Family,  How did I get here

How did I get here: From my beautiful Puerto Rico to the Sunshine State

January 2021 – It’s the start of a new year, and here I am wondering how did I get here. Have you ever asked yourself that? How did you get to where you are at? I ask myself that question, usually every new year, usually when things don’t go as I expected, when something happens that shakes your beliefs, or when I feel like how do I get back on my feet. Yes, many times I have asked myself how did I get here.

So, while I’m reminiscing, let me go back in time, and try to tell the story of how I left my beautiful Puerto Rico behind, and came to live in Orlando, “city of magic”, in Florida the Sunshine State.

I grew up in the rural community in Coamo, a municipality of Puerto Rico. We lived about 20 minutes from town. Coamo is located in the south-central region of the Island. When I graduated high school, I moved to the big city, San Juan. Read here How Did I Get Here From Rural Girl To City Gal.

I graduated high school and wanted to move away, be on my own. Oh, but how many times after moving out I wished I had stayed home. I could’ve picked a college campus closer to my parents’ house. But then, I wouldn’t had met the friends I did, hadn’t had the many heartbreaks I did, and I wouldn’t possibly be where I am today. Moving to Rio Piedras, San Juan, changed my life.

I didn’t finish college, at least not at that time. I felt overwhelmed, lost, I didn’t know what to do. I dropped out. But, instead of going back home, I stayed in San Juan. What to do? I took a course in office procedures (learn to type, learn how to format letters). Yes, instead of going back to finish my degree, I learned how to type. After what I went through with college level classes, I had fun doing this. I’m left-handed, my right hand is only good to help the left one. I thought it’d be extremely difficult for me to learn to type. But I did learn!

I started working because I needed to pay rent, I needed to pay for food, I needed transportation. I didn’t have a car, neither had friends with cars. I worked part-time as a cashier at a McDonald’s, but that wasn’t enough. I had Pell Grant money when I was in school, and that helped a lot. But now being out of school, I had to figure things out a different way. Isn’t that what you do when you become an adult?

Aura, my cousin Papo, and I living together while in college

Around this time of figuring things out, my sister Lilly and my cousin Aura were staying with me, while they went to college. I was not alone. They started working on part-time jobs to help pay the rent. I worked as an office assistant in Gonzalez Padin Department Store in Old San Juan (this store has been closed down for a while now). It was a beautiful old-style traditional store located in the Plaza de Armas. I used to walk around Old San Juan during my lunch breaks.

But, that was a temporary job, no luck staying there. I went to a temporary agency and started working as a Data Entry. Did I think of going back to finish college? Sure, let me resolve the money thing first.

At that time, I did anything to not have to move back home. I thought that if I went back, that was it, I was giving up. Yes, later on, I’ve thought many times that I should’ve done that. If I had gone back home, maybe I would’ve finish college then. I didn’t. I stayed in San Juan.

Working as a Data Entry in a temporary assignment was how I met my husband. No, I won’t tell you that story here. Okay, I will tell you about one, maybe two of my dating stories. I dated a guy who was the brother of my roommate Nayda. Oh I had a huge crush on him, but I didn’t expect him to ask me out, ever, because he was older than us and he didn’t live in San Juan like us. But we did managed to spend time together, as friends. When he did ask me out, and said he was interested in me, it surprised me. It didn’t last. Why? I didn’t go to school that summer and he went on to the police academy training and became a police officer. It was too difficult to coordinate time together, living far from each other.

I dated another guy from my hometown, this one from my neighborhood. We were good friends all of our childhood. He finally asked me out, and I thought this was the guy for me, we were good friends and got along well. It didn’t last long. I think (because he never asked me a direct question about it) that he wanted me to move back home. Just a coincidence, he went on to become a police officer too.

My first child

After working for the temp agency, I had my first full time job as a Data Entry for a title insurance company. Then, I became an Executive Assistant for a Senator. I had the great opportunity to work at the Capitol Building. That was a wonderful experience for me, being there. Being part of the process of how laws where approved was exciting for me. I had to run around (yes, I did have to actually run sometimes!), cite government officials to participate in hearings, go follow other senators to get them to sign documents. I met a lot of wonderful people there, some I’m still in contact with.

After five years working at the Capitol building, government changed and we had to transfer the office to the new senator coming in. My boss recommended me to stay with the Minority spokesperson. But it was time for a change. We (my family) decided to move to Florida.

We moved to Orlando in 2001. We were looking for a change of scenery. We did not move because of economy. We just needed a new start. We moved thinking it was a chance for a change. It was a big change. Language was different, culture was different. We didn’t know anyone other than my sister, who offered us a place to stay.

