Thursday, August 23, 2012

Visiting My Family in Miami

My parents had a completely different experience growing up than anything I'm familiar with. They're both Cuban, the children of Cuban immigrants, and my mom was actually born there. They grew up in Miami, firmly identifying with their cultural heritage - going to school surrounded by other Cuban kids, eating Cuban food every night, and dating their fellow Cubans in high school.

I meanwhile grew up in Chicago, surrounded by Midwesterners, and didn't have a single Cuban friend until halfway through college. I identify primarily as a Midwesterner (and oh how I want my kids to be Midwesterners too! It's the best area in the world as far as I'm concerned). I kind of forget about my Cuban ethnicity most of the time - except when we visit Miami, or "north Cuba" as my family calls it, and my extensive Cuban heritage smacks me right in the face.

The Rooster of Little Havana. He's kind of a big deal.
Miami can feel like going home for me.

It can also feel like visiting a strange and unfamiliar foreign country.

The memorial to the "Martyrs of the Bay of Pigs Invasion"
Sometimes I envy my parents for growing up with such an evident tradition and awareness of their heritage. I never really knew what it meant to call myself "Cuban." But then again, I bet they envy my experience fitting in so well here. I've always felt fully American and I love it.

This was Frank's first time visiting my extended family... getting a taste of all that Cuban culture and tradition that shows up every time I go to Miami. We spent the week staying with my wonderful aunt and uncle, Marlene and Manny.

We spent a whole day on their boat, with my family and a bunch of cousins. That was definitely a highlight of the trip.

We also got to be the guests of honor at TWO different engagement parties! Since this was the only chance for my relatives to meet Frank before the wedding, everyone wanted to throw a party for us. That's one way I know I'm Cuban: there's nothing Cubans love more than a good celebration!

Three sisters and three cousins at engagement party #1
Grandma, true to form, leads the cousins in a conga line.
We also got lucky and struck baseball-fan gold. Frank is a huge Phillies fan and they happened to be playing the Marlins in Miami last week. My uncle Manny gave us tickets to one of the games... in amazing seats.

Frank was thrilled! I was thrilled too, even though I'm not a baseball fan.

The Marlins stadium is so cool. It's covered by a retractable roof and the park is air-conditioned! Isn't that crazy? I guess that's the only way people can survive a baseball game in Miami in July.

Frank was speculating the whole time on how expensive it must be to air-condition that whole stadium.

We ordered Cuban sandwiches and plaintain chips from the concession stand during the 7th inning. On our way over there we discovered an awesome attraction... the Bobblehead Museum of Marlins Stadium.

They also had this cool little doo-dad in the outfield that lit up and spewed water when the Marlins hit a home run. That was definitely a highlight of my baseball game experience.

After the game, my dad took Frank and me on an awesome tour of Little Havana. We drank Cuban shakes called batidos in outrageous flavors like frutabomba, mango and mame. We saw Dad's old high school and took pictures with the rooster and Bay of Pigs memorial. Finally we went into a cute little cigar shop and Dad ordered a nice box of cigars for later. He almost never smokes, but he and Frank agreed that cigars would be the perfect thing to celebrate the engagement, especially in Miami. Besides, how else could we completely turn Frank into a real Cuban? ;)

So that evening, Frank joined my dad and my uncle Hugo for a smoke, along with a glass of cognac and a fun dice game.

They even bought Frank a guayabera, the most popular shirt for Cuban men. He won the dice game ("luck of the Irish," he grinned) and was pretty much walking on air after that.

Although you wouldn't know it from this picture. He was doing his best impersonation of a Cuban mafioso.
It was a fantastic trip and we're already looking forward to the next one! I loved spending that time with my extended family and introducing Frank to a little bit of my cultural background.

Most of all I loved spending all that time with him... my darling fiance.

His last year of law school started Monday and we're already feeling the time crunch. Between school, an internship at a local legal clinic and working part-time, Frank is one busy man. I'm so glad we got to take one last little trip before the busy times started up again in earnest. We had the greatest time.

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