Category Archives: Being Cuban

Getting Hooked Up

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A Cuban musician friend had asked me how my timbales playing was going. I told him about meeting Ramoncito Ramos and that he’d offered to teach me if I didn’t live so far south. My friend proceeded to call over his band mate, a timbales player. He said the guy was a fantastic musician and asked if he would be willing to show me some things. The guy asked who I had been learning from and admitted that I didn’t have the best teacher. He agreed to teach me what he could and gave me his number and told me what days were good for him.

My Friend: Kikita, you know I love you and I just want you to succeed and be happy. You are amazing and I am so glad to know you. Just don’t forget me when you’re famous.

I was speechless. I was overwhelmed by the awesomeness of the moment.

I had confessed to this friend that I had the beginnings of a crush on one of the newer additions to our group. We are pretty close so I’ve confessed more than just new crushes to this friend. We have real talks about hopes and fears and everything in between. I had mentioned to him on more than one occasion that I was starting to worry about getting older and being nowhere near getting married and having a family. He has two sons that are the light of his life, but he admits that he wishes he wasn’t that far along yet and that I should enjoy my freedom and singlehood.

Later, I was basking in the sound of our little group of friends talking (because, is there anything better than the sound of Cuban men conversating? No, I don’t think so.) when my crush asked how many kids my friend had…

My Friend: I have two boys. They are trouble makers, but amazing and I adore them. What about you? Do you have kids?
My Crush: No, not yet. Hopefully, one day…
My Friend: No? You know, Kikita here doesn’t have any kids either, but she’d make a great mom. You two would have beautiful kids together.

I’m not sure which was worse, that he said it, or that the rest of our circle agreed with him so vocally.

I had no idea my dreams meant so much to my friend.

Acting Like an Americana

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Remember my friend, El Loco, from Vegas?

El Loco: Oye, Kikita! How are you, mi hermanita?

Me: Great, thanks! It’s been a while…

El Loco: I know! Things have been super crazy. Oye, hermanita, I know you are playing timbales now and I know you have your teacher, but I want to do something special for you. I want you to learn from the best and I know the guy who plays for [a local L.A. band] and he plays everything and is very good and lives close to you so he could teach you, but I don’t know if you want to because you have your teacher.

Me: Wow. I… I mean… That would be awesome.

El Loco: So, I don’t know what you want but if you want… Or what?

Me: No! That sounds great! How do we do it? How much does he cost?

El Loco: I’m sorry. If you’re busy and you don’t want to talk, it’s ok. I can talk to you later. Kikita, why are you talking to me like an Americana?

I retracted the question and we proceeded to talk about other things and I redeemed myself. The beginning of the conversation had been mostly in English, but we eventually switched to Spanish. I was already having a hard time hearing him and he was super excited and talking fast and…. let’s just say I’m not really sure what he said but I think it was something like this…

El Loco: So, you know I’ve been doing the quinceñera for my daughter, right? And it’s been getting really expensive and everything so I was talking to my mom and she’s going to help me out and it’s going to be easier if we do it there so KIKITA YOU ARE INVITED TO IT!! AUGUST 26TH!! IT WILL BE MY FIRST TIME BACK IN MY HOME TOWN SINCE I LEFT CUBA!!

Me: Seriously?

El Loco: CLAROOOOOOOOOO!!! OF COURSE! IT WOULDN’T BE THE SAME WITHOUT YOU THERE? WILL YOU COME, HERMANA?

Me: Of course! I’d love to!

(The Americana in me wanted to ask if I had to buy my own ticket to Cuba and how long we’d be gone, but she had learned her lesson.)

He’ll be in town for the Cuban Independence Day party at Steven’s Steakhouse next Friday. I plan to get answers to all of my Americana questions then.

“Down with Communism”

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“Abajo comunismo”

That’s all he said.

For that he was beaten and hauled away.

The part that breaks my heart the most is, “No one paid me anything!”

How brave.

And how heartbreaking that the Pope is there while such injustice is going on.

THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE!!

Independence and Cuban Churros

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O.D. Churroman was my source for churros on this side of the continental United States.

