Exile Nostalgia

Remember your old living room in your parents house circa the 1960’s? The one with the clear plastic covered sofas and butacas? Maybe a balance or two and the porcelian elefante with its butt pointed towards the front door? With a Caridad del Cobre magestically placed centered stage and one of those weird lamps hanging in a corner that had cherubs on the inside and little oil drops oozing down strings all around?

Well, that’s exactly what Im thinking of setting up for the Cuba Nostalgia Convention. An “exilio” living room, complete with all of the above and the plastic runner on the carpet to boot. Kinda like the set of Que Pasa, USA?

So, tell me about your old living rooms. What kind of stuff did your parents have? Did the plastic covers on the sofas and chairs have that little bubble pattern that if you sat down without a shirt it would leave said pattern on your back? After you peeled yourself off, that is.

This set would be perfect for the onset of the El Exilio project. There will be lots of older folks at the Convention whose stories we need to hear, and what better way to get those memory juices flowing that to sit them down in their old exile living rooms?

What do you all think?

32 thoughts on “Exile Nostalgia”

  1. That living room set would be awesome! I remember my Cubana roommate telling me that as kids, they weren’t allowed to sit on the formal sofa (which was white) with shorts on. 🙂 That room was always kept immaculate.

    I think on the walls, you might put some black & white or sepia photos of family in old Cuba. You could take up a collection of copies from Babalu readers. Also, it probably wasn’t really kept in the living room, but maybe putting on the coffee table or side table an old 50s phone book like the one Ziva (? sorry if I attributed wrong) bought would help stir up memories too.

  2. I love that idea! I think you should have some cans of Jupina and IronBeer on the table…

    (Ps, the name of my band is DELEXILIO… not “el exilio”)

  3. There was once a special fourth meal in Cuba known as “la merienda.” It was prepared especially for children by mothers and grandmothers after school.

    I thought that the merienda was one of those traditions that was dead in Cuba. After all, since Castro came to power people in Cuba have been lucky to get one meal a day, and that a miracle of improvisation.

    Then some 15 years ago, reading a copy of Red Bohemia, I chanced upon a recipe for a merienda snack. The recipe was prepared by inserting fish scraps (“desperdicios”) into an old sock, tying the open end and boiling it for 20 minutes. The fish roll was then cooled, sliced and served to the children as their merienda snack.

    Since then, whenever I see pictures of Cuban children, I think of that miserable fish roll in a sock merienda, which is a metaphor for their lives in Castro’s Cuba.

  4. My mom, along with the sofa’s covered in plastic and the cherub lamps, had those really delicate porcelain dolls, one of them was walking and Afgan dog, and while I was dusting it, rather upset because I couldn’t go out and play, I broke the leash. Boy, did I get in TROUBLE!

  5. Gotta have a ventilador or two. Back in the day, most of the old housing stock in Little Havana had no A/C . And, even if it had it, you couldn’t afford to run it.

  6. Val,

    This sounds like a winner!! 🙂
    How about a piano? No matter how tough times were, it seems that learning how to play the piano was a must (at least for Cuban girls) … since most living rooms were right by the front entrance of the house … there was “una mata de lengua de vaca” (snake plant) right by the door para los malos ojos … 🙂 LOL!!

    I wish you well 🙂 Melek

    “God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” ~ J M Barrie

  7. My grandmother had a flamenco doll whose skirt was a ruffly pink satin pillow, prominently “posed” on our gold velvet sofa WHICH WE COULD NEVER SIT ON.
    Also, plastic flowers in ornate vases, and a pair of canaries named Julio Iglesias and Caruso in a bamboo cage, courtesy Hialeah, circa 1977.

  8. I think you are burying an “extinct” animal that isn’t extinct. There must be thousands of Cuban-American homes that still conform to that décor.

  9. Wow…
    Weird lamp: Check
    Plastic covered sofa: Check
    Porcelain Elephant: Check
    Flamenco Dancers: Check
    Plastic runners on carpet: Check

    And I thought growing up Cuban in Chicago was different than Miami, but apparently not.

    My mom was obsessed with Lladros. Don’t know how the heck the afforded them but every once in a while another figurine came into the house which meant another area of the house I couldn’t go near.

  10. We always had a weird porcelain Chinese dragon (for good luck, I guess) they called a “Moringa.” As a matter of fact, my mom still has it.

  11. Wow did all of you live with me? The only difference for me was that it was the 70’s and it was in New York.

  12. aside from all that other stuff, we had to have those wooden rocking chairs. my grandmother would rest there with an “abanico” and pray her rosary!!

  13. my grandmother also had a singer sowing machine that folded into the piece of furniture it came with. since there was not much room in the house, this was in the living room and she was often there making and mending clothes for us!!


  14. for the bathroom:

    crocheted covers for the extra TP rolls

    hand towels with some kind of lace applique (“pa la visita”), which rendered them unusable

    removable wall-to-wall carpet (light blue-grey)

    some kind of foil wallpaper

  15. Small piano with photos on top of past birthdays in Cuba (everybody standing around table with cake, bocaditos, croquetas, small Cokes…).

    A stand alone wooden bar contraption with a blender, but no sink, high ball glasses, small ice bucket, and flamingo swirl sticks.

    Lladro pieces on lamp tables.

    A narrow table with lots of family photos from previous decades in Cuba (they kept arriving throughout the years in letters from relatives back in Havana).

    Best corner:

    Record player within wooden piece of furniture, which held many albums of various Cuban and non-Cuban artists and genres (Fajardo y sus Estrellas, Beny More, Arsenio, Jose Antonio Mendes, Orq. Riverside,Orq. Aragon, Los Churumbeles de Espana, Lucho Gatica, Litertad Lamarque, Los Panchos, collections of danzones, rumbas, comparsas, pasodobles, and tangos, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, “musica instrumental”–easy listening, and some classical piano).

    Small bookshelf with World Book Encyclopedia, Corin Tellado ‘novelas’, works by Jose Marti, and assorted books about ‘la revolucion traicionada.’

    No plastic covers on furniture…Mom thought it too ‘cursi’, even though years later she thought all of the above (except for the albums) were also ‘cursi’.

  16. Remember the toaster cover which was a “munequa negra” with a long dress? What about the self standing 2 foot ash tray next to the sofa with the cigar buds and the stove top “cafetera” ?


  17. We had smooth plastic, and man let me tell you, in Puerto Rico WITHOUT air conditioning, you would roast when sitting in the sofa o las butacas.

    no elefante or caridad del cobres or lamps with oil. We did have lamps that were a bit rococo, a marble david, and some lalique vase.

    We had a wooden stereo mueble that had 8 track and tocadiscos, together with radio dial.

  18. What Cuban exiles didn’t take into account when they covered their living room furniture in plastic was that the orange sofa would some day go out of style, and no matter how pristine it was preserved, eventually it would have to be scrapped, although, of course, it was “such a shame; it still looks new.” Val should have no difficulty finding such a sofa; any thrift store in Miami should do. I wonder if recent arrivals also find this retro furniture appealing and if it gets a new lease on life in some other Cuban living room.

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