I landed in San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital city, early in the morning. The sun was still under the horizon and my stomach was filled with nerves for the trip I had ahead of me. I was staying in an Airbnb about a twenty-minute ride from the airport. I gathered my belongings and left in search of a taxi to take me to my house. When I filed into my taxi and showed the man diving my address, his face lit up.
“Have you ever been here?” he asked.
“No, this is my first time,” I was excited to hear if he had any suggestions for things to do on the island.
“Wow, you are in for a good time! The place you are staying at is only a walking distance from the street party tomorrow night! That is something you have to do,” he explained.
This conversation, I was soon to learn, was one I would have with everyone from the island. Each person spoke of the island with such pride. Each person was so excited to share the city with me.
As I arrived at my house, the owner greeted me with enthusiasm despite the early hour. He offered food and to carry my luggage up the three flights of stairs to my room. I shared the house with the owners and another room they rented out. Juan, the owner of the house texted me after I was settled in.
“I have a friend that does tours of the island and would be more than happy to show you all the great spots; would you be interested?” he texted.
I thought to myself how exciting it would be to see the island which someone who knew all the perfect sightseeing areas and most beautiful beaches. What an opportunity it would be to see the city with someone who wasn’t a tourist to get an authentic inside look.
I replied, “Yes! That would be wonderful, but I do not have a car.”
“No problem, we all want you to see this amazing island, he can drive you if you can not yourself,” he answered.
There was no hesitation in his response, this family truly wanted me to see the island and share the amazing things they have to offer.
The next morning Juan and his wife helped me load up the car waited for his friend David, the tour guide, to arrive. Juan had packed me a lunch and gave me a rundown of the caves and beach I was about to see. I sat listening in awe, This family had dedicated so much time to making my vacation amazing. They did not have to pack me a lunch, they did not have to drive me around to sightsee. This truly was out of the kindness in their hearts.
For the rest of my time in Puerto Rico, I was given meals and suggestions from people who wanted to share the island’s culture with me. Each person offering their most personal advice to the best restaurants and towns, beach, and ice cream parlor. Everyone worked together as a community. Each person offering what they could to their neighbor, just as each Puerto Rican I was able to meet did for me.
Many people, just like me, may be scared at first to put yourself in a new place and travel to an unfamiliar city or country. But the reward is far greater than the fear. You will be greeted with kindness and leave with a greater understanding of the world. The easiest way to be kind to people you are unfamiliar with is to live a day in their shoes, see the world from a new perspective, live with a new culture. Opening your mind to people will ultimately open your mind to kindness.
As Mark Twain once said, “Traveling is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”
In a time where fear is used to pit neighbors against one another, we must let that fear subside to make room for kindness, community, and love. Because in the end it is not the material things we have but rather the relationships and memories we form that make us human.
Puerto Rico is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Maria. To find ways you can donate or help, please visit https://hispanicfederation.org/unidos/.