Hector Luis Estrada left Juncos, Puerto Rico for New York City when he was just 16 years old. He split his time between the city and New Jersey, where he made women’s purses at a factory.
That was more than four decades ago.
“I feel like I am more from here than there,” the 60-year-old said as he sat inside Orlando Latin Market.
Estrada’s life took him through the U.S. Army in 1975, where he began at Fort Hood, Texas, then South Carolina and Georgia. A year later, he said he was later discharged because of a disability.
Estrada moved to Florida and, in 2000, he wanted to prove something to himself.
“My family always said ‘Bueno, this guy gets a pension for his nerves. He’s a loco [crazy guy] and all that and I didn’t like that they called me that,” he said. “I wanted to show them that I was smarter than them.”
He decided to study aviation and later became an instructor. His face glowed with pride as he spoke about this milestone — something he said he did to prove to both himself and his family that he was still intelligent. He also later became a Pentecostal minister who have preached in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Mexico.
(LISTEN: Estrada speaks in Spanish about the difference he’s found between life in Puerto Rico and in the United States)
Estrada is no longer that young teen in Puerto Rico. He said he’s tried to move back to Puerto Rico four times. The first time, he was there for two months. The second time, a year. The third time, Estrada lived there for another year. The fourth time, he stayed for four months.
Estrada said he’s no longer adjusted to life there.
“For example, here I don’t know my neighbors — nor their names. They don’t know my name. All I do is say ‘Hi, how you doing? I’m fine, have a good day’ and that’s it — se acabo (it’s done) and I don’t know who they are,” he said. “But in Puerto Rico, neighbors wanted to live my life. If I got home at 2 a.m. — and it wasn’t from anything bad because I’m a minister and preacher — so I could’ve returned from a vigil or somewhere far and they were already by the window watching to see if I was coming, who I was with, all those things.”
Here in the United States, there are people like that, Estrada said — but not as much as in his native island.
Asked if he feels like that because he left Puerto Rico at a young age, Estrada nodded.
“I feel Nuyorican,” he said.