Puerto Rico’s Unique Lingo

Published Tuesday, February 27th, 2018
by family historian Norma (Garcia) Pettit

Tourists stroll on the paseo de la princesa promenade in old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Copyright: Dennis V. Dwater

Puerto Rico’s vernacular is different than the Spanish spoken in other parts of Latin America or Spain. Here are a few words and phrases that are uniquely Puerto Rican:

Jíbaro—a person from the mountains, representing the heart of Puerto Rican culture
Jurutungo—somewhere far away
Guares—twins. That explains the nickname “Guar” that my uncle (Auntie Helen’s twin) carried all his life.
Limber—a frozen treat, similar to an Italian ice
Enfogonarse—to get angry
Achaques—aches and pains experienced by older persons
Chévere—cool, groovy
Echa pa’cá—Come over here/bring that over here.
Empache—When you overeat or eat too much of something
Guagua—a bus, SUV, or pick up truck
Bruto—Dumb; idiot
Fajao—working hard or hustling
Por un tubo y siete llaves—an overabundance of something
Ay bandito—used to show sympathy
China—an orange
Guineo—a banana
Zafacón—a garbage can

Some of our Puerto Rican vocabulary, such as hamaca, canoa, macana, maraca and güiro, came from the Taíno language.  Other words were derived from the African languages brought to Puerto Rico by slaves: mondongo (tripe soup), gandules (pigeon peas) fufú (a spell), and malanga (a tuber) are some examples. Still other words were influenced by American English, like raitru, which comes from “right true,” meaning in agreement to what was just said, or gufear, to goof around. (more…)

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Hurricanes in Puerto Rico

Published Monday, December 18th, 2017

Our Family in the Aftermath of Hurricanes

As an island in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico has historically been in the direct path of hurricanes. Out of the ones shown on this map, three that have had the most impact on our family are San Ciriaco, San Felipe II, and Georges.

San Ciriaco was a category 4 hurricane that made landfall in Guayama on August 8, 1899, with winds of 140 mph. In the context of our family history, our patriarch, Florencio Rivera, was 27 years old and married to his first wife, Felícita Madera. She was six months pregnant with their son, Andrés.  With typical homes in those days made out of wood and having zinc roofs, the  damage done to structures was devastating. Although San Ciriaco killed about 3,000 people, I have no record of family members having lost their lives during this hurricane.

San Felipe II, a category 5 hurricane, hit Puerto Rico on September 13, 1928, entering near Arroyo.  It resulted in over 300 deaths.  Angélica Rivera, daughter of Florencio Rivera and Otilia Pacheco, was born just two weeks later.  I can imagine the terror that the family endured with this powerful hurricane.  They were living in Ponce, which is west of where the hurricane made landfall. (more…)


Published Sunday, April 16th, 2017

The last blog was about the Aguirre Sugar Refinery, and my father’s work there. The story of his Aguirre experience would not be complete without including some of what I know about his relationship with Paula Rivera, the mother of my half-brother, Oscalito.

In the transcription of the tape recording that I made of Dad back in the late 1980’s, Dad talks about how after President Roosevelt’s Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 caused him to go from earning 92 cents a day to 40 cents an hour. This was a huge increase in income for him, yet the prices of clothing and other merchandise did not go up. Suddenly, he could afford to be a well dressed young man, sporting white linen shirts and pants, “My Man” two-toned shoes, and a jaunty hat. (more…)

Visiting Central Aquirre

Published Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Randy and I headed to Ponce one day last December, with plans to buy some items at El Coquí Souvenir shop across the street from the historic Parque de Bombas and then go visit my cousins René and Heriberto (“Papo”) Rivera Sevilla.  We like to take the scenic coastal route from our vacation home in Yabucoa; it makes the hour and a half journey so much more interesting.

In front of the post office—sugar refinery in background.

About halfway there, as we approached Salinas, I started commenting on how we were near Aguirre, where my father, Oscar Cruz García, had worked as a young man prior to entering the Merchant Marines.  I had a tape recording of Dad talking about his youth, and I knew that he had worked at the Central Aguirre Mill for several years; it had played a significant part in his personal history. Aware of how much I yearned to see the ruins of the mill up close, Randy turned off of the highway onto the road that led to Aguirre. (more…)

The Maldonado Connection

Published Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

Researching family trees is a crazy business.  You start out working on one branch of the tree and get easily sidetracked by a different branch. But it is fun, fascinating, and at times, frustrating. I have been trying, since the last blog entry, to find the connection between the Hernández and García families.  As I wrote last time, Emy Hernández found me on page eight of her Ancestry DNA list.  I checked through my list and found her as well. I suspect that we connect through the Maldonado line, since we have that surname in common in our trees.  I actually have Maldonado on both my father’s lineage and my mother’s, and they do connect way back—something that my parents never even suspected.

The Maldonado roots in Puerto Rico can be traced back to the 16th century.  In an article in the Puerto Rican Genealogical Society’s magazine, Hereditas (vol. 8, num. 2, 2007), author Otoo Sievens Irizarry writes that (more…)

The Proof is in the DNA

Published Monday, October 10th, 2016

My uncle, Isidro Rivera Pacheco, was married to Rosita Hernández Serra, who came from a very large family in Utuado, Puerto Rico.  Rosita’s next younger brother, Carmelo (married to Carmen Sánchez, also of Utuado) raised his family of eight children in San Jose, California.  Isidro and Rosita raised their four boys in the town of Belmont, about 25 miles north of San Jose, while my family lived another 25 or so miles farther north, in San Francisco.  Despite the fact that my mother didn’t drive and my father, a Merchant Marine, was gone for extended periods of time, our family got together with the Hernández family on a regular basis. (more…)

To Be Or Not To Be……a Rivera

Published Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

The question came up at the 2016 Rivera family reunion, held in Stinson Beach, California, on June 26th:  If my father was a son of Florencio Rivera, and his brothers all had the last name Rivera, why was his last name García?

This is the way my own father explained it to me many years ago…

Back in the olden days in Puerto Rico, when a baby was born, someone had to go to town to register the baby.  But the recently delivered mother was (more…)