Growing up Cuban in Miami was kind of like growing up Cuban in Cuba — if you were raised in the 1950s. Fidel may have taken their properties, their businesses, and their country, but he would never take their way of life, dammit! Our parents did their best to assimilate to life in the United States by taking with them a whole set of quirky colloquialisms and over-the-top rules. But at least for every totally illogical and senseless maxim, there was a friend right by our side with which to share our parents’ comemierderías. After all, how much sweeter is a galletita con queso crema when you can share it with your girl Yanely?
Because growing up Cuban in Miami was probably way better than growing up Cuban in Castro’s Cuba, we Cubans have to hold our freak flags high. Holler if you grew up Cuban in the 305 and know these things to be impossibly real:
The hairy knee
It was hard enough getting your mom to let you shave your legs, and the day you opened that first Gillette, you felt as if you were finally getting a fair chance at life. But suddenly and without warning, in she came to demonstrate how decent Cuban girls shave: everything above the knee is off-limits, leaving your tanned calves silky-smooth and your knees and thighs shaggy and untouched, like some kind of ugly sweater you had to throw on over your rolled-up uniform skirt so Sister Catherine wouldn't see your nalgas. Shaving was no longer your entrance into womanhood, but a big, glaring stop sign for your novio — if he was fresh enough to venture that way, he would be met with a wooly surprise.
We’ve all been threatened by it — the dreaded chancleta, the one that would come flying off your mom’s foot and into her hand every time you started to cause even a modicum of trouble. Few household items wielded the terror of a brandished chancleta, even the cheap kind your mom bought at Sedano’s for cleaning the house. We don't know about you, but we never met the wrath of the dreaded chancleta — the mere idea of the possibility was enough to make us stop whatever mariconería we were up to and go hide in our room.
Your grandparents always thought they would return to Cuba to claim what was rightfully theirs, but in the meantime, there was no reason not to celebrate this weird American holiday — after all, Cubans were kind of like the pilgrims too, right? But celebrating Sanksgiving would never be the same for you as it was for your gringo friends at school. Who needs mashed potatoes, marshmallow yams, and stuffing when you can have arroz con frijoles, garlic yuca, and some congrí?
You remember it like it was yesterday: You were finally asked to the movies by that supercute muchachito in math class, and you instantly began picturing yourself wearing your Nautica jacket while walking hand-in-hand with him down Main Street and making all your friends jealous. But no so fast, your mom said — there was no way you would be going without a chaperona. If you were lucky, Mom sent you and your sister to meet your enamorado at the movies, but those who met a much more embarrassing fate had to sit side-by-side with Mom, ensuring there wouldn't be so much as a hand-hold during a screening of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Hell, you should be thankful she let you watch a PG-13 flick when you were barely 12 — because after all, the chaperona rule did continue well into your early 20s.
Baby fat that lingered through middle school
In the 1990s in Cuba, food was scarce and people were hungry. But in the 1990s in the 305, you were being force-fed galletitas con guayaba y queso crema, pan cubano, and croquetas by your grandma as though the food shortage in Cuba was just as real up here. Food wasn’t for wasting, your abuela said, and you weren’t exactly swatting her away when she kept feeding you even though you were full. Who were you to say no to the buttery, flaky goodness of a pastelito, washed down with the rich, frothy foam of a café con leche? Sure, that bitch in your PE class called you thunder thighs, but you had something she never would — the comfort of knowing that when your abuela came to pick you up that afternoon, she would have a hot, 12-foot-long loaf of Cuban bread, and you would be stifling your sorrows in all of it.
Calabaza, calabaza, cada uno pa’ su casa. What the !@#$ does a pumpkin have to do with the fact that all of your americana friends are sleeping over your friend Gina’s house, and you’re the ONLY one who's not allowed to go? Sleepovers for Cuban kids were off-limits unless it was your primo’s house. There’s no telling what could have happened if you were finally allowed to stay over your BFF's house — even though your mom and her mom have been comiendo mierda since you guys were toddlers, Cubans don’t know ANYONE well enough to let their kids stay overnight.
The volume of your voice
The first time your gringa friend at college grimaced and accused you of talking too loudly, you wondered what the hell her problem was and mentally accused her of being a tad racist. But then you realized your voice stood out above the masses at the grocery store, the after-work happy hour, and the chaos of the band you were seeing at Churchill’s, and still you felt no shame. How else were you supposed to be heard at the dinner table if everyone else around you was screaming? Cuban volume has gotten you in trouble with a novio or two — they always think you’re screaming at them when you’re just trying to get your point across, bro. Just remember: Cubans scream because they hear at a different volume. We’re all basically deaf from years of blasting our eardrums with the high-decibel loudness of our abuela offering us some more rice and beans.
For some reason I need to put on a sweater because there’s a monkey somewhere that’s whistling, the ocean looks so good right now it’s practically a plate, and I’m not sure why it’s relevant to my life that Lola was buried at 3 p.m., but these truths are ingrained in me like my hatred for Fidel Castro. Cubans love to come up with weird sayings to make sense of their everyday lives — or in some instances, simply to have a chuckle about something that really has no bearing on anything. Call that playfulness a symptom of being in the sunshine all day.
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At every family gathering, you hear stories of how your grandfather, every one of your uncles, and all of their friends at some point came very close to executing a plan to kill Fidel. In fact, your grandpa and his cronies still get together every afternoon to drink coladas and talk about their revenge. They call themselves “la peña” and spend hours discussing their unexecuted plans to overthrow Castro, which they were very close to doing but decided to leave instead of risk certain death. Reliving these glory days is just a part of your life, but it never stops being ridiculous and pretty badass.
Why haven’t we left yet?
We’ve said goodbye like four times now, and we’ve been standing by the door for more than 15 minutes. You have school tomorrow and your mom knows that, but she just launched a whole new conversation about the chisme she overhead from her friend Lourdes about Elena and her rocky marriage. Cuban time is like an invisible force that prevents you from walking out the door when you say you will, and it works both ways — you arrive late, you leave late, and everyone in your circle has come to expect it of you and realize it's not your fault. You’re just Cuban, bro — wear it proudly.
Nicole loves talking about Cuba. For more crazy Cuban antics, follow her on Twitter.