The Arecibo Observatory: My Search for UFOs,Ghosts and my Latina Identity

The past three weeks I have been on the road trip after business trip engaged in group level discussions as to how to motivate Hispanic/Latino Leadership. When I am brought to many of these meetings, I am brought to serve as a representative of my larger racial/ethnic identity; or rather how I have been categorized. Attending these meetings I often have to speak on behalf of the Latino community and present my so-called expertise in what is needed in said community. But what happens when you yourself are trying to figure out your own identity? I am Puerto Rican-or rather Nuyorican! I am very well versed in my New York self-I don’t drive; I walk to work while eating; I have a New York sense of humor (well buckets of sarcasm).  My Puerto Rican self is still a work in progress.  See, I didn’t go back to Puerto Rico until I was seventeen years old. When I finally did, I was completely lost and I left soon thereafter to live in Spain.  After that brief trip, I didn’t return for another decade. Now, for work, I return at least two to three times a year; which is quite a labor of love. It is not easy to return to an island you are supposed to represent yet clearly march to a different set of norms.  Thusly, I am not exactly treated with great fanfare when I return, I am not the prodigal daughter.


My last trip to Puerto Rico was in February where we zigzagged across the island.  At one point, my colleagues indulged me in taking a side trip in search of Arecibo and its world-renowned Observatory. I had heard much of the Observatory and consequently of Arecibo.  Ironically, I was born in Arecibo-but I wasn’t meant to be. I was actually made in Brooklyn and had been expected to be born in Brooklyn; but my mother went on a last minute trip to Puerto Rico-specifically, Arecibo.  We had no family roots there yet somehow I am from there and feel a pull towards there. Arecibo has always been a mystery to me.  What is it like? And why is the Observatory based there?  Am I a reflection of that town in any way?

Just as background, the Arecibo Observatory is a radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. The Arecibo telescope was built in 1963, by William Gordon of Cornell University, who intended to use it to study the Earth’s ionosphere.  But the fun part for me is that in November 1974 (right after my mom’s birthday), the Arecibo Message was transmitted in an attempt to communicate with potential extraterrestrial life. The message was transmitted toward the globular cluster M1; which is about 25,000 light-years away. The telescope in 1999 began to collect data for the SETI@home project.

While my family has no real roots in Arecibo, our familial spirit seems to be rooted there. My mother was always fascinated by other-worldly issues and believed firmly in extra-terrestrial life.  We had a shared love of the X-Files; which was in a way, my first introduction to my hometown.  See, the character of Fox Mulder was sent to the Arecibo Observatory in The X-Files episode “Little Green Men” that was originally broadcasted in 1994. That episode broadcast was the perfect time for my introduction to Arecibo as that was the year that I graduated from college and was entering a whole new world where I was to begin my self-identification journey.  Just as Moulder ran to Arecibo to find his footing after his key informant was killed and the x-files office was shut down, I eventually made my way to Arecibo this past year to further figure out my identity as a Latina.

Our journey to Arecibo was a fun-filled windy-road one.  Arecibo is the largest city in geographical size in Puerto Rico and is Located in the Northern Coastal Valley region, characterized by the presence of caves and wooded hills.  We went from Ponce to Arecibo-which meant cutting through Utuado a town deep in the mountains. We navigated small windy roads where big trucks were cutting through as well.  It made for some harrowing moments. Once we got there, I learned that Arecibo is also referred to as La Villa del Capitán Correa, to honor a battle in which we repelled a British invasion by sea lead by Admiral Whelstone in August 5, 1702. Bamm! I come from a warrior town! That fits in with my Latina story growing up in the south Bronx and developing resiliency.  We came across the Arecibo Lighthouse which was built by the Spaniards in 1898.  To think, I have been traveling the world looking for lighthouses and there in my birthplace is a great one that is actually still in use! Lo and behold: Arecibo is a guiding force that seems to course through my own veins.  Lastly, of course, the Observatory is a big main draw: The observatory that can lead to opening us up to other-world experiences; The observatory that can be a game-changer in how we as humans interact with the Universe! My birthplace represents to me the great value of openness.  Of course, Maybe I am making too much of this all, but self-discovery is a fun and wondrous journey!  This is where my mom came to have me! I was made in Brooklyn, but was born in the land that has a warrior tradition, that guides and opens up eyes.  My mom as a person represented those values even when she stood out alone in her neighborhood.   Her love of UFOs, SETI, ghosts and spirits represented her openness. I grew up thinking they were quirky attributes but I have come to appreciate them and now go on ghost hunting and UFO seeking trips with my son!

The Arecibo Observatory is in a critical situation currently in that its management has changed hands numerous times this past decade and funding for the telescope has been cut dramatically.   The Arecibo Observatory was used for the climax of the James Bond movie Golden Eye and in the accompanying Nintendo 64 videogame Golden Eye 007. It has also been used in the film Contact where Jodi Foster’s character uses the observatory as part of a SETI project. All this to say: the observatory is in the country’s and mainstream’s collective conscious.  It’s in my family’s collective conscious and has laid the groundwork for my openness to new experiences while allowing my mother to enhance her storytelling sessions.  I truly hope that the Observatory can remain open and that eventually we can discover other intelligent life. Until then, I I will revisit the Observatory and keep honing my Latina identity and honoring my mother’s legacy through openness.

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