7. "Vamos Pa’ Plaza" — The Center of Everything
Alana: Puerto Rican reggaeton is like the wind: it picks up fragments of Puerto Rican-isms like seeds, and scatters them wherever someone is perreando. Right now, all over the world, people have heard of Bayamón, Condado, or caserios – that’s what housing projects are called in Puerto Rico. It’s possible that many people have no idea what or where these reggaetoneros are singing about, but that barely matters. One of my favorite examples of this is in Cardi B’s “I Like It” – in which Bad Bunny has this hyper-specific burn.
[MUSIC - “I Like it Like That,” Bad Bunny, Cardi B, J Balvin: “... a tí no te conocen ni en plaza]
Alana: “A tí no te conocen ni en plaza”. They don’t even know you in Plaza. And that’s not plaza like a town square, that’s Plaza Las Américas. The biggest shopping mall in all of Puerto Rico, and in fact, in the whole Caribbean. The second largest in Latin America. Capital P, Plaza.
[MUSIC - Upbeat congas]
Alana: The thing is… such a big part of Puerto Rican life happens in and around this particular mall, that if nobody knows you there, then you are a nobody. Now, every time I hear that line, I imagine this reference to Plaza traveling through the wind and scattering all over Ecuador, or China, or Wisconsin – and in this way, Plaza gets so much bigger than it already is. The center… of everything. Recently, the journalist and author Joel Cintrón Arbasetti told me that HE understood the importance of Plaza through a reggaeton song.
Alana: When's the first time you heard of Plaza?
Joel Cintrón Arbasetti: The first time I heard about Plaza was, uh, in a cassette – like a mixtape, you know, maybe a bunch of songs there and there was “Vamos pa’ plaza.”
[MUSIC - “Vamos Pa’ Plaza,” Baby Rasta and Gringo: “Así que vamos pa' plaza diggity pa' Plaza), para mirar todas las gatas!”]
[MUSIC - Reggaeton beat]
Alana: Vamos Pa’ Plaza – from the duo Baby Rasta y Gringo. Maybe it’s not ICONIC, but it is a CLASSIC. This was back when reggaeton was called “undelGRAUN” and would get passed around by hand in, yes, cassettes. The song is essentially about two dudes going to the mall – to just … hang out. They want to check out girls, and they think there’s this one girl who’s into them – una chica interesada – but they suspect she just wants them to buy things for her.
[MUSIC - “Vamos Pa’ Plaza,” Baby Rasta and Gringo: “Vamos pa' plaza diggity pa plaza, me'ncuentro con una chica interesada…”]
Joel: The first time I heard this song-- it had to be like -- the late 90s, somewhere around there. They mention Foot Locker and Gap.
[MUSIC - “Vamos Pa’ Plaza,” Baby Rasta and Gringo: “Entro al Foot Locker la veo pasar, entro a el Gap y ahí es que está.”
[MUSIC - Beachy guitar strums]
Alana: Joel is from Naranjito –
Joel: I think perhaps it's the most beautiful town in Puerto Rico
Alana: And when he heard this song by Baby Rasta y Gringo, he hadn’t yet been to Plaza las Américas, but the lyrics stuck in his mind.
Joel: It feels like they were improvising in the studio or something you know, like, it's kind of random. I don't know.
Alana: To Joel, living in a small town in the mountains, the idea of spending time under those bright lights, near those brands… sounded alluring and cool. It was a sort of a foreshadowing, as though Baby Rasta y Gringo had been talking to Joel from the future – because years later he had to spend a lot of time in Plaza. When he was 17, he got his first real job at a store there.
Joel: Like happens to a lot of people from Naranjito – from the towns of the center of the island where there is not too much work or jobs.
Alana: It was over the holidays – which means the mall was packed, it was impossible to find parking, and it took forever to get home. And the store he worked in? He had to sell clothes to surfers, which to him just wasn’t cool. At the time, Joel only wanted to dress just like Baby Rasta y Gringo. He was into hip hop and reggaeton –
Alana: What was your aesthetic? What was the look?
Joel: Yeah, my look was totally different from the things I have to sell in the store.
