When I am feeling a little down, I tend to eat a lot of cherry heads or grab some pizza. Pizza, according to my son is the cure all for everything. When down, I also engage in a bit of storytelling. I like to look at my roots and family superstitions to cheer me up a bit. Here I share with you all a little story involving my Hispanic roots and our folklore. Enjoy!
My family, my roots, my superstitions come from the “isla del encanto” (the island of enchantment). Said island is Puerto Rico which has a complicated relationship and identity with mainland USA. To further exasperate that relationship, there are now more Puerto Ricans in the mainland than there are in Puerto Rico itself. The exodus has been heavy and saddening due to the poverty levels that are driving a big chunk of that departure. All my life as a Nuyorican I have been taught to see the island as an enchanting one that comes alive with coquis (frogs), rainforests, Pina Coladas and a chupacabra or two. Folklore, myths and monsters are alive and kicking with a hybrid sense of whimsy and realism. Because of my Puerto Rican background and passed-on traditions, I never look in the mirror at night, I use a string on my forehead to get rid of hiccups, and I never, ever walk with just one shoe on. I may not eat beans or avocados, I didn’t grow up in Puerto Rico, and my Spanish is not perfect but I most definitely know my Puerto Rican superstitions and folklore. How else, other than that of an itchy palm, would I know when I was about to get money?
Throughout my business trips to Puerto Rico, which are quite numerous, I have noticed a certain love of dolphins. Yes, dolphins. Every knick knack or furniture store has hundreds of varied dolphin figurines. Beach towels everywhere are embroidered with dolphins. This obsession has seemed a bit odd to me. However, its oddity in my eyes didn’t stop me from buying both my mom and sister tons of dolphin figurines. My mom preferred kangaroos and penguins to dolphins, but being in Puerto Rico the last part of her life endeared her to them. She would watch documentary upon documentary about them; after which she would call me to tell me about their grand intelligence. My sister basically had a shrine to the dolphin in her room.
People have asked me if dolphins live near Puerto Rico or if there is a place to swim with them there. The answer is not really. Dolphins aren’t part of the overall island experience. There are places in nearby Tortola where individuals hand with the dolphins, but not in Puerto Rico. Not that I would want that for those beautiful creatures. Let them be and stay free, I say. Why this obsession then in Puerto Rico with dolphins? Dolphins because of their absence in the surrounding waters, present this almost mythical creature persona to Puerto Ricans. Dolphins appear to be exalted for their non-presence. I could go into Puerto Rico’s longstanding commonwealth status (not entirely free), as well as colonialism, to explain part of the collective fascination with dolphins. However, what fun would that be?
In the folklore literature, there is a creature from the Brazilian Amazon known as “el encantado”: the enchanted one. This encantado is akin to what European folklore has noted to be fairies. The Encantado is an underwater fairy creature that can shapeshift and lives in a mythical paradise. In books and other illustrations, the encantado is often portrayed as a dolphin that can turn into a human being. Then as a human el encantado attends parties and kidnaps children. Furthermore, when in human form, they will wear a special fedora-like hat so that the can hide their blowhole. Apparently, even as a human, they have a need to have a blowhole. Such a description reminds me of a sign I once saw in Vienna, Austria where a man with a large hat is holding a child’s hand. The Austrian sign is meant to convey where pedestrians should walk but to me it seemed quite menacing. Big brimmed hats are always hiding something. Could it be that Austrians, covertly believe in el encantado? Also, what is up with the encantado kidnapping kids?
Apparently, these dolphin fairies have three characteristics that set them apart from other fairy-types: they have great musical abilities, they are quite seductive, and they just love to party. Talk about the ultimate party animal. They bring quite a bit of whimsy with them. Although, their whimsiness has a menacing underbelly and darkness considering that they kidnap children. There must be a lesson here somewhere. Maybe this is meant to be a warning for kids to not go to parties lest they get kidnapped by a fedora-wearing man hiding a blowhole. Yes, there is a deeper image there after all.
Overall, the encantado reminds me in part of that Saturday Night Live Sketch where Chevy Chase used to play the character of “Land Shark” that would knock on people’s doors and eat them. Haven’t seen it? It really is funny in a twisted kind of way. That was back when Saturday Night Live was funny and a bit edgier.
When my son turned four, I took him to Curacao to celebrate. While there we went to the local aquarium and caught a dolphin show. My son was not impressed with the dolphins. It was probably his non-Puerto Rican half that was not loving the moment.
At this point I don’t know what to make of the Puerto Rican love of dolphins. It just could be that there are super cute animals that roam the waters freely just the way many Puerto Ricans wish their nation status could be. Or it could be that there is a deeply ingrained love of the mythical. Interestingly, a common greeting in the Spanish language when you first meet someone, is “encantado”. Such a greeting means really nice to meet you or “charmed to meet you.” It may seem innocuous but check for a blowhole nonetheless ;-)
Inspired by my family and the daily prompt of make me smile.
Other thoughts on the daily prompt: