It was the best of times…okay, who am I kidding?
I present to you a Tale of Two Cubans and how our lives diverged.
I was born in Michigan, to Cuban immigrants who came to this country over 40 years ago. They met in Michigan (go figure) and after some upheaval in their own lives, came together as a couple to raise my father’s seven children and have two more, my brother and I. I was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan and spent most of my childhood here. I attended a good Christian school, went to church twice every Sunday, not to mention Catechism every week, and Youth Group every Wednesday night, and even attending a Methodist church (because it was in Spanish) every Sunday afternoon, after morning church.
I left home for good when I turned 17 years old; I was pregnant and getting married. I left Michigan when I turned 19, as the marriage was on the rocks and I hated being in the place where so much betrayal had occurred. But, that’s a different story.
Throughout the years, after moving to Florida, I continued to attempt to lean on my parents, to help me get ahead. Very rarely, if ever, did I get concrete assistance from them. The excuses were always the same “we are too old to watch your kids” (they were in their 60’s), “we have no money” (they are retired, living off of pensions and social security), “we have no time” (they cleaned houses in their spare time, when they weren’t running off to Miami to visit family or going to church). What does this matter? Well, it doesn’t, not really. Hell, I grew up with all the advantages of being in the United States, right? All the opportunity that a mixed-race Latina mother could scrounge together on her own, after getting a Class A education at a private school. Which, I hate to say, isn’t much opportunity. I had too many strikes against me: bi-racial, Cuban, a woman, not to mention, a single, divorced mother.
But, even with all that adversity staring me square in the face, I managed to work long hours and even moved up into a prominent position at the company I worked for. I sacrificed a lot to get there, however. I worked ridiculously long hours, neglecting my children in small ways (missing their first steps and first words, because they were in daycare. Not being able to help with homework, because I was on my computer, running reports and managing servers from my home computer), but we had a roof over our heads, food on the table, and my children always were dressed decently. They lacked for nothing – well, nothing but a mother’s time and attention. I gave up trying to get any assistance from my parents many years ago, because they were obviously not willing to help me out. They hadn’t really helped any of their other children, why would I be different? So, I struggled. I made my own decisions for me and my children, which weren’t always the best ones. I depended on myself and learned to ignore anything my parents had to say – what could they say?
Where did that leave me? I’ve had some awesome Ups and some serious Downs. I’ve had lots of money, I’ve had no money. But, the worst part of it all was not that my parents wouldn’t help me – hell, it’s my life, I have to live it my way, right? No, the worst part was that I never felt as though I had “support”. This concept of support, from family and friends, is so important. It’s not the monetary support that is important, but the realization that you have someone who you can talk to, who will listen, who will, if not dip into their own pocket to help you, at least point you in a good direction where you can find any assistance that you need. I didn’t get that from my parents. I’m not sure if that was due to my being their youngest child, or if it was because I was a girl (in their minds, the only thing I really needed was to find “a good man” to “take care of me” and then I wouldn’t have to worry about anything) and goodness knows, girls can’t do anything on their own! (Yes, that is heavily laden sarcasm coming at you through this computer screen!)
So, here I am. Currently unemployed, but of my own choosing. I finished my Psychology degree in December, 2014 and am proud of myself for having stuck with the studying to accomplish this goal. I had worked for a company that treats children with autism, but left that employer due to administrative issues. I’ve reached that point in my life where overworking your employees does not set well with me, and I’m unwilling to compromise on my time – especially after what I went through when my children were young. Now that I’m a grandmother, I do not want to lose that precious time with her as she grows and learns new things (particularly how she came into this world). But, that is yet another story.
Now, my cousin, the other Cuban, has only been in this country for a little over a year. He escaped Cuba last year by traveling to Ecuador and then procuring a “coyote” to take him all the way across the US – Mexico border. Say what you will about undocumented people, anyone who does that shit has BALLS. Period. Whether they come from South/Central America or the Caribbean. It is a harrowing journey that not everyone has the courage to undertake, and one day, I will tell you his full story. But, I digress….
So, my cousin hopped a bus from Texas and traveled to Florida to live with my parents. During his stay with them, they provided him with a bed and food, they bought him clothes, they helped him get his paperwork in order. I even gave him the van I had left with my parents, so he would have a means of transportation. In the course of a year, this man has managed to obtain his CDL license (he had experience in this working in Cuba), worked for a trucking company almost continuously (returning home only once every 20 days or so), and saved over $18,000 to purchase his own semi. Which he now has. I don’t even know how much he has saved in total, but I know he is doing much better than I am (by far).
What is the point I am trying to make?
Peter Steiner – The New Yorker
Here you have a tale of one Cuban that was born and raised in this country, with all the opportunity it has to offer. And another who was born and raised in Cuba, where there is no opportunity for advancement, much less opportunity to have regular food, clean water, etc. Yet, thanks to support from my parents, he has managed to surpass me in the “American Dream”. To the point where he is starting his own company. Do not misunderstand me, I am not envious of my cousin. I only want to point out how our environments and the supports available have shaped our present lives. How being a male determines how others will approach and attend to you. How other people’s perception of you, can have an affect on the decisions you make and can have far reaching effects into your future.
I can only speculate on what my life would have been like if I’d been born in Cuba. What my life would have been like if I’d been born a boy. What my life would have been like if I’d received more familial support from all my family – parents and siblings – rather than being shunned. What my life would have been like if I’d never had three children. What my life would have been like if I’d never married, but had gone straight into college. I could sit here and do this all day. “What if” my life to death. But, I won’t.
I just wanted to present you a story of two people, who were raised with similar culture, but in different environments, and how that environment shaped our lives.