Arrive Alive!, Florida, USA
February 29
Open Salon Member since January 2009 ********************************* Sometimes serious, sometimes comical, always topical. =========================== A guy can dream and drown in a deluge of his own delusional thinking. Can't he? =========================== It is what it is until it no longer is, then it becomes something else.


Editor’s Pick
JUNE 30, 2011 7:54AM

Yo no Soy un Cubano Arrepentido-Open Call

Rate: 20 Flag

This post is response to "The moment I felt most American" Open Call.

   Growing up in Astoria, Queens, New York City in the mid-sixties, assimilation was the name of the game. We were Cuban immigrants living in exile. We were strangers in a strange land. However, while we were the only Cubans living on our block, we were not the only immigrants.

   My neighborhood, at that time, was composed of Greeks, Italians, and European Jews. All were right off-the-boat immigrants. Our parents maintained their ties to the Old Country while we kids desperately tried to shake loose our ethnic roots and plant ourselves in the fresh soil, more like concrete, of the New World.

   Clothes and language were the first steps to becoming Americanized. If your parents still dressed you like they did in the homeland, you would be brutally harassed by the other kids. In grade school, I remember a German kid who was terrorized by his classmates because his parents still dressed him in shorts with suspenders and lederhosen. He was chased home every day. I was lucky. My parents being very sensible dressed me in jeans, sneakers and knit shirts. Guayabera shirts didn’t (and still don’t) hold up too well against New York City winters.

   While we dressed and acted American, we still practiced our native tongues and ate our ethnic foods at home. You ate what mamí cooked and you liked it or you went hungry. Ironically, when my Italian or Greek friends came over to eat, they liked my mother’s cooking just as much as I liked theirs. To be totally honest, I liked my mom’s cooking too, but to be an "American" meant you had to have a disdain for recipes from the homeland.

   Language was easy to pick up thanks to television. The only problem was that most of us grew up watching old Western reruns that were on daytime television and Bugs Bunny cartoons. So every now and then you’d hear one of us say in our best cowboy accent, “Watcha’ fetching to do partner?” Or “I’m goanna saddle up and mosey on over to Irving’s and get me one of dem thar Root Beers. Wanna come?” Or “Watts up, Doc?” We also said things like “Youse guys wanna play some stickball or something?” In school, whenever we had to read aloud, we would switch to our best Mid-Western norm voices thanks to the Evening news. Slowly, but surely we lost our native accents and we adopted the ways and tastes of the American lifestyle.

   By the time I graduated from high school and joined the Air Force, I was Cuban only by name. However, I was in an in between zone. I was no longer Cuban, in my mind, but I wasn’t American either. My name (which I would never dream of changing) kept me on the outside. In the Air Force, most people could not pronounce my first name so they Anglicized it. Because of my last name, New York mannerisms and Queens’ accent, a lot people thought I was Italian. Imagine that!

   When I got out of the Air Force, I moved in with my mother and sister. My father had passed away four years earlier and my mom and sister moved to Miami, Florida. I earned my Associate’s Degree when I was in the Air Force and I wanted to get my Bachelor’s, so I settled in with them while I went to college. Talk about culture shock.

   My family was living in Sweetwater which was a little municipality within Dade County. From my understanding, as soon as the Native Miamians (read “Crackers”; I know not very PC) had moved out, the Cubans took over. This was during the Mariel Boatlift of the ‘80s. In other words, Sweetwater was unofficially referred to as Northern Havana since the name Little Havana was already taken. Everyone spoke Spanish, except me. Actually, during this time my Japanese was more fluent than my Spanish. I spent my last three years in the Air Force stationed in Japan. I studied Japanese in night school and practiced it in the Tokyo bars. Good times. Honto!

   I had a very hard time trying to assimilate into the Miami-Cuban lifestyle. For one thing, most of the Cubans who spoke Spanish only, spoke a rapid fire Cuban dialect that made it hard to understand. The ones that spoke English spoke mostly Spanglish. In mid-sentence, they would switch from one language to another as in “Abre la door.” Growing up in New York, Spanglish was forbidden. As a Chilean friend of mine once said, “We either insult Cervantes or Shakespeare, but never both.” However, being in college I met many Cubans, Central and South Americans who spoke both languages fluently and separately. I also took a course called Spanish for Native Speakers; it was designed for people like me. Since then, my Spanish has improved greatly.

   The other thing that made me seem like an outsider within my own kind was that I acted…well…like an American. It may not be noticeable to a gringo, but there are subtle differences between a New York Cuban and a Miami Cuban. I notice it when my New York cousins come to visit. Miami Cubans are more clannish; they do not like to venture too far from their comfort zones. However, it has changed over the years. As a matter of fact, some of you living in the Southern United States might know some Miami Cubans. “Y’all want some chicharones with your boiled peanuts and beer?”

   So to answer the question, when did I feel most American? It was when a girl I worked with said to a friend of hers behind my back, but within earshot, “El es un Cubano arrenpentido.” Loosely translated it means, “He is a Cuban who is ashamed  (or not proud) of his heritage.”

