Saturday, August 19, 2017

Father's Day: Santo Domingo

(From 2013)

When I was growing up in South Florida in the 1970s, if you had asked me where my family was from I'm pretty sure I would have said that we were from New Orleans. 

That's where my parents met and married, that's where my brother and I were born; that's where most of my cousins and aunts and grandparents lived.

In the 1980s, after countless weekends in Miami visiting Cuban relatives (and sometimes leaving Mom and Abuela to visit relatives while Dad took us to Monkey Jungle and Parrot Jungle and Vizcaya)  I would have added that I was Cuban, but I wasn't sure what that meant yet.

My Dad, if he were in earshot and I only mentioned being Cuban, would have reminded me "And you're FRENCH. And IRISH. You have two sides, dammit."

I heard him, but it didn't sink in.

Dad stood back and watched me write my final Master's paper on Cuban immigrants and a dissertation on Cuban-American bankers all the while biting his tongue.

Or maybe he did say something, maybe he mentioned it alot. Probably I didn't listen too hard. I do that sometimes.

Then a few years (months?) ago he sent me an email full of his family history with the title line "This is your island" and attached some papers a family member had scanned that appeared to be a land grant from  the King of Spain to the Santo Domingo family, who then moved to the island of Hispanola and lived in Santo Domingo.

 The family prospered under French and Spanish colonial rule on the island, but as the ideas liberty, equality and Republic and the successes of American and French Revolutions  travelled on boats and by word and in books and in sermons from  through the world, causing an uprising of slaves on the island.

The Santo Domingo family left (translate: FLED) their (namesake?) hometown for Cuba, where they had a son who would be pulled by the lure of the booming Mississippi basin Cuba and join the Creole community in Jefferson Parrish, Louisiana.

From there my Dad's family tree took root in a couple of places in in Louisiana,  and over the next 150 years became an urban braid of Creoles, Irish, and an Italian orphan named Achille Soldani who came to rural  Louisiana on an orphan train and was adopted by a young French couple who didn't change his name.

My parents are hopeless romantics who became engaged on their first date and have been together since.  They always say they would have met somehow, somewhere. 

  Seriously, my stomach hurts when they do that, get all mushy and talk about how they can't stand to be away from each other. I don't get it. I appreciate, I definitely benefit from it, but I think if I ever set off on life to look for someone to complete me like they complete each other, I might have forgotten to apply to grad school. 

But then again, I think maybe they are right.

After all, pieces of  his Santo Domingo-exiled family were in New Orleans and in Cuba when New Orleans sugar planters started Cienfuegos.  The cities are tied by history and blood. The entire Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico are tied the same way, 

I'm not sure if it's been too long or if my father and I  can travel back to Santo Domingo, now, and use my super historian detective powers  find a piece of him and me and us waiting there.  

Maybe we will.  If we do, I promise you that he and I expect the food to be a little better than it was in Cuba.

Happy Father's Day*