A personal commemoration for Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15)
Years ago, hankering for a cup of coffee, I was transported to a deep, inward place. Enrique, a Starbucks barista, seeing me, called out, “Hola!” I replied, “Hola!” He continued in Spanish. I knew enough to say, “No hablo español.” Surprised, he said, “Sorry, but you have the look.” Instantly, I felt called to examine anew my roots. My Cuban roots.
Pedro Silva, my paternal grandfather, born in the latter 19th century in Santiago de Cuba, immigrated to the United States. Sometime later, he married Edith Abernathy. To their union, my father William and his sister Benita were born. When Pedro and Edith died, Edith’s father, my great-grandfather, Herman Abernathy, took care of my father and aunt and gave them his name.
After my father’s death, rummaging through his effects, I found pictures of my grandfather Pedro, his sister and brother, even a deed to a tract of land in Cuba.
Seeking to piece together my heritage, for a time, I was angry with my father for having buried his history and mine. In time, I understood. He was a dark-skinned man with straight black hair. Unaccepted by whites because of his skin color, he was nearly as unwelcome by blacks. Cutting his mane to a close-cropped bush and denying his lineage was an act of survival. I do not know how well he succeeded. Sometimes I wonder: Was his volcanic temper a part of a painful price paid for his need to forsake an inerasable root of his very self?
Enrique, unknowingly, brought all this to mind for me; truly, brought it up from my soul. Almost daily, I ponder: Who am I?
As an existentialist, I am wedded to the matters of identity, destiny, and legacy. Thus, I find it difficult to discern with comforting confidence my selfhood, my being and my becoming, when so much of my beginning remains in the shadows.
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