By Jorge Inzunza
A Trip with Marcus Vega
In September 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Central America and the Caribbean. I remember at the time I worked as a teacher in the Delavan-Darien School District (Wisconsin). The images were bleak. Soon after, I contacted the Lorencita Ramírez de Arellano School in Toa Baja (Puerto Rico) to start a small aid campaign. Lizbeth, April, Beyoncé, Destiny, Carol, Belinda and Ashley, my fourth-grade students, stayed at recess helping in the collection of materials. In the end, we sent more than a dozen aid boxes. Soon after, we learned that the tragedy continued. Within a few months the school was closed despite a strong opposition from the community. It closed like so many other schools in Puerto Rico and we soon lost all contact.
In this experience of connection and disconnection with Puerto Rico, I discovered the book “Marcus Vega Doesn´t Speak Spanish ” by Pablo Cartaya. The author invites us to meet Marcus, a boy who symbolizes a mountain in his school: untouchable, protective and threatening. The armor in which he protects himself from others is only blurred by interactions with Charlie, his brother with Down Syndrome who is somehow his antithesis: carefree and friendly. A fight with a schoolmate is what triggers Marcus’ search for a homeland.
This homeland has several elements: a father figure, country of origin, family, language and culture. Each component is part of an identity to maintain an awareness of. Marcus discovers himself in his hybrid condition, in the enjoyment and pain of belonging to two worlds.
Then Cartaya makes us get on a pisa y corre, to take us to visit Puerto Rico. We feel the warmth and the opening of intimate conversations with strangers, the colors of Orocovis and chinchorros, as well as the taste of dragon fruit and jibaritos. Music flourishes like a jungle. Puerto Rico became the perfect setting for Marcus to break his mold, feel like a small part of the island’s landscape and reconcile within himself.
Marcus’ trip is the journey of Ulysses. It is a navigation of the spirit, where the journey itself is the catalyst for a transformation without turning back. He begins a personal journey by which he recognizes that he belongs to several places at the same time.
I wish I could have shared this book with those students at my Wisconsin school in 2017. I know that this story of reunions and rediscoveries would have resounded in their hearts.
Each soul is an island inhabited by extraordinary beings.