Mira, mami: A Story of Lost and Found
by Lesley Salas
I can hear them but I don’t understand. It flows smoothly over the tongue. “Mira, mami!” I repeat over and over again. I always want my mommy to see what I’m doing but now I want her to see me doing it in my Cuban identity.
They came to our house in rural Illinois, my cousins, not knowing what was going on except that they were out of Cuba and that their former home was no place to be.
They spoke only to my father, eye conversations is what we had. I, being the oldest and most curious, stared and tried to speak the most. Their names – Pepito, Bebo, Cuqui, Thelma (without pronouncing the T) – were poetry to me.
Mira, mami, I’m talking to them, haltingly, because I don’t know the actual words. Perhaps that’s why I’m a reader of feelings. The brush of palm trees flickered behind their eyes. I could see it in between blinks. They brought me the food, they brought me music, they brought an intermittent breeze of sadness as they put on their winter coats. Funny, I felt like the uprooted one in Illinois. Can you be born somewhere yet not belong?
The throwback. The Cuban one who had been to Cuba only five times. The urgency to learn more than “mira, mami.” The rush to perfect the sounds delicious as the slurp of an ice cream cone once you have the dripping verb tenses under control. The search for a homeland that fit better than the Midwest.
It was a substitute, Mexico. For a long time, I thought I had found my homeland after living there for over three years and being surrounded by Mexican people for nearly thirty years after.
But then, mira, I was uprooted, some would say, from the Midwest to Florida. Miami fucking Florida. Mira, papi, I’m home. I fit, even with the strong American overtone, even with the mixed-up accent, even with the hybrid Cuban-Mexican expressions. This is the homeland for me, because people born in Midwestern suburbs are not so keen after all on uncivilized toilets like the ones in Cuba. I get it all here instead, the music, the taste of guayaba in every pastry, the strong coffee, the strong opinions, the pulsing life force of the Cubans. Mira, mami. I did it.
Lesley Salas is a Cuban American lesbian mother of two from Illinois who was recently transported by the fates to Miami, Florida, to work on her dream job writing grants for legal services for immigrants.
She has published literary translations, personal essays and the occasional poem. After a long hiatus, she is resuming her creative writing career.
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