El Orgullo Cubano: Why I’m Proud of My Roots

I was born in Havana, Cuba in the spring of 1995. By December of 1999, I was on an airplane bound for the United States of America. I spent my ESOL days in Orlando, spent second grade living in the Everglades, and ultimately came to rest in Miami where I spent all of my adolescence. Miami, Florida—or as we jokingly call it, North Cuba.

Miami to Cubans is like New York to Puerto Ricans, it’s our haven within a country that can often be hostile to people like us. Growing up in Miami, I never had to give up the savory taste of frijoles negros, the fast paced heavily accented Spanish, or the constant blaring of trumpets and dembow.

My favorite Cuban tradition when I was little and living in Havana was El Día de Los Reyes Magos—Three Kings Day, or the Epiphany. It’s like Christmas, but you get three presents—one for each of the wise men that visited baby Jesus. Many Cubans lived in squalor, and so this was oftentimes a difficult holiday to celebrate for parents strapped for cash. Despite, I remember being little and waking up to the sound of my mom getting home from her job at the airport, and seeing her with a brand new doll for me to play with. “Mira Eli,” she would say. “Felicidades!”

Now that I’m older, my absolute favorite tradition is Noche Buena. Celebrated the day before Christmas, it’s a big dinner with all of your tías and tíos, all of your primos, all of your primos that aren’t really even related to you, but your parents are just that close. Noche Buena is a whole pig roasting over a caja china (a ghastly sight to me now that I’m a vegetarian, but tradition nonetheless). Noche Buena is the sound of your tío’s knuckles rapping on a domino table when he doesn’t have a hand to play. Noche Buena is Celia Cruz’s iconic voice belting no hay que llorar porque la vida es un carnaval. Noche Buena is your cheeks being red from giving all of your stubbly tíos besitos on your way in and out of the dinner.

I asked my mom what her favorite traditions were, and she gave me a myriad of reasons to love my roots. She told me about how much she loved the carnivals that they celebrate in El Malecón every year that last a week. She told me how she loved cutting the tips of her hair every February 2nd because it’s the day of the Candelaria, and cutting your hair that day meant it grow healthy the rest of the year. She told me about bathing in the first rain of May, because they say that doing that is good luck.

Of course, no discussion of Cuban tradition is complete without el cafecito. The one, the only, the famous colada cubana. “No Cuban household wakes up without a coladita,” said my mom, who we affectionately call Kukita. “It’s tradition—no, it’s more than that! La coladita cubana is one and only!”

Though not an exclusively Cuban tradition, quinces are a big part of a young Cuban woman’s life. From when she turns 13 years old, her parents will start to hoard things away—makeup, clothes, shoes, anything that could be used for her quinceañera. On the big day, she’s have a court of 15 couples made up of her classmates and neighbors dance together to choreography. It’s the biggest party of a teen girl’s life, and can top a sweet sixteen any day.

“Before there were ultrasounds,” said Kukita, “in Cuba we determined a baby’s sex with the test of a knife and scissors. You would have two chairs, on one would be a knife and the other scissors and both would be covered by a cloth. The pregnant mother would blindly choose which chair to sit in; if she chose the scissors she would have a girl, and if she chose the knife she would have a boy. It’s fun and exciting, and always 100% accurate!”

I asked my mom what she thought were the most important aspects of our culture that she impart to my sister and me. She told me that it’s important that we always know our home and where our roots come from. Not only that, but that we be proud of where we come from and proud to be Cuban women. “I would love that my daughters have a sense of humanity, enthusiasm, and comradery,” she said. “These are Cuban traits… even when times are tough, Cubans keep these traits in their hearts.

“A good sense of humor!” she continued. “Cubans are funny by nature! Dance and music, we’re all about music.” I can attest to these. I couldn’t even count the times that I’ve walked into the kitchen to find my mom dancing around, blasting Gente de Zona—even if she was just making a sandwich.

“I want my daughters to be fighters and to persevere and to follow their dreams,” Kukita continued. “Cubans dream wide awake and we don’t rest until we accomplish our goals! I’m proud to have been born Cuban.”

Just like my mom, these are the things that I’m proud of. I’m proud to pertain to a culture that values hard work and honesty; a culture that is jubilant and happy in the face of adversity; a culture rich with folklore and mysticism; a culture that places importance on a matriarchy; a culture that has an unprecedented zest for life.

For these reasons, I say, soy cubana y soy orgullosa!

Girl Diary: A Day In My Life

Vea este artículo en español aquí

Hello! My name is Cynthia Cervantes and I am 12-years-old. I am a seventh grader in California, and my favorite subjects are history and math. In my spare time, I like reading, watching TV and playing school with my little sisters.