Mami is capable of making churros, but I have failed to get her to make them for me.

Last weekend it was so cold you could see your breath. It wasn’t until Mami was already over (to watch our show) that we thought about churros.

It has been cold and raining all day. I asked Mami is she would be coming over to watch our show and would she like to make churros together? It was just too cold and rainy for her. The show would just have to wait… as would the churros.

That was when I decided it was time to stop waiting for someone else. It was time for me to make my own churros.

So I did.

I took 1 cup of flour.
I added 1 cup of water. (Because I’m a lactard and didn’t have any milk in the house… not even Lactaid, otherwise I’d use 1/2 a cup of water and 1/2 a cup of milk)
I added a bit of salt. (Because I forgot about softening the butter and didn’t feel like waiting)
I remembered that O.D. Churroman added anise to his churros, so I added some anise.
Abuela had already told me where to find her “churrera” so I pulled it out, heated the oil and fried away!

I made my own churros cubanos.
I did it without O.D. Churroman.
I did it without Mami.
I am an independent woman.

Lagrimas Negras

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Coming back from Miami is never easy for me.
When I’m there, I feel like I’m at home.
When I’m in CA, I feel like a fish out of water.

Knowing this about myself, I made sure to hit the ground running. I had plans just about every night after I landed.
First night back: Date with hot Cuban (who shall henceforth be referred to as Hank Bacardi)
Second night back: rehearsal for my upcoming timbales recital (!) followed by a meal at a nearby Cuban restaurant

(Are you seeing the trend?)

Third day back: finalizing weekend plans
Fourth day back: enjoying left-over Cuban food, café, and sunshine in the morning; enjoying a fabulous Cuban (Cuban leaves grown in Nicaragua) cigar with a good friend; more Cuban food; and then dancing with Hank Bacardi. (Unfortunately, Hank Bacardi was otherwise detained and didn’t make it. My cousins who were to join us also couldn’t make it which lead to me being totally bummed out, but refusing to give in to the disappointment because I’d had such wonderful day.)

Fifth day back: Horseback riding and finishing a good book.

The problem with finishing a good book is that then it is over. It’s like saying goodbye to good friends.
I loved the book, but finishing it made me sad. It made me miss O.D. Churroman because he was the one who first got me into it. It made me miss Kaima because I knew he would have enjoyed it.

Slowly, but surely, missing Miami was catching up with me.

I had invited very few people to my timbales recital and, over the course of the week, most of them apologized and said they couldn’t make it.

The night before my performance I had the worst rehearsal of my life. I couldn’t keep a steady tempo. My teacher looked at me in shock and wondered what had happened to his amazing student. The whole band was super supportive and attributed my issues to pre-show jitters and offered words of wisdom on how I didn’t need to worry and how great it would be.

I knew it wasn’t that. I have no problem performing.
But not being able to shake it off and play the way I wanted too was only compounding the problem.

It finally became too much for me and I needed a release.

What I probably needed was a good cry, but I can’t cry on command and watching some movie to make me cry felt a bit too contrived.

With such a long day to follow, the last thing I wanted was to be hung-over so drinking was out of the question.

Not really sure what else to do, I reached out to a certain Yellow Shirted Conundrum: I either need a good cry or a good … *ahem*  So, what are you doing? Want to help me cry?

Being the gentlemen that he is, he responded in such a way as to bring a smile to my face.

It took enough of the edge off that I pushed through and had a fabulous recital.
I messed up, but not too horribly and was able to recover.
I was definitely on a high afterwards and went out.
And after I went out, I went dancing.
It was one of those magical nights where I didn’t stop dancing and every dance was a good one.
It seemed I had staved off the tears.
The magic had taken away the need to cry.

The next morning I was reading and enjoying breakfast when I got a message from Kaima: I miss you too.

The dam broke before I realized what had happened.

I told him about how great my playing had been and that I rocked.
Kaima: Of course you rock.
And then he was off to bed and “Have a super day, goldilocks.”

The tears would not stop after that and my mascara caused them to be black tears.
Lagrimas negras.

