Growing Up Cuban American

Hey hey,

Or as they would say in my house acera, que bola!

The name for my blog Cafecito in Chicago is inspired by my Cuban culture. If you’ve been following for a while, you already know I throw words out like cafecito, croquettas, and pilas without any context behind it. Today I wanted to open the door and let you into my Cuban home. I didn’t really appreciate being Cuban until I moved out of Miami. It was so normal, I didn’t see what was special about it. Now, I see it in a whole new light, and I am beyond grateful to be Cuban American.

Here is my perspective of growing up in a Cuban household in Miami, Florida.

The mornings always started with Radio Mambi (la grande) playing through the alarm clock radio. The household fluttered with soft beats from bongos filled the house. Abuelo got ready for work for his job as a city inspector. He put on his suspenders proud that he is able to have a full 9-5 job, after years of not being able to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor. Right before he was about to register to continue his education, Castro rose to power.

It’s about 7:30 a.m. and the breakfast table spread included sweet pastries, pastelitos, of cream cheese and guava, pan cubano, and cuban coffee. Cuban coffee is not like any coffee, it’s an espresso shot of rocket fuel that is consumed at all times of the day. Mami and abuela give you good morning kisses, and yell behind me “ponte un sweater” (put on a sweater) because it’s 65 degrees outside in Miami. If the weather hit anything under 68 degrees, Miami was having its own polar vortex.

  It’s time for la escuela (school), and la guagua (the school bus) is right around the corner. As a kid, you had one job—go to school, work hard, and do well. Many of our grandparents and parents, didn’t have the opportunity to go to school. I was taught early on that getting an education was important, and something that should never be taken for granted. You were expected to “ponerse las pilas,” which literally translates to putting on your batteries but they meant it as focus on school. My Abuela was 1 of 8 children growing up, when her mother got ill she had to drop out of the second grade to help take care of her family. Yet, she still sat with me everyday to make sure my homework got done.

  I would rush through the door from school and come home to a plate of croquettas. Croquettes are the chicken fingers to a Cuban kid, rolled and deep fried ham paired nicely with soda crackers. Abuela always managed to get a croquettas, either from her doctor at la clinica, or a distant uncle’s house, or from a quick run to Winn Dixie. This was peak hour of commotion in the house. Either la vecina (the neighbor) that lived next door caught you while taking out the trash so you stopped to have a 45 minute conversation, a prima (cousin) was over at the house, or a friend that worked with your tia’s neighbor’s hairdresser was on the phone telling you about their friend who came from Cuba. It never mattered who was at the house, or on the phone, everyone was family.

  As a Cuban, we love to celebrate. Any quinceanera, when a young woman  turned 15, wedding, baby shower, every victory and milestone was worth celebrating. Birthdays started with getting trays of mini pastelitos, and the wet spongy cake filled with vanilla pudding (and if you ask me the grossest thing ever).  Every party led to rounds on rounds of dominoes, basically Cuban checkers, accompanied by Celica Cruz and Willy Chirino belting through the speaker.

 Growing up was filled with weird habits and quirky traditions that now hold a special place in my heart. Like not being allowed to walking around barefoot, because you’ll get sick, but if you do get sick, Vivaporu (Vick’s vapor rub) was the cure to anything. Everything was a storage container, soda cracker cans held rice, cookie tins held pins and needles, and nothing went to waste, not even a zip-locks bag. Abuela always had strawberry candies in her purse, and you were never really sure where they came from, but you didn’t question it.

   The end of the day ended with arroz con frijoles and  some form of a banana; fried plantains topped with garlic were always my favorite. Abuelo told stories about his teenage years in Cuba, and the ruckus that he caused with his cousins, running up and down the streets of Havana. If political climate was tense in the United States, you would hear the words “I didn’t leave Cuba for this.” La noticia (the news) played in the background, and ruined your weekend plans, because after the chaos in Miami Gardens your Abuela was not going to leave the house. Walter Mercado gave his astrology predictions con mucho mucho amor and if you were able to stay up past 8:30, we watched our favorite novela. Then finally, calabaza calabaza cada uno a su casa—time for bed.

We are all made up of history, traditions, and cultural habitats. I am so proud of where mine come from. A beautiful beacon, 90 miles south of Key West.




3 thoughts on “Growing Up Cuban American

  1. Reading your blog post brought back so many memories from when I was small and it made me laugh and cry a bit. It was very bittersweet reading this post and made me realize how much more proud I should be of my culture.


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