Lo Que Pica el Gallo

Hablando de lo que pica el gallo…formando un arroz con mango.

Cantar el Manisero en Miami


You never really notice how over-the-top some of our Cuban customs are, especially when it’s all you know. Take for instance funerals. Every single one of the funerals I’ve ever attended are all pretty similar and it isn’t until I stop to notice all the little details that I realize that us Cubans (at least us in Miami) are definitely something else.

Two weeks ago my dad gave me la mala noticia of a death in the family. Being the weekend of Halloween, my youngest brother wasn’t all that pleased with having to cancel his night-time outing for a funeral. The situation reminded me of the episode of ¿Que Pasa USA? where Carmencita and Joe have to cancel a party because a friend of abuela’s passed away. As my night progressed, I came to the conclusion that all the funerals I’ve been to strike a certain similarity to the one in the show.

But anyway, the first point of distinction: the funeral home. I think the most popular funeral home amongst Cubans has to be Bernando Garcia. Why? Because they conveniently have locations in the heart of Miami, Westchester, Hialeah and even Kendall for the more modern Cubans. But what attracts us to these specifically? Is it the name, the florescent lighting? (You should know by now how I feel about florescent lighting.) Perhaps it’s the fact that they offer the option of holding an overnight viewing, because at no other time can you really get the entire family in one place without the presence of massive amounts of food; third, fourth and fifth cousins included. Hay que aprovechar. And if you put enough of us in a room, there’s plenty of cuentos, chistes y gosadera to go around, even while mourning the death of a loved one. At some point in the night, I leaned over towards my older brother and stopped mid-breath, hesitating to ask him a question. “What?” he asked. “Nothing. I was going to ask you a ‘family tree’ related question, but forget it.” “Yeah, don’t bother.” It’s so hard to keep track of the flow of the blood line at times.

Greeting me as I entered the poorly lit salon was a drooping American flag and to its opposite side, la bandera Cubana. The question probably doesn’t cross your mind, why is there a Cuban flag and not any other Latino flag? Do people of other nationalities notice this, or do they just avoid Bernado Garcia all together?

Having arrived late to an over-night viewing, my family and I missed, what I can assume, was the mass of family members I barely know, relatives who remember me being waist high, talking to my parents about how big I’ve gotten in a way that still makes me feel invisible. “Y que edad tiene la niña?” “En que año de la escuela esta?” “Hay pero que bonita se a puesto tu hija!” I’ve never understood why they assume I can’t answer the questions they ask my parents about me. Is this just an old Cuban thing? Unfortunately, arriving late means I miss out on the selection of prayer cards that lay over the booklet that’s to be signed that sits by the entrance of la capilla. I guess it serves as some sort of proof to the hosting family that you were actually there, in case you were lost in the crowd of primos, tias, y nietos. I wonder if anyone has ever turned back to one to settle an argument. Probably.

Adentro las capillas whose walls are carpeted, the scent of fresh flowers struggles to empower the room while the stench of cheap cologne and perfume fume the air, giving the flowers a run for their money. The flowers are ornamented by thick ribbons whose messages are written in silver and gold glitter-glue, each of them looking just like the one next to it; Roses, babies breath, and carnations. The capillas are separated by old wooden panels and guests sit on leather (or pleather, I’m not sure) couches, while some unfortunate few had to settle for old aluminum fold-away chairs. In other funerals I’ve attended, the rotation of seats came as often as someone new arrived and was greeted, or at the sudden urge of un cafecito. Conveniently enough, there’s always some place close enough to a Bernado Garcia Funeral Home to run and get a quick pastelito or colada to share with a few people you’ve reconnected with. To escape the ongoing chatter of the mathematicians who were sacando la cuenta trying to figure out los años que se llevan en edad, one of my brothers and I stepped outside for some air and I quickly spotted the Miami bakery across the street. And as to only further prove the ethnicity of the place where we stood, next to the bakery I spotted a Botanica Pet Shop.

Because only in Miami can you get pets, medicamentos para despojo y pastelitos all in one stop.

Anyway, we walked quickly into the bakery that smelled of stale pastelitos, purchased our maltas and pasteles, and crossed a busy NW 7th Street back to the funeral home.

Inside there was more chatter of nietos y visnietos y sobrinos and of a Cuba before Fidel. It always amazes me how people connect their stories to one another, their words forming memories and painting pictures of a Cuba I’ve never seen, of a Cuba they probably won’t ever see, because the way they remember it is nothing like the Cuba of today. In their minds, everything is exactly as they left it. And suddenly the brutal reality sinks in. The majority of older Cubans who fled Cuba years ago, pass away never having revisited the island they felt so much pride for despite of what it has become, and I wonder how many more generations have to pass before the pictures painted with words and memories come to life again. So as I come to notice that while most of our habits and mannerisms as Cubans seem to distinguish us from other cultures, it is probably that dying wish of a free Cuba that unites all generations of Cubans together, even within the carpeted capillas and florescent lighting of the popular funeral homes.

