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Authors: Gaby Triana

Cubanita

BOOK: Cubanita
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Cubanita
Gaby Triana

For Mom and Dad

cubanita
\koo-bah-
nee
-tah\
n

1: a girl or woman of Cuban descent who embraces her culture

2: a Cuban-American girl or woman who remains connected to her roots

(antonym)
Isabel Díaz

Contents

One

She wants me to be her, but I'm not her.

Two

It's not even 7:30 in the morning, but the heat's…

Three

Look at those clouds. A storm brewing over the Everglades—how…

Four

I don't reply. Instead, I close all windows and log…

Five

I hardly saw Andrew the day after our date, except…

Six

They arrive in clusters, ruining the Sunday afternoon silence. Tía…

Seven

I didn't do it. But there was no convincing Robi…

Eight

Remember Iggy's flying niece? Well, Chicken-Chickee's real name is Daisy.

Nine

“So what's going on with you guys?” Susy asks me…

Ten

Friday night, we ate in the Grove. It felt different…

Eleven

Where's my fine brush? Oh, there it is. I'm dying…

Twelve

Dad loves Home Depot, especially on Monday nights. It's the…

Thirteen

Later that night I walk into Stefan's room and find…

Fourteen

Andrew's apartment is right near UM. It's also dangerously close…

Fifteen

People without pools always talk about how cool it would…

Sixteen

It's Stefan's twenty-second birthday. We're heading to the Melting Pot…

Seventeen

For the rest of the weekend, Maria the Waitress wasn't…

Eighteen

I finish the sign to the right side of the…

Nineteen

Four days away, my birthday's been giving me a lot…

Twenty

My birthday came and went. I'm officially an adult now,…

Twenty-One

“Stefan, I am not going to plow a service truck…

Twenty-Two

I called Jonathan this morning to let him know I…

Twenty-Three

Should I, or shouldn't I? Oh, what the heck.

She wants me to be her, but I'm not her. I'm not Miss
Cubanita.

I mean, I love my mom and everything, but I've never even
been
to Cuba, so how can she expect me to embrace it?
This
is my country, the U.S. 'tis of thee, with purple mountains and all that.

Okay, fine, so Miami is basically North Cuba, but still.

Guantanamera…guajira guantanamera…
1140 AM, WQBA. As if there weren't a thousand other radio stations she could have on.

“Mami, could you please listen to something else? They play that song, like, eighteen times a day.” I can't concentrate on my teachers' handbook. I've read the same paragraph three times already.


Ay, mi hijita,
it's better than that stuff you listen to that
goes
taka-tun, taka-tun, taka-tun
, and makes the car windows shake at every red light.
Esa basura
,” she says, chopping up onions and peppers for the
sofrito
going into our dinner.

“Garbage? Mom, that's what people listen to now. Nobody listens to “Guantanamera.” Only a
cubanita
like you, who's stuck in her own little world. Can't you try to act like the American citizen you are? I mean, it's embarrassing. You haven't been to Cuba in twenty-five years. What are you holding on for?”

Ten seconds of painful silence.

Then, “
Sí
, ah-hah, Isabelita. You keep telling yourself you're not Cuban, even though you are.
La verdad que
sometimes I wonder if they didn't switch you for another baby at the hospital.
Qué acomplejada tú eres
.”

She hacks the onions with a little more force, shaking her head, then starts talking to herself—the all-time Cuban mother thing to do—to make me feel guilty about not understanding her. “
Ella quiere que yo deje de ser cubana, que deje de pensar en mi país, en mis raíces, en mí…”

I'm outta here. There's no way I can focus with her calling me
acomplejada.
I do not have a complex. Aren't seniors supposed to feel liberated after graduation? Then why am I so suffocated?

I leave the kitchen counter behind, her voice trailing off like one of those slow trucks that announces shrimp for sale in our neighborhood when it disappears around the corner. Doesn't matter what she's saying anyway. It's probably “In Cuba, things were like this, in Cuba, things were like that, in
Cuba, blah, blah, blah.”
Ay
, all she ever talks about is Cuba!

