The Cuban Stuff

This section is vital to understand who I am.

I believe we are, not just our actions, but our people and our place…that patch of earth we originate from. We are that birthplace, its memories, and its roots (even when we are no longer there).

A strong sense of place allows for a strong sense of self.

This is a truth every exile must come to terms with, in an effort to heal the lasting void a lack of place leaves in the soul…

…Therefore, every year on HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH, I connected with a few Cuban-American writers and friends on social media venues. That was my first clue something was off. Why was I doing this only during Hispanic month? Am I not Cuban 365 days a year? So, why wait for some arbitrary calendar date to act on my hispanidad or Cubanidad?

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Still, we got to talking about many Latinx topics affecting our people in the current political climate – from children in cages to colorism within our own homes & communities- and I got to thinking…

Am I Cuban enough? Should I wave the metaphorical flag of my people more? Should I be louder?

Am I too Americanized? Too assimilated to remember the pure joy of a strong cafecito, the addictive sweetness of pastelistos de guayava, or a Noche Buena feast and its Cuban staples?

And, if I don’t dance salsa anymore, am I Cuban enough? If I don’t speak Spanish regularly (except for the time  with my mom), am I Cuban enough? If I don’t cook our Cuban food, and instead make chicken Parmesan, am I Cuban enough?

If I don’t pass down my Cuban-ness to my kids, if they  don’t salsa or speak Spanish or know their heritage, how do I call myself a real Cuban?

At first, I thought myself open-minded, allowing my kids to make their own traditions; likes and dislikes. But, in doing so, have I stripped them of their heritage? Their sense of place in the world? Their roots? Granted, my kiddos are mixed babies (their papa is a black man from Philly) so they share another history too; one he hasn’t foist upon them either.

Don’t get me wrong, my children know they are half Cuban and half black, but as cultural traditions go, they know very little about what it’s like to be either. only in recent memory, now that they are in their early twenties and starting to engage with the current political, environmental and socio-climate around them, have they started asking questions and become more curious about their origins.

Have I shed too much of what  defines me? That which defines my family? My children? As a Cuban, born on the island and raised in Miami (who has lived all over, from Connecticut and NYC to Hawaii) , I sometimes feel I am very far from what I was supposed to be. So far from the world I was born into. As I continue this identity quest, I will explore these and many other deeply personal questions. It is time I had the testicular courage to embarked on this difficult journey of self discovery and figure out how Cuban I really am? Or at the very least, how Cuban I am comfortable being. (TO BE CONT.)

IMAGES THAT AWAKEN THE COMPLEX FEELINGS OF A LOST CHILDHOOD…

Whenever I think of my early years, I can’t avoid the vivid images that creep up from the nooks and crannies of my memory. The dusty, forgotten places that forever hold these flashes, rather than entire experiences; fragments of what was. A chair sheltering my godfather’s sleeping cat, a warm breeze carrying with it the scent of wet earth after the rain, the smell of grandma grinding cinnamon in the kitchen for her rice pudding recipe. These bits and pieces of my childhood is all that’s left.

LASTING MEMORIES…

Cuba’s grand, dilapidated, courtyards welcome family and friends into every home. They are etched in my memory, sitting in contrast with the vibrant flora (and brilliant fuchsias, purples, reds, and bright lime and deep hunter-greens of their lush tropical leaves and palm fronds). A kaleidoscope of colors set against the courtyards’ walls once white, turned gray with peeling paint coming off the timeworn stucco. A beautiful contradiction, as old is surrounded by the eternal colors of nature.

SATURDAY DESAYUNO & THEN A WALK ALONG EL PASEO DEL PRADO…

I will never forget Saturdays in Havana with my grandmother. It was the day of the week I looked forward to the most. Even as a tiny, skinny pre-kindergartener, I would spend my days at “circle” (pre-k) pretend-playing with peers and complying with the collaborative demands of my teachers. Yet, every second was spent in anticipation – waiting for that precious Saturday morning when my abuelita’s breakfast would wake me.

There was nothing like the smell of the pork tamales warming in the oven, the quiet sizzle of the buttery tostada (Cuban bread and butter flattened on a plancha or pan) and the punch of the fragrant espresso brewing in her battered Cuban percolator. Abuela Amada would sit with me, and pour the coffee into my hot cup of steamed milk, which she’d then make extra happy with a generous serving of condensed milk for the most perfect morning café con leche (a memory I hold dear as early as the age of four).

After breakfast, we would stroll by our neighborhood park on our way to the bus stop. The No. 40 would take us up the main highway, toward and through the underwater tunnel that connected Havana del Este with Old Havana. Once there, we’d get off at the stop facing the old fort, at the José Martí station, to begin our long forty-five minute walk along El Prado; the busiest and largest city park in all of Havana.

Saturdays was chaotic. A beautiful chaos of loud domino games and politics exchanged across the promenade’s  stone tables and benches. Shoppers carried their bags overflowing with fresh fruits, vegetables and freshly-baked Cuban bread. Kids skid past in their homemade skateboards, with enough noise and speed to anger the vendors who’d carefully set out their wares for tourist. There were also the performers. Musicians playing the bongos for couples that soon dropped what they were doing to dance some salsa or a danzón during their walk. As El Prado crowded with locals and tourists alike, everyone looked on and clapped, taking in the joy of Saturdays on our beloved Cuba. Experiences that would soon become memories to be packed up like luggage and taken back home, as they think back with longing about our beautiful island in the sun.