My experience with scleroderma began more than a year ago when I suddenly would get weak, my body ached, and my vision was getting worse. Some days it was hard to get out of bed. My feet got so swollen that calcium would ooze out. That is when my parents took me to the doctor.

It took the doctors awhile to figure out what was wrong with me, but last October they determined that I had scleroderma. I was really surprised at first because I did not know what scleroderma was. All that time, I thought my symptoms were related to a flu that would not go away or maybe from playing in the dirt too much. I felt sad because I was told I would have to wear gloves all the time and my finger tips began to hurt.

My life since then has changed. I can no longer eat foods I used to eat. I also had to change from drinking regular milk to soy milk, which I do not like very much. Basketball is one of my favorite sports to play, but because I get tired it is harder to keep up with the other kids.

A day in my life is very busy. I wake up early to take my medications and get ready for school. After school, I have to eat again and take more medicine. I take even more medicine before bed. On Saturdays, I have to drink this yucky vegetable juice because of my scleroderma. My mom says I have to drink it because it helps with my medicine.

Living with scleroderma can feel strange at times because I am the only one who has to wear gloves and a jacket, even on a hot day. My bed is angled because it helps me to digest my food better. Every month, I have to see the doctor and get more shots, which I do not like. Luckily, the doctors and nurses who treat me are really nice and funny.

August 2008

My Journey to America

Immigrant: one that immigrates, a person who comes to a country to take up permanent residency.

That is the definition for an immigrant according to Webster’s Dictionary. Have you ever asked yourself why the real meaning of the word immigrant included in the dictionary definitions? For me, being an immigrant means changing your customs, leaving your favorite things behind, having to learn a completely different language, and having to adapt to a place that is completely different and new.

Many people have many different reasons for emigrating from one place to another. In my case, having to leave Mexico to come to the United States was simply due to my parents’ desire of a better life and higher opportunities.

I was born and raised in Juarez, Chihuahua. Does this name sound familiar? It’s probably because you’ve heard about it in the news lately. The city I lived in for almost 9 years is now considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world. A drug war has brought extreme violence to my hometown. Sometimes I stop to think and become amazingly grateful with everyone that made me living here in the U.S. possible, because I know that the move was something extremely positive. My parents made the “news” extremely random. I remember sitting home one day watching television with my two younger siblings and having my parents turn off the television and say “Empiezen a empacar, nos iremos a vivir a El Paso en una semana” (Start packing. We are moving to El Paso in a week.) My expression was “what???, are they kidding?..” Then after a long afternoon of elaboration on the subject, I became excited. Some immigrant kids build up denial and hate for the idea, but I was the opposite. I wanted to come to the United States and learn “ingles” and act like the kids in TV did. Little did I know, I had so much more in store for me.

July 17, 2002 – That was the BIG day. Economic situations were harsh. I remember moving into our new one room apartment with only a refrigerator inside, but I still had a smile on my face. The next Monday was our first day of school. I recall seeing my 5-year-old brother happily getting into the car excited with a Wal-Mart bag in his hands filled with school materials ready to learn. My sister, who was 7 at the time was the least positive one. She has always been a little reluctant to change. My first day of school was a little bit confusing. I went into a 3rd grade classroom, but I had already completed 3rd grade in Mexico! After a long placement test, my school’s administrators noticed my math was fairly high compared to the other students in 4th grade. Then, I was placed with a fourth grade bilingual teacher. Even though the class was in Spanish and English, we did occasionally have English language quizzes, which I always failed in the beginning. Crying to my parents after school about how tough English was is something that I now realize was a huge inspiration for me to improve. The feeling of not knowing and not understanding was something that gave me the extra push to learn.

Months later, I learned to love school, love the United States and love the English language I was learning so far. When I least knew it, 6th grade came and I was no longer in bilingual classes. I was now in Gifted and Talented classes which was a long jump. It was amazingly challenging to know I was not only in complete English classes only, but in advanced classes. Many times I wanted to give up, but my consistency along with my parents support was very helpful. I’ve stayed in advanced classes up to this point and even gained college course credit in high school.

My life, my family, and my future is much better here in the United States than it would have been in Mexico. My ultimate dream is to become a teacher. My future now looks so clear, so obtainable. I am glad I live in the United States, but I will always be proud of being a “Latina.”

By Pamela Ponce

Girl Diary: Thinking Positive

High school senior Natalia Barra decided to share her story with us.

“My mom had me at a young age and went through a lot of struggles through her life,” Barra said. “I knew one thing for sure. I did not want to have sex until I was old enough to take care of a baby. I ended up finding out that having a baby is not the worst thing that can happen to somebody.”

She changed her mind when she fell in love after dating her boyfriend for six months. She decided she wanted to take her relationship to the next level. Her boyfriend was two years older than her and was working full time as a waiter. She confessed to him that it would be the first time that she had ever even thought of having sex.

