As first generation Cuban Americans, we all have or will eventually pass through the phase of when the family torch once held by our parents or grandparents will be passed to us.
This is Cuban American Ana Hebra Flaster’s story of becoming the new matriarch of her Cuban family.
How I became the matriarch of my Cuban family in New England
My cousin gave me the news at my aunt’s funeral. Teresita and I were both teary-eyed, just a few feet from Tia Silvia’s coffin, in a room full of Spanish-speaking mourners cooing comfort to each other. Tere leaned toward me, pulling the syrupy scent of lilies with her, and whispered, “You are the matriarch now.”
I must have looked as stunned as I felt, because she let out a giggle that made grey heads turn our way. There’s no giggling in Cuban velorios. We mourn Old World-style, reliably somber, visibly pained, clad in a black for weeks or months, depending on our proximity to the deceased. Yet here I was, complicit in breaking the cardinal rule of luto, or “mourning”: no giggling.
Was I even old enough to be a matriarca? The evidence had been piling up, and not just in my mirror and knees. I’d just read that 29% of roughly 30 million Latinas in the U.S. are 45 or older — vieja range. Like me, they’d probably been shocked by how fast things unraveled once their beloved viejas started dying. We’re the viejitas, now, the ones who’ll be wearing the matriarca’s shawl.
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