In the hallway I pause to look at the oversized photo of me in my
quinceañera
dress. It was the tackiest ball gown you can possibly imagine: ruffles, bows, you name it. My mother insisted I have one of these galas for my fifteenth birthday, arguing tradition and culture keep families strong, but I never felt more alienated from her in my life. I would've rather waited and had a small party for my sixteenth, like half the girls I went to school with, but I caved in to her idea instead. It meant more to her anyway.

I remember shopping for THE dress. She wanted poofy; I wanted streamlined. She wanted the dorky studio portrait; I wanted the quick snapshot with the disposable camera. To make a long story short, here it is—a poster of me in a bubble-sleeved dress, wearing a tiara, looking like a teenage bride. So much for trying to compromise with her. All this just for turning a year older. And to please Mami.

Always to please Mami.

Summer just started and already I can't wait to get out of here to begin my mother-free life at the University of Michigan in August. But until that happens, I'll be teaching art at Everglades National Park, same as last year. It has a summer camp—Camp Anhinga, sort of an answer to those Camp Hiawathas up north, except the kids leave at 4:30
P.M
. instead of sleep over. I love working there, probably because I've always dreamed of living somewhere other than Miami, somewhere with mountains and resorts.

I start tomorrow, and Mom is anything but thrilled.
Surprise, surprise. If it weren't for my father, who's completely chill about everything, she'd never let me go. Are you kidding? Her
niñita
? Out there, with all those
cocodrilos
waiting for Isabel Díaz to fall in the canal so they can eat her for lunch? Thank God for Dad, that's all I can say. If it weren't for him, I'd never get to experience college away from home. I'd be stuck, taking classes locally, learning to cook and sew the holes in my brother's underwear on the side, cultivating my domestic skills as a backup career. Because that's what a good
cubanita
does, you know, thinks of nothing but home. Yeah. Okay.

 

Tap
,
tap
.

Always, just as I'm getting ready for bed. “What?”

Tap, tap.
My brother thrives on being annoying. You'd think he was younger than me, not twenty-one.

“What do you want, fool?” CK Eternity wafts in under the closed door. “It's unlocked,” I say.

The door unlatches slowly, and there stands my brother, Mr. Calvin Klein poster boy, dressed to impress. He's wearing something he obviously just brought home, judging from his fashion show stance. Dark pants and a chocolate, long-sleeved, V-neck crew. Nice, if you live anywhere that actually experiences cool weather instead of eternal heat. He smiles devilishly and spins around. “Eh? Awesome, right? Am I ready to party or what?”

“Stefan, you look like a walking billboard. People don't really dress like that here, doofus—”

“Listen to you,” he interrupts. “
People don't really dress like that
. And how would you know? Oh, I forget, you go out so much, you're the Trend Tracker, the Clubhopper. For your info, people do dress like this. And even if they don't,
I
dress like this.” He checks his watch.

“Okay, Enrique Iglesias, what I was going to say is that you're gonna get heatstroke the moment you step into any club. Remember, ninety degrees outside means, like, a hundred and ninety inside.”

“Oh,
la experta
,” he says, faking awe at my knowledge. “Isa, who gives a shit? I'll sweat, it don't matter, 'cause I look good, baby!” He cries with glee, hopping in front of the mirror, smoothing back his dark hair.

He's right. It doesn't matter. Stefan'll get the chicks anyway. He always does. A bit of discomfort is a small price to pay for getting laid.

“Very true,” I say, eyeing the red clearance tag on the back of his pants. $12.99. I hold back a killer laugh. “Nothing's more important than looking sharp. Go get 'em, macho man.”

He smiles big, approving of my change in attitude. “There you go!” Leaning over me in bed, he kisses my forehead. And out he goes to scout, like a shark in a coral reef.

 

In the morning, the usual smells wake me. My mother's kitchen…a virtual alarm clock. After getting dressed in my work uniform of khakis and a bright green polo shirt, I grab my handbook and shove it into my bag. Out to face the day. But first I have to get past Breakfast Security.