Alana: He’d wear oversized EVERYTHING, like those big polo shirts with short sleeves that came down past his elbows.
Joel: So that was my look with my big pants. And it's funny because I am, I was very skinny and small and the clothes so big.
Joel: Then getting out late at night, like disoriented and driving back to Naranjito, just for the minimum wage, you know, and I end up spending everything in gasoline and on the lunch. So it was kind of stupid working there, but it was this illusion of, yeah, I got my first job and my dad was proud of me and blah, blah, blah.
Alana: In other words, being there,
Joel: It wasn’t cool anymore. I had stopped thinking about Plaza as a cool place. Now-- I see it as this symbol of consumerism and capitalism.
Alana: And ever since then, with the song Vamos Pa Plaza in the rearview mirror of nostalgia, Joel’s relationship with Plaza grew more and more fraught.
Joel: I remember having this fear of being stuck in Plaza forever, because there are people who basically spend their whole life there.
Alana: Joel has been thinking a lot about this iconic mall: the physical space, but also the space it occupies in the Puerto Rican imagination. And he wanted to know: what can this mall reveal about life in Puerto Rico? So, Joel challenged himself – and us – to spend a whole day there.
Joel: From 9 AM to 9 PM.
Alana: In Plaza Las Américas.
[MUSIC - Theme song]
Alana: From Futuro Studios and WNYC Studios, this is La Brega. I’m Alana Casanova-Burgess, and in this episode: track 7. Vamos Pa’ Plaza. The center of everything.
[AMBIENT - mall sounds]
Alana: First, Joel is going to take us inside Plaza and show us just how much can really happen there.
Joel: “Se lo agradezco, gracias.”
Man at the mall: Que tenga buen dia.
Joel: You can’t “officially” be born in Plaza Las Américas, but kind of.
[AMBIENT - baby hollers]
Joel: And when it’s full of people… you can feel… like you may actually die there.
[MUSIC - soft dembow beat]
Joel: Plaza is one of the only places in San Juan, aside from maybe a bar at night, where you’re sure to see a ton of people when you arrive. In Vamos Pa’ Plaza, Baby Rasta y Gringo are not even shopping. They are just hanging out – checking out women.
[MUSIC - “Vamos Pa’ Plaza,” Baby Rasta and Gringo:
“Todas esas chicas me las voy a llevar, todas esas chicas que me quieran enamorar…”]
Joel: People head to Plaza to see people.
Plaza interviewee, young woman: I do remember coming when I was really young and it was literally a hangout… we would plan with my friends after school, we're coming to Plaza and we're walking around.
Joel: Here… you can satisfy that human need to be around others.
Plaza interviewee, man: I exist, I'm sharing the place with human beings.
Plaza interviewee, young woman: Even if it's a stranger, you will find yourself talking to someone and like interacting with them.
Joel: At Plaza you can even do government stuff – like, you can get your passport renewed.
Plaza interviewee, mother: “Nos encontramos aquí en el Departamento de Estado para renovar el pasaporte del menor… “
Joel: And when you are a teenager, you can actually fall in love at Plaza.
Alana: is this a date?
Plaza interviewee, teenager: Yes it is.
Alana: Is it a first date?
Kids: Yeah haha.
Joel: You can manage your health care needs – like getting vaccinated.
Plaza interviewee, woman: Vinimos hoy por la vacuna.
Joel: And I guess, if you REALLY want to? You could buy something?
Plaza interviewee, young child: I love to go shopping. I love to see stuff that I like.
[AMBIENT - dog barks]
[MUSIC - percussion and synths]
Joel: From the outside, the mall looks like a walled city with a tower in the middle. So it looks like a castle and at the same time… like a government office building. There are eleven thousand parking spots, a movie theater, a bookstore, showrooms for fancy electric cars – and even fake snow at Christmas. It is, in a word… excessive.
Arlene Dávila: We tend to think of the space for shopping but shopping is probably one of the least activities that happens in the space. You know the shopping mall is all about make believe more than anything else.
Joel: This is Arlene Dávila, professor at New York University. She wrote a book called El Mall — about shopping malls in Latin America.
Arlene: We think of the shopping mall as a space of modernity where everything works, where everything is clean and where everything is safe.