“I was so in love and I asked myself what could possibly happen in one night,” Barra said. “My boyfriend broke up with me after that night. It was then when I realized how I should have stuck to my guns on not having sex until I was ready to have a child.”

“I decided to test myself because after my boyfriend left me, the next week he was dating somebody else,” Barra said. She decided to have herself tested because she found out her ex-boyfriend had several partners in the past. She went to the doctor and got the devastating news. She was diagnosed HIV positive a year ago. It was only one night of taking a risk that has cost her worry for the rest of her life.

“I had heard of STD’s before, but I never really took them very seriously. I never thought I would be infected with anything since for the most part I am a very healthy person.”

Barra said it is important for young Latinas to be informed of STD’s and sex in general. Barra will be treated with medication for the rest of her life, so that she can stay alive. HIV is a disease that must be constantly treated because it is can deadly. Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a set of symptoms and infections resulting from the damage to the human immune system caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This condition progressively reduces the effectiveness of the immune system and leaves individuals susceptible to infections. HIV is transmitted through direct contact with blood and other bodily fluids. Barra found out the hard way that HIV can be contracted just through one sexual contact.

“I hope that people realize how important it is to be informed about STD’s, especially young people in their teens,” Barra said.

Thanks to medications, Barra’s HIV has not progressed into AIDS. She is still hopeful. She has made it her personal mission to let other Latinitas know that this could happen to them. She recommends that girls wait to have sex. She encourages Latinitas use protection every time and get themselves tested.

By Jackie Baylon

Out & Proud

For me, being a lesbian and Latina means that I have to learn how to reconcile being openly gay with my culture. Everyday Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (GLBTQ) people are harassed, beaten, abused and even killed for simply being who they are. Now imagine being a lesbian and Latina.  Think of the conformity and “tradition” that our culture places on us to be just like everyone else.  It has taken a while for me to truly be comfortable with who I am – a proud Latina lesbian.

I’ve always known that I was gay.  I remember feeling different from my peers in a way that I could not quite explain. From a very young age, I was taught to be obedient and to understand that my place was at home cooking and cleaning.  I was taught that I was eventually supposed to marry a man and have children. As I was growing up, neither of my parents knew that I was a lesbian, but I had suspected that they had some idea deep down. I attempted to ignore my feelings for as long as I could. When I was about fifteen, I dated a few boys.  I tried to deny my true feeling by going along with everything I thought was expected of me. Reflecting on that time in my life, I realize how miserable I was.  I was trying desperately to be someone I wasn’t.

Eventually, I couldn’t take living a lie anymore.  Before I decided to come out to my parents, I told a couple of friends. I wanted some assurance that it was going to be okay.  I wanted to know that my friends weren’t going to hate me or feel that I had been lying to them. After I told them, they convinced me that just because I was gay that wasn’t going to change their opinion of me. I felt relieved and ready to tell my parents.

When I came out to my parents, I decided to tell my mother first because I was closer to her. She was driving down the highway to drop me off at work.  As she drove, I calmly turned to her and told her that I wanted to talk to her about something later that day.  She immediately thought something was wrong, and she wanted to know right there and then.  Repeatedly, I tried to assure her that nothing was wrong and that I just had something on my mind. She pestered me about it until finally I turned to her. “Mom I’m gay,” I yelled. Right away my mother pulled over to the side of the road.

“No, you’re not.  Why would you say that,” she responded refusing to accept what I had told her.  My mother and I argued for about twenty minutes. Her reaction was difficult to handle.  I remained thankful that we had not crashed in the middle of the highway after I had dropped such a surprise on her. When I came out to my mother, I did not know what to expect.  I had hoped she would understand and be somewhat accepting since one of her younger brothers was gay. My mother and I talked for at least two hours on the side of the highway.  Occasionally, people pulled over to ask if we needed any help or if we had some car problems. She asked countless questions, and I attempted to answer them. I could see my mother experiencing an array of emotions; the look on her face marked confusion. In an effort to understand, she began to blame herself.  “What did I do to you,” she kept asking.  “Did I mess you up in some way?”

I think that deep down every parent wants the best for their son or daughter.  Perhaps a parent’s greatest fear is that their child might be in danger or harmed in some way. I think what upset my mother the most was remembering how hard life had been for her brother and then imaging what I was going to have to endure. This world is not always a friendly place; it’s full of complexities and people that make it diverse.  When we are growing up, we are taught to believe certain things and act in specific ways based on our gender. However, no one can teach you how to be who you are.  You have to figure that on your own.

