There’s a dog park about three-fourths of a mile, going west from my apartment hidden on a sidestreet, across from a gas station and an open-air store that sells shrubbery before you reach the highway. When I first moved to Puerto Rico, immediately I searched for a dog park so that I could bring my silky terrier a few times a week to drain his energy and so that I could rest at night.
Also, I knew that there were three ways to meet people: 1) walking around with a baby, 2) going to bars during happy hour, and 3) walking your pet. Since I have no child, couldn’t imagine going to a bar every day for happy hour, strategically I walked him at certain times, and kept the same schedule so that people would recognize us both and then befriend us. I would go there when I got off work around 6pm; and at times, when they first opened on Saturdays around 7am. I knew that these were the times that plenty of people would be there because they’d be off work and also the heat from the sun would finally be tolerable. I felt I had no other option for meeting or socializing with people since I was working from home.
My first time in the dog park I was truly impressed as to how the grounds were well kept. The grass was well maintained, there were plastic bags for people to pick up their dog’s poop, and a water fountain for small and large dogs. Also, there’s an agility course. I laughed when I thought about how Karl-Marx (my silky terrier) probably would never have such agility. And, I have to admit, I tried to get him to run the course before, but it just didn’t work out as I had planned.
I pride myself in the ability to appreciate multiculturalism and diversity. And, equal oppositely, I pride myself in separating myself from those who have a tendency to discriminate against others. Finally, most often (depending on the circumstance), I pride myself in giving people a few chances to show their true character before I judge them. And before someone shakes their head and says it’s not my place to judge, it’s mainly people who are doing things they have no business doing who say that. But one day, a hot day that I remember like it was yesterday, though it’s been two years since I’ve been there to that park, the park of dogs, my sense of realization came like a tsunami, pushing all sense of reason to the forefront and everything that disillusioned me away.
It seemed to be the place where the stay-at-home White American women met to socialize and gossip about all the happenings in the area. It was a park of dogs during tea time. Being the new person there, the only male and black there, it was obvious that I did not fit in. Covered in tattoos, with a 10-lb dog, I stuck out. They sized me up and sized my dog down. Then finally one day, they invited me over to sit with them. These were the women who knew everything–the best doctor, the best vet, the best restaurant, the most dangerous streets, the most dangerous people, the best discount stores–they knew everything! And initially, I thought they were (and I guess they are, despite their shortcomings) a good resource for newcomers. These ladies would be so involved with the San Juan gossip that they’d lose their main focus and simply ignore their dogs attacking each other and not understand why another dog owner reprimanded their dog. After I was permitted to be in their gossip circle, after I earned their trust, their mouths became looser and their prejudices clearer.
Soon after these women reassured themselves that I was not Puerto Rican (or latino, in general), they felt it was okay to show their bigoted sides. Most of these women told me that I should be thankful that I didn’t have to work with them (the Puerto Ricans) and supported their beliefs by saying that “those people” were lazy, take too many vacation days, come into work late (or leave too early), and how the system here is so broken and dates back so many generations that no one sees it as wrong. These women continued to say that if I wanted a job, any job, even if my Spanish wasn’t up to par, I could get it quicker than one of the locals–especially if it were a corporate job, due to my NYC experience and work ethic. I was also told that I’d probably be paid exactly what I wanted, but the locals would probably only make a fraction of my earnings. These women continuously told me that I’d never find meaningful conversation in the locals. And how, I’d have a great time partying and drinking with them, but I’d never find anything of substance in them to hold on to. Other times, though, these women would focus more on their dogs and issues regarding pets. But still yet, the topics would go back to how displeased they were with those who are Puerto Rican.
One of my last days at the park, one of the women seemed angry when she discovered my dog was a full breed, I had papers, and I bought him from a breeder in the States as opposed to what she did (and what all of the women in the park did)–rescue a dog (a sato, as they call them in Puerto Rico). She also insisted that Puerto Ricans are horrible people and horrible to their pets. But I’d rebuttal with examples of how it happens in the States and how we are eager to judge those who are different, while forgetting our similarities and how the States really wasn’t as grand as these women claimed. And, if it were, why did they move elsewhere? To this island with a people they truly despised?
“Why didn’t you get a rescue dog, instead?” She inquired.
“Why didn’t you adopt a child instead of having one biologically?” I questioned as a response. Her eyes were wild and she was shocked that I responded with a question. I was defensive.
“That’s different!” She said.
“How is it different? There are thousands of people having babies every day when there are thousands already in foster care waiting for you to take them home.” She grew silent and she knew I was offended and defensive as I waited for a response from her, but never got one.
I went back to the park of dogs a few more times after this, but I was simply ignored. And, that was fine. I would never understand their barks and they would never be able to adapt to my bites.