The holidays are moments when memories are made. As it is with my family, made up of immigrants and multigenerational Americans alike, we gather around a table of feast to live and relive our heritage. Memories kept through the love of our elders and joys of our youth, legacies of culture and thanks are built. No matter where my celebrations take place, my heart beats the Cuban heritage that has been passed down to me from the roots of my ancestors and, with it, a deep appreciation for what it means to be an American.
It may seem odd that a family of immigrants would gather to honor a holiday of thanks to a country not viewed as their own. I recall many Thanksgivings at my grandparents’ home, indulging on lechón y platanitos fritos, the songs of Cuban Spanish flying from one ear to the next, skipping over the plethora of conversations found within one breathe: Manuel showing off the scar from his forced labor experience in the Cuban sugar fields, my grandfather at the table’s head, ushering massive plates of food, screaming out each marvel’s main ingredient as it passed by, the women orchestrating the flan’s grand entrance, my Mom’s quiet, sheepish grin, the Cuban pace was never quite her thing. And me – just happy. In the midst of the Cuban chaos, I remember feeling utterly happy. As true as my belly was full, so was my heart with the heritage and language that exists in my veins.
Albeit not at the same time, I learned so much about how to be Cuban and American during the holidays. The culture of our celebrations were injected with the flavors and crazed paced that I imagine exists on the island today. But also, my family had to earn their American citizenship, which made them most qualified to teach me how to give thanks to our country. I was instructed from birth to respect and honor my birth right.
My grandparents are immigrants. Through hard work, incredible business savvy and a country whose backbone is rooted on the combination of the two, they conquered the American dream. They fled a country that squandered their aspirations to settle in one that dared them to be the best they could be. And truly, they are the best: the best Cubans and the best Americans. So, as I enjoy my Thanksgiving leftovers, reflecting on a fantastic holiday weekend; as I tuck my bicultural children in bed, I wonder: did anyone else learn how to be American from an immigrant?