My mother eventually came around.  Now, both my parents are supportive of me and everything I do. I realize how lucky I am to have supportive parents.  I am so grateful to have them. I think it is important for anyone who is struggling with coming to terms with their sexuality to seek resources.  Latinitas who are afraid of coming out should know that they are not alone. In most major cities, there are community centers for LGBTQ people. There are also tons of resources online for teens who are in the process of coming out. I encourage anyone who is afraid to come out of the closet to seek out support from others.  It helps a great deal to find people who you can talk to even if you can’t talk to your family.

I live my life freely and proud of who I am and what I’ve accomplished. I faced discrimination because I am gay before.  Although it is far from easy, I’ve not let it deter me from maintaining that pride that has gotten me to where I am today. Being a lesbian and Latina are both important parts of who I am.

By Carmen Rodriguez<br />

Diary of an Exchange Student

Editor’s Note: The following is a two-part reading of diary excerpts from a German student, Josi, who came to live in Austin, Texas as part of a student exchange program. This type of international program allows high school students to live in a foreign country for a semester or two. Usually, there are organizations that work with local schools and host families to make all the arrangements.

Josi arrived in Texas in August 2006, and lived in the United States until January 2007. Part One of the reading includes an introduction by Josi and diary entries of her fall experiences. She shares stories about traveling to Austin, settling in with her host family and meeting new people.

I am 16 years old, and I just returned from Austin, Texas, to my hometown of Berlin in Germany. I lived as an exchange student in Austin for half a year in 2006.
Being an exchange student means that you live with a host family in another country. There, you go to school and try to live your life like your hosts. I wanted to see as much as I could and learn about the different places, culture and the lifestyle in Austin. I also went there to make friends and improve my English.

I arrived in Austin on August 7, 2006, and got back to Berlin on January 28, 2007. My host family was a married couple, the Torruella’s, who had a cat; my host mom´s name was Gloria and my host dad´s name was Charles.

I had a lot of fun in Texas, and I would go there again to be an exchange student. I was a member of the Cross Country team at the high school and I also joined the Girl Scouts. Additionally, I had fun writing for Latinitas. After a while, I became more secure about the relationship with my host family and other American people, but of course, I also had to manage some difficulties and problems. To give you an idea of my emotions and experiences, I want to share some parts of my diary that I wrote during my stay in Austin.

August 10, 10 p.m.
Tomorrow is the departure and I fear that my luggage is too heavy (I’m thinking of how they have found liquid-bombs in London.) I cannot take my book with me, so I have to finish it now – is that right? Shouldn´t I at least be able to take something like that with me? Something familiar? And I cannot sleep at all. But I expected that.

August 13, 2 p.m.
Well, now I am here for real, and I am very tired. At the moment, it looks like it is more quiet here than at home. At first, I missed Charles at the airport because I wasn´t sure if it was him standing there and I was also kind of shy to just walk up to him. Well, finally he found me. We had some steaks when we got to the house – that was nice, but it was a little hard for me to get along with the language. I will have to be strict with myself to learn all the new words.

It is awkward to know that this will be my home for six months. My room is smaller than at home, but the bed is bigger and there is a lot of old stuff. It is not really like a teenager´s room. I guess that´s part of the deal.

August 16, 8:25 p.m.
Wow, I am already involved in high school! I had my second day of school and some trouble finding all my classes. I also need to make a schedule change – I hope that´s not too complicated with that sheet I have to fill out. A lot of people here are saying things I don´t understand. I am a little embarrassed to ask about everything. But one girl that is riding the school bus with me helps me a little bit.

September 1, 9:31 p.m.
I am a member of the Cross Country team now, which I really like, because I can meet some people there in the morning and can ride the school bus home. Unfortunately, my host parents are really strict about me riding the city bus home. That´s one thing I totally don´t understand. In Berlin, I can ride trains and busses everywhere and I don´t even have to ask for permission. Here, I have to be home right after school, because Charles and Gloria want to spend time with me. But sometimes, I want to hang out with people my own age! It´s kind of hard to balance all that. And I also cannot e-mail all my friends in Germany because in the evening I am tired. And there is that book I have to read for English in the next week…

September 15, 10:15 p.m.
I need to get my head clear! There is that boy in my Algebra class – his name is Adrian, and I have no idea what it is going to be! He walked up to me and introduced himself. He also walked me home. He is very polite and friendly. But when I made the mistake of telling my host parents about it, they reacted kind of strange. Like I have to be VERY careful, and I am not allowed to do anything with him without telling them. Wow, I don´t know if they think I am five years old or what, but it is annoying, because they can make all the rules they want. If I don´t follow them, I can be sent back home.

Look for the second part of Josi’s journal in the November 2007 issue of Latinitas. Part Two will continue with her winter experiences, which includes difficulties with the new culture, holiday observations and her feelings about returning to Germany.

By Josi Wolff, Teen Reporter