I. The thing about living in Miami, and specifically Hialeah, is that it’s easy to think of it as a microcosm for what living in Cuba might be like (or at least the closest thing possible). A series of bric-a-brac houses in pastel colors reminiscent of the island’s earlier days, a Cuban cafeteria around every corner, the sounds of rapid-fire Spanish ringing in the air wherever I go. It’s not unusual to see a Cuban flag proudly displayed in a storefront or a home, the latter of which may also be swathed in the rich, vivid greens and purples of San Juda or San Lazaro, respectively. These are the things I take for granted.
II. I’m seventeen when my parents decide to leave the relative comfort and familiarity of Miami for the uncharted territory of gringo country. Realistically, it’s a mere three hours from the place I’ve called home my whole life. Nonetheless, the difference feels insurmountable. Everyone has crisp, perfect English punctuated with the occasional Southern drawl- in other words, completely at odds with my parent’s own harsh, thick accents. Even my own words, carefully polished and smoothed out, feel inadequate. The realtors are armed with fake tans, condescending smiles, and mistrustful eyes. It’s almost funny to see how their expressions shift when my parents say they want the house. Almost.
III. We stop by sometimes, while it’s under construction. My parents take pictures every time, carefully documenting the process of their American Dream made real. The workers have tawny skin, darkened from hours of labor in the sun. They speak to each other in Spanish, double-take when they hear us do the same. I stay in the car.
IV. It’s on one of these trips that my mom broaches the subject. “You know,” she starts, voice too carefully casual, “you can say you’re from here now.”
“Sorry, what?” I ask, shooting her an incredulous side-eye.
“Instead of telling people you’re from Miami. Or, you know…somewhere like Hialeah.”
A burst of defensiveness flares up in me, sharp and hot. “Oh, instead of somewhere so trashy, got it.”
Her smile turns thin, strained. “Don’t be like that. I’m just saying that this is your home now, I don’t know why you wouldn’t use that to your advantage.”
“‘Home’ is a very strong word for a house you decided to drag us to in this dead-end city,” I snap. I see her start to say something else, but pointedly slip in my earbuds.The rest of the ride is spent with music blaring, eyes firmly fixed on foliage rushing by outside my window.
V. My nails are digging into my palm. The house is lovely. It’s exactly the sort of place you go to waste away, made for frolicking grandchildren and a dog in the yard. My parents are dazzled; at last, the perfect suburban reward, so far removed from those early years where they toiled in factories and had mere minutes between jobs. I feel the weight of their expectant smiles, but it can’t compare to the feeling of every house on the street watching us, unmasking us as imposters. “Do you like it?” My mother sounds the youngest she has in years, and her gentle hold on my arm feels like a bear trap. “It’s beautiful,” I choke out from behind a mounting dread. Four little crescent marks appear on my hand.
Thalia Del Carmen Sanchez (she/her/hers) is a bisexual Cuban immigrant currently working out of Florida. She attends New College of Florida, where she is pursuing her BA in English Literature. Her main aim in her career is to create spaces where those from marginalized communities can join together, uplift each other, and broadcast their art. Through her writing, she hopes to diversify the literary world, as well as bridge the gap between the Latinx community and the Queer community. She is currently working on an anthology of personal essays that highlights the challenges of being a Latinx individual in a primarily white, affluent community and university. When not working, she can be found getting lost in a book, debating the merits of the latest movie or tv show with her friends, or adding to her ever-expanding music playlist.