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About Lyanis

I'm always a little skeptical about filling out an "About Me" section. I'm supposed to tell you about who I am, when really, as wordy as I tend to be, no one can really get to know someone from a box confined to a certain number of characters. You see, I'm a bit complicated. I don't like to admit it, partially because I like the simple things in life but truth is, we're all complicated and none of us come with instructions on how to decode one another. So in the mean time, to better understand me for me, I'll give you the basics: I'm a hometown Miami girl born to Cuban parents. I'm the only girl of 4 children still living at home with mom and dad while I work and study in hopes that one day, all this writing pays off and...well... literally pays off. I'm working on getting my Bachelor's degree in English with a minor in Communications. I tried reaching for my roots and focusing in on Spanish, pero que 'va, I like Cuban Spanish and Spanglish way better than the Spanish the teach in college. Both my parents have instilled the importance of family and togetherness in me and my siblings. For that, I'm thankful. Although at times my house resembles una casa de locos, it is that very essence that makes me a little bit more of who I am, and provides me with the material I write about here. I have big dreams for myself as well as for Lo Que Pica El Gallo. This is just the beginning of a long journey and I sure do hope you stick around to see where it takes us.

6 Comments on “Cantar el Manisero en Miami

  1. Lourdes Alonso
    November 9, 2010

    As always I am impressed…you capture “US” so well, you’ve made me laugh with your observations and made me cry with your realization. I have been gone from my country for 40 years, I’ve grown old here, and I always knew I would never live there again. Yet the pictures of a pre-Castro Cuba that were painted for me are the same ones that have been painted for you, and this makes me very proud because it lets me know that those roots are set in you and that even if I never get to see a free Cuba like my own parents would have liked, if it never again becomes like the pretty pictures that are painted in our minds, I am certain that you would pass them down to your own family someday, and maybe you and they would be able to relive this memories implanted from birth under a palm tree in Varadero.

    • Lauren
      November 9, 2010

      Your description of funerals reminds me of the unfortuante times when you have to elbow realitves and friends just to see the casket. You see generations lined up in a couch reminising on the loved one and on life, and suddenly no matter what it always hits a person that one day you will be the person laying there and you always hope they remember the good and forget the mistakes. Ly, one day if we ever get to see where our parents were born, where our families grew up and actually get to see the memories into realites remind me to bring a portable fan.
      P.S. where was that botanica my dog has been under the weather lately

  2. Jessica Ledesma
    November 9, 2010

    Wow, I don’t even know where to start. Living so far from home I sometimes get lost in the lifestyle of a typical “American” college student. I lose my accent, my mannerisms and almost forget how important my culture and that crazy city I grew up in is to me. When I read your blog it takes me back to a place of comfort. It reminds me of who I am and where I come from and how at the end of the day I am still apart of everything Miami and being Cuban has to offer. Thank you and Lauren for writing this and reminding me of the roots that were embedded in me so long ago. It’s a nice break from my new life to be able to remember where I come from and why for example, I still reach for the vivaporu cuando tengo toz and why I say “ven pa’ca” to my dog (and she understands it) instead of “come here” lol…Please continue writing on this blog, you have no idea how refreshing it is for me to be able to read this and go back to that familiar place of locura lol.

    P.S.
    Now that las navidades are coming up, you should write a blog on Santa’s Enchanted Forrest.lol You can’t celebrate el fin del ano without that strip of illuminated lights, rides, and crappy carnival food behind tropical park. hahaha!! :)

    • Lyanis
      November 9, 2010

      Jess, so happy you can travel home via our blog. That’s what we intend to do.

      As for Santa’s Enchated Forest, I still have some of the photos I took with my phone last year, with the Bistek cart (spelled wrong) and remember you saying, it must taste really good if they spelled it wrong. lol. December will probably have a lot of posts to go around, from Holiday traditions to el dia de San Lazaro y Santa Barbara.

    • daniel
      November 9, 2010

      I couldn’t agree more with Jessica’s comments. I’m a 1stGen American, born of a Cuban mother. I spent the first 25 years of my life in Miami. For the last 8 years, I’ve lived in the MidWest, and I miss the culture that Miami (Cubans) offer. I always get Materva and Jupina whenever I visit, along with a ton of Pan Cubano, y lechon.

      Reading your description of the funeral, vividly reminded me of my Abuelo’s funeral (along with others). It’s amazing how that experience seemed so “normal” in the sense that I assumed ALL funerals EVERYWHERE operated in the same manner.

      Thanks for this blog… it allows me to feel like I’m back “home” whenever I read it.

      PS, LOL to Jessica’s comment about Santa’s Enchanted Forrest. I hope you DO write something about “Miami Christmas” ;-)

  3. Melissa
    December 14, 2010

    “Because only in Miami can you get pets, medicamentos para despojo y pastelitos all in one stop.”

    Love that! Every funeral I attend feels like that Que Pasa U.S.A. episode, too.

    This was a great post. The last paragraph about the older generation of Cubans dying without ever revisiting their homeland is very touching and so true.

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