To Be Cuban, Ser Cubano

by Luis A. Perez

In the past few years I have followed with great interests the political and economical developments in Cuba, because as many of us believe, the end of the Castro era is near and our return is imminent. However, in following these developments and discussing them with some compatriots I have started to sense a marked distinction in how Cubans in cities with a large Cuban communities react as compared to Cubans who live in cities with small Cuban communities. My observations have led me to conclude that those of us who live in cities where there is "no cubaneo sato" are much more effervecent about our feelings towards our homelands. By no means do I say nor imply that we have greater love of country, it is just that we are much more enthusiastic about those things which we hold dear to our hearts and which are further away from our reach. Before I am made the target of the old guard, let me clarify and say that I am limiting these comments to the younger generation of cuban-americans "YUCAS" who left Cuba when we were young and learned about our country more through the second hand stories passed down from our families than from first hand experiences.

Why is this phenomenon occuring? Should it not be the complete opposite? Maybe the principle of diminishing return is at play here. Some examples could perhaps best illustrate my point.

My brother who lives in Puerto Rico where there is a large cuban community visited New Orleans last year and was surprised that my brand new BMW had a license plate with the flag of Cuba. His comment was, "que guajiro". I know my brother well enough to know that he did not mean to offend me, not that I would be offended by being called a "campesino de mi patria", but he thought it was a bit of an overkill to display my patriotism in such fashion. My response was " gracias y a mucha honra". On the other hand, two of my best cuban friends in New Orleans also have such displays in the cars. One has a sticker of Hermanos Al Rescate, the other one has a personalized license plate that reads "Hatuey".

I took the exercise one step further and gave to my father an identical license plate of the Cuban flag to display in his car in Puerto Rico. My father is anticomunista hasta el meoyo and the person who is most responsible for instilling in me my love for Cuba. To make the point clearer as to his beliefs, he has chilled his relations with the Church ( he attended mass daily) because el Papa went to Cuba and met with "El Diablo". My father was very appreciative of my gift but told me he could not put it in his car because it would elicit negative reactions from some in Puerto Rico, where he lives. I did not push the issue because I knew I did not have to. I just needed to drop subtled hints to make my point. All I said was, I have it displayed in my car because I want everyone to know that I am Cuban and proud of it. A few weeks later, he sent me a picture of his car so that I could see where it had been dented in an accident. Well I could not see the dent because the angle of the picture only let me see the front of the car where he had prominently displayed the Cuban flag license plate. I did not expect any less from him. However, I took a small detour in my story since he is not the point of my example, my brother is.

My uncle who lives in Miami and with whom I have had many interesting discussions regarding Cuba, the past, present and future, and who like my father is totally anti- Castrista, sent to me a few years ago a polo shirt with the "Escudo de Cuba" embroidered in the chest. I was thrilled, I loved it. Not only do I think "El Escudo de Cuba" is the most beautiful Coat of Arms I have ever seen, but now I could display my patriotism once again and, in a very subtle way invite the questions and conversations that I knew would be forthcoming. "What is that?" Ahora si me puedo dar banquete explicandole a los gringos what it is and what it stands for. I do know the meaning of all the symbols of our Coat of Arms, thanks to my aunt who drilled it into me when I was very young. I have had the opportunity and pleasure of explaining to friends and collegues that it is the Coat of Arms of Cuba which undoubtedly leads to more substantive discussions about my favorite topic, what is going to happen in Cuba. A few years later I found out that my uncle had sent an identical polo shirt to my brother. To this day, he has yet to wear it. What a shame! ... No, not that he won't wear it, but that it is too small for me to wear. I loved the polo shirt so much and the embroidery even more that I wanted to have the "Escudo" embroidered in other pieces of clothing. Not wanting to abuse my uncle's generosity, and since he was going through some rough times, I asked some Cuban friends who live in Miami if they could do me a favor and get some items embroidered for me. Their answer, why do you want something so picuo? Kind of the same reaction I got from my brother to my Cuban flag license plate. Well, I am a true believer that everyone is entitled to their opinions and moreover, that everyone is deserving of being left alone and not have other's opinions imposed on them. I for one, despite being a trial lawyer, will not try to impose my views and beliefs on others and demand that others do not try impose their views on me. Simple, live and let live. I will gladly engage in civilized discussion on issues on which we may disagree, but do not try to convince me that you are right, because it is your belief and it has to be right. Again, I have taken a detour in the story which has for its purpose only to emphasize the differences in attitudes and perspectives between those of us who live somewhat isolated and those who live in the middle of "La Sawesera", or other comparable places.

I yearn for Cuban things. It does not matter what it is, music, food, cigars ( I don't even smoke but will collect any Cuban cigar I can get my hands on), art, I even went as far as to buy sand which purportedly came from Varadero from a Chilean restauranteur I met in Santiago. I devour any news about Cuba and follow with interest any developments that may precipitate a change in the regime. However, those in Puerto Rico and Miami do not share this hunger and thirst for what is ours and gives us identity. Are they saturated with the Cuban thing which they have all around, all the time? Maybe. Do they have enough identity with their roots that they do not have to seek it out? Perhaps. I can never get enough of it, maybe because I never have had enough of it around me. I certainly seem to feel more rootless than them because the idea of country and belonging to one of the greatest cultures and civilizations is not something that comes to me naturally and uninvited. I have to seek it out. I have to find it, discover it, embrace it, replenish it or my pilot light may run out (not a chance).

No, I do not think I am a greater patriot or lover of the motherland than them. I just have a greater need to seek out the roots that give identity and a sense of belonging. Point of this article, non other than to perhaps state the obvious, the more you are denied something and the harder it is to get what you want , the more you want it. I want my country, I love my country, I want to have a sense of belonging and the more difficult it is to attain this goal, the harder I will pursue this Nirvana which to me exists only in the vague memories that I very dearly keep in the back of my mind, in the stories passed along by my family and in every cell that makes up my body. This is the meaning of my "Cubanidad". I know that those of you who live outside of the Miamis and San Juans can identify with the feeling.

Que Viva Cuba Libre!

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