Identity seems to be the theme of the day. See my previous post.
It is a theme that has been sounded on some blogs before. Today, it started with a letter to Claudia 4 Libertad where Ana writes that she was told by a woman in Miami that she is not “Cuban.” Ana was born in Cuba but came to the United States when she was young. With the death of her mother, she has lost her last connection to Cuba. She is interested in contacting other Cubans, but curiously not from Miami.
To me, the ever suspicious, her letter carries certain presuppositions. She doesn’t “look Cuban” or “speak with a Spanish accent.” She has “hazel eyes.” Lesson: Cubans come in all shapes and sizes and colors. My grandmother and my daughter have blue eyes. The Indian blood of his forbears was obvious in my grandfather’s appearance. I have brown eyes and brown hair but am pretty much interchangeable in looks with any number of nationalities. My mother is olive-skinned. Her mother was fair. And as to the language, the only Cubans I knew who spoke with a Spanish accent were those of my parents’ generation who came to the US as adults.
With our great big Cuban hearts, a number of people reached out to her. The situation was picked up on Babalublog by Alberto, who like me was born in this country to Cuban parents. Of course, the comments proved interesting. Abajofidel was of the opinion that your nationality is determined by your place of birth. Of course, my sister-in-law was born in France to Eastern European parents. She doesn’t consider herself French, and the French government certainly doesn’t call her one of their own.
The discussion naturally gravitated to whether maintaining your Cuban heritage is a reflection on your American citizenship. All of which reminded me of something I read today in Havana: An Autobiography of a City: “Neither Cuban nor American, I was trapped in the hyphen between them, more impassible than the Straits of Florida.” Although I disagree with much the author says, this is a terrain with which I am familiar.
I start thinking… Carajo! I wish they had told all the people who taunted me, and the greater public which discriminated against me that I was not Cuban. Ño! Just think of how much grief I would have saved. Just think of all the “sanksgeeveens” without turkey accompanied by rice and beans. Think of all the freedom I could have had in adolescence. But what then of that sudden rush when I discovered another Cuban in my Cuban-challenged hometown? What of that feeling upon landing in Miami and hearing Cuban Spanish, that feeling of having arrived in my native country? Or getting out of the car last spring at Cuba Nostalgia and walking through the parking lot with all of those families converging on the building and feeling such inordinate pride? I know the sights, the sounds, the smells. These are my people. They know me in a way that no one else does. I belong
Conversely, I could turn to those not born in this country and say they are less American than I am. But that would not be true. They may not have grown up with Chatty Cathy or Mr. Potato Head or Hot Wheels or Transformers, but they are no less American. That is the greatness of this country: we are all equal. It is a timely lesson. Rather than get mixed up in discussions of who is really Cuban, we would do well to put up a very big tent. I may not know what it is to grow up with privation and repression, but I do know that the privation and repression are wrong. Almost alone among Americans, we Cuban Americans give a shit what happens to the Cuban people. I know there are some that doubt this. The regime has done a most excellent job of casting our objections to their abominations as that of “resentidos.” What can we expect of people who labeled our parents “Gusanos”? And true, our hatred of castro and his lot is a blood feud, but what we want is for our Cuban brothers and sisters to experience freedom and prosperity. We know the world of our parents and grandparents is gone, that it exists only in the cartoon version trotted out for fat German lechers.
At the same time, I would hazard to guess (not much of one) that we are successfully American, which is to say that we are to be found in all socioeconomic levels, all occupations. We speak the same English as most. We speak not only the language, but the nuance. We are attuned to American sensibilities. Why in the world, would anyone spurn us?
I keep reprinting one of Biscet’s letters where he addresses Cubans on the island and in exile, as well as the children of Cubans in foreign parts. We may differ in methods, he tells us, but our aim is the same. Viva Cuba libre!