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Black Velvet
December 16, 2012 – 3:09 pm | 17 Comments

Childhood memories are vivid, almost indescribable in their detail, and impossible to forget. A Christmas memory I have is that of a black velvet dress  a family friend gave to me for my seventh Christmas.
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I Remember. Do You?

Submitted by on October 2, 2009 – 4:26 am8 Comments
Miami, 1972

Miami, 1972

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?

Share, por favor!


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  • Abuela says:

    Gracias hija,por ayudarme a recordar cosas que poco a poco se van de nuestra mente.As always a great job.Mirando esa foto me recuerdo de una cancion que dice,Como han pasado los años.

  • Marta says:

    Carrie, that was beautiful!

    All those things you’ve listed were like a springboard into the past.

    However, more evocative for me are the smells of my Cuban upbringing. I most often equate fragrances with the people I love.

    - Babies whose heads were doused in Agua de Violetas.
    - Awakening to the amazing aroma of the first cafécito of the day.
    - My grandmother’s “talco.” (talcum powder)
    - Vitalis and English Leather – grooming products of choice for Cuban men in the 60′s.
    - Vicks Vaporub – to this day, my mom has it on her nightstand (por si acaso.)
    - Fresh Cuban bakery bread.
    - My dad’s “puro” – he loved cigars when he could get them.

    And, of course…
    - Sofrito. Sofrito. And sofrito. =D

  • Liz says:

    Wow… What an amazing post!

  • Anne Marie says:

    I remember:
    The plastic-covered dining set and couches that I had to peel my skin away from when I stood up in the south Florida humidity
    The warm milk with sugar before bed at abuela’s house
    The clanking of aluminum and spoon as my abuelo mixed sugar and cafe for the colada to have foam
    The smell of aceite, maduros, and whatever else was cooking lingered in the house for hours or a day. The smell of a Cuban household never really goes away…
    Special, old ‘vasos’ from the 60s
    The danish cookie containers saved up to make a good flan in later
    Can you tell we ate? Haha. It’s all food related…

  • SAHMami says:

    Beautiful! Thanks for sharing.

  • Catherine says:

    That sounds like Miami. 8th St and Sweetwater to be exact. For me, it’s the opening of a new bottle of Mistolin from Navarro. Always does the trick.

  • Michele Caridad says:

    ~The spoonful of Aceite Mineral with Sugar for Hiccups

    ~The plastic little bag with flowers on it that my Tia Clara would take to the Mercado(they were ahead of their time…now is when the recycle bags are being used)

    ~the banging noise that would only mean giant big crispy tostones at dinner!

    ~The “lio” on the side of the house when my uncles went fishing and all the men (+ my grandmother…telling them how to do it) were cleaning fish

    ~Laying on the floor of my grandmas living room all watching raul velasco on the domingo show…(that’s all that was on on sun. nights!)

    ~My grandmothers’ 12″ statues of her santos on her chiforobe: Santa Lucia, San Lazaro, Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, Santa Barbara

    ~the ((ding!)) on the rice cooker when it was ready

    ~bolitas de maduros that my grandma would make me( and sneak a piece of bistec inside each one)…

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