In Cuba, I Was a Doberman Pinscher
Updated: Aug 26
Memory and fantasy - not necessarily surrealism - are two pillars of Cuban-American literary tradition. People and events must all run through Exile, the third pillar. The final pillar is the individual through which a story is being told. I am a very americanizado, first generation Cuban-American. Most of my memories of Cuba come from Miami. I offer no flying carpets, no open wounds that never clot. My memories are neither so abstracted nor fantastic. If forced, and before my first trip to Cuba, I'd call my memories hand-me-downs, recycled tires, or an old record collection from which certain "hits" arise: 'The Bay of Pigs', 'Che Was a Murderer', and the classic 'Perdimos Todo'; tunes whose melodies filled my head as a child growing up in Hialeah, FL, Miami's progenitor Cuban exile neighborhood. At best, and before actually visiting Cuba, my memories were refractions, bounced off others' actual experiences. Memories of my father's dashed political ambitions, my grandfather's ranch, my grandmother's abandoned piano were like ice cubes in my early life's glass of water. Much later, they became the impetus for many a Cuban Cowboy song and the entirety of the ¡Ay, Jorge! podcast.
I grew up in a house steeped in bittersweet longing for Cuba. The old joke goes: 2 stray, mangy dogs were walking the streets of Miami. After fighting for a scrap of food left behind by some alley cat, the dog that lost out on the morsel turns to the other and says "You know, in Cuba I was a Doberman Pinscher!" For many in my family, life was not only better in Cuba, but fundamentally different; it was as if they were entirely different people. The weird part was that those different people co-existed simultaneously within and without the harsher world of post-Cuban Revolution Miami - a world tantalizingly close to their Cuba, a place many of them chose to forever freeze in time, in the hearts and minds. It was as if I lived with and among ghosts. Each Cuban-born person had a double, a specter or shadow, capable of overtaking them, their lives, their politics, at the mere mention of, say, "Fidel Castro" or "Comunismo."
The exiles and their children are thus people divided in to concept and condition. In that sense, one can be consumed or adopted by El Exilio Cubano (and vice versa). Any Cuban-American or Cuban Cowboy can tell you this. Just maybe not in so many words!