Becoming More American Than Cuban
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Commentator Ana Hebra Flaster knows that a house can be more than a home. For her family, one duplex has been a symbol of success in the US and the Cuban culture they left behind. Now she says selling the house she grew up in means that her family is more American than ever.
ANA HEBRA FLASTER:
For the last 37 years, my family lived in a Cuban home even though we were in the middle of New England. We left Cuba in 1967 and settled in southern New Hampshire. My parents and my aunt and uncle worked double shifts in a boot factory for several years. Finally, they saved enough to buy a little yellow duplex. My grandmother lived with us on one side; my aunt and uncle and cousins lived in the other half of the duplex. We knew that at any moment, a cousin, aunt, grandmother or stray friend might walk through out front door without knocking. A knock would've seemed so polite, so American. Plus, no one would've heard it anyway.
The duplex on Hunt Street(ph) hummed with the energy of an 11-member Cuban clan every day of those 37 years. If you couldn't do your math homework and your parents were working, you found a cousin to help. If you were watching grandchildren and needed to go vote, you asked your brother-in-law to keep an eye on them for a while. When you ran out of black beans, you went next door for more. We pooled our few resources together to send packages to Cuba, to send someone to college or to buy special presents at Christmas. Privacy and independence were alien concepts, as foreign to the adults as notions of dating and sleepovers. `Why must American children sleep at each other's houses when they have nice beds at home?' my mother would ask after denying me permission to sleep over at a friend's house.
Cubans call children who grow up in such homes primos-hermanos, cousin-brothers. They play and fight together each and every day; that is required. You know you're a primos-hermano when all the adults in a family can and will scold you for your misdeeds. They'll all feed you, take you swimming and buy you gum almost anytime you ask.
As the primos-hermanos in our family grew up and moved out of the duplex, our own children came back for visits, day care or to roll around with each other on the living room floor. But when my 90-year-old grandmother died last summer, that old way of life ended forever. My aunt and uncle moved out of the duplex. They said something about not wanting to deal with the stairs anymore, about wanting a newer place with modern flooring. My parents didn't want to move, but couldn't imagine sharing the duplex with strangers.
Yesterday, as I unpacked my mother's boxes in her new house, I noted how many of them had toys. She takes care of my sister's children each day. Those grandkids will see their grandparents every day for a few years until school schedules pull them into another world. But they won't have primos-hermanos, and they'll never know their grandaunt and uncle as we did. We'll all still see each other at planned family get-togethers, Christmases and Thanksgivings. These things happen in a land of opportunity; more choices abound. In American, you can move away, far away for a better job or for a better, more modern house.
NORRIS: Ana Hebra Flaster lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.
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