Cuban Crackers

My mom never lived in Cuba, but when she tells you the story of her family fleeing from Castro it’s like she was there. “Your Abuela grabbed all her jewelry pieces and stuffed it into her coat. She left behind her yacht, her maids, her sisters, and her rich life. She never thought she would be poor, but she came here with nothing. Your Abuelo, who was a top architect in Havana, would come here and sell Christmas trees. They would eat black beans and tuna out of a can,” she would say as my brother and I would eat dinner. 

 She has a story for everything, and 99 percent of the time, the story traces back to being Cuban, the underdog who came to America with nothing. Because of that, I found myself identifying with my Cuban part more than anything. As a child who was always half the average height for her age, I related to the underdog, the underestimated, and the hardworking. All characteristics my mom said were from her side. 

My dad is from a small rural town called Live Oak, Florida. His family was rich, he grew up with a maid, and whenever my brother and I asked about his ancestral background, he would respond, “I’m American damn it.” So, the extent of culture and connecting with a story of where you came from always came from my mom. My mother would joke that the only thing her children didn’t receive with her was the nice olive skin that her family seemed to all possess. She lovingly and technically not PC would call me and my siblings her little “Cuban crackers.” 

In high school, though I felt the struggle of DeVault. I started to ask questions about where I came from and wondered if I could even identify as Cuban. I didn’t speak Spanish and I lived in Tallahassee—a small southern town in northern Florida. Here I felt pressure to be an “American.” Not the culturally diverse, melting pot American, but the rich southerner who owned a plantation and celebrated “finer” things like a barbeque and marrying a nice boy who came from a good name. Identifying as Latina was difficult. I felt like I couldn’t and it didn’t help that the kids at school would say, “But you’re so white” when I would tell them I was Cuban. In my sixteen-year-old mind, the two ethnicities conflicted. I felt like I couldn’t be both. I couldn’t be in touch with Southern roots and Cuban ones at the same time. How could I, they contradict each other? The Cuban part of me ate all my food, was loud blunt, an underdog and the Southerner was reserved, gentle, and polite. 

DeVault’s essay is all about participating in her identity. She wonders about how one can “authentically participate” in all aspects of her identity. She too struggles with two drastically different ones. Devault writes, “It doesn’t matter how many pieces make up my whole; rather, it’s my relationship with those pieces that matters—and that I must maintain.” The importance is about having a relationship with her different parts. I need to become more comfortable with the idea that my two ethnicities do not have to contradict one another. I need to disregard the stereotypes of loud and polite and focus on other aspects that define these different worlds, but in order to do that, I need to form a relationship with them.