Above image: Ana Mendieta, Film stills, Sweating Blood, 1973
Starting in July, my birth month, I will be doing a bi-monthly research exercise on “Cuban Heroes” for my blog. I believe that seeing yourself reflected in the world around you (in pop culture and beyond) is powerful, and I was starved of that privilege as a young girl navigating the white-centric suburbs of Orange County.
A bit of an introduction before beginning — My mother immigrated from Cuba in the 1970s and married my father, a red headed Irish-American from Southern California. Growing up, my contact with my father’s side of the family was rare if ever, so I made sense of “family” through the connection I had to my mother’s side: my Cuban Grandmother and her sisters (my Great Aunts). I truly believe that I understand what Love is today through the love I received from the gaggle of Cuban women who raised me as a child. Looking back, when I think of “home”, I think of them, and feel them deeply in my core still. So with all that said — why is it that when I was sorting through the building blocks of my identity and searching for role models, that I looked past them and only found value and importance in white-stories by straight-white-men within the framework of white-society? In short, it is because I was a child of an immigrant, and cultural assimilation was key to my social survival. When I looked around me, those were the narratives that society held up and gave the most worth and I followed that way of thinking without ever examining why (that would come decades later). As a child and young adult, I took these adopted narratives and hid in plain sight. My fair-skin and culturally-ambiguous looks afforded me that. I thought by doing this, I was pushing myself out of the ethnic minority and giving myself a “fair chance”, a belief that is complex, problematic, and reinforced time and time again in my life.
After my mother’s passing 2 years ago, I spiraled into grief. Grieving her, and the loss of “the last” of my Cuban identity slipping through my fingers and into the ether. Never again would I feel and hear the energy and sounds of her hard Cuban-Spanish accenting my life. The audible sounds of love through language, calling for me as, “Ginita”. I think after the death of any parent, it is quite normal to question existence and ask questions of “why”, and that definitely came for me in full force and is something I still reconcile today. So — this is to honor my Mother, this is for my Grandmother and Great Aunts, but mostly this is for the little girl who needed an extra push in understanding her roots, her place and their natural value, and in turn, her natural value.