Maruja Toledo

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For years I have questioned the assumption of what is considered a Puerto Rican woman. The principal reason is that I lack some of the characteristics of the quintessential puertoriqueñidad.

Some of these characteristics are the following:


As a young woman, I was aghast as my Puerto Rican friends had a particular sway as they walked. They told me time and again that proper Puerto Rican girls had to sway. Naturally, I practiced and took lessons from the best; to no avail. Instead, I have what my husband of many years describes, for lack of a better word, as a “trot.” He even tried to teach me how to walk correctly since he grew up with six sisters and considered himself a connoisseur in this area. One day, I rebelled. I affirmed my content with my trot and resisted any further attempts at indoctrination. Lately, I observe that since young women have to carry a backpack, swaying is falling out of fashion.

Loving Salsa

…not the ingredient we add to our sofrito, or the kind the Mexicans make but the dance. I am ashamed to admit that I can only listen to salsa for about five minutes. If I listen to it any longer, my heart palpitates and my blood pressure increases. Paradoxically, I like music with a lively tempo, a distinctive beat of the drums; something we link to Black music. But my African roots are not so evident.

According to recent research, sixty percent of Puerto Ricans have Taíno roots, so it could be Taíno music I like, whatever that means.

Rhythmic Torso Swirling

Puerto Rican women have a particular talent that entails a sudden movement of the upper torso, specifically a movement of the clavicle.

They do this as they dance plena; a typical dance with distinctive Black roots. I have tried to perform this movement without success. However, my daughter was born with this secret knowledge. I was completely taken aback when as a small child she would perform this sudden twist of her upper torso as she danced and without any previous coaching. Not only that, but my granddaughter could also perform this movement as soon as she could walk and even with more suggestive rhythm than her aunt. Did this rhythmic torso swirling gene skip a generation as it did in my case? I’ll have to wait to be a great-grandmother to find out.


While my upper torso refuses to move, I also have two left feet much to my chagrin since Puerto Ricans have the reputation for being very good dancers. Some have actually earned this reputation while people like me are a disgrace to our race. I took dance lessons at college to alleviate this lack of talent but was a disappointment to my instructor, to my group, and to myself, particularly since we had to perform in front of a live audience and I did not look good.

Multi-tasking and Multi-conversing

Puerto Ricans are able to do several tasks at the same time while holding several conversations at the same time, and never miss a beat. At the very least, I can hold three simultaneous conversations. Or, my daughter and I can begin one conversation, put it on hold and go back to it later fifteen minutes later and know exactly where we left off. I would have to do research on other groups of women to learn if this is a distinctly female trait without regard to nationality.

I can also interrupt conversations while I am talking to several people without apologizing which is something that is totally accepted in Puerto Rican culture. However, I cannot have chaos and confusion around me. “Get in line, please when you want to talk to me.” “Wait your turn and please hand me your papers one at a time!!!!!!!!!!” “And whatever you do; don’t mess up my desk!”

After careful consideration of the evidence, I have come to the conclusion though I am Puerto Rican; I must have something akin to “cross-over genes.” My maternal grandmother, the only one I knew and my main source of information on family history and gossip, often spoke of a tall, blonde and blue-eyed German ancestor. Though the facts were never very clear. Sometimes he was German at other times he was from northern Spain. My childish brain created a mythological creature which explained my green eyes, blonde hair and certainly all my bad traits. A German ancestor might even explain my love of order though my husband and children happen to disagree I am orderly at all.

With all this valuable information overheard whenever my grandmother and her friends gossiped, I concluded that either this mythical person must have impregnated one of my maternal ancestors or else my grandmother’s friend were a bunch of scandalous old cronies. I prefer the first theory, that this tall, handsome man (according to them) was part of my gene pool.

All of this is a pity because I used to believe that I was one hundred percent pure Puertorriqueña. Yeah right! Have you seen my flat behind? Let me be! Let me be! Puertoriqueñas can also have flat behinds but that shall be the subject of another essay. For the time being and until I do further research, suffice it to say that the only way to explain this phenomenon is “cross-over genes.”

 Reprinted with permission. Mancha… © Copyright, Mancha de Plátano, Inc., Cabo Rojo, 2007. All rights reserved. 


Maruja Toledo is a recently retired Professor of English from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez specializing in ESL linguistics. She is also a great lover of literature, a writer, speaks three languages and a world traveler. She lives with her husband in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico.


  1. I definitely agree that things like that comes from the genes some how, and yes we all have some relative from german somehow. I must say that we as women are very impresive some times because somehow we manage to do multiple tasks at the same time without lossing track of what was the first thing we were doing. The sway yes I agree that it may be lost by the lifestyle of which we are living now. And the dancing ability, well thats something that comes in the package of the genes but I believe that no matter what people can learn to dance, even though it may be more difficult for some people.

  2. Well, I do not think that I am Puerto Rican because there are some things that I cannot do and are expected (or so you say). I like the humor you add to the story by saying what you cannot do and rapidly saying that you can do something else.

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