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Luis Orlando Gallardo Rivera is the head of an urban development agency in Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico. He will be spending the next week in Orange County to attend a Fair Housing Policy Conference hosted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Luis is a member of the left wing Popular Democratic Party (PPD) in Puerto Rico, and he maintains a personal blog at:

My first 48 hours had left me in a state of depression with little urge to leave my hotel. Today was a bit brighter.

I ventured north and had the opportunity to see Fullerton. I have to admit that in comparison to the rest of Orange County, Fullerton sure is lot cozier. Maybe it’s the brick buildings. Definitely adds a touch of history and succeeds in breaking away from the monotonous horizontal development of the rest of the county.

Buildings are more tightly bound and small businesses seem to foment socialization and lounging. Not bad, I must say. Sadly, many stores (such as the only book store that I have found) were closed at the time.

Bystanders were very unhelpful. They would look at you as if you were crazy whenever you would walk up to them and ask for directions. People here are scared of strangers. “Excuse me, sir. Do you know where Plush-”

“—I don’t know!” as he would eek away. Others would shrug, tell you that they have no idea, and turn the other way and act as if they didn’t hear anything else that you said. One guy even pulled out his cell phone to make a fake phone call. One girl, who was reading a book on a bench, told me that she “had no idea” when I asked her where I could find a bookstore.

I noticed three occasions people lost their temper with others including myself. “Hey, any idea where I might find an Internet café?” I ask a young employee at a coffee shop.

“We don’t have wireless here.”

“But do you have scanners? I need to scan a document for my office.”

“No, we don’t.”

“Do you know of any place around here that might have a scanner?”

“We don’t have wireless here, I told you.”

“I know. But can you recommend me another place?”

“No! I don’t know!” she blurted, in a very impatient manner, as she “sushed” my away with her hands. This little episode took away any remaining urge I had for exploring the city, and actually motivated me to turn back and go to my hotel.

Nobody talks to each other on the bus. In Puerto Rico people are eager to start conversations with you. They will make random comments (such as, “Jeez, it’s real hot, isn’t it?) and will go out of their way to make friends. During the few instances where I tried to spark up conversation with people, they would quickly shut their doors and look the other way.

During today’s conference, one particular panelist noted how modern day Americans have less friends than they did years ago. I can see why. They have lost all sense of community and have deemed “strangers” as taboo.

In elevators and closed spaces, rarely do people have an entrance and exit greeting. “Buenos dias” is the norm in Puerto Rico. In an elevator full of strangers, everybody remains silent as they look at their watch and fiddle with their cell phone as they attempt to find excuses not to talk. They are all very uncomfortable and are eager for their elevator to reach their floor.

In coffee shops, Internet terminals, bus stops, gas stations, and café. I would ask folks if they had any suggestions on entertaining things to do in the city. “Umm… well… not really,” most would ask.

I checked out “Steamers” – a classy jazz café – only to be told that it was “the only cool place” by a couple of the clients. It’s as if this city had no locals. Even the “hippest,” “coolest” kids – exaggerations of subculture with their retro T-shirts and spiky haircuts – had no suggestions.