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“Aunque tú me has dejado en el abandono
aunque ya han muerto todas mis ilusiones,
en vez de maldecirte con justo encono
en mis sueños te colmo de bendiciones.
Sufro la inmensa pena de tu extravío
siento el dolor profundo de tu partida
y lloro sin que sepas que el llanto mío
tiene lágrimas negras”

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My Prima

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When I was much younger, a cousin came from New York to visit.
I thought she was the coolest.
She had this amazing style. Somehow she could wear black and not look like some gothic anything.
This was pre-Matrix, but she didn’t look like she came from there.
When I grew up, I wanted to be her.
I became enamored of all things New York and fell in love with the color black.

As I grew older I found my own style, but always held a special place in my heart for that mysterious cousin in black.
Eventually, she became a distant memory that came flying forward during one of my trips to Miami.
She and I met for breakfast at Versailles on Calle Ocho and spent the day together.
She was still so New York.
She was exactly the way I remembered her.
I still thought she was super cool.

When I was in Miami preparing for my trip to Cuba, she was there for me asking about what hopes and expectations I had for my trip.
When I came back, she was there to ask how it went.

When I wanted to move there, it would have been to her house.
(If I can find a way to move there in the next few years, it will be to her house first while looking for a place of my own.)

On this latest trip, it was her house I stayed in.
She went out of her way to make me feel comfortable and welcome and at home.
And I so did.

She gave me so much more than a place to sleep in between my many Miami adventures, she gave me her time and her energy and her ears.

She has this line she says (with all the excitement you can imagine) that I just love: I am going to say nothing and you tell me everything! 

She is super thoughtful and aware and gives so much of herself I was overwhelmed by how loved I felt.

She took me to breakfast (at Versailles on Calle 8, of course) and we talked.
She took me shopping to be sure I would have my café in the mornings when she wasn’t there.
She took me to the beach and we talked.

Not just any beach, either.  She took me to “El Farito” (The Lighthouse) on Key Biscayne which is “a classic Cuban beach” because she understood how much I love doing Cuban things.

We talked A LOT. About everything. She asked me HOW I could POSSIBLY read at the beach when I was surrounded by such beauty?
She asked what it was like for me in California.
She asked if I wanted to go to South Beach.
She shared her life experiences with me.

She is fiercely Cuban and fiercely American and fiercely New York and … well, she’s fierce.
She still wears black. In Miami.
I love that she has maintained her New York cool in one of the hottest cities in the continental U.S.

There were moments when she made me want to cry because she recalled something I had said years before and asked me how I felt about it now. Deep things and how had they changed for better or worse?

She listened.

Sometimes she didn’t agree with something I said, but it didn’t matter because I knew she was still hearing me.

I didn’t realize what a rare thing that was for me until I was presented with it.

She worked hard to ensure that my trip was everything I had hoped it would be.
There were moments where it was almost difficult for me to receive such an outpouring of “What do you want? I’ll try to make it happen.” Not that she ever uttered those exact words, but there were moments that I would just be sharing my reflections on one experience or another and, like magic, she could see past the thought into some deep desire I had and would try to make it happen for me. I can’t even explain it. Sometimes she could see what I wanted even better than I could.

She was telling me about a place that had “Cuban Sushi” and my face must have lit up because later she asked if I would like to go there and when we tried to go and the place was closed, she found another place with “Cuban-inspired Maki” and we went there instead. While we were there, I asked what Sake tasted like because I’d never had it. She described it to me, but then ordered some for us to share so that I could try it. It was such a small thing, and yet it was huge.

She had never been to Carnaval on The Mile and was happy to join me for part of it.
She felt comfortable enough to leave me enjoying a band while she went to check out a few different vendors (including her landlord who makes jewelry and had a booth there). She patiently sat on a bench while I danced to my heart’s content to the band I had flown across the country to see (Conjunto Progreso).

I find her incredibly inspiring. She is amazing in ways that I can only hope to be.
She is genuine and sweet and beyond intelligent.
I consider myself lucky to be related to her.

