Embracing our Latin American identity

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The picture above was taken on December 23, 1962. We see a young man, head shaven, skinny and weak, embracing his parents with all his strength. He was a stern, proud man, and tears weren’t usually part of his repertoire. However right then, in that moment, he didn’t really give a damn. He had been to Hell and back, and was just happy to be able to hold them again. Taken at Miami International Airport, this photo shows the moment when this man of eighteen was returned to his parents, after what must have been the most trying time of his young life. Just twenty months before, he, along with 1,400 of his compatriots, formed Brigade 2056, an exile force who took on the mission of leading their countrymen in a revolt against the Castro regime, an attempt to take the government back from the Communist oppressors who took so much from them. But, as fate would have it, the invasion was a disaster, and what became known as the “Bay of Pigs” went down in history as one of the CIA’s biggest blunders.

He, like the others who were with him, was little more than an adolescent, just over seventeen when he left. They were ready to do anything, even give their lives, to take back the country where they had grown up, that they called home. Like he always said, when we asked about it later “We expected to die, but never to lose.” But they did. Not only did they lose a battle, they lost a home. Never again would they see their hometowns, and many of their friends and family would be either left behind in Cuba or exiled all over the world. They had to live in a strange new land, starting a life with little more than the clothes on their backs and the few dollars they had in their pockets. Many of them were able to make their own way here, even live out their own versions of the American dream. This story isn’t only that of the Cuban people. In one way or another, this is the tale of everyone who comes here, especially from Latin America. Whether it’s political persecution, war, or economic strife, the story is largely the same: giving up your life, in the home you know and love, for some strange place, hoping against hope for the chance to give your children a better shot than you ever had.

This is Our VOXXI. Our parents, our grandparents, they were those people who gave up so much, sometimes everything they had, to try to make a better life for us. We were born here- I’m happy to call America home. We define what it really means to be Hispanic-Americans: although some of us (like myself) may never get to see the place our families came from, but there is no doubt in my mind that “Cubanismo” has had as much of an influence on my life as anything that I’ve experienced in the United States. The land that you come from is not what makes up your heritage- it’s the people you are with, the cultural environment that your friends and family create around you, that are your true heritage, the real shaping forces that define the kind of person you will become. I’ll admit it. I might not put as much emphasis on my Latin culture as I should. There’s been many an eye-roll when one of my older relatives launches into a story about old Cuba that I just haven’t heard enough times (it seems that every single family in pre-revolution Cuba had a massive farm and single-handedly controlled the government). But, as far as I’ve seen, this is a problem with a lot of our generation- Hell, one of my friends, with a name like Antonio, can barely put together a coherent Spanish phrase. It may just seem like annoying nagging from our grandparents, but we really should do more to keep this culture alive. It’s this sort of biculturalism, this equal blend of American and Hispanic that make us unique from the generations before us, and the ones to come after us. That man in that picture up there is Jose Ignacio Smith. He is my grandfather, and every day I think about all that he went through, all the sacrifices he made, that have helped me get where I am today. I owe it to him. We all owe it to those who came before us, to keep the culture alive. This is  Our VOXXI, and we are Latin-American.

In loving memory of Jose Ignacio Smith.

August 26, 1943 – September 11, 1996

Te quiero abuelo Joche, te quiero. 

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