The eclectic mix of family portraits, pictures of wolves, Indians, and Jesus Christ con el Sagrado Corazón all meld together in Gramita’s home. Her deep blue couch is decorated with deep red handmade pillows and curtains to match. There is a statue of an Indio (Indian-Native American of Puerto Rico-Taino) looking proudly toward the door, as if keeping watch of anyone who enters. There is no coffee table, instead a large ottoman to put your feet up.
Gramita loves to cook and prepares special dishes for people in the neighborhood. La señora del beauty, le manda arroz con gandules. La señora al cruzar la calle en el laundry, le manda surullitos. Every Wednesday her granddaughter Julie comes for dinner. And her great-grandson loves her bacalao.
I ask, “¿Qué sabes de Cristóbal Colón?" She says proudly, “Pues el descubrió América en 1493…” then breaks out in a poem about Columbus sailing the ocean blue.
“¿Y quien estaba allí cuando el llegó?” She didn’t hear me and instead went on naming all three of his ships. “La Niña, La Pinta y la Santa Maria…”
“En Puerto Rico, ¿quienes estaban allí cuando el llegó?” She thought for a while. “Los indios.” She sings again about how beautiful Puerto Rico was when Columbus landed.
“¿Adonde estan los indios ahora?” She responds, “No se. Aquí no estan. No. Aquí no.”
“¿Y adonde estan?” Her face frowns, wrinkling up, a little confused. “¡¿Qué se yo!? Yo estudié eso hace mucho tiempo. Cuando era niña.”
“Trate de recordarse de los indios de Puerto Rico.” She shakes her head, “Eso hace mucho tiempo. Desde los tiempos de mi mamá.” Her wrinkled face started smoothing out some as she starts remembering. “Ellos usaban esto,” she grabbed a handmade ladle from her counter. “Y cocinaban así,” she started spinning the ladle in the air as if stirring. “Antes los indios usaban higueras,” she grabbed one with the other hand. “Y el coco. Y hacian muchas cosas con los cocos,” she starts pretending she’s drinking from it.
“¿Los tiempos de su mamá? No es tanto tiempo atras.” She throws up her arms in desperation, “¡Ay! ¡No se!” She starts putting away her Taíno cutlery. Her eyes squinted half in frustration and half in confusion, “Quizás fueron los tiempos de la mamá de ella.”
I try to jog her memory a little. “¿No se recuerda si alguna vez tu mamá mencionando alguien en la familia que era Taíno?” Her eyes lit up. There was an inner glow radiating from around her as she walks out her kitchen. “No creo.” I follow her out the kitchen. “¡¿No se si tengo raza taína!?” Her glare changes to one far away, somewhere in her memory, way back, 80 years ago. “Si quieres pregúntale a mi hermano." She shrugs her shoulders. “Puede ser que tenemos en la sangre raza taína.”
From where I’m standing now I can see to the living room at the Indio facing me and I want to say he winked at me as I said goodbye to Gramita! Because he knows the truth- that they say that all the Tainos went into hiding, in the mountains mostly. And then they were annihilated. But that’s not true. They survived - and they’re still in hiding. Some high up in the mountains, and some made it way up to the Bronx!