The disconnect with Cuban-Americans

Always yearning to learn more about my Cuban heritage, I've wondered why there is a major disconnect.

When I was five, I didn't know what a sandwich was because I was used to arroz con frijoles every day for lunch at my preschool. When I was five I didn't know the English words for common objects like hair-ties. Instead, I was used to the Spanish words. At the same time, I didn't necessarily speak Spanish. I understood words here and there, but at five when I moved from Miami to Melbourne, Florida it was clear I didn't exactly fit in either place. If you met me now, you'd be shocked at this cultural ambiguity. For lack of better words, in every way I come across as a white girl. In casting, I'm often asked if my husband is hispanic or if my last name was Italian instead. Race has always been a conversation hushed by those in power; however recently, we've seen an increase in dialogue about it which I think is amazing. This dialogue has really open my eyes to my own experience.

I'll never forget being in kindergarten and asking my mom why I couldn't have "yellow hair" like the rest of my classmates. Not that brown hair was that much of a rarity in Melbourne, Florida, but any trace of ethnicity was. Though I didn't speak Spanish, I spent the first five years of my life with my Cuban cousins, eating Cuban food every day, hearing Latin music, immersed in my people's culture. I felt like it was a huge part of my identity though as the world progressed and I assimilated more to my new life I felt it slipping from my fingertips. When I was eighteen, I moved to NYC and around the same time, my generation was becoming more vocal about race. In New York, my eyes were opened to so many different minorities that had been oppressed or limited due to social construct and the color of their skin. It's not like I didn't know racism existed before moving to New York, but I wasn't exposed to diversity in my hometown. In NYC, when I was exposed to more diversity, I also saw how different the Dominican-American and Puerto Rican communities were than the Cuban community. Though we share similar cultures, I notice a stronger connection with their home place.

Most Cubans I have met outside of Miami seem to have had a similar experience to me. When I chat with them, we commiserate the disconnect we feel from our heritage. I feel that largely that is due to the sensitive relationship the US has with Cuba and Cuba's complex history. There were two major waves Cuban exile that are categorized by time pre-Mariel boat lift or post. The first wave of Cuban exile was mainly middle and upper class citizens seeking political asylum. The second wave were citizens who came after the 1980 Mariel boatlift were seeking economic asylum. These two different reasons for exile has caused a split in the Cuban community. In addition to this divide, there is also the notion that Cubans fled their country for a reason. My grandfather always talked about never wanting to see the country again. This explains the Americanization and distancing that seems to be quite common in Cuban families.

Recently, with the changing relationship between the US and Cuba, I've been dying to go to Cuba to see where my grandparents grew up and to get to know the culture more. I was spilt on it for so long because of my grandparents negative feelings toward it. Evidently, many Cuban exiles are not happy with the changing relationship between Cuba and the US because they feel betrayed that the US has initiated this relationship while the Castro family is still stifling their people under communism. While I respect my grandparents position on the matter, I feel like it's important for me to understand my culture, so I'm planning a trip there soon. I think that though there is a disconnect, my generation has become more curious and has begun making efforts to connect with our heritage.


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