Oct. 9, 2008, — In celebration of hundreds of years of close association, Virgin Islanders and Puerto Ricans joined together to discuss the differences, difficulties and humorous issues about living in both cultures.
Organized by the Virgin Islands-Puerto Rican Friendship Celebration Committee for St. Thomas and St. John, Thursday night's panel discussion at the V.I. Council on the Arts was held in advance of Sunday's Virgin Islands – Puerto Rican Friendship day.
St. Croix, with its larger Puerto Rican population has several festivities planned around the day, including a Queen Show, a family picnic and a story-telling show at Island Center.
The legislation creating the friendship day dates back to 1964.
Before a group of 50, the panel discussed the topic of Living In Two Cultures: the Virgin Islands Puerto Rico Experiences.
Wanda Mills-Bocachica, was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, and is now the director of the V.I. Planning Division at the Planning and Natural Resources Department. Thursday she was the first to talk about growing up in the Virgin Islands, as the daughter of Puerto Rican parents.
Mills-Bocachica said that for many years she tried hard to assimilate into the culture of the Virgin Islands and resisted using the Bocachica part of her name.
"I aspired to assimilate," Mills-Bocachica said. "I felt as if I was born in the middle of the sea. I wanted to be part of the larger population."
Going back to Puerto Rico for post graduate work, Mills-Bocachica found herself filling out forms that were asking for two surnames, and so inserting the Mills-Bocachica names made sense.
"I needed to understand who I was," Mills-Bocashica said. "I needed to get to know the place where all of my identifying documents were from, my birth certificate, my baptism records."
Mills-Bocachica felt that she had to be anchored somewhere and the first lesson was that request for two surnames on that university form. Those two names represented her identity.
"But I am still very much a Virgin Islander, even with these surnames," Mills-Bocachica said. "St. Thomas was the place where I was raised."
Linda Sibilly's experience was different. She came to the Virgin Islands as an adult child of Puerto Rican parents, met her husband and has lived here for 22 years. Sibilly is supervisor at the Ralph O. Wheatley Skills Center.
"I found a lot of good things and a lot of cultural shocks," Sibilly said.
As a new wife and a teacher, Sibilly said it took two years to understand the St. Thomian dialect.
Sibilly related her first experiences of being on St. Thomas' narrow and steep roads.
"I kept asking my husband, 'Is this a two-way street?'" Sibilly said. "He'd tell me that it was and then I would ask 'where is the other half supposed to fit?'"
Sibilly highlighted several differences that she noticed over the years between the two cultures the way that Virgin Islanders bang their dominoes, the cuisine, the differences in the way that Virgin Islanders conserve water, when Puerto Ricans are very liberal in its use.
The two-culture experience for some was bittersweet. Panelist and long-time educator Alicia Wallace spoke of feelings of lost identity, living in one culture and having another as a heritage.
"I felt like a woman without a country," Wallace said. "I would just exist. I had a sense of not being settled.
Wallace says she now identifies as a self-proclaimed "Santo Rican."
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