Piece and image by Carolina Gonzlaz.
Goliath ficus trees and blooming bugambilias cascade over the home of the threeGonzalez sisters, my sisters, me. This two-story, eggshell colored residence built in 2000 remained within the small, predominantly white Miami suburb known as Coral Gables. The Cubans who drove around in leased Mercedes, sent their children to St.Theresa Catholic School and achieved some form of The American Dream brought rhythm and life into the cookie cutter neighborhood. My family counted as one of them.
It is of utmost importance to remember that this house, my house, was a house of complete replication. The bulky, brown wooden front doors were carved to mimic those that bordered my abuelos’ home in Havana. A Mediterranean courtyard with walls and cracked columns wrapped in tangled green ivy welcomed guests with open arms. A fountain decorated with Cuban tiles and potted gardenias remained as the main centerpiece of this courtyard. Every detail in the architecture emphasized the ever-present Caribbean vibes. Mami prides herself in the fact that the house on 1521 Alegriano Avenue was almost identical to the one her parents resided in. I call this a hereditary nostalgia.
Versailles stands dramatically on the infamous Cuban street “Calle Ocho”, taking up the entire block between 35th and 36th avenue. Its neon sign continuously drips the words “Cuban Cuisine” onto the rows of Toyotas and Mercedes parked along the cracked curb. Since its foundation in 1971, long after the first wave of the Cuban diaspora, Versailles has endured as a small oasis of political thought and damn good croquetas.
The faux extravagance of Versailles is a detail no visitor can forget. The cheap interior décor makes a semi-noble effort to resemble its French counterpart. The mirrored walls with frosted, pseudo-elegant designs panel the rooms and chandeliers droop from every inch of the ceiling. Tacky green velvet curtains saturated with Cuban cigar smoke and forty-four years of family memories embellish the stained windows. Yet, this interior décor contributes to a funny juxtaposition against the plain metal tables and chairs that fill the dining rooms. Silver coated metal against fading green velvet creates an almost casual atmosphere, where anything can be said.
I sat in one of those flimsy metal chairs, my gaze absorbing the green velvet curtains. Mami took my hand; my blood finally reached a cooling point. Don’t listen to your sister. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like arroz y frijoles. You are the nieta de Rafael Perez and Dalia Morejon. Tu tienes sangre Cubana.
The honored Cuban-American poet Gustavo Perez – Firmat articulated three stages every immigrant group “passes through.”
But there is a phenomenon, more specifically a generation, Perez – Firmat does not mention. This generation goes beyond the three stages.
American born Cubans (ABCs), as some Miami-Cubans may coin it. A combination between both the substitution and destitution era, they are the redefined Cuban-American. ABCs are direct products of their immigrant predecessors. They are reproductions of what may have lived back in the homeland, a manufactured copy. But they are also a prominent figure of the outcome of destitution, a reminder of the generations who have lost their culture and roots so native to the island.
Because of the intertwining of substitution and destitution, ABCs swallow what is fed to them. They become duplicates of their padres and abuelos, unable to create an original identity for themselves. They are stitched together by different pieces of their heritage, only to find out the identity, the body, they inherit is only hereditary. All of their feelings, their memories, their wants and goals were watered down to a hereditary nostalgia, a nostalgia that permeated throughout the Cuban community.
The bottles and bottles of Sunny-D Mami stocked in the fridge of the garage were an ever present image in my childhood. Abuela had to drink Sunny-D, the fake orange juice, because of her illness. Her body unable to break down potassium or sugar due to constant dialysis treatments.
Sugary luxuries such as flan and cafe con leche were only given to her in restricted portions. But sometimes, when abuela and I had Sunday breakfast, I would let her finish off my cafe con leche and Versailles pastelito de guava. As she took each sip, her eyes crinkled and she cooed “mi amor.”
Our giggles never gave us away. Mami thought we were being silly, enjoying the Sunday company. Both of you have the same risa.
Mami never bought Sunny-D again after abuela passed.
Abuela Dalia was queen of everything pure and organic.
Before the revolution, abuela was a beauty pageant queen in Havana. She won the title “The most beautiful woman in Cuba” in her early twenties. Mami would certainly not let me forget that I came from pseudo-royalty. You even look like her. Your smile is exactly like hers.
In America, abuela was an icon of fashion and class. She became a full-time seamstress when the Cuban Revolution forced her family to move to the states. Abuela designed and stitched luxurious dresses for a small boutique in Palm Beach while her husband, abuelo, worked the Fanjul’s sugar cane fields. Abuela’s personal claim to history is that First Lady Jackie Kennedy bought dresses from the Palm Beach boutique and wore them around the White House.
In her final days, abuela lived in the backroom of the house on 1521 Alegriano Avenue. Adjacent to her living area was the center of all action, the family room. It was in that family room where I would jump up and down and swing my hips to Celia Cruz’s booming voice on the speakers. Abuela would then croak my name in her thick accent, because even though she could not see me and my moves, she wanted to hear my broken Spanish and feel my baby-soft hands.
Wherever abuela went, she left a piece of herself. She left a piece of herself in Cuba. She left a piece of herself in her stitchings. She left a piece of herself in me.
I think being named Carolina Gonzalez was enough of a reminder that I was only another gooey, thick copy. At least ten girls at my high school had the name Carolina Gonzalez. At least thirty girls had the first name Carolina. This even followed me all the way to college, where my packages would be mixed up with another Carolina Gonzalez. The only trait that differentiated us was my middle name. My abuela’s name, Dalia.
I started going by Dalia to detach myself from the copies that surrounded my clinical days.
But as the law of conservation of energy dictates: “energy can neither be created nor destroyed.” My identity could not be created or destroyed. I would always simply exist, molding myself into different versions still composed of that same poignant, everlasting energy.
I started taking ballet classes my second semester of my first year at college.
I want to be more elegant and eloquent.
Like a beauty pageant queen.
Abuela always moved with grace and precision, even if I only remembered her in bed.
She adored ballerinas. She chose Degas as her favorite painter, specifically because of his iconic paintings of these poised and sophisticated dancers.
Sometimes, when my schedule allows it, I’ll go to the Met and plop myself in the Degas gallery. I picture myself in those paintings, pirouetting across the dance room floor and landing in first position.
I feel something while gazing at the delicate posture of the ballerinas. A hereditary nostalgia.
My father used to tell my sisters and I this when we had tantrums in the backseat. It was his way of instilling a sense of pride to his snotty, teary-eyed daughters. You are the Gonzalez girls and the Gonzalez girls are strong. They do not cry.
What if we drew on the wall and mami got mad? Gonzalez girls don’t cry. What if Sophia took our Barbie? Gonzalez girls don’t cry.
What if we failed our algebra test? Gonzalez girls don’t cry.
What if Robert doesn’t like us back? Gonzalez girls don’t cry.
What if abuela died? Gonzalez girls don’t cry.
I bleached my hair a sickening yellow.
In the third floor bathroom of Reid, I took a bottle of Manic Panic’s Amplified Flash Lightning Bleach and drenched my hair in the solution. My eyes stung and my scalp screamed. But I didn’t wash it off. I let the bleach strip my hair of its color while it burned every inch of my head.
If I could, I would have bleached my skin until it was raw too. I would have cracked my clavicles. I would have cut off the thick fat from my ass and let it bleed onto the already stained bathroom tile.
Gonzalez girls don’t cry.
I cried on the phone to mami. Why would you ever bleach your hair and ruin what God gave you? You looked just like abuela. Now that beauty is gone. Que malcriada.
That was the point, mami. I am not abuela. I am not pure azucar.