I don't think I could have grown up to be anything else but a writer. Not that I was especially talented at a young age, or that I knew any writers growing up in Flushing, Queens. No, I turned to writing because my family wouldn't stop talking. Ever.
I'm part of a very ordinary Cuban family, which is to say, a meddling clan of aunts, uncles, and grandparents who are tireless storytellers. Stories are such a powerful way to remember and make sense of what happens to you in life - and plenty had happened to them by the time they arrived in the US during the early 1960s. My parents left in the middle of a revolution in their country, and they arrived the way many immigrants do: with empty pockets, no language, and in shock.
But they also knew the power of stories. Families need their own tales to survive hard times, and those stories are a rope that can attach even the youngest children to their roots. Stories help you learn all the things that really matter to the people who are trying to help you grow up.
Whether my aunts were cooking a pot of rice and beans, mopping the floor, or just enjoying an afternoon coffee, they told me our stories. My head filled with pictures of my grandmother rolling cigars as a young girl; with pictures of Abuelo selling bicycles and building a school; with images of my delicate aunts wielding machetes in the sugar cane fields, their pants held up with rope. They told these events honestly and with pride and joy - sometimes losing themselves as they remembered the smells and sounds of home, maybe adding an extra detail or two. Sure, I read all the books my American friends were reading, but when I came home after school, my grandmother was always waiting with something really different and exciting - if I was lucky, maybe even inappropriate.
"Did I ever tell you the story of the time the hurricane wiped out my village?" she asked me when I was six. "No? Oooosh. I can still smell the dead on the streets."
See what I mean?
About My Work
That's why I'm an author. When I write today, I try to use as many of those scraps of true life in my work as I can, even the sad scraps no one likes to remember. I love honoring those tales because they rooted me and because they taught me that everyone's story is worth telling, and that every family has heroes. Sure, I mix them with more modern times and characters, but I always keep in mind how hard it is to be a kid who is American, but whose parents are from somewhere else. I try to give them the same rope.
Three things you didn't know about me
1. I adore big dogs, even the kind with feet that smell like Fritoes.
2. I am shamelessly addicted to Milk Duds, despite pleas from my dentist.
3. Oh, and I dance a mean salsa.
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