To Be a Cuban-American Woman in LA

Singled out in a dominantly Mexican-American and Chicano community

By Edlyn Vallejo
Published on LatinoLA: June 21, 2002

To Be a Cuban-American Woman in LA

Although I grew up in Los Angeles with the Spanish language, music, and culture, I was inherently distinct from my predominantly Mexican-American and Chicano neighbors.

My parents emigrated from Cuba during the revolution in the early 60s. Over 15 years later I was born into a suburb of L.A. Throughout my childhood, I asked myself time and time again, ?Are we the only Cuban family in this town?? And the answer was, ?Most likely.?

It was not easy developing an identity during my childhood and young adult years. I continuously received stares of disbelief when I explained that I was of 100% Cuban ancestry to Mexican-Americans and Chicanos alike as they stared at my pale skin. Some were more blunt than others as they exclaimed, ?You don?t look Latina!?

I questioned why people didn?t think I was ?Latina enough?. Maybe it was due to the fact that the color of my skin, the pronunciation of my words, and the economic status of my family did not reflect those of the ?Latinos? around me. And when I share that I do not particularly care for Mariachi music, that my family considers Che Guevarra and Fidel Castro adversaries, and that I refuse to visit Cuba because of political reasons, I am more than likely shunned.

Not surprisingly (and for valid reasons), when I go to ?Latino? festivals or events in California, the single culture overwhelmingly represented is that of Mexico. I am, once again, left out.

What I know for sure is that although there are many political, cultural, and social differences between myself and my Mexican-American and Chicano brothers and sisters in L.A., I still respect their views. I may not agree with some of them, this is true. However, I accept our differences and embrace our commonalities.

My Mexican-American best friend knows and understands my struggle as a Cuban-American in L.A. She has additionally witnessed me serve and mentor in predominantly Mexican communities, conduct research on Mexican American community issues, serve as editor-in-chief for a Chicano newsletter, and coordinate festivals to celebrate the Mexican culture. I have made an effort to educate myself on Mexican-American cultural and social issues. My Chicano boyfriend can attest to my continual motivation to respect our political and cultural differences. He has lovingly done the same for me.

Yes, I am a member of the only Cuban family on my block, and, yes, I eat pollo empanizado, frijoles negros, and platanos maduros. My experience is distant from those of most Latinos in L.A.

As an individual of Mexican descent, you may not like Salsa music and you may have a poster of Che Guevara pinned up on your bedroom wall. Whether or not this is true, in the end, we are all Latinos. We share a common language, strong family
values and traditions. What I pray for is that my L.A. neighbors respect my people, our views, our experiences, and our nationality, even though it may be unlike their own.

Please remember that there is diversity among the Latino community. It is important that we make sure all cultures within the Latino culture feel welcome. We have much to learn and gain from each other with open minds and a supportive attitude.

I am proud of my Cuban culture and I know you are proud of yours. I am a Cuban-American woman in L.A., and I am always here to embrace you and your
culture with open arms.

I thank those who are willing to do the same for me.

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