woman in cuba

“Özgürlüğün bayrağını taşıyan şairler için…
Ben aydınlık ve özgürlük delisiyim
Varsın hainler gizlensinler soğuk bir taş altında
Dürüstçe yaşadım ben; karşılığında
Yüzüm doğan güneşe dönük öleceğim.”

José Martí

Görsel :  Burt Glinn -  New Years Day 1959, Havana

man….i really wish i knew more about my dad’s side, like there’s a lot of lost knowledge and stories and my dad has continued the tradition of isolating and distancing the next generation from our cultures :( 

When I was young, my mom used to tell me about her special order. She would say, “When I found out I was pregnant, I asked God to make you light haired and light eyed, like Abuelita. And he did.”

Subconsciously, even as a small child, I had decided somewhere in my head that this meant she had wanted me white. Or maybe it’s what I had wanted, so that I could blend in with my friends and peers. I spent a long time as a child erasing my ethnicity in my head and outwardly. I would tell people I was “only half Cuban,” as though apologizing and reminding that it wasn’t really me. I started going by “Ali” instead of “Alisa,” because people couldn’t pronounce the latter and everyone agreed I didn’t look like an “Alisa” anyway. I wanted to assimilate, and so I erased.

When I got older, I realized that people started erasing me without my permission. In discussions, I would mention my hispanic background, and they would laugh and shake their heads. “No way,” they’d say, “You’re Cuban? You can’t even speak Spanish.” Each time I would make mention of my Cuban-ness, the world would lash out against me. I was not Cuban enough for people to believe me now. Now I was just another white girl, boasting about how I was one-sixteenth Cherokee from a family member fifteen generations removed. I wasn’t authentic, I was an eye-roll-let-her-talk-her-talk girl.

But this isn’t that. This is me as a child, standing in the bathroom fresh from a bath with Abuelita cooing to me (“a si, a si…”) while she rubbed me down with Violetta. This is going to Porto’s in Glendale for authentic gauvayaba and croquettas and pastel de carnes and enjoying the long ride to and from. This is mornings with Abuelita and my mom over cafe con leche and buttered galletas and being overjoyed when they let me dip them into their too-caffeinated drinks. This is learning to dance and love and cook and feel everything ten times over, because we are passionate and should always be.

This is being Cuban.

My dad is a white man, German/Polish in blood and raised in Chicago’s suburbia in the 60’s. My mom is an olive skinned woman, Cuban through and through and raised in Miami. Abuelita was a light skinned, blonde haired blue eyed woman who lived in Cuba for most of her life before moving to Florida. And now I’m here.

I am a mixed baby. I am a light-skinned Cuban woman and somewhere along the line, I had forgotten exactly what that implied. Today, tomorrow, for the rest of my life, I am embracing myself and my culture for exactly what it is–loud and Spanish and proud.

The other day, my mom told me once again, “I special ordered you, you know.”

“I wanted you to have the same colorings as abuelita,” she explained. “Her coloring is from Spain, in Catalonia. Light hair, light eyes. I asked God to make you like my mother, and he did.”

Thank you, mom.