My “A Day Without Immigrants” Protest Is To Be Louder Than Ever

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April 6, 1994 will forever be burned into my memory.

That is the day my Cuban father, Russian mother, little brother and myself landed in Miami International Airport to seek a better life in America, to find our own version of the American Dream.

The thing I remember most, however, is sitting for hours (eight? Maybe 12?) in a bitterly cold detention room while airport officials tried to figure out what to do with us because, well, we hadn’t exactly come here legally.

Almost 23 years later and I am now happy to call myself a U.S. citizen and proud of the life that I and my family have built here. However, considering that our legal and undocumented immigrants are facing an unjust undermining and seizure of rights by the nation’s current leaders, I have decided to talk more about the immigrant experience and to start this publication, Moscow Chica: Half-Cuban, Half-Russian, All-American.

In case you hadn’t heard, yesterday was “A Day Without Immigrants.” It’s a nationwide protest in order to demonstrate not only the power of immigrants but also how important they are to the American workforce.

In fact, reports say that businesses all across the U.S. closed in honor of the day. I’m especially happy to see that one of my favorite chefs, José Andrés, closed his restaurants in protest of Donald Trump’s policies.

The night before I couldn’t sleep thinking about the day. It was organized all across social media and there doesn’t seem to be an organization behind it, which is kind of amazing. I hope that the success of day sets a nice precedent for the upcoming “A Day Without A Woman” strike on March 8th(which is International Women’s Day, for those that don’t know).

But to be honest, what really kept me up is thinking about how I could honor “A Day Without Immigrants” myself.

You see, I’m an immigrant.

Anyone that knows me probably isn’t really surprised by this fact. I talk frequently about being Latina, about my Russian and Cuban heritage, about my family coming here when I was just eight years old. It’s something that has even made its way into my writing on occasion.

I’ve written about being a bisexual Latina immigrant (and why it was important for me to vote), why I support the repeal of the “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” policy, how my Latina shame kept me from going to therapy, the things that only Latina girls know about beauty, what I learned about Latinos after I moved out of Florida, the things that Cubans do that Americans might fight weird, signs that you grew up Cuban-American and, of course, what only a Russian-Latina could teach you.

My multicultural background is obviously something that is on my mind frequently. In fact, I am currently writing a memoir about this topic. It’s titled Moscow Chica: How Growing Up Russian and Cuban Made Me an American, and I can’t wait to share it with the world.

But when it comes to “A Day Without Immigrants,” I struggled with how I could best show my support. Obviously, I am an immigrant myself — though I have been a U.S. citizen since just before 9/11. That doesn’t make me any less of an immigrant, but I fear that my own boycotting would not have had as big of an impact as the hard labor force of immigrants (you know, people who work in the back of restaurants or picking fruit at our farms).

To be honest, I have a pretty cushy job. I am a part-time freelance food editor at Brit+Co, which I absolutely LOVE, and I freelance write on the side. I work from home these days, too, which is pretty cool. It gives me a certain amount of freedom.

Yet when it comes to what kind of impact I could make by, say, not working yesterday… Well, that’s where it gets tricky.

The truth is that, because I am a freelancer, my days are pretty much however I structure them. Yes, I am signed on for certain amounts of time at my various regular contributor roles but, in general, I don’t think that too many people would have suffered if I had called in sick or “called in protest”. I just don’t think I would have the same impact as the average undocumented immigrant.

So, instead, I’ve decided that what is right for me is something else. A different kind of protest, let’s say.

One of the main reasons that I became a writer is because I wished to inspire people with my stories and to give a voice to the stories that I believe need to be told. This, of course, includes the immigrant story.

The reason that I decided to finally get to it and write my memoir is precisely because of what is happening in our country today. It’s no understatement to say that immigrants are under attack during the Trump presidency, since building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico was legitimately one of his first campaign promises. And with the attempted Muslim travel ban happening just days into his presidency, things are worse than ever.

I’m terrified of what will happen to people like me, even though I am a U.S. citizen and should, in theory, be pretty safe. But my passport still says that I was born in Russia and my last name is still Gonzalez.

So while our president (whose name I can barely say still) is primarily targeting Muslims and Mexicans, how long before it’s the rest of us?

That’s why I have decided to start this publication on Medium, Moscow Chica: Half-Cuban, Half-Russian, All-American.

The thing I think that I can actually add to the conversation surrounding our current world and political climate is my voice.

Maybe that sounds a bit pretentious of me, but I’m a writer. Writing is the thing I do, writing is the thing I know, and writing is the thing I believe in. I’m a journalist by trade, too, so the president’s attack on the media have also been particularly alarming to me.

So today: This is what I am doing.

I am writing, I am sharing my story, and I am making a commitment to continue to share my story as an immigrant and the stories of others.

My memoir is going to talk about what it’s like to grow up in America as a multicultural child, but this blog is going to talk about what happens afterwards. Here I will discuss things that come up for me on a daily basis… That will of course include politics and WTF is going on in the world right now, but it will also be about many other things.

Sometimes I’ll want to talk about my fears of ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and traveling abroad, and other times I may talk about the weird thing I realized about my roots while buying a car. The truth is that being Russian-Cuban-American impacts pretty much everything in my life in little and big ways. And I want to talk about all of that.

I also want somewhere to share thoughts and interesting articles I’ve read recently about immigration, multiculturalism and being an American. So here it is!

I hope you will join me on my journey as I share my world through a multicultural lens. Even if you can’t relate to my particular blend of cultures, I know that there will be something here for everyone.

After all, aren’t we all just trying to follow the American Dream in the end?

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(Image via Nitish Meena/Unsplash)



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)

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