Being in Puerto Rico, I was the bilingual person at the office, if there was English speaking needed, I’d help. Here in Orlando, I had to train my hearing, because a lot of people had different accents and pronunciations I couldn’t understand. Everywhere I went, I asked “Do you speak Spanish?”. It was actually my sister who noticed that and told me to stop doing this. If I was to survive here, I needed to speak English and adapt. She was right.

After all these years, I realized that I’ve never lived on my own. I went from living with family at home, to living with roommates in a dorm, to an apartment with my sister and cousin, to being married, living with husband and children. I’ve always worked though.

My first job here was as Data Entry. No phones, no customer service, just working in the computer. I was able to work in my jeans and sneakers. From there, I went on next to work as a front desk office assistant at a doctor’s office near where I lived. I got to work with two wonderful Puerto Rican pediatricians. Working with patients and phones, not so great, but learned a lot.

My friend and coworker Linda and I, celebrating 10 years at Orlando Health

From there, I moved on to work as a medical records office assistant at an outpatient clinic of one of the hospital systems in Orlando. My title has gone from office assistant, to Health Information Analyst, to Release of Information specialist. I’ve been working there since 2007, and finally, 2021, the hospital is almost paperless, electronic charts. Yes, it’s me, data and my computer.

I realized I wanted to finish my college degree. It was one of those things I always wanted to do. I found a private college from Puerto Rico that opened for service in Orlando. They accepted some of my old credits, and I was able to complete my degree with a 4.00 GPA, made Summa Cum Laude. I worked hard for it. With a full time job, with 2 kids at home, with a husband working evenings, I finally completed my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology.

Graduated

I went on to complete a Master’s Degree of Education in Guidance and Counseling. I graduated at top of my class. I chose this field because I think of myself in college. If I had gone to the school counselor and asked for help, I maybe would’ve thought of changing my course of study. But no luck with finding a job in that area.

I have stayed in my position for 14 years. I like to think I do a good job and I contribute to patient well-being. I like what I do and I like helping my coworkers. As my kids require less of my attention, I have started reading again. I started imagining these characters and these stories, and what would happen. So I’ve started writing stories, romance fiction (I like happy endings). Then, I started writing this blog. Writing has been one of my dreams since I was a young girl. It has become a therapy and it’s a way of helping me express my thoughts and communicate with others all around the world.

Many times I think of the “what-ifs”. What if I had finished my degree when I first started, what if I had stayed in my hometown, what if. Many times, especially after the year we all have experienced in 2020, it is difficult to keep a positive outlook in life. Many times you keep going, being so busy with work, with children, with chores, that you don’t stop to think of the future. Many times thinking of the future, gives me anxiety. But there are a few times that I like to think I took the right path, I still did something right.

My boys, how fast they grow

Since I moved out of Puerto Rico, like other Puerto Ricans, I dream of moving back. I miss spending time with my family. Any opportunity we have, we try to go visit. We have not visited since 2017, before Hurricane Maria devastated our beautiful Puerto Rico. Now, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, there are traveling restrictions and so many precautions to think of, that we don’t know when will it be safe to travel again. Yes, there are airlines with open flights to Puerto Rico, but we don’t feel confident enough to travel yet.

I don’t know what the future holds. I dream of being able to publish those romance novels I’m writing. I dream of being able to return to my Island. I dream that my kids will be independent adults, find their happiness, and be able to balance what life brings along the way.

I recently visited Aura (right) in Louisiana, where she lives

For now, I’ll continue to believe dreams do come true. Believe it when someone says “it’s never too late”. If you want something, and you work for it, you can make a plan, and set a goal. You’d accomplish anything you set your mind to. There might be obstacles and struggles to overcome. But remember, I believe in happy endings. And if you have children, show them that this is possible. I’ll see what happens next. Meanwhile, it’s time to enjoy my tacita de café. Salud!

Para versión en Español vea

I'm a Puerto Rican living in Florida. Mom, Blogger, and Writer! Fan of coffee, baseball, books, sweet romance novels and Hallmark movies, and of course, my beautiful Puerto Rico.

2 Comments

  • JDEstradaWriter

    González Padín, wow. Blast from the past although I bought some of my fav toys there and their cafeteria taught me the bliss known as bacon sandwich with mayonnaise. After Padín, the San Juan locale was a New York Department Store…very weird vibe to it. And not one but two cops? Wow. Lol. Very awesome how you got your PHD and Master’s. As for the dreams…you’re not alone. Miss home a lot and I have plenty of dreams and though there are challenges, it’s just an invitation to get creative and go for it.

    • Nydia Raquel

      I haven’t been in Old San Juan in a long time, haven’t been walking those streets since I left. When I worked at the Capitol Building, we used to send the boss’ driver to get us baked potatoes from a cart guy. Can’t remember what corner he used to work at. Thanks for reading, and thanks for your constant support. Gracias mil!

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