The Alcohol Rub That Generations of Puerto Ricans Swear By
“Tráeme el alcoholado del cuarto, Bianca”; “Bianquita, tráeme el alcoholado que está en el ‘clóset’ del pasillo”; “Ay, tengo que comprar alcoholado que se me acabó” were a few of the phrases I grew up hearing my mom say on the regular. The alcohol rub with bay leaf extract and witch hazel that we call alcoholado, inside a 11.8 oz plastic bottle with a blue font that read, Superior 70, and a lighthouse carefully integrated in their logo, was (and is) a magical elixir that our household should always have in stock.
In our house, it’s up there with Vicks.
You know how we’ve all seen the countless (and true) memes about how Latinxs love using Vicks VapoRub for almost everything? Well, this light green liquid is just like that for Puerto Ricans. However, even though I own a jar of Vicks in my apartment in NYC, alcoholado was nowhere to be found —until recently.
This past September, when I attended the MoMA PS1: Printed Matter Book Fair with the intention of buying books and prints, I left with none of the latter, but I also didn’t leave empty-handed.
I bought alcoholado. It may not have been the commercial type, like Superior 70 that is manufactured in Arecibo, Puerto Rico since 1911, and you can find at your local pharmacy, but it did its trick. As soon as I opened the bottle from Brigada Puerta de Tierra’s Alcoholado Reforzado, the scent threw me off — in the best of ways. It smelled like my mom. And so, I left in awe and tweeted about it (as one does).
For my mom, and her mom, and many generations before them, alcoholado was the Holy Grail when it came to relieving topical woes. From headaches, vertigo, to calming mosquito bites or itchy skin, and soothing your muscles, alcoholado saved the day. And if Superior 70 wasn’t as potent, you would simply add your own bay leaves to amplify its curatorial power.
Some used it as their perfume of choice and even the secret to avoiding the appearance of grey hairs.
“For my grandma and my mother, alcoholado was more important than perfume. There was always a bottle on their nightstand. It was the only constant thing on it. Their books and the lamps changed, but alcoholado was always there. They used it on their head and hair, their arms, and legs. One friend recently told me that her 78 yearold abuela chalks up her head full of black hair to the product. Another said that her own abuela used it to sooth overly hyper grandchildren.
However, for my generation, whether part of the diaspora or in the island, alcoholado seems to go beyond its functions.
For those who grew up surrounded by its strong but soothing smell, it’s a liquid that takes form as memories. Also, a liquid that overpowers Vicks (sorry, not sorry).
When you move from your home country, there are standard things you instantly yearn for. That’s a fact. Whether it’s the food, your family or what had become your daily routines, you can’t help but desire what once was. But being away can also make you feel connected to your roots and help you embrace every conscious or uneventful moment that formed who you are today. Whether it be rediscovering your love for gold hoops, curating a reggaeton playlist, or stacking up your new found home with physical products that remind you of home, there’s something about making space and looking for things that are irrevocably yours that only make sense in your current climate. And that’s where alcoholado falls for me, for so many Puerto Ricans. It now has a place on our nightstands and vanities as our grandmas and moms have, and some like Frances Estrada from The Pecking Order, even travel with a TSA friendly bottle filled with alcoholado. That being said, alcoholado soothes the pain just as well as a hug from your mom or your grandma would and that’s all you need no matter where you are.
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