I Remember. Do You?
This evening the biggest and best Hispanic Heritage Month celebration will be held in Nashville. It is a fiesta I look forward to all year, mainly because it is the prettiest and most interesting gathering of people I encounter in a city full of pretty and interesting people.
When I arrived here in 1991, such an event — complete with the salsa band, and the appearance of the mayor and various corporate, state, non-profit and professorial types — would have been an impossibility.
As part of the local celebration, high school students were asked to write essays about their Latino roots and their American dream. I was one of the judges. Reading their essays was a reminder of how many of us who grow up Latin in the United States keep a foot in two cultures, but one keen eye trained on the possibilities in futures wide open.
The kids wrote about everything from summers in Mexico to stories of relatives crossing the desert, full of dangers and possible death, to reach the United States. They wrote of wanting to be attorneys, hair dressers, champions of those who live in shadows. They were moving, heart-breaking and some, simply funny.
My growing up Cuban-American in Miami and New Jersey in the ’70s and ’80s was different, for sure. But, I share with these youngsters a romance with a culture that gave me a hypenated identity and
the spirit to dream big.
Reflecting on my own Latino roots, I came up with a few things, that if I close my eyes, I instantly remember from my own childhood– some of which little Cubanitos in Miami today may never experience, and many of which they likely forever will.
- The sound of the yellow cellophane coming off of my birthday tray of cangrejitos.
- The quiet murmur of my great-grandmother’s prayer and despojo as she blessed me with the shake of basil over my head.
- Licking the sweet taste of cheese pastelito off of salt water-flavored fingers at the beach each Sunday.
- The clink of saint medallions on my grandfather’s gold chain.
- The slap of wood T-shaped mop against my grandmother’s always clean floor.
- The way the top layer of frosting on birthday cake from the Cuban bakery formed a light sugary crust.
- The sound of my feet in heavy black school uniform shoes, combined with hundreds of others, marching in the Jose Marti parade each cold January.
- The shabby man who used to sell my grandmother Puerto Rican lottery tickets. Little did I know then his pockets were full of cash.
- The ever-present shh-shh-shh of the pressure cooker on the stove at the neighbor’s house.
- The viandero’s ungainly truck and his loud salesman call.
- How my best friend’s mom rinsed every single porcelain knick-knack and decorative travel plate in the house. Every.Single.Friday.
- The hard clap of coin on counter when my grandfather ordered a cafecito at the walk-up window.
- The sound of loud talking, laughing, arguing and the scrape of metal folding chairs moving against concrete when my aunts, uncles and cousins sat under the carport at my grandparent’s house.
If I allow myself, I will sit here all day writing down remembrances.
Close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Now, what do you remember about your own Latino roots?