The term diaspora has been historically used to refer to the Jews living outside of Israel, with a capital D for that meaning, but its modern definition is now more encompassing: the dispersion of any people from their original homeland. I come across this word from time to time usually in reference to those who have fled war-torn countries. Only recently has it dawned on me that I too am part of a diaspora.
In Miami it’s colloquially known as the Exile Community yet it’s a diaspora just the same. Almost 1 million Cubans, born on the island, are living in the United States along with families full of 1st generation Americans, which rounds out the numbers to over 2 million Cuban-Americans. That sounds like a lot, but when they’re living in a country populated by 323 million people it’s barely a drop in the bucket.
Families fleeing Cuba brought all the culture they could easily smuggle out of the country. Some of it in the form of stories and traditions. Other parts through music, food, and dance. Even the language itself, filled with colorful slang and flavored dialects. These pieces of culture were vibrant when first arriving on American soil and, if you were lucky, were kept fresh by the community which grew around it.
Those of us far away from the warmth of a Cuban community weren’t able to hold onto the vitality of the culture. We took the fragments we could and hoped for the best. My broken Spanish, heavily reliant on slang and Spanglish mashups, is all I have left from my days of telling jokes with abuela while playing dominoes. My salsa moves haven’t been dusted off since I attended my last quinceanera, when I was 15. Travel to the island is now legal-ish for American citizens and I could visit the land of my heritage, but honestly, I’d be just as much a tourist as the Canadians and Europeans that have been flocking to Cuba.
I feel cut off from my roots, adrift through this world in a strange combination of freedom to go anywhere while simultaneously not being from anywhere. An itch beneath my skin reminding me that I don’t exactly fit in the places I find myself. I’m always a little left of center or just ahead of the curve. I feel like I’m not Spanish enough, in either skin tone or language skills, to slip back into a Hispanic world. Then again, I’m not white enough because I find the culture lacks the warmth and passion of my Latin community, making me a little too loud and a little too touchy for their comfort.
This Cuban disconnect is only one example of the many ways I feel like I have a foothold in worlds that I’m not fully a part of. There’s just enough in me to pass through the door, but I can’t shake off the sense of being an observer, an outsider. It ties back to what seems to be a neverending search for my tribe, those who resonate with me at a molecular level.
I can’t be the only one struggling with this dissonance within them. It’s something I wrestle with on an almost constant basis though I’m afraid the itch may never go away. The one thing that does help is being as authentic as I can and refusing to give a shit about what people think. The less I am a social chameleon, the better I am at attracting like-minded folks while filtering out those who don’t hum at my frequency. What’s the point of being well-liked by many who bring nothing to your life when you can have a handful of true connections who fill you with passion and fire?
Photo © Gabriel Novo