31 December 2013

Happy New Year*.

For me, New Years has always been a celebration with an asterisk-Happy New Year*.

The New Year brings with it the promise of renewal and the hope of better days to come. Unfortunately, for me and all freedom loving Cubans, it also marks the day that we lost our freedom-the asterisk.

Since this January 1st marks the 52th year of the “revolution,” it means that many more of the generation that were young adults when Castro came to power did not live to see Cuba’s return to freedom. Come to think of it, that means that most Cubans alive today were born after the day of the asterisk.

So, most of us that live on the hyphen have to rely on the ever dwindling generation of Cubans who new life in Cuba before the asterisk to tell us what it was like to live in Cuba when life there was normal. And, I’m sorry, but living under the oppression, indoctrination and rationing that came with the totalitarian regime of Fidel Castro is anything but normal.

When I was a child, I used to listen in amazement of the stories that the adults told of how things were like before Castro. I could not conceive of being able to travel abroad and come back to Cuba without permission or going to the bodega and buy whatever you had money for without a ration book.

I do have a point.

I clearly remember one New Years Eve that my mother and grandmother were fussing over grapes. Yes, grapes. You see Cubans have a tradition of eating 12 grapes at midnight for good luck. I think that’s a carryover from the Spaniards, bless them.

Anyway, on that particular New Years, there we no grapes to be found and my grandmother was not happy with Fidel. And when I asked her what the big deal with the grapes was, she said it was bad luck if you didn’t eat the 12 grapes. She told me how before Fidel the whole family would get together and have a party and I would ask her about all the stuff they ate and drank and it all sounded like a fairy tale to me.

S o that New Years Eve was the first of many without grapes which was ok with me since getting force fed those 12 grapes at midnight took all the fun out of getting to stay up late. Later on though, my superstitions got the best of me and I started to worry about what horrible bad luck would befall my family if we didn’t eat our 12 grapes at midnight. Fidel would never leave, (that proved to be a well founded fear), or we would never get our exit.

I was sure that every obstacle and struggle our family endured in the next few months was due to not eating the 12 blessed grapes. Sometime in February or March, I must have professed my “grape theory” to my father. He proceeded to smack me in the head with a classic Cuban father cocotaso and to tell me not be a comemierda. ( Not having a comemierda for a son ranks high in the Cuban father’s hierarchy of priorities) And he proceeded to explain to me his Castro theory the way only a Cuban father could. He explained that we could have each eaten a truckload of grapes and other than the ensuing cagalera, it would hot have made a bit of difference because all of the problems were caused by Castro. That’s the “No Castro, No Problem” model which admitedly held a lot more water than my childishly superstitious “grape theory”

I’ve eaten my 12 grapes every year since coming into the US. Even when I’ve gone to a party where there are no grapes for the midnight tradition, I’ve had them waiting for me when I got home. I tried taking them in my coat pocket one year, but that’s a another messy post.

I called the old man to see if he had his 12 grapes ready and he said they were taking them to their New Years eve party. I told him not to take them in his pocket. He told me not to be a comemierda. He still worries about me.

So eat 12 grapes at midnight for good luck or just because you can and raise you glass to celebrate this Happy New Year* and hope that next year it will be just a plain ‘ol Happy New Year.

Happy New Year*