium flames until fully cooked.

Now, I sprinkle some flour on the counter top , lay and roll out the dough atop of flour, then place some ground meat in the center. 

Cheese is optional. 

Now,  I scramble an egg and dab the edges of the entire circumference, fold over the dough and begin to pinch the edges with a fork. 

Pile them up, until complete and begin to fry. (Baking is also optional)

As they’re frying, I grab a large utensil and begin to repeatedly scoop oil over the pastelillo. The dough will begin to bubble up and turn golden. After a few minutes, flip it over and do the same on the opposite side.

*Remove from oil and wait a few minutes to cool off before eating. The internal steam can burn your skin.

Then…voilà

Enjoy! 

©2016 Liza Morales

Sweetener 27/30

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I like my coffee hot, real hot. I prefer it bold and robust and lightly sweetened. Sometimes, I use flavored creamers to sweeten it, other times I use organic raw sugar.
I must say, every time I use sugar, I can’t help but think of my island, Puerto Rico and its rich production of sugar in the 19th century. I can’t help being reminded of the hourless days they toiled under grave conditions, for pennies a day. I can’t help but think of all the slaves that were imported for the greed of gluttons. I can’t help but think of how Puerto Rico’s sugar industry was manipulated, drained of their resources and ultimately dominated by outside capital, the United States.

sugar industry
arable land, plantations
stolen molasses.

©2016 Liza Morales

(Haibun poetry)
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PONCE MASSACRE 6/30

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unarmed Puerto Ricans, clubbed and shot raw

on Palm Sunday, nineteen thirty seven

blood-covered Ponce, in a screeching caw

unarmed Puerto Ricans, clubbed and shot raw

Since when is a peaceful march against the law?

bludgeoning nineteen people to heaven

unarmed Puerto Ricans, clubbed and shot raw

on Palm Sunday, nineteen thirty seven.

©2016 Liza Morales

(Triolet poetry)

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                               [Photo captured by Carlos Torres Morales on March 21, 1937 and published in El Impartial on April 1, 1937]

Pastelillo (3/30)

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encantan pastelillos de carne
meat sazonado en sofrito
fritura puertoriqueña
dough rolled out, folded and stuffed
forked, fried .. lo comieron
abuela’s spirit
fill their bellies
hands of love
golden
crisp.

©2016 Liza Morales

(Etheree poetry)
#NaPoWriMo

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(Pastelillo – a Puerto Rican meat turnover, also made with chicken or seafood)