While this might not sound outrageous to you, it probably would have seemed completely ridiculous to my grandparents in Cuba. To them, “I’m teaching my son to cook and clean” would probably have sounded a lot like “I’m teaching my son to wear lipstick and dance around in lace underthings.” In their world, women served men. Then they cleaned up after them. Y ya
It didn’t occur to me that teaching my son to cook and clean was all that radical until Thanksgiving dinner last week, when my Cuban father was in the same room as my German-American cowboy boyfriend and my Cuban-Mexican-Irish American son. Sharing a table. And a meal. A meal my son had helped to prepare, down to the handmade decorations on the table.
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A WORLD AWAY FROM CUBA
I only realized how far I’d come from my abuela Eugenia’s world when dinner ended. Up went the manly Cowboy. Up went my manly “Anglo” cousin Mark, whose non-Hispanic white mother is my non-Hispanic white mother’s sister.
Why, you ask, did these men jump up?
To do dishes, of course.
And they are not girlie men, okay? Mark is a hunter, and he owns and runs a big-time lumberyard and ranching supply store. He brought Scotch and cigars to share with the cowboy that night.
Yet even they got up to help with dishes, Cowboy guiding my son in the fine art of hand-drying delicate china glasses.
In fact, the only guest who did not feel it was necessary to get up from the table at all was my Cuban father. As usual. Don’t get me wrong. Dad does his own dishes, at home, and has even done mine when I was living with him. But at holidays, he rarely offers to help because that’s just not what men did when he was growing up.
THE BEAUTY OF BICULTURALISM
I realized in that moment that it was more important than ever to have Cowboy’s influence in my son’s life. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I love my father. He is a great man and a wonderful friend. I respect him, and I even respect—or at least tolerate—the way he was raised.
But as I stood there, between the dining room where my father pontificated on his favorite subject—Cuba—and the kitchen where my horse-riding boyfriend and my football-playing son worked together to clean up after the family dinner, I felt a certain strange kind of pride.
I was proud to be the daughter of a Cuban immigrant who dropped the “k” in Thanksgiving (Thans-GHEE-bing). I was proud of the way he could obsess for decades upon an island far away, always with a dream of returning. I was also struck with the way this foreign-born man truly taught me through his example to be thankful for the opportunities afforded to us in the United States.
But I was also fiercely proud to be an American, in that same moment, grateful not to be totally Cuban because I am a woman raising a son who will grow up in a nation where domestic chores are no longer equated with emasculation. A son who will cook. And clean.
It was then that I realized what many bicultural people understand. It is a blessing to have one foot solidly in each culture—even when it annoys you.