I was born and raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan. You know, that little town that was featured in a song back in 1942. It was written and performed by Glenn Miller and his orchestra. Here’s a great Youtube clip of it:
Where was I? Ah, yes, Kalamazoo. I was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, about 40 years ago. It’s a wonderful little town. It was even voted one of the best places to raise your child back in 2011. I have always liked Kalamazoo, and not only for the fun things to do in town, but for the people that live here. However, I’ve always been so conflicted.
I am 2nd generation Cuban-American. My parents came from Cuba and emigrated here over 45 years ago. Funny story, that one. They came separately, from different ends of the island, and both settled in Kalamazoo. My mother worked as an au pair for a local family, helping to raise their two children. My father left the island with his then-wife and their six children. As you’ve probably figured out, that marriage didn’t last the trip from Cuba to a strange land, with its strange customs and predominately Dutch heritage.
My father came from The Isle of Pines (La Isla de Pinos, now called Isla de la Juventud) which is located off the western end of the island. My mother is from Manzanillo, Holguin, which is on the eastern end of the island.
Somehow, through serendipity or maybe it was just a couple of nosy, match-making friends, my parents met in Kalamazoo, Michigan and married. Through their union, they produced myself and my brother. We rounded out the already large family of six children and two adults, to an even eight. (My oldest brother was back in Cuba and did not come to the United States until he was in his 40’s.)
What does that have to do with the 4th of July, Lisa?
Well, the 4th of July is a celebration of the independence of our nation. The United States of America. However, as an American with a heritage rooted in both the U.S. and in Cuba, it has been difficult to reconcile the love I have for both countries. Cuba, a country that I’ve only visited once in my life, but which holds so much culture, heritage, and family for me. The U.S. of A., the country of my birth, that reluctantly accepted my family and that Cuban heritage, and which, to this day, holds animosity for someone such as myself. Animosity which is evident in the attitudes and treatment towards the young children that are escaping their native countries and crossing the border to find freedom, and hopefully, new lives.
Now, not to say that my situation was the same as what those kids are going through, because it wasn’t. What I’m alluding to is the fact that, growing up a bi-racial Latina in a predominantly white, protestant area of the Midwest, I didn’t always feel very accepted, which, in turn, affects how I view my country, in general. Now, I have a sibling who joined the Marines, and nephews who are currently serving in both the Army and the Navy. I think that the lack of melanin in their skin, however, has had an effect on how they are perceived and treated, which also affects how patriotic they feel towards the good ole U.S. of A.
It is difficult, in my opinion, to feel a high degree of love and patriotism for a country that makes immigrants and their children feel unwelcome. Thus, my detachment when it comes to celebrating the 4th of July. For me, it comes and goes as any other day, just a little bit louder than normal. Sometimes, I decide to barbecue. This year, I worked. Don’t get me wrong, however. I am heartily thankful that my parents were able to come to this country and escape the oppression of the Castro regime, which allowed me the opportunity to live in freedom, but, it is not an easy freedom that I have been privilege to. It has been a freedom laden with racism, lack of opportunity, criticism, prejudice, and sometimes, outright hatred. Is that better than the life my family in Cuba has had to endure? Most likely. But, my experience is uniquely my own, and I cannot say whether I would have been happier or better off, if my parents had birthed me in Cuba. I can only say that, although I am thankful for the opportunity to have been born an American, I feel detached from what that even means.
Thanks for reading,