I am so proud of my friend and colleague, Marisella Veiga, on the publication of We Carry Our Homes with Us – A Cuban American Memoir. Yes, I do have a personal relationship with the author so perhaps my comments might be viewed as slanted. However, I can tell you her book is honest, raw, and triumphant. As someone who lived in the same town until I went away to college–thirty miles away–this book astounded me as I attempted to understand what it must have been like to move as much as the Veiga family did during Marisella’s formative years. Not only did they move, but they were ripped from their home only to become exiles in a foreign land where very few understood what it meant to be Cuban.
I’ve known Marisella for more than a decade, but I discovered I really didn’t know her heart and soul until I read her account of what it was like growing up as an exile from her homeland of Cuba. At three years old, she didn’t understand the ramifications of the plane ride from Havana to Miami with her mother and two brothers. Her father joined them later with only fourteen cents in his pocket and dim prospects for work in a city teeming with Cubans who’d escaped the Communist regime of Fidel Castro. Both of her parents were professionals: her mother was an optometrist, and her father a respected accountant. With three young children and a fourth on the way, they were placed with a host family in Minnesota–so far from their culture that even a far cry couldn’t reach the shores of the island just ninety miles away from the United States. But her father would be able to find work there, maybe not at the same professional level as he enjoyed in Cuba, but work in his field nonetheless.
There are parts that are heartbreaking, such as the story of the little Marisella not having any friends in school until the fourth grade, sitting isolated in the classroom in a world of silence because she did not yet speak English. She also looked different from the other students, where most of them hailed from northern European bloodlines. However, her descriptions of growing up in the United States of the 1960s in a community give a nostalgic longing for a time of innocence no longer possible in the age of social media exposure. The children formed their own communities. And the other Cuban families that came in the same program as the Veigas to Minnesota formed yet another, providing comfort in such a different place from Cuba.
I found myself crying, laughing, and cringing at some of her brutally honest explorations of her life of exile in Minnesota. She writes in the very beginning that, “People learn to live in exile–no matter where one sets up housekeeping–by experiencing it. Exile is a state of being that continues for most Cubans who live outside their country if they have left for political, not economic, reasons. It ends when Cuba embraces democracy.”
This statement alone let me know that I was reading about something vastly different from my own experience as a citizen of the United States.
Even though the family settles in Minnesota, movement continues as the family grows in size and in finances. By the age of four, she’d lived in five different places, and the moves continued while living in Minnesota.
The writing of this book took tremendous effort as my friend dug into the past and her feelings surrounding her exile. Through her experience, she learned not to place too much importance on material objects, and she learned to adapt and welcome change as one thing remained constant:
A place is called a home, no matter where the dwelling is situated, for one reason: the sanctuary of home is carried within each person. The material manifestation–trailer, apartment, or mansion–is secondary.
Marisella interviewed many of the folks she knew from the Minnesota days to write this book, and when it released in April, she returned for a book signing. Members of her family’s host family came to see her as did friends she made in the last few years they stayed there. After Marisella completed fifth grade, the family returned to Miami where they remained. Marisella returned to Minnesota for college to the place where her exile began but also where so many parts of her personality were formed. The writing of this book brought her full circle.
This memoir, published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, is an outstanding book that should be mandatory reading for all, especially those who find it difficult to embrace a culture different from their own. We Carry Out Homes With Us will open your heart and your mind.
I had the pleasure of helping Marisella put together her Cuban Rice Classics cookbook several years ago. She’s a talented woman who does Cuban cooking demonstrations, speaks about her life of exile, and continues to write.
More about Marisella Veiga: Writer Marisella Veiga was born in Havana, Cuba. She was raised both in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Miami, Florida. Her writings have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, Poets & Writers and Art in America. In 2004, she was given the Evelyn La Pierre Award in Journalism by Empowered Women International. She is a nationally syndicated columnist with Hispanic Link News Service. Many of these are recorded on a spoken word CD, Square Watermelons: Ten Essays on Living with Two Cultures available from Eclipse Recording Studio in St. Augustine. Many of her short stories, one of which won The Pushcart Prize Special Mention in Fiction, are in literary anthologies. Veiga’s essays also appear in Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education and Our Town magazines. Besides teaching part-time at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida writing, she has been giving Cuban cooking demonstrations at various venues around Florida.