[MUSIC - Beachy guitar strums]
Joel: Plaza is like a tropical fantasy, with water fountains that shoot up to the sky – or rather, to the ceiling.
Arlene: Of course, Puerto Rico has always been the showcase of the Caribbean.
Joel: And Plaza is a showcase of that showcase. It's a phenomenon Dávila has noticed in other places: these cathedrals of capitalism show how far a country has come.
Arlene: People in Bogotá are super proud of their malls, and they see them as an extension of their coming of age as our people in Cali, in Cartagena, in Chile, everywhere else.
Joel: You might think Plaza is a place to worship at the “altar of excess.” But Dávila says: there’s a lot more going on here.
Arlene: Not only the people that come with like totally in debt that don't have the money to shop and that are kind of performing that they can, but also the workers, that workforce, right. You know, it's, it's, it's, it's the heart of the mall.
Joel: Workers… like Jineilis Santiago.
Joel: ¿Me monto por ahí?
Jineilis Santiago: Sí sí por allá.
Joel: Jineilis is 21 and lives right next door to where I lived with my family when I worked at Plaza. Now, she is in the same position I was twenty years ago – having to work very far from home. Even without traffic, it’s a 35 minute drive.
Jineilis: Si no hay tapón máximo 30, 35 minutos.
Joel: But she heads to work early – about 10 am – because there’s almost always traffic. In Puerto Rico, trying to avoid “el tapón” – A gridlock – is almost like trying to avoid death.
[AMBIENT - driving and voices]
Joel: On the day we drove in together, there was (of course) un tapón – all thanks to a broken traffic light.
Jineilis: Ahora mismo yo siempre me tiro por aquí por Toa Alta, es que por Naranjito, la ruta, así cuando…
[MUSIC - beachy guitar chords]
Joel: And then finally there it was – Plaza, in the rain, with its logo of three sails. They stand for La Niña, La Pinta, y La Santa María: Columbuses three ships. And…that doesn’t even seem weird to us anymore. Jineilis drove all the way to the top of the parking tower. That’s her spot.
Jineilis: En los carros, le roban, le explotan los cristales y a mí me da miedo eso.
Joel: Jineilis has heard that cars get broken into, or STOLEN here.
[MUSIC - Guitar chords and bongos]
Joel: This parking lot, that she’s afraid of … it’s actually part of the identity of the mall. And even of the whole country. There’s this expression – “pero mira que lleno está el parking de Plaza” – that means: if you really want to know how Puerto Rico is doing, checkout how many cars are in Plaza’s parking lot.
Arlene: I think that there's this myth, right? Like, how can we say that Puerto Rico's in a bad situation when the shop mall is always full?
Joel: I imagine that when Plaza first opened, some people saw THIS as the thing to make Puerto Rico FULLY modern. The peak of an indust-rialization push …that started in the nineteen forties.
El Imparcial Newspaper (voice actor): En español… ¡Bienvenidos!... Y en inglés… Welcome!
Joel: This ad, published in nineteen sixty eight in the newspaper El Imparcial, tells us that Plaza was COMPLETELY air conditioned and that most stores were Puerto Rican…
El Imparcial Newspaper (voice actor): At every moment, the courtesy and good service that will be, today and always, the values of Plaza Las Américas.
Joel: Here’s Arlene Dávila of NYU again.
Arlene: People can come to these malls and see everything from the United States is better, it's shiny, it's whiter, there's air conditioning. You know, that message that was so powerful, that was central, you know, the growth of consumer massification, of consumer capitalism on the island and that kind of, how, how entrenched it is to the colonial project on the island.
Joel: By 1972, Plaza las Américas was already the capital of Puerto Rico.That’s when Luis Muñoz Marín, the first elected governor – who many people saw as a kind of saint – returned to the island and gave a speech. And where did he go? To the parking lot of Plaza las Américas.
[ARCHIVAL - Luis Muñoz Marín en Plaza las Américas (8 de octubre de 1972)]
Luis Muñoz Marin: Pero no puedo resistir la tentación de darle un saludo especial a la mujer puertorriqueña (aplausos)
Arlene: It's fascinating, right? How we tend to associate, this kind of a nationalism, if you will, incredible national pride that we Puerto Ricans have on Plaza being the greatest or the biggest and blah, blah, blah. You know that’s the effect of decades of the nationalist modernizing project.
