Susana Praver-Pérez


Susana Praver-Pérez is co-founder of La Tertulia Boricua, a monthly cultural salon created in 2011 as a space to celebrate Puerto Rican culture through music, art, dance, stories, poetry, food and familia. 
In that same year, Susana began working on a memoir in the form of short stories and poems. This current piece is the title story of that work. 
Although Susana is passionate about writing, she’s not ready to give up her day job at La Clínica de la Raza in Oakland, California where she has worked for over 30 years as a Physician Assistant and currently as an Associate Medical Director. 

Carta de Amor (Love Letter)


It was love at first sight. I was 22 and totally taken with the flirtatious fellow 
at the ticket window. With his thick black curls and mischievous twinkling eyes,
José let me into the sold-out New Year’s Eve event in exchange for “just one dance”. 

As we whirled across the floor to the sounds of charanga, little did I imagine the adventures, joys and struggles we would share over the next 28 years.
We made our first vows under the arching branches of an oak tree on a crisp winter evening, the moon and the stars our only witnesses.
“Tienes que conocer a mi familia”, José told me; “You must meet my family”
And we planned the first of many trips together to La Isla del

I was bi-lingual when we met but my second-hand Spanish was no match for the colorful, African and Taino tinged version of the language spoken in Puerto Rico.
So, to prepare for our trip, I worked hard to remember vocabulary and idiomatic expressions I learned listening to José. 

It was May, el mes de las flores when we landed in San Juan. The city was bustling
with preparations for the upcoming Pan-American Games. Workmen were painting, gardening, making the metropolitan area shine.  It made our arrival feel all the more momentous. We were greeted at the airport in the usual Puerto Rican style of those days—the entire extended family coming to meet us in a caravan of cars that would snake their way to relatives’ homes to celebrate no matter the time of day or night.

Our first stop was Jose’s beautiful aunt Sara’s apartment. Sitting in her living room looking over the laguna, Titi Sara spoke on behalf of the gathered family:
“They tell me you are in love with my nephew” she said in English to put me at ease.
But, as I wanted to impress, I answered in what I thought was my very best “
Boricua”: “Sí Doña Sara, estoy enchulada.”
As my response elicited smiles from all present, I felt encouraged to give it my all and, hoping to charm my future in-laws, added: “¡Sí! Estoy enchulada con cojones.”
At this point, the approving smiles turned to expressions of shock by everyone including José. My stomach dropped…¡Coño! I had blown it! … ¡Qué carajo!

That evening we all gathered at Josés mother’s place for dinner. Doña María could easily be the best cook on the island which is saying a lot since Puerto Rican cuisine is divine almost everywhere. Doña María was doling out platefuls of steaming arroz con gandules, well-seasoned with ajo, cebolla, recao y amor. I looked at my plate and was surprised to find mostly dry, crusty rice from the bottom of the pot. Although the taste was delicious, I couldn’t enjoy it. I couldn’t stop thinking that my unintentional vulgarity of the afternoon had turned my future mother-in-law against me and my punishment had come in the form of a plate of dried up rice.   

By bedtime I could no longer keep this painful realization to myself. When I told José, he burst out laughing. What relief I felt when he explained that the crispy pegao that Doña María had given me is a delicacy often fought for, especially in his family. To be served that by his mother was an honor. And this is how I was welcomed into the heart of José’s family which would become my second family forever.

Food plays a big part in the expression of culture. During the rest of our stay I was introduced to an array of new tastes. In Puerto Rico even the names of foods are delicious as they slide across your tongue. We drank ice cold guarapo bought on the side of the road, the juice squeezed from thick caña while we watched. I got lightheaded drinking mavi made from fermented tree bark. I was served morcilla in the mountains while the cook looked on. “Está sabroso,” I lied. Blood sausage is not one my favorites.

But my taste buds fell in love with tostones dipped in garlic sauce,
Pasteles wrapped in plantain leaves,
Mofongo bathed in caldo de pollo,
Bacalao con viandas---yuca, yautía, batata y malanga.
And of course alcapurrias and other frituras best accompanied by a cold beer and eaten under the stars in Piñones, the night air fragrant with cooking and ocean spray.

It is not just names of foods that entertain one’s ear in Puerto Rico, but the names of people as well. The island is rich in nick-names. Three of José’s cousins, all sisters and all named María are known as Chary, Mili, and Maggi.
Freckle-faced sister-in-law Marisol is Maripecas.
Artist friend Joaquin Reyes was

If your name doesn’t morph into Tito or Fito or Lalito or the like,
you may very well be called Papito or Mamita

And, if you are lucky enough to find your way into someone’s heart,
you might be called Negrito or Negrita.
That is who José and I were to each other. 

There is no doubt that José made his way into my heart as I made my way into his.
There is no doubt that he still lives in my heart.
When his soul left his broken body behind, his spirit found other places to live… 

It lives in the tun-tun of the conga,
           in the playfulness of the Bomba,
           in the canto del coqui,
           in the way a sabroso cha-cha   makes your hips sway.

It lives in the sound of the surf crashing onto the beach in Aguadilla,
where he was born and to where we returned his ashes.
And it especially lives when our son Misha-Gabriel, born and raised in California,   
proudly proclaims he is Puerto Rican.

When Misha was little, José would sit with him in the living room, playing conga or guitar and singing until Misha would “sing” back, doing his very best baby version of
La bomba, ay que rica es” or “Da me la mano paloma”…
(Qué chévere! Qué chévere!) 

That’s how you transmit the beauty of the culture to the next generation:
           by making it their mother tongue,
           embedding it in their being
           making it part of their very essence.
That’s how you raise children with feet that cannot resist
           the undulating rhythms of the conga.
That’s how you
keep love for the Island alive.
And that’s how you
continue to live and thrive
           even when your body has returned to dust.



 Artwork by: Susana Praver-Pérez

© The Acentos Review 2017