   I am not ashamed of my heritage. It is just that circumstances made me this way. Actually, I am quite proud of the fact that I can relate to both cultures. It makes me more fluid.


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Zero-ing in on the 'moment' like you did is what makes the writing;

done with clear sight given that the question 'when did you feel

most American' is a non-starter: 'feel'? 'American'?

note: was your family a vanguard of the Cuban community in the greater NY area?
Brilliant. Pleased to know you.
Nice background story of you, thanks. I see that clannishness in some Mexican peoples here, like the ones from the state of Querétaro.
I now pronounce this an Editor's Pick.

Stories of the "immigrant experience" are such quintessentially American stories, and I like yours a lot.
Oh yeah. Can I call 'em or what? Congrats!
My vote for EP as well. My mother grew up with her immigrant Finnish parents teaching her to not reveal her Finnishness. She finally came to celebrate it and still be a proud American. Your story reminded me of her. It is wonderful to relate to two cultures, it deepens our character.
rated with love
This is outstanding - serious melting-pot stuff.
Awesome - I just saw that it's an EP! Very, very worthy, Trudge.
" I was in an in between zone. I was no longer Cuban, in my mind, but I wasn’t American either."

I was born in Turkey and grew up in Canada. Change the nationalities in your sentence above, you can understand how I relate to this totally. The only difference is that I still don't feel like a Canadian - even after all these years. I don't know what it would be to like feel so. Excellent piece.
so there, so there

I like your friend's maxim.

And, last time I visited my family in Florida, granted it was quite a long time ago, I didn't have to speak English at all whether at stores or other places. It was frankly quite hysterical.
I like how you explained your history in this country and how you assimilated. There was always that kid with the high water pants. I love the moment when the question is asked and you take your stand.
Congrats on the EP!
Congrats on the EP. Assimilation is the name of the game when you want to fit in. I may have told you this already: My dad grew up in Astoria, graduated from Bryant High School. He went to school with a guy named Billy Loes who pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers. My sister and I spent a lot of time in my grandparent's apartment on Crescent Street.
Don't feel bad if you can't understand the rapid-fire Cuban Spanish. Cubans are incomprehensible to other native Spanish speakers. I can pass for a Mexican in Mexico and an Argentinian in Argentina, but no one will ever mistake me for a fellow Cuban. But y'all have the best damn music in the world. There was an amazing musical gravitational pull during the colonial era in Cuba, and the sounds of Africa, Spain and the Middle East ended up intermingling and mating there. My favorite music in the world.
Trudge, it's always fascinating how the first and second generations cope with the cultural evolution from the home country to the adapted one. The first generation who come as adults never quite adapt. My Finnish grandmother left the old country in her early 20s and so far as I could tell, regarded the next 60 year of her life as a temporary sojourn. Yet she never returned.

I think you've captured one of its aspects beautifully. Muchas gracias por tu articulo.
Life on the Hyphen (have you read Perez Firmat?): a tricky experience, especially when, as in your case, you experience the double fish-out-of-water feeling of not being in the old culture either. You tell the story very well, though, partner!
Wow you have gone the whole 9 yards and then some. Good for you and yours and now Your an idea American...
I have had many of the same struggles with my ethnicity as you. My mother had many Cuban friends and I would have to agree with your friends that Cuban food es muy delicioso. Forever I will be searching for the fragrant olive oil that the ladies used in their cuisine.
but us Puerto Ricans do a mean Cuban accent!!! ¡¡Caballero!!!
If you're ever in Japan we've gotta go drinking (you sound like you've been in more bars than I have -- I tend to go for the cheaper yakitoriyas and izakayas) and you can tell me what life's like on the American side of the fence. Most us have no idea what goes on in the American bases.
You grew up in Astoria, eh? I grew up in Jackson Heights in the late 60s and lived in Astoria for 11 years as an adult. Good read! Rated.
Well done Trudge! I live in S Florida and your description of moving back and needing to assimiliate was enlightening and interesting. I think you benefitted from being raised in New York, if becoming "an Amercian" was the goal :-)
Great job and congratulations on the cover and EP
eye-opening and informative from both an "experiential" and a personal standpoint--there's so much I don't know about the people here I'm just now learning...
Loved reading your story. A whole 'nother world for this California Girl.
This was absolutely fascinating. I have no more to say. Just so insightful and well done. Okay, there, I did have one more thing to say.
The funny differences of being a Cuban are funny...Did you like Ricky Recardo and do you folks still make up that wonderful Cuban sandwhich.
Meant to say Happy 4th to you and more..
Very satisfying read, and especially love the cowboy dialog. When I did a family tree in 9th grade I found we went far back enough to be what I considered dull as dishwater...never did find anyone from just off the boat, nor landing on Plymouth Rock. Kids just want to fit in---lederhosen! Poor kid!
fun article! My husband is from Chile. He will like the Cervantes reference. congrats!
There are those who think the "melting-pot" should cook out all the wonderful flavors many cultures bring to the mix. I, for one, wish for a "melting-pot" that is extra spicy hot.