I had plenty of other magical experiences on my trip, but if all I had done was spent the few days I did with my Prima then I would have considered it a wonderful trip.

Churros con Chocolate

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Since the sudden absence O.D. Churroman last September, I have been without a source for Cuban churros.

Luckily, I had plans to go to Miami and friends who could appreciate how difficult life could be in the Churro Desert that is commonly referred to as Southern California. Being true friends, they picked me up from the airport and immediately took me to Morro Castle in Hialeah.

While they made mention that it was “too hot for churros”, they understood that a bit of Miami heat was not going to keep me from getting my fix.

They DID, however, insist that I eat something before having churros.

The “something” I chose was a “frita cubana” because I’d never had one. It’s kind of like a hamburger, but the meat is mixed with chorizo and then there is grilled onions and little french fries. Yes, it was rad.

After a couple of fritas (washed down with an Ironbeer, of course), it was time for the churros and hot chocolate.
Thiiiiiiick hot chocolate.
Gloriously fresh and hot churros.

There really is not much more a girl can ask for in life.

It was the best beginning to any trip.

Of course, there was a surprise stalker visitor, who ended up charming his way into the arms of the waitress, but I couldn’t have cared less what he did. I was happy dunking and munching on my churros (“choo-rrrohsnotchir-ohs“).

I am loathe to admit this, but I finally understand the “it’s too hot for churros” phenomena. Although, I think the statement SHOULD be: “It’s too hot for churros con chocolate” because the real issue is the hot chocolate, not the churros.

How can I be so sure?
Because the churros I got from the Churro Mania truck while at Carnaval on the Mile in the heat of Miami were absolutely perfect and satisfying in all their hot and freshness.

(Yes, of course I shared. Cuban Churros are not really meant to be enjoyed alone. They sell them in counts of 15 and 20. The big, thick, stuffed ones are a different story. I haven’t actually tried one of THOSE … yet.)

Only in Miami*…
*sigh*

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*It has recently come to my attention that there is a Venezuelan place in Santa Monica proclaiming to have Cuban churros, but I would expect you to understand why I might be a bit leery. (Of course, since it is the only place I’ve heard of anywhere close to me, I will have to try it and see how well they compare to Morro Castle in Hialeah and the Churro Mania Food Truck.)

Dodger Stadium

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On Monday night, I had way too much energy and thought it would be great to go dancing, but couldn’t think of where to go on a Monday night so I went for a walk instead. Well, a walk interspersed with running so I was a hot and sweaty mess by the time I was finished.

Just as I was getting home, my phone rang, “Oye, Cuquita [koo-kee-tah: little paper doll]!! Que bola?!? What are you doing tonight, baby? I just got into town! Let’s go to Floridita!

Damn it. Of course. I had forgotten the best place to go on a Monday night for dancing.
Plus, I hadn’t seen this buddy of mine since he had suggested I get up on stage and represent my Cuban roots so it was a double-bummer.

Being too ridiculously tired to dance (and mildly irritated at being called a pet name), I countered with a suggestion for going dancing on Tuesday. “Ok, Kikita linda, don’t worry. I know the best place! We can go tomorrow no problem!

After church group on Tuesday, I called him and canceled.
5 minutes later, I called back and told him I’d changed my mind.
In those 5 minutes, his ride had left, so if I still wanted to go, I had to pick him up, “But don’t worry, mi Cuquita, I am only 5 minutes away from esteven’s.

Ok, so I got the address, put it into my phone’s GPS and I was off.
Since this was just going dancing with a buddy and Not A Date, I texted another buddy and let him know I’d be there, “Ok, sexy, but I’m leaving at 11 so hurry!” (Apparently, my buddies had not received the message that if you are just an un-interested buddy, you should not be using terms of endearment.)

A buddy from church started sending me lines from a TV Show we both love which was messing with my GPS.
My dad was emailing me about some other thing which was also messing with my GPS.
My buddy who was already dancing was chatty which was ALSO messing with my GPS.

