Essay 2: The Double Commie [#52essays2017]

This essay is part of the #52essays2017 series focusing on my memoir, Moscow Chica: How Growing Up in Cuba and Russia Made Me an American. For more, please follow this publication and subscribe to my newsletter.

I had this “friend” in middle and high school who used to love to make fun of my heritage.

Year after year, the words “double commie” came out of his mouth whenever he talked to me, whenever he described me, whenever he talked about who I am.

I’m sure it started out innocently enough, but I honestly don’t remember. It was his own little joke about me and constantly said with humor in his voice. I’m sure he didn’t intend to be mean, but I realize now that his words were hurtful.

Growing up, I was always a little confused about my heritage.

I was born in Moscow to a Russian mother and a Cuban father. We lived there for most of my life, had a brief stint in Havana when I was 2-3 years old, and finally settled in the U.S. shortly after my 8th birthday.

I was closer to my mom, so I always considered myself a little more Russian than Cuban (but that’s a whole other story). And then you add in the American, and my brain has always been a jumbled mess of identity.

Being called a “double communist” throughout my youth was extra confusing, to be honest.

I understood what he meant: My parents met because of communism.

There is no other period in the history of the world where a Russian woman and a Cuban man, being born 5,953 miles away from each other, would have so easily come into contact. But when people hear about my background and ask how my parents met, the story is simple: They met in college.

Sure, their college was in the U.S.S.R. in the 80s and my dad was only there because Cuba was (and continues to be, sort of?) communist too. But neither of my parents were part of the Communist Party. In fact, they embraced the ideals of capitalism the minute we came to America.

So when that guy friend teased me about being a “double commie”, I didn’t really know how to respond. How, exactly, did being born under my circumstances transform me into a communist?

The simple impossible math aside (how exactly did half and half make two?), it took years before I realized how much the comment stung. I didn’t want to be seen as a communist and I didn’t want to be seen as an “other” anymore.

But that’s exactly what the comment meant. It was meant to draw a clear and distinct line between myself and everyone else at school.

I was the different one. Forget the fact that I spoke English as well as anyone else (hello, I’m a writer now, see?!) or that I had an American passport. It didn’t seem to matter that I asked for the comments to stop (they never did) nor that I got good grades and was basically a pretty tame teenager.

The label stuck, even if it was just the one “friend” that said it.

Over and over and over again.

I’ve never been able to forget being called a “double commie” for the better part of my middle and high school years. Maybe nobody else said it, but I always had a sneaking suspicion that they thought it. It’s like that invisible “L” for loser that we all used to make fun of, but this time I was the one wearing a big ole “C” for commie.

The teenage years are gone now, and I’m actually a confident person now. As an adult, I’ve been able to tell friends about the old days of being teased for being a “double commie” and they’ve mostly laughed it off. Today it’s actually funny that this guy was so ignorant that he couldn’t see beyond our differences.

Who knows? Maybe me and him could have been better friends if he’d for a second thought about what his bullying was doing to me or how hurtful his words, even said jokingly, could be.

But that’s not my loss.

In a weird way, his confusion over my identify ultimately helped me to realize who I am. And maybe I am a little bit of a double commie… and I’m a bisexual Latina immigrant too and any other label that I decide to come up with to describe myself.

Ultimately, despite the hurtful things that we hear when we’re younger, only we can truly determine our identify. For today at least, I’m a Moscow Chica – a woman who grew up Cuban, Russian and all American too.

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(Image via midiman/flickr)

Essay 1: The Day I Became an
American [#52essays2017]

This essay is part of the #52essays2017 series focusing on my memoir, Moscow Chica: How Growing Up in Cuba and Russia Made Me an American. For more, please follow this publication and subscribe to my newsletter.

My grandfather shook me awake suddenly.

My eyes slowly opened, feeling groggy and tired from our overnight flight. It was five in the afternoon there, in the suburbs of Moscow, as I woke up from a much-needed nap.

“Something is happening in America,” he said.

I didn’t understand what he meant. My brain was foggy and I was in no mood to be woken up. I know that I hadn’t seen my grandparents in years and that this next week was meant to be spent with them, but the jet lag had gotten to me pretty hard this time around. I stretched and tried to figure out a way to stay in bed.

