Monday, April 16, 2012

No Island is an Island ~ Chapter 17: Rapido Corren Los Carros Cargados de Azucar...

So there I was, on the bay, in this country of no spaghetti, where cats roam free.  The pizza arrives - we all ordered pizza - and my Mom has to get up for a minute.

My translator is gone. Here it is, the moment my Spanish teacher warned me about. 

I'm in Cuba, alone. Time to Speak Spanish.

In the pizza chewing silence, after a sip of wine (did I mention the wine glasses are tiny like thimbles? have they always been so small or is this another manifestation of communism?) I offer up to the table the tongue twisters my Spanish teacher made us learn, rolling each "rrr" a little more than I probably needed to...
R con R cigarro, R con R barril, rápido corren los carros cargados de azúcar al ferrocarril.
They nod and laugh, so I give them more.
Tres tristes tigres comían trigo en un trigal
Nods, nods, a little laughter. 

There is a loud blonde American at the table, telling them tongue twisters, what else could they do but eat their pizza and nod? 

 Mom rejoins us at the table and everyone exhales visibly. We can talk again. 

But I'm not done. I blurt "I have one more!'  in English then give them my best rendition of: 

Pancha plancha con cuatro planchas 
¿Con cuántas planchas plancha Pancha?

Machete leans back and crosses his arms, then half asks, half proclaims to me, in Spanish, but I understand perfectly, "Why in the world are you talking like a little girl?" 

He is right. My Spanish is "talk to my Abuela" Spanish, not "write a blog Spanish" or "ask for directions and understand them Spanish." Somehow I am able to explain that to him, in Spanish, and he seems to understand and forgive me. 

To show there's more to me than some tongue twisters, I break into song, "Guantanamera" with verses from Jose Marti.  My Mom has had enough and waves my nonsense away. 

I tell them I know more about Marti than that song, that I know his warning about the monster.

My friend with the cars on his tie nods. Jose Marti warned Cubans not to let the US help Cuba become independent from Spain because then the US might never leave. 

Marti knew this because he had "inside the monster" and knew "its entails." In other words, like many Cuba-loving Cubans, Marti spent most of his life OUTSIDE Cuba, notably in the US, who he refers to as the monster. 

I didn't mention this, I didn't mention that I thought and still think that if Jose Marti had lived, he too -- and maybe his kids and grandchildren -- would have ended up in Florida, stranded from a Cuba they knew they should love, if only they could understand her. 

I explain to them that my graduate work was studying Cuban refugees, exiles, immigrants, who went where, what they did, all that stuff. 

Honestly, I don't know what people in Cuba are taught about human geography in general, and I don't know how much they know about how Cuban immigrants have really fared in the US since 1959, so I lay it out for them, like I would (and I do) for my students. 

Thankfully Mom was there so I could say this all in English, two sentences at a time, pausing, waiting for translation, understanding, nods, continuing.

The 1959 Cuban Revolution, the "true" Revolution, definitely had an anti-US, very nationalistic part to it.  And in the Cold War context, the Soviets stepped in and literally bought up Cuba's sugar and kept her economy afloat. The Soviets didn't want Cuba for her sugar; they wanted her for her proximity to the US.

So when Cuba cozied up the Soviets, many people displaced by the growing violence and economic earthquake fled to the US, most expecting it would be just a short trip, just until things settle down. 

The US welcomed Cuban refugees not only because they brought connections and Human Capital with them, but also because "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" - every person who leaves Cuba votes against communism. 

Cuban refugees weren't just people leaving specific conditions in Cuba, they were leaving the global pandemic of communism. A much bigger deal. Get it?

They got it. I don't sound like a little girl any more. 

The pizza dishes are cleared, more drinks come, no one is any hurry to anywhere, so class continues. 

My dissertation is on Cuban Bankers, I explain. Imagine this. One day they are working in Havana at a US bank.  The next year they are working at that bank in New York or later in Miami, in charge of Latin American accounts. What an asset, right? The Cuban refugees win, the American companies win. 

The eyes at the table are huge. I take it as a cue to continue.

So Cuban refugees and exiles, in Miami for example, still knew each other and for example, if someone from Cienfuegos ran a great restaurant here and is in Miami and wants to open a restaurant, he could go to someone he knew and actually get that money. These handshake based "character loans" lead to the establishment of Cuban-owned, Cuban-serving businesses. And a big part of America is immigrants helping other immigrants. 

The nods at the table told me to continue, so I did, after we ordered another thimble of wine.