I missed my exit.
I was now lost in some part of Los Angeles that a beautiful blonde should probably not be lost.
I pulled over to get my GPS working.
I got back on the freeway.
People kept texting me.
My GPS crapped out again.
I looked up and I was at the gates of Dodger Stadium.
I’ve never been to Dodger Stadium.

I finally found my Visiting Buddy’s house, and we were off!

Visiting Buddy: I saw your boyfriend the other day! Well, your ex!
Me: Ummm… which one?
Me (to myself): Which of my exs would he even know?
Visiting Buddy: Do you remember Fulano’s dad?
Me: What the … why are you calling him my boyfriend?
Visiting Buddy: Didn’t he take you outside once and …
Me: OH. MAH. GOODNESS. YES!! He pulled out ‘CUBA’ and kept telling me to touch it. Damn, for an old man… Seriously, it was bigger than my forearm!
Visiting Buddy: HAHAHAHAHA!! Ay! Honey, that was the turn back there…

We missed three turns while talking about … “CUBA.”

Finally, we made it to esteven’s and my Dance Buddy bogarted me for two songs. He would have gone for three, but I felt bad double-dancing when I hadn’t seen my Visiting Buddy in so long. Dance Buddy left and I turned my attention back to my Visiting Buddy.
Since the place was pretty empty, people couldn’t help but stare at two Cubans doing their thing.
And I couldn’t believe how much I’d never known about him… like that he’d been a political prisoner, or part of the Cuban military, or that he was a Bounty Hunter in Vegas. UN.REAL.

On the ride back to his house (well, his brother’s house), I mentioned how much I LOVE cigars. His brother just happened to have some and would love to give me one, but “Come here, Cuquita, I want to show you something first.

The something required a hike.
Did I mention I was wearing 5″ platforms?
It turns out I am quite stubborn.
Bounty Hunter: I’ll carry you. Trust me, I can do it.
Me: Hell no. I want to do it myself.
And I did.
When we got to the top of the hill it was a breath-taking view of L.A., particularly … Dodger Stadium.

Bounty Hunter: Look, Kikita! Whenever my brother or I miss Cuba, we come up here and it reminds of being home.
Me: It really is beautiful. And I was just thinking to myself this morning… you know what I want to do tonight? See Dodger Stadium.
Bounty Hunter: Ay, Cuquita! You are too funny! Since we’re Cuban, I knew you would love to see a baseball stadium, but look at the moon! I bet no one has ever shown you the moon before either… isn’t it romaaantic?
Me: You’re right. I have NEVER seen the moon before. It’s SOOOO romantic.
Me (too myself): Cubans. Baseball. The man had a point… Uh oh. This buddy is about to make his move out of the “buddy” zone… shit, shit, SHIT!

Bounty Hunter the Visiting Buddy made his move and now his intentions were clear. Apparently, I had been On a Date and completely missed it.
After a brief interlude (VERY brief because there was no way I was going to let this Bounty Hunter get anywhere at the top of a hill in the middle of the night), I mentioned that it was a school night and I needed to go. Going down a hill in 5″ platforms is even MORE difficult than going up, so I finally gave in and let him carry me down.

When we got to the house, his brother was waiting for us.
Bounty Hunter: Hermano! This is the lovely Kikita, she’s Cuban like us and loves cigars. Can you hook her up?

And he did.

I stayed for another 20 minutes out of sheer politeness. One doesn’t accept such a fine gift without spending time visiting for a while, but once hands started to get a little more handsy, it was my cue.

Bounty Hunter: Can I see you tomorrow? Or when are you coming to Vegas? I can get you a free room, just let me know. Ay, Kikita! Do you have any idea how amazing you are?
Me: Thank you for everything. Especially the cigar… AND for showing me Dodger Stadium.
Me (to myself): Yeah… just a little. 😉

A few days later I would find out I had been given the Best. Cigar. Ever.
Dodger Stadium and a delicious cigar, what more could a girl ask for?

A Cuban-American Valentine’s Day

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On February 14, 1961 (51 years ago today), my family arrived in the United States from Cuba, completely unaware that they would never be going back.