Joel: When the Pope (el Papa) came to Puerto Rico in 1984… he also gave mass right outside the mall.
[ARCHIVAL - United for Peace - Pope John Paul II visit to Puerto Rico on October 12, 1984]
Reporter: Todo el publico ya esta llenando el área de Plaza las América, donde dentro de poco se va a efectuar la misa.
Joel: Yes, Papa Juan Pablo Segundo – the POPE! – who represents GOD on earth! – went to el parking de Plaza Las Américas.
[ARCHIVAL - United for Peace - Pope John Paul II visit to Puerto Rico on October 12, 1984]
Papa Juan Pablo II: Queridos hijas e hijos de Puerto Rico (aplausos de la gente) Saludo cordialmente...a todos los miembros de la sociedad de esta isla de Borinquen Bella! (más aplausos)
[AMBIENT - voices and food court]
Joel: It’s around noon. Jineilis likeS to arrive at least thirty minutes before her eight hour shift. She works in a kiosk selling lottery tickets in the food court.
Jineilis: Ahí se juega el “powerball”, la lotería electrónica que es aquí el “powerball” es de allá afuera.
Joel: When I look at the line of people waiting to pay, nobody has shopping bags. It’s like they only came for the lottery. Jineilis does her job, pressing buttons on a screen, with a sense of calm precision. From afar, with her covid mask on, she looks like a lab technician. She also looks like someone who knows this job is temporary – she doesn’t see herself here in another year.
Jineilis: Que realmente no me veo... de aquí un año no me veo en este trabajo como tal.
Joel: Jineilis makes minimum wage, which in Puerto Rico is $8.50 an hour. That’s not enough to make payments on her car, but she has a plan. She’s studying to take the test to enter the US military.
Jineilis: Que eso es lo del Army y lo del Air Force y todo eso.
Joel: She tells me she likes spending time with her grandparents in Toa Alta, going out with friends, and taking care of her pets. She has many, including two parrots. It’s hard for me to imagine her in a military uniform.
Jineilis: Realmente yo me quiero, quiero terminar el año que me falta y seguir especializándome allá afuera.
[MUSIC - dreamy synth chords]
Joel: Just like Jineilis wants to, I left Puerto Rico in 2020, but under very different circumstances, with certain privileges. Like being a bit older, having an advanced degree, and a steady job. If Jineilis moves, then we will form part of the same diaspora. People leave Puerto Rico in so many different ways. And every day, those ways of going seem easier than the ways of staying, or the ways of returning. And when I look at the people in Plaza, I see people who are not only there to shop - they also have their own reasons to want to go away – or, to have to go away – from Puerto Rico.
Alana: But not everyone wants to leave. After the break, we'll talk to people who want to stay at the Mall... for as long as they can.
Joel: This… is La Brega.
Velcro: What up y'all, this is Velcro from Santurce, Puerto Rico and you are listening to La Brega.
[MUSIC - jazzy horns]
Alana: I’m Alana Casanova-Burgess.
Joel: And I’m Joel Cintrón Arbasetti.
Alana: And this is La Brega. We’re taking a page from a classic reggaeton called Vamos Pa’ Plaza – let’s go to Plaza las Américas – the mall that’s the center of everything in San Juan. We’re spending a whole day there. By now, it’s lunchtime.
Joel: And I’m going to stay at Plaza until Jineilis finishes her shift selling lottery tickets – that’s at 9 pm. Alana and La Brega producer Ezequiel Rodríguez Andino are walking around observing, and interviewing.
(off mic) Ezequiel - Hola...¿ustedes compran muchos tenis aquí en Footlocker?
Alana: (off mic) Hola
Alana: (off mic) Mi nombre es Alana...
Alana: For example, I spent some time with a woman named María Correa.
María: Deja ver que hora es. ¡Son las 12 y media!