Mi vida, un poquito de café con leche,
¿
anda?
” Mom implores when I rush into the kitchen. She holds up a cup of coffee with milk for me. I can see she's also made
tostada
—a flattened, grilled, loaded-with-butter slice of bread. Reading the newspaper while standing at the counter, my father downs his breakfast without a word.

Do I break her heart or take the offering? Today's high is supposed to be around ninety-eight degrees, yet she's holding her mug close to her like a blizzard's blowing outside. I laugh. Too funny. “Mami, do you realize it's too hot for coffee? I'll just take some OJ instead.”

She sighs and tries to hand me the plate with crunchy
tostada
. “
Bueno
, at least eat this,
toma
.” Actually it does smell good.

“Mom, I gotta go. I'll take it with me, okay?” I open the fridge and pour some juice into a travel mug.

“Fine.” She wraps it up in a Wendy's napkin and hands it to me. Only my mother would grab a stack of thirty Wendy's napkins before exiting the restaurant. One can never have enough of those suckers. God forbid she put the toast in a Baggie like everyone else. “Eat it in the car, Isa. Don't eat it at the camp, because you know
como son los cocodrilos
.”

I watch my dad hold back a smile.

“Mami,” I say, turning away from my dad before I start laughing, “the alligators don't just come up to people and grab toast out of their hands. If they did, the park wouldn't allow tourists to walk up to them when they're out of the water.”

She lightly scratches my dad's back, like she's been doing for the last twenty-five years. “
Mi hijita
, listen to your mother.
Los cocodrilos muerden
.”

“They do not bite, Mom. Not for no reason anyway. But the panthers…the panthers like to attack the tour trams when they drive by.” I wink at my dad. He winks back. “I'll call you at lunchtime.”


¿Besito?
” She turns out her cheek, a hundred
tostada
crumbs sprinkled across it, like a two-year-old waiting for a kiss.

Ah, Mami. I laugh.


¿De qué te ríes?
” she asks, unamused by my snickering.

“Nothing! I'm not laughing at you. Bye, Mami.” I kiss her and squeeze her soft hand. It looks more like a teenager's than one belonging to a forty-five-year-old mother of three. “Bye, Daddy.” I kiss him, too, and he grunts in return.


¿De qué te ríes?
” she asks again, her voice following me out to the foyer.

“I'm not laughing at anything. Bye, Mami.
Límpiate aquí
,” I tell her, mock-wiping my cheek.


¡Fresca!
” She says with a huff, finally flinging the crumbs away.

Okay, so my mom and I
do
get along sometimes. She can be funny and goofy and generous, when she's not talking about Cuba. How she can spend so much energy discussing a place that plays human rights like pawns in a game of chess is beyond me. I just don't get it. Outside, I take my red, white, and blue Mickey Mouse ornament off my truck's antenna and
transfer it over to hers. There, that should remind her where she's living. Duh, wait. Cuba's flag has the same colors. Oh, I'll leave it. This one has stars on it.

My house is practically in the Everglades, so it's a short drive to camp in the mornings. No traffic out on Tamiami Trail. Nobody heading to the River of Grass at 7:00
A.M
. Only tourists looking for airboat rides and me in the old Chevy. With the windows down, the aroma of the saw grass, humidity, and morning air whipping my face, I can't help but think that these scents will always remind me of home, no matter where I go, no matter where I end up living years from now.

As I drive up to the camp's main house, I see Susy, my work buddy, waving at me, a giddy look on her face. In the two years I've been working with her, I've learned what that look means. There's fresh meat on campus—a new man.

Behind her I spot him, also wearing the camp's uniform. About twenty maybe, like Susy. Strong legs, tall, watching me as I pull into a parking space. Nice arms! I see the boy takes his vitamins. Jonathan, the camp's assistant (read: wanna-be) director, yaps away with this mystery man, no doubt briefing him on his duties, except Mystery Man half ignores him. Instead his intense gaze follows me, like one of those ghostly busts at the Haunted Mansion at Disney World.

And so begins my final summer at Camp Anhinga. This should be interesting.

BOOK: Cubanita
11.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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