My abuelo had arrived in the United States about a month earlier with my Tía Helen.
He had left in a rush because che guevara had already blown up one of my abuelo’s cars, arrested my abuelo and his crew while they were working, and che guevara even had some of my abuelo’s men executed the next morning. (Needless to say, che guevara is not my favorite person and I cannot stand people that sport his image or try to tell me what kind of revolutionary hero he was.) My abuelo moved quickly and flew to Miami with my tía where she had to get the small house they’d found ready for the rest of the family’s arrival.

February 14, 1961 was my abuelo’s 50th birthday.

Yes, I know it’s Valentine’s Day, but can you imagine a better Valentine’s Day gift and birthday present than being reunited with your family?

Every year I am floored by that. He started a brand new life, in a brand new country, that spoke a different language, with 7 other mouths to feed.

My abuelo was wholly Cuban. He was a patriot. He wanted to fight and restore the Cuban 1942 constitution.

But once he was here and it became obvious he wasn’t going back, he was just as fiercely American as he was Cuban.
He was so proud to get his citizenship.
He was proud to be part of a country that welcomed him and his family with opened arms.
He knew he owed America a huge debt.

I heard another Cuban man say it like this, “We can never repay America for what it has given us.”

For as often as I celebrate being Cuban, I consider myself lucky to be American, too.
And in order to honor an American holiday while celebrating my Cuban anniversary (of sorts), I baked.
Because with Cubans, it’s all about food and café and what could be more Cuban-American than Pastelitos de Guayaba (Guava Pastries) and Nestle’s Mini Chocolate Chip Cookies?

As far as me having a Valentine… that’s tough because part of my heart is elsewhere, like in that song Celia Cruz sings

Nunca podré morirme,
mi corazón no lo tengo aquí.
Alguién me está esperando,
me está aguardando que vuelva aquí.

Cuando salí de Cuba,
dejé mi vida, dejé mi amor.
Cuando salí de Cuba,
dejé enterrado mi corazón.

Late y sigue latiendo
porque la tierra vida le da,
pero llegará un día
en que mi mano lo encontrará.

Cuando salí de Cuba,
dejé mi vida, dejé mi amor.
Cuando salí de Cuba,
dejé enterrado mi corazón.

Cuba
aunque me encuentra lejos de ti
añoro el verde de tus campos
el azul de tu cielo
el agua clara de tus playas
y lo ardiente de tu sol

Una triste tormenta
te está azotando sin descansar
pero el sol de tus hijos
pronto la calma te hará alcanzar.

Cuando salí de Cuba,
dejé mi vida, dejé mi amor.
Cuando salí de Cuba,
dejé enterrado mi corazón. 

Cuando salí de Cuba,
dejé mi madre, dejé mi amor.
Cuando salí de Cuba,
dejé enterrado mi corazón. 

Cuando salí de Cuba,
dejé su cielo, dejé su sol.
Cuando salí de Cuba,
dejé enterrado mi corazón.

I can never die,
my heart is not here.
Someone is waiting for me,
is waiting for my return.

When I left Cuba,
I left my life, I left my love.
When I left Cuba,
I left my heart buried.

Beating and still beating
for the earth gives life,
but one day
my hand will find it.

When I left Cuba,
I left my life, I left my love.
When I left Cuba,
I left my heart buried.

Cuba
even though I find myself far away from you
I miss the green of your farms
the blue of your sky
the clear water of your beaches
and the burning of your sun 

A sad storm
is beating you without stopping
but the sun of your children
will soon make you reach the calm.

When I left Cuba,
I left my life, I left my love.
When I left Cuba,
I left my heart buried.

When I left Cuba,
I left my mother, I left my love.
When I left Cuba,
I left my heart buried.

When I left Cuba,
I left its sky, I left its sun.
When I left Cuba,
I left my heart buried.

I may have been born in the United States, but I must have been born with half a heart because I feel like a piece of it is still on an island 90 miles off the coast of Florida. And I know that there are plenty of Cuban-Americans that know the exact feeling I’m talking about.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

My brave abuelos while they were still in Cuba. This is absolutely my favorite picture of them.
Funny, romantic, and courageous.