Alana: María is sitting in the food court, with a newspaper and a radio on the table in front of her. She’s ready for her daily ritual. María gets up and has breakfast at home, she takes her medications and she gets ready to come here. She drives, even though she lives literally across the street, in a housing project. She comes to Plaza, she tells me, and eats a potato.
María: Vengo pa’ acá, leo el periódico y después como una papa.
Alana: ¿Todos los días?
María: Todos los días.
Alana: And that potato…comes with cheese and bacon.
Alana: ¿Y con qué viene la papa?
María: ¡Con queso y tocineta! (she laughs)
Alana: Her usual spot is The Hot Potato – tagline: your health has no price – and the server who usually takes her order lives near María, so she often gets extra cheese and bacon.
[MUSIC - light drone]
Alana: María wears glasses and a mask that says “I love Jesus.” She’s thin and wears a pink blouse, and has gray hair. She lives alone, and gets bored. So she comes here.
María: Después que me como la papa, me voy pa’ abajo a velar las actividades. Porque yo vivo sola. Me aburro. Entonces me vengo pa’ aca... (she laughs).
Alana: Plaza, she says, is always full.
María: Mira cómo está esto de lleno. (she laughs)
Alana: There’s actually a whole world in Plaza for people like María. There’s an organized group for older folks to walk around the mall together – they meet on the first floor every morning. The mall also arranges activities and exercise classes for them. People like María, elderly Puerto Ricans, come to enjoy the air conditioning, the reliable electricity, and the company.
María: Me voy abajo a las actividades que hacen. Yo me entretengo.
Alana: Puerto Rico is getting older. The archipelago has lost half a million people in the last decade, during the most recent wave of migration. María has three daughters, eight grandkids, and two great grandkids, and they all live in the states.
María: Tengo tres hijas que tienen 40 y pico de año. Y tengo ocho nietos, una bisnieta y un bisnieto.
Alana: She lists them to me like that every time she mentions them, like when she tells me that they want her to move to be with them, to spend what time she has left together.
María: En lo que me queda de vida, lo quiero pasar con mis hijas, mis nietos, bisnietos.
Alana: María is one of the mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers who have stayed behind after their younger relatives have left the island. And Plaza is a kind of refuge for a lot of them. María doesn’t like being alone.
María: No me gusta estar sola, por eso las hijas mías quieren que me vaya,
Alana: But at times she’s wary of leaving Puerto Rico,
María: pero es que me gusta más puerto rico que allá
Alana: ¿Por qué? Por qué?
María: Por el frío, y el frío ese me da mucho dolor, más fuerte...
Alana: Because it’s colder in the States, and the cold hurts her bones. But she knows she’ll have to eventually leave Puerto Rico to be with family. She’s going to miss the way people relate to each other here– neighbors know each other. It’s not like over there.
María: Allá tú no sabes ni quién es vecino ni como se llama ni na’.
Alana: María says she knows about life in the States because she lived in Bristol, Connecticut, for ten years. And she’s gone to visit her daughters, her grandkids, and her great-grandchildren. But now that she’s preparing herself mentally to leave Puerto Rico and never return, the trip is going to mean a lot more. She’s going to be leaving her sisters behind, too, and she’s worried about one of them who also lives alone – she wants her to come to the States too.
María: Le dije, Martita, yo me voy pa’ allá con mis hijas.
Alana: Sometimes the sisters meet up here, in the food court where we’re sitting. But they’re not coming as often these days. It’s hard to get old anywhere in Puerto Rico, including Plaza.
María: Antes de irme, un día antes, vengo a plaza y después me voy.
Alana: The day before she leaves, María tells me, she’ll come here, to Plaza. And will she miss it?
Alana: ¿Te va hacer falta plaza?
María: Si...me va..¡No! Plaza no, porque allá ellas me llevan a comer. Vamos a las tiendas.
Alana: Nah, there are malls in the states that her daughters take her to. But is she gonna miss the potato?
Alana: ¿Te va a hacer falta la papa?
María: ¡No allá hay papa! Sí. (she laughs)
[MUSIC - snare]
Alana: Nah, there are potatoes there too.
