The first time I saw a dead rat I was 14. I ran like it was still alive, chasing at my heels. I came home and told my grandmother. My grandmother, who knew of my hate of rats and had even killed a long, fat one in the Dominican Republic with a broom stick, responded, cuando andas pensando en algo, te lo encuentras. When you're always thinking of something, you find it. She was simply restating the law of attraction as we know it today. Needless to say, I was a teenager and sayings by older people no longer interested me, yet today I recollect them and see how often they ring true. My grandmother's saying came into mind during this my first few trip abroad this year. Everywhere I turned in Cuba there was race like a rat on the pavement except these times I didn't run the other way and some times the rat was beautiful.
My travel buddies and I dressed up and headed out into Havana expecting a night of dancing and rum instead we met a number of dead ends. Our first stop, a place recommended by locals, was "Mio y Tuyo" (Yours and Mine). Ironically, the place did not consider us part of either groups. We were turned down due to "lack of reservation." People were pouring out therefore there must've been space we tried to argue, but the guards simply gave us their back talking amongst themselves as if we weren't attempting to get their attention. We walked endlessly, hailed a cab, and wound up arriving at a place called Fantasy. I got out, since I spoke Spanish, and asked if reservations were necessary. The guard responded, "it depends. All of you have to come out of the car so I can see." I scoffed thinking it a joke, but he was dead serious. I went to the cab and told my friends who had mixed feelings but came out anyway. As we stood there inspected by a dark guard and the light skin promoters we saw a number of white Cubans stepping out to smoke or heading to their cars. "If you do come out, we ask that you all not be too loud talking or laughing and stuff." My friends were about to call it a day and head in, but I expressed I didn't want to party at a place with so many regulations, so we headed out again. We walked to 2 other places before finally settling down at a place to eat that didn't reject us at the door. That's where our night left us, filling our bellies, venting, laughing without music. The next morning I was glad to be leaving Habana behind.
Trump followed me to Trinidad, Cuba. My ride there was with a couple from Colorado and their child. They invited me to the beach once we made it into the colonial town, and I accepted. The woman, D, was Guatemalan- American, the male was Irish- American, A, and their child was a 11 year old cutie. After spending 8 hours together, after I had told them of my work as a culturally responsive educator, I asked them, "what do you guys do?" They looked at each other and A said, "We don't like telling people what we do." D looked at me and said, "We're deputies...cops." And I nodded, "cool." I didn't think about it too much. They had been drinking and cursing, so all was good. "We didn't want to tell you," D said, "we saw you're bracelet." I took a look at my wrist--my Black Lives Matter bracelet. "Oh," I took a deep breath and in my exhale the water under me rippled. "Well just because I support and believe Black Lives Matter doesn't mean I hate law enforcement." They looked at each other, "Yeahhhhhhhh, but you know it's just the way the media sells it." I agreed--it is true that the BLM movement is positioned in a negative light by media outlets with have a certain agenda. D told me that as a Guatemalan- American she was always called racist and treated like a monster by folks of color within cells in the prison she worked. "You work for an institution that historically has been racist, so it probably isn't personal. Look to the world, when you have that uniform on, you're a reflection of that institution." She told me it was causing a lot of trauma and internal conflict. "But you chose to do that work. You should've known it wasn't going to be easy especially as a woman of color." At the end A said, "We like having these conversations with people who, you know, are educated." The Bronx vibrated at my throat. Neither of them had finished college, yet here I was listening to their "some cops are good" story, and they listened to me not to understand but to tell me their side because I would understand it since I was "educated." I decided not to fight any wars abroad. I turned and went further into the water, swam deeper somewhere I knew they weren't coming.
Then there was the explaining to both sides--my travel buddies and my hosts.
My travel buddies felt it I guess--in this part of America--the Caribbeans-- I was black. no questions asked. Blackness did not work here like it did back home. A tint of melanin left bodies to be labeled by any of the 200 Spanish words out there to describe the color of skin. They also heard it, "mulatta". Our host, a mulatta herself, bought over a friend to greet me, "Mira, she knows Spanish. Es mulatta." "So wait, you're black here?" one of my travel buddies asked. "I am, but I'm also black at home. Yes, my ethnicity is Latina, but racially, I am black. I would never feel comfortable identifying as white. It's weird though--race is much more complicated here. For example, my sister and I share both parents but racially she is white and I'm black. She's called Rubia or Blanca and I'm called Negra or Morena or Trigueña...or here, I guess Mulatta." They got it--they did before our trip, but it was deeper now. "It's all the same--it's just a boat stop away," one of them kept repeating, "The African Diaspora is beautiful."
The most painful explanation came sitting on a long, wooden dinning table in the home of our airbnb hosts. My friend sat on one side, I on the other, and at the head of the table, the host's daughter, a white Cuban. She was curious about all of our backgrounds. I explained that my parents were both Dominicans, then I explained that one of my travel buddies traced her folks into Eritrea, another into Nigeria, another into Montserrat. "Y ella?" She asked looking at my friend. "She's African- American. Her family is American." She stared at me as if I hadn't finished my response. "But where are her parents or grandparents from?" I explained that most African- Americans could not trace their backgrounds into anywhere but Africa in it's entirety or America due to slavery . I added that it was the enslavement happened in Latin America, but the enslavement of African- Americans had a culture of splitting up familes to p and kept away from their narratives. I also tried to break down the fact that the enslave people of Latin American were given the chance to build a "home" in a place distant from where they were first taken and the West (Europe and United States.) In other words, we have an illusion of home. I then translated everything into English to tell my friend, and she said, "Yeah, rape and..." She tried to express the misfortune on her face for our host to understand. I felt uncomfortable with this privilege of language of being able to retell my friend's history for her. "I like Black people," she said with a smile. "You guys are more fun. Our white guests are always frustrated and high maintenance and they never really talk to us. You guys are happy. Even though i'm the lightest person in my family, my boyfriend is a mulatto."