Eric Velasquez: The museum visit that inspired "Grandma's Gift"

Award-winning author and illustrator Eric Velasquez recalls the day that he and his grandmother visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, an experience that would later inspire the book "Grandma's Gift." You can see the full interview with Eric in our Meet the Author section.


Going to the museum that day with my grandmother was a real special experience. She lived on hundred 15th Street and Madison Avenue, and we could take the bus right there on Fifth Avenue, straight to the museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, that's 84th Street and Fifth Avenue. So it was a short ride. But once we got off the bus, we were basically on another planet. And my grandmother was accustomed when she left the apartment, everyone knew her. like, “Oye, Doña Carmen, para a donde va?” and she talked to everyone. And so it was just, for me, that's just normal. If you go out with Grandma, it is going to be a minute before you getting back home, because she would talk to everyone and whatever latest gossip, she would find out what's happening in the neighborhood. But we got off the bus on 84th Street at Fifth Avenue, we were invisible and no one knew us or even cared.

And I started to see she was getting nervous, her hands were shaking. And when we got to the ticket booth, I tried to translate that whole, “Pay what you wish.” It didn't translate at all. And she just handed the money over to the clerk, and we checked our coats and went up to the exhibit.

So I had no clue that my grandmother had learned about Diego Velazquez in school. So when my grandmother went to school in Puerto Rico, the schools were pretty much, the curriculum was set by the Spanish government, Spain, and she knew quite a bit about Spain, and she knew a lot about the painters. So she was very familiar with the painting of Juan de Pareja.

And when I heard her exclaim, I thought she saw somebody from the neighborhood, and it was a concern because I wanted her to relax. And I really wasn't accustomed seeing her out of her element. So I was really kind of concerned about her. Like, “Oh my goodness, I've never seen her so nervous. She's such a confident, proud woman,” and suddenly she's kind of looking around. So when she goes, “Oye, Juan de Pareja, qué tú haces aqui?” like, “Yes, okay, we have a friend now that we can make her relax and feel more comfortable,” and she was talking to the painting.