“Something is happening in America,” he said again. Finally, I got out of bed and walked lazily from the bedroom in which I was staying, through the living room and kitchen, to the enclosed patio where my Russian family often spent their evenings.

The little TV out there was turned on. This wasn’t really an unusual occurrence. In fact, despite having a perfectly decent (and much bigger) television in the living room, we almost always sat on the patio to eat and relax.

But this time our family reunion wasn’t relaxing.

As I joined my mother and little brother, both of whom had come on this family vacation too while my father remained in the states to take care of my parent’s real estate business, I could not have prepared for what was on that television screen.

It was September 11th, 2001, just after 9 a.m. in New York City.

Images of the plane that had just hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center were all over the tiny TV. Instantly, my body froze. I didn’t know what I was seeing. I didn’t understand.

As my grandfather had said, something was happening in America… but what?

The rest of this day is a hazy blur. The only thing I remember feeling is confusion. What was happening? What were we watching? What were were going to do now?

Before long, we started to understand what was happening: America was being attacked. And my family was stuck in Russia.

Yesterday had been a perfectly normal day. A Monday like any other, I was excited to have the week off from school. We had flown from our home in Florida to New York City for our transfer flight before continuing on to Moscow.

I had seen the iconic skyline with the Twin Towers standing proudly at the southern edge of Manhattan when our plane departed at 8 p.m. That time is now forever burned in my memory.

This morning, as I greeted my grandparents at the airport gates, I took my first steps on international soil as an American citizen.

My parents had become naturalized the year before and my brother and I joined their ranks just a month earlier. Thrilled about our new journey as a family, my parents expedited our U.S. passports and booked these tickets. We would be missing a week of school, sure, but the trip was sure to be worth it.

Never in a million years could any of us have imagined what would happen.

Nobody in the world did, of course.

The entire world watched that day as the Twin Towers were hit, as they crumbled, as what seemed like the greatest and strongest country was attacked by what later was revealed to be terrorists.

I can’t imagine what my dad felt, hearing the news this morning. All I remember is my hysterical mother on the phone with him, anxious and crying. By that point, we knew that all airports in the U.S. had been shut down indefinitely. So what now?

My mother, my brother and myself were stuck in Russia… Almost 6,000 miles from home… indefinitely.

With the tragedy that we had just seen unfold in America, my only thought was that I wanted to be reunited with my dad, that I just wanted to go home.

I no longer cared about having a week off of school and even the visit with my grandparents had been soured. My mom spent hours on the phone with my dad, trying to figure out what we were going to do if it came time for us to fly back and there was, well, no airports to fly back to. The winning plan was to fly to Canada and drive down.

I didn’t care. All I wanted was to be home.

Before this tragic day that shook the world, I still very much felt like an immigrant. I had spent the first eight years of my life in Russia (mostly) and only the last seven had been spent living in America.

Although I didn’t have an accent, I looked different than my peers and classmates. Whenever someone asked, I always told them: I’m Russian and Cuban.

But after this day, I realized that I wasn’t just Russian and Cuban anymore. I was an American now.

My desire to just go home after this tragedy showed me what my true home had become. It was no longer about the things that made me different and it was no longer about where I came from before. It was about what made me the same as my countrymen and women. It was about the place that I, and my family, proudly chose to call ours.

As they say, home is where the heart is. And this is the day that my heart, now and forever, was America.

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(Image via Patrick Nouhailler/flickr)

How to make a Cuban Meaty Potato Stuffing [RECIPE]

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It’s just a few days before Thanksgiving! WOO HOO!

Although Halloween is actually my favorite holiday and Christmas is a close second, there is something truly special about Thanksgiving for me. You see, my family has a really fun and sweet tradition where our meal always consists of a hodge-podge of American, Russian and Cuban recipes. It’s always a mix and it’s always a good time.

This year I was lucky enough to be asked to contribute one of my family’s recipes with one of my FAVORITE food sites, The Kitchn. They did a very special package of immigrants sharing their stories through Thanksgiving stuffing… and of course I had to contribute.

Check out my recipe and story: Cuban Meaty Potato Stuffing on The Kitchn today. And don’t forget to read all Four Stories of the New World, Told in Stuffing too!

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then check out my personal blog and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

(Image by Diana Yen/The Kitchn)

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