A Cuban-American’s Take on U.S.-Cuba Relations

Cuba is finally in a civil relationship with the U.S. after 60 years of sanctions. The question is now: What does this mean for Cuban-Americans?

As a Cuban-American, Cuba has always been a far off land that may or may not look like Little Havana in Miami, Florida. I thought the more time I spent in Miami learning about Varadero Beach, Cuban cars, and eating platanitos fritos, the more Cuban I would feel.

In my all-girls Catholic high school, I attended Advanced Placement Spanish with a small group of minority students with names like Aida Cruz and Maria Pareras. While these girls came from Latino diaspora communities in the Greater Bridgeport Area, I felt distant from my Cuban roots. While other girls were having Sweet 16s, I decided to have a quinceañera in an attempt to feel more Cubana.

My last name is Italian. My complexion is fair. I gave no hints of my half-Latina identity, until I began speaking fluent Spanish. Mami was born in Cuba and left at 10-years-old with Abuela and Bisabuela. The three women lived in the ghettos of Spain for a year before immigrating to the U.S. barrio of Providence, Rhode Island.  Mami met my Italian-Irish-American Papi, they fell in love, and moved to Connecticut. I was born in a predominantly white Anglo-Saxon community or as comedian, Andrew Kennedy says, the whitest place on earth. “Want to know how I knew it was the whitest place on earth?—Because I was the blackest kid in my class.”

Mami and Papi tried their very best to raise my brother and me in a bilingual household and instill Cuban-Catholic values. Yet, the closest I came to Cuban-culture was Miami.  When I am in Miami with my Cuban relatives they say I don’t sound like a Cubanita while speaking Spanish.  I sound like an Española because I have spent a few summers in Spain with my mom’s friend from Madrid. My speech began to incorporate vosotros and vale in every other word.

Even abuela would be shocked to hear the bits of vale and espanola tossed into my speech. Abuela is the deepest human connection I have to Cuba. I admire her stories of her brave migration from Cuba to Spain with merely the clothes on her back.

Freshman year of college I took a class titled, U.S. Latinidad, taught by a Cuban-American professor. In the class we read and talked about our own experiences with Latino diaspora literature. After reading ZigZag, It’s Raining Backwards, and Waiting for Snow in Havana, I realized Little Havana was nothing like the real Havana. I was naïve and began to press Mami about the real Cuba.  I wanted to go there with Mami and Abuela, but when I brought the idea up, Abuela simply said she had no desire to return. Mami has changed her mind several times, but within this next year she is determined to return.

Many non-Cubans that ask me if I’ve ever been to Cuba only seem to know about the fancy resorts and beautiful beaches. I know if I were to go to the island, it would be a trip—not a vacation. A trip to see where Mami grew up,  where Abuela  traded tobacco for milk on the black market, and where the Cuban government placed a large ‘X’ over the door of the house that my Mami, Abuela, and Bisabuela left for a better life.

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