4 Things My Cuban Abuela Taught Me
I’m built from fragments of souls of the women before me. The culture and values passed down from Abuela (grandmother) Nana and my mom now live through me. I have a #DearFutureGrandchildren blog on my personal website, where I write letters to my future grandchildren. As a true labor of love, these works whisper the stories and secrets of my female legacy.
Though I was born in the United States, my ancestors were French, Spaniards, and Arabs who migrated to Cuba where my Abuela Nana and mother were born. Their family owned a tobacco plant that was seized when Cuba collapsed under Fidel Castro’s communist regime (which he called La Revolución, “The Revolution”). If Cubans weren't enrolled in the Communist Party, the government seized their businesses and homes. If they did not claim adherence to the party, they weren't eligible for higher education, and all primary and secondary school students were required by law to wear a red bandana representing the Communist party lest they not be allowed past the school gates. Those who adhered to the Communist regime, either by pressure or genuine belief, were mandated to turn in any person who spoke ill of Castro or the Communist Party; those reported were jailed for treason.
Amidst these happenings, my great-grandfather took the family’s bars and chains of gold- the earnings from the tobacco plant- and buried them. Over the course of years, in complete secrecy, my mom’s side of the family sold the gold on the black market to survive and eventually, most members of the family escaped and were exiled in Miami, where we live to this day.
Though they're proud to be Americans, Nana and my mother fight to keep traditional Cuban values alive in us: brothers, sisters, and cousins, as we are the descendants who will carry their memories and build on the foundation they set through toil and sacrifice. In my culture, women are the storytellers. They tell tales from the past and urge us never to depart from instruction; to keep it alive.
These are 4 things my Cuban Abuela taught me:
1. Test, Measure, and Judge- Society frowns upon the word “judgement” but truly, we need discernment to survive. Before fully confiding in others, we must first test their character. Nana reminds us grandchildren of how my grandfather lent money to other men to test their character. If a man paid him back, my grandfather trusted him with more money and shared other resources of his. But if the man broke his promise to pay it back, he had nothing more to do with the man. His displeasure had little to do with the unpaid debt, as my grandfather often gave not truly expecting a payment in return and never gave more he was able to part with; he was more put off by the borrower’s lack of character. It is important to cautiously test a man’s character, measure it, and believe what you see. Make a judgment, and depart from poor character. Which introduces the next point.
2. Learn to say Goodbye- Goodbye is an art. It’s not just departing from someone, but it’s how you depart that matters. Nana mastered the art of the gracious goodbye. She knows when to keep her mouth shut and when to make her opinion known. She taught me that a woman needs to be in control of her emotions. If a woman is not in control of her emotions, someone else is. Our emotions can run rampant, causing us to vomit everything we know, all we are thinking, and each and every play we are planning to make. But, when we reveal too much, we often give our power away. Also, there could be repercussions on ourselves and others that just aren't worth it.
3. Know Your Values and Grow in Them- The women of my culture are strong. We are bred to be wise, cunning, intuitive, and not always “nice,” but unmoving instead. Though I don't always agree with some of my family members’ beliefs, I respect their dedication to values and have disciplined myself to stand with the same fervor. A personal conviction of mine is loyalty. You cannot disrespect my family, friends, or an innocent, defenseless person and expect to have an audience with me. I hand-pick who sits at my table. Those who are worthy will always have a place. Those who destroy my peace will be cast away. We all must set non-negotiables and set a stone to mark the very spot where we refuse to compromise.
4. Stand Tall- Miami wasn't a Hispanic and Latino cultural hub like it is now. Just years ago, when Cubans began to trickle in, our culture was met with great aggression that was mostly due to ignorance and confusion. Some of our customs did not make sense to Americans and they treated Cuban immigrants (who were often more educated and wealthy back in their homeland by comparison) as if they were inferior. My family arrived with a few hundred dollars, not knowing one word of English. My grandfather worked manual jobs, like painting buildings while my Nana cleaned houses. They were often mocked and taken advantage of, but despite their lowly positions, they remained confident. They dressed decently and were always clean and presentable. (If you know anything about Cuban culture, it’s that we are insanely clean!) My grandparents valued education over everything and beamed with pride when all of their 4 daughters graduated from college and are now working professionals.
The women in my family have all stood tall amidst hardship and have shown me that your beginning means nothing, it’s your determination and adherence to personal convictions that drives you to fulfill your purpose in this life. Though the title of this piece is “4 Things my Cuban Abuela Taught Me,” I must acknowledge all of the women I was raised by. I promise our culture and our truth will never die.
by: Carolina Sosa
Instagram: @thehorriblypolite & @horribleincharmeuse