[AMBIENT - mall sounds]
Joel: It’s two thirty. After spending a while by the lottery kiosk, in the food court, I went down the escalator near a big fountain, and I got to the first floor. I walked down the corridor, which acts like the main street of a downtown, but indoors – with stores on either side. I got to one of the oldest stores in Plaza, one that is always full. Foot Locker. It’s even mentioned in that song by Baby Rasta y Gringo.
[MUSIC - “Vamos Pa’ Plaza,” Baby Rasta and Gringo: “Entró a Foot Locker, la veo pasar…”]
Joel: Down here, there’s also a stage where companies make presentations. Today it's about solar power.
Speaker:... para los equipos ser eficientes...así que prácticamente…(fades away)
Joel: I went up some other escalators and walked down another corridor, until I got to a corner that seemed like a museum of Puerto Rico’s past – you know, FULL nostalgia. And that’s…. where I saw La Brega producer Ezequiel.
Ezequiel: This area is called “La Placita en Plaza”, it’s a part of the mall that tries to emulate the feel of a “plaza del mercado,” the public market at the center of any town in our archipelago. There are stands that sell fruits, juices and hot plates of rice and beans. But the real life markets in our town squares have been disappearing, in part because of the big box stores and commercial centers just like Plaza Las Américas. That’s why this pretend market at Plaza Las Américas has always seemed to be like a cruel joke to me. A cursed tribute to Plaza’s victory over all these other plazas and the town squares. It presents them as small, quaint memories-- inside the monster that swallowed them whole...
Nilsa and salesperson: Muchísimas gracias. Muy amable.
Ezequiel: It was here that I met Nilsa-- who is from San Juan....
Nilsa: He vivido en varios lugares, pero resido en Texas, desafortunadamente. (laughs)
Ezequiel: Well, was...and she classifies the fact that she is now living in Texas, as unfortunate: she misses Puerto Rico a lot. So when she comes, she tries to find all the local goods to bring back home.
Nilsa: Cuando vengo, estoy buscando cosas locales.
Ezequiel: She was just walking by, and was excited to see that they sold pasteles –
Nilsa: ¡Por poco me da el ataque que tenían pasteles! (she laughs)
Ezequiel: Pasteles: if you know, you know...and if you don’t know, well Pasteles are our Christmas comfort food of choice. But Nilsa wasn’t really here to just enjoy pasteles.
Nilsa: Realmente estoy aquí porque la muerte de mi papá, pero quería venir y llevarme algo y pues, comerme un pastelito.
Ezequiel: She came here because her father had passed away recently, and she wanted to come and get a sense of peace in Plaza. There’s something about the familiarity of the mall, the bright open spaces, the people-watching and hearing other boricuas talking around her that makes Nilsa feel better. Finding comfort food was just the icing on the cake."
Nilsa: Y yo lo que quiero es sentarme y disfrutar y mirar y…
Ezequiel: Nilsa’s reasons for being here compelled me to face a function of Plaza that I had not really considered: Plaza as a place of memory for the people that left and Nilsa was not the only one that felt this way.
Genesis: I feel like I'm coming back home!
Ezequiel: That is Genesis, a young woman who currently lives in New York and was visiting her mother and sisters. I found them all sitting down having some coffee in a kiosk in the middle of the second floor corridor.
Genesis: Plaza, it feels like a part of home. Like it sounds so cringy or ridiculous, but when I'm here I feel like, okay, someplace familiar.
Ezequiel: But as Arlene Dávila told us, creating that feeling of familiarity is what the mall is all about. It pulls us in with comfort… so we won’t notice something else.
Arlene Dávila: When you think about shopping malls, we need to remember that they're really about real estate and they're really about space, and they're really about taking over our cities and controlling space and controlling landscapes, more than anything else.
Ezequiel: Yes, let’s think about it: the place inside the mall where I met Nilsa replicates a small town market – in part because those places are dwindling – falling prey to the monopoly of a place like Plaza.
Arlene: We come here, because there's nowhere else to go, right?
[MUSIC - dreamy synths]
Joel: If Jineilis heads to the states to enlist in the army, and María goes to be with her family and not be alone at the mall, will they someday return and visit Plaza with sentimentality for the past, like Nilsa and Genesis do?
