Let’s do the twist
Take me by my little hand
And go like this
– Chubby Checkers
When we arrived on June 15, 1962 we twisted here. We twisted there. We twisted North. We twisted South, West, East, anywhere to find a place to live. There were signs; No Blacks, No Cubans, No Children, No Pets.
When we finally found a place, the few of us who had made it out of the island lived together. We’d sleep on the floors and sofa. Our family consisted of Papi, Mami, Ivonne, Abuela, Tio Galo, Tio Pepe, and me. We stayed living like that until Tio Pepe married Tia Yara. Then we twisted to a brand new duplex in North Miami, an area known as Liberty City.
Our duplex was connected to another Cuban family; A woman with a speech impediment, her husband and two daughters. The woman’s name was Violeta. My sister and I would later be flower girls in the weddings of Violeta’s daughters.
Across from us lived a Puerto Rican family with two girls who were about my sister’s and my age. They went to public school and I had just been enrolled in St. Mary’s Cathedral to start Kindergarten. My sister stayed at home with our grandmother. Tio Galo was finishing Edison High School and was in the band as the baton thrower and the tuba player. Mami worked the factory. Papi had taken off to New York but would magically appear in time for Christmas and Hurricanes.
The Puerto Rican girls had a big color television. We would go to their house to watch Batman and on Saturday mornings we’d head over early to watch cartoons such as Rocky and Bullwinkle, The Flinstones, The Beatles, and The Jetsons.
The girls taught me to eat the bone marrow of fried chicken legs. I have not tried it since but what fun we had until the girl’s father got mad at us once for showing up too early one Saturday morning so we had to stop going over.
Across from the girls lived a boy who was also Cuban and had glasses and board games such as Operation and he even had a Magic Sketch! He was one of the children in Gladys’ school pick-up route. Him and I had briefcases for school. We placed our Crayola box of 64 colors in it; The one that had the little sharpener on the back.
Gladys was Cuban and she made money driving children to and from St. Mary’s with her Station Wagon. My father did not have a car because he was not allowed to drive and besides he was not home most of the time. Tio Galo got a car sometime during that time-frame and I remember riding in the back seat while The Beatles played “I Want To Hold Your Hand”.
I am now twisting to put on the Cuban.
It is a tedious process putting on the Cuban. It is a long entailed detailed meticulous process depending on the occasion. The process changes depending on the Cuban. For my sister it means putting her house in order via Cuban mode by ordering certain delicacies not found locally in the Midwest and preparing family recipes.
I usually put on the Cuban for special occasions such as weddings and funerals. For funerals it usually is a quick process since there is no advance warning. In the case of weddings there usually is a few months of preparation putting on the Cuban.
I am putting on the Cuban this time around because the patriarch of the family is arriving for a week long visit. I took time off from my day job for this occasion.There are certain steps involved when I need to put on the Cuban. For me it entails losing weight gained from living in the Midwest where the butter is less likely to slip off my thighs unlike the frizzed haired girl who lived in the burning sun of Miami. There are also some plastics involved such as coloring my hair, putting on lipstick and maybe buying a new pair of shoes and a few new breezy blouses.
More importantly it involves placing all my ancestors in check starting from the Taino who were the first to greet Columbus in 1492 to the Conquistador who ravaged villages and a great great great grandmother who may have been an African slave whom worked the sugar cane fields and perhaps also an invading Moor off the Iberian coast. And let’s not forget the ancestors who left the rice fields in China for tobacco fields in Camagüey. Let’s include the French, the Galicians, the Canary Islands, and ultimately the Asturianos who begat Menendez.
The Conquistador says to me with his Spanish lisp “son todos idiotas”. “Let me gut them all out for you right now”. The Taino coughs up blood and shows me the smallpox blisters covering his body as his rib cage extends out further and further until there is nothing left of him but bones. My great great grandmother looks at my unbound feet and tells me to run. My other great great grandmother looks at me and tells me “Tuve a tu tataro abuelo en esa finca mientras que los tambores sonaban y despues cantamos y bailamos.” As the villagers in France and Spain are whistling and sweeping the floors about me. One of them is casting a net to sea, another is reciting a poem and yet another is pulling me away as if he were Fred Astaire and I were Ginger Rogers and we dance away from all of it on a shiny yacht off the coast of Havana as the sunset turns into a bloody mess.
It is not easy to keep all my ancestors in check on a normal day. When I put on the Cuban, I have to let them all run free through my veins fighting with each other sleeping all in one room just as we had to do when when we took flight from “la revolucion”.
Putting on the Cuban means growing up with guns laying around dressers and tables in our patriarch’s home because of the family business. Therefore, putting on the Cuban means I have to be comfortable with the knowledge that the fanny-pack is packed.
Putting on the Cuban means I have to give my libido a quick jump start. Lucky the man who may be my partner while I put on the Cuban for all the whorish things he has ever fantasied are about to become true in bed. But only in bed. Putting on the Cuban means I have to be ladylike during the day.
I started working on putting on the Cuban as soon as I found out we were receiving a visit. More importantly than the physical aspects of putting on the Cuban, it is a state of mind. It is what was twisted and instilled in me with the occasional “fuacata!” back of the hand.