By Larissa Avilés-Santa, M.D., M.P.H.
Director, Clinical and Health Services Research
National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities
Hurricane season starts on June 1. Tracking of storms that are formed along the Northwestern coast of Africa moving westward, and predictive models of increasing wind force and rain are the norm in every daily news in the Caribbean during this time of the year. Perhaps, the ships that brought our enslaved ancestors from different regions of Africa, and from different parts of Europe, the Middle East and Asia navigated the same routes of these tropical storms. And those may be the same routes that our other ancestors, those who had lived millennia on this side of the globe, navigated when facing seasonal changes in nature, wars and survival in paradise. All those peoples, all those ancestries met and blended In the New World and gave us a rich inheritance of history, traditions, and health.
The indigenous people of my archipelago named my land Borikén – the land of the mighty Lord- where they worshiped the god Yukiyú. Yet, they anticipated the devastation after the almost annual ravages caused by the evil god Juracán, where the name hurricane comes from. Hurricane season brings remote and very recent memories of our fragility and resilience. Hurricane season also brings memories of school days off (¡Qué chévere! Nice!), doing homework under the candle lights and eating canned tuna and soda crackers while waiting for electricity to be restored. It also reminds us that catastrophic events like hurricanes can impact our physical surroundings and our physical health.
Right before the end of the hurricane season comes Thanksgiving, the preamble to our traditionally long Puerto Rican Christmas season: parrandas (impromptu gathering of friends or relatives caroling house to house throughout the night), and of course, preparing and eating food beyond January 6… music, food and drink learned from our ancestors that feed our souls and make our bodies happy…so happy and so sweet. Continue reading “The Sweetness of our Ancestors: Thoughts on Diabetes, Genetics, and Ethnic Diversity in Research”