[AMBIENT - voices outside of mall]
Alana: (off mic) ¡A mira..
Alana: (off mic) el cielo!
Joel: After hours and hours in Plaza, Alana and I just wanted to look at the sky. It was getting dark and a rainstorm had just passed.
Alana: Me siento mejor...
Joel: ¿Estar afuera?
Alana: Sí… I think, after seven hours here. Oh, veo a Ezequiel.
¿Hato Rey es ley?
Joel: By now, it was like 8 at night and Alana and Ezequiel escaped Plaza and returned to reality outside the mall. Apparently… reality continued to exist.
[MUSIC - upbeat guitar chords]
Joel: But I stayed, to give Jineilis one last visit – there had been a lot of customers all day long.
Joel ¿Y cómo te ha ido el día?
Jineilis Pues realmente fue bien. Hubieron muchos clientes. Hoy sí que fue bien movido.
Joel ¿Y estás cansa’?
Jineilis (laughing tiredly) Sueño es lo que tengo. (Ya voy a cerrar aquí!)
Joel: She told me she was sleepy, and ready to close up.
[AMBIENT - metal door sliding down]
Joel: She closed the metal gates. Then she went to punch out exactly at 9.
[AMBIENT - metal lid clanking]
Jineilis: Si, a las mismas nueve...Mira, yo salgo de ahí corriendo!
Joel: Jineilis told me that in the past she has fallen asleep driving from Plaza to Naranjito, but luckily she's never had a crash. She tries to call someone – her mom, or a friend – to keep her company on the drive.
Jineilis: Y así de noche, a mí siempre me gusta llamar que sea mi mamá o a mis amigas. Cuestión de yo no siempre estar todo el camino, como tal, hablando con alguien.
[MUSIC - guitar strums]
Joel: When I started working on this episode, I didn’t know exactly what I would find in Plaza. I was surprised that instead of a story about stability, abundance, and consumerism, what we found in the largest mall in the Caribbean was a story about scarcity, and about people who don’t see any other alternative than to leave Puerto Rico.
Joel: ¡Que tengas buen viaje!
Jineilis: Igual. Nos vemos. Cuidate.
Joel: Nos vemos. Ciao!
Jineilis: ¡Me lo envias!
Jineilis: Si. Gracias.
Joel: Te lo mando. Gracias.
[AMBIENT - car door closes and car drives away]
Joel: But after that day it didn’t surprise me that we would find so many people in Plaza Las Américas who would want to leave Puerto Rico. Or, people who have already left and are visiting. El vaivén – the coming and going – is real in Plaza too. There is no refuge that can shelter us from that reality. And what Plaza offers… is another way of leaving the country – of escaping to a place where you can find everything.
[MUSIC resolves - guitar strum]
Alana: This episode was written by Joel Cintrón Arbasetti and produced by Ezequiel Rodríguez Andino and Joaquín Cotler with help from Jeanne Montalvo and Liliana Ruiz. It was edited by Maria Garcia and by me, Alana Casanova-Burgess – and edited in English by Mark Pagán. Original artwork for this episode is by Fernando Norat.
Special thanks this week to: Deepak Lamba-Nieves, Yarimar Bonilla, Juan Carlos Cintrón, Rubén Dávila Santiago, y Heather Houde.
Joel: And I want to thank my late father, Juan Cintrón, for always hating the mall!
Alana: And… The La Brega team includes Jeanne Montalvo, Ezequiel Rodríguez Andino, Joaquín Cotler, Liliana Ruiz, Tasha Sandoval, Mark Pagán, Maria Garcia, Victor Ramos Rosado, Juan Diego Ramírez, Marlon Bishop and Jenny Lawton.
Fact checking this season is by Istra Pacheco and María Soledad.
Our engineer is Joe Plourde. Our theme song is by ÌFÉ. Original music is by Balún.
You can hear all the music featured in this episode – and this season – on our Spotify playlist. We’ve got a link in our show notes. And don't forget to tap the heart to save it to your library because we'll be adding to it each week.
This season of La Brega was made possible by the Mellon Foundation.
I’m Alana Casanova-Burgess. Next week: Track 8 - Olas y Arenas.
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