From Ninety Miles Away:
If someone died, you would make a collection from the handful of Cubans you knew. No one actually had the money to bury the deceased. In coming, you gave up the possibility of ever seeing your family again, unless you were fortunate enough to have them come later. It was only much, much later when Fidel needed money that the possibility of family visits arose. My father left Cuba in his twenties. It would be decades before he laid eyes on the father who had single-handedly raised him. His brothers, he never saw again.
And the shame. I wish I could convey the corrosive nature of the discrimination we faced. From the time that I could walk through the front door to go out and play for fifteen minutes (my father worked in a factory overnight and needed his sleep), I was taught that I must be perfect. Any failing on my part, any misbehaviour or disrespect, would immediately result in my being labeled a “Spic.” The reputation of whole peoples rested on my fragile, four year old shoulders. If my mother spoke Spanish to me in a store, it would result in looks of disdain nowadays reserved for smokers.
Our three room apartment in a working class neighborhood in Brooklyn, where I slept on the couch, had been rented to us in error. They had mistaken my fair-skinned father for an Italian. No one wanted to rent to Hispanics, even in Miami, which was a sleepy, decaying town, the glory days of tourism having left. In the summer, it was basically closed down, except the little hotels with two ghostly retirees rocking on the front porch. I know, I was there in ’65. And there was nothing as gray, as dead, as depressing as Union City, perhaps that’s why the first Cubans were allowed to settle there.
Read the whole thing right here.