On Being American…

Coat of Arms of CubaSometimes it’s hard to think about what to write on Thoughtful Thursdays. It’s such a mixed bag of info on days like today. But so many of you commented on my background the other day and expressed an interest in hearing more, that it occurred to me that I should share a little bit more about myself.

Maybe by doing so we’ll get to know each other better and you’ll understand the things about which I am passionate (LOL! as if you don’t know some of those already.)

For starters, I am an American born in Cuba.

I’m sure that’s raising eyebrows, but that’s the way I feel. I had the chance to hear Marco Rubio talk the other day on the radio and he mentioned being an American of Cuban descent. Of how grateful he was about all this Nation had given him and I realized that he was speaking much as my mother had spoken to me for all of my life.

That we were Americans now. That being American was a great gift. That we should not take that gift lightly and always honor it. In my mother’s mind that meant getting good grades, obeying the law, standing up for ourselves and those that were weaker and most of all, standing up for America.

So I can’t call myself an American of Cuban descent because I wasn’t born here, but I will call myself an American born in Cuba.

You might wonder why my mother was so vehement on that topic and the story is a long one which I’ll abbreviate into one word — Liberty.

My mom and dad on their wedding dayWhen my mother lived in Cuba under Batista, life was good for her, but not for others. But even as good as it was for her, she lacked the ability to speak out about wrongdoing or what she thought needed change in the government. It’s why she worked with Castro during the Revolution. Not that she ever really told us much about that as kids. It came in snippets at unexpected times. In reality, I learned more about my mother after her death than I had known throughout my life.

Of course the change that Castro had promised for Cuba turned out to be nothing like what my mother and father had expected or for which they had worked. Instead of a free republic, they soon came under the control of a government that was slowly robbing them of their short-lived Liberty as the government nationalized businesses and plantations they felt were necessary for the public good. Newspapers and individuals who spoke out against the government were either demonized or shut down. The government fomented class warfare as a way of justifying taking the labors of individuals for the good of all.

Just as my parents fought against Batista, they now decided to fight against Castro. Unfortunately those plans placed them in peril of imprisonment (or death) necessitating my parents’ hasty retreat from Cuba. In their minds there was only one Nation that could provide them the Liberty they sought – the United States.

But Castro wasn’t done with them. My parents had been forced to leave my sister and I behind along with my maternal grandparents. My parents thought we would join them shortly after their abrupt departure. I’m told that our Cuban passports were taken to prevent us from leaving Cuba. That for over a year my parents sought every way they could think of to get us out with no success while Castro would send his men to roust our house and threaten my grandparents to get my parents to return. Possibly he feared they would work against him in the United States. Who knows?

My sister was six months old when my mother left. I was three. Imagine leaving children that young behind, but they had no choice.

Eventually we got out and spent another six months wandering through Central America and Mexico until the immigration laws changed and my parents were able to get us into this country.

During that year and a half, my parents had not only been trying to get us out, they had been building a life here. Getting jobs and finding a home. It wasn’t necessarily easy. People didn’t want to rent to Cubans.

That never diminished my mother’s appreciation for the one gift that made all that hardship worthwhile – Liberty.

Her one response to all that negativity was simple — Succeed.

Succeed because to not do so was to dishonor the gift we had been given. Succeed because we did not want to shame other Cubans. Succeed because we wanted to prove that anything was possible in America. Succeed because success is the best revenge.

So why am I telling you all this today?

I guess because I want you to understand why I am passionate about America. Why my heart beats faster and emotion chokes me every time I hear the national anthem or see the flag. Why I take so seriously the gift of Liberty and why I honor it by reaching forward with one hand while reaching back with the other to help someone else.

So those are my thoughts on this Thoughtful Thursday. I hope you understand a little bit more about me. I’d like to get to know more about you if you care to leave a comment.

7 thoughts on “On Being American…”

  1. Thanks so much for sharing your touching story. I think sometimes we Americans forget how lucky we are here, and it’s nice to have such a lovely reminder once in a while. Your post was also a wonderful tribute to your parents.

  2. Amazing Caridad, thanks so much for sharing, and I truly love the point you are making. My DH is in the military so we are definitely thankful & proud to be Americans. Having said that, I wish more people felt the same way as us and not take it so much for granted.

    xoxo

  3. Caridad,

    That was a lovely post and I really admire your parents for all they sacrificed to give you and your sister all they wanted for you.

    My own family came here from Ireland (the famine) and most businesses posted signs saying No Irish Need Apply. But they felt the same way your parents did and they succeeded.

    Everyday I’m proud to be an American and you just gave me even more reason for the sentiment.

  4. My grandmother, born in Italy, never stopped reminding us what a gift and a miracle and a responsibility it was to be an American. Whenever something amazed or astounded or delighted her, she’d exclaim “America!” with joy and awe.

    And I have two recommendations. “Wild Swans” is a true story by Jung Chang that follows three generations of Chinese women–a concubine grandmother, a Red Army-turned-“counter-revolutionary” mother and a dissident daughter. It’s fascinating.

    Ditto Kati Marton’s recent “Enemies of the People,” which tells the story of her Hungarian parents’ past as revealed in their secret police files. Through those files, Marton discovered more about her parents’s work than they, in their quest to become fully Americanized, could ever bring themselves to share.

  5. Sometimes, those of us born here with all the liberties afforded us by our forefathers (and foremothers) forget the privileges we have and what some people are willing to endure to share them with us.
    I’m so glad your parents sacrificed so much to get you here, Cha. I wish I had been able to meet them. But knowing you is good enough!

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