HAVANA TIMES – Emma was born in Cuba, but she’s been living in the US for longer. She came to this new country at 4 months old, after a journey that changed all of our lives. Daniel was two and a half. It’s been a whole spin around the sun since then, but it feels like yesterday.
Cuban parenthood is marked by the ever-present pain of a goodbye. Over the past few years, the situation on the island has led to a significant increase in emigration. Many mothers have found themselves forced to make difficult decisions for their families’ wellbeing.
Some have had to leave the country with their children as their only baggage and a backpack of dreams on their back. I’m one of them. Others have become mothers abroad, far from their support network and in a completely different socio-cultural environment. Many mothers have experienced anguish as they watch their children leave for distant lands, seeking opportunities and a better future.
Mothers who emigrate with their children
As mothers, we have the responsibility to make decisions for our children. To guide them, take care of them, give them the wellbeing they need to grow happy and healthy.
Then, come the uncertainties. You don’t know which is the right step forward, if it really is the best thing for them. That’s when you have to also let your intuition play its part and ease some of the guilt that we always carry.
When you decide to emigrate and put everything that you’ve recognized as your own up until then in danger, the entire world shakes. But when you decide to emigrate with your children or embark on a journey with an unknown destination in mind with them, you feel like you’re carrying the weight of the entire world on your shoulders, that you’re carrying it in that backpack.
It isn’t an easy decision to emigrate with your children; especially if they are young and completely depend upon their parents, as ours did. It means leaving everything you know behind, your home, your roots, your extended family and your environment. It’s a leap of faith into the abyss, with the responsibility of making sure your children are OK and giving them a stability that even you don’t have at that moment.
The journey is full of uncertainty and challenges. As a mother, you become your children’s protector and guide in a new and unknown world. Every step you take, every obstacle you face, you do all of this with the constant thought and worry to make sure they are safe. It’s such a great responsibility that I’m still feeling, the scars it left on me, a whole year later.
The backpack you carry is also a metaphor for your responsibilities. Giving your children a home, education, healthcare and especially love. It’s a weight that often seems overwhelming, but it pushes you to carry on moving forward.
When you finally reach this country, you dreamt about so much, the journey is still far from ending. Starting from scratch with your children in a new place is a huge challenge, but it’s also an opportunity to grow together as a family.
It’s an exciting time, and is somewhat bittersweet. The happiness of being in a place where opportunities seem endless is tinged with the nostalgia of what you’ve left behind. But the vision of a better future for your children continues to be a torch that guides your steps.
Adapting to a new culture, looking for a job and house, formalities, pending paperwork and building a life in a foreign country are challenges that you overcome with time and everything gradually settles.
Starting all over again implies great sacrifice, but it also has it rewards. As you build your new life, your children also have the opportunity to grow in an environment with more resources and opportunities, as well as being more culturally diverse.
As they grow up, their identity becomes a unique combination of Cuban traditions and influences from their host country. The process becomes an experience of never-ending evolution for the family you’ve built.
Mothers in the diaspora
Many of my university or preuniversity friends have become mothers once abroad. Some of them, far from their family, their mothers, and this essential support network that we need from the moment we’re given a baby in our arms.
News of their pregnancy brought them joy, but it also gave them a heightened sense of vulnerability, as many of their loved ones were far away.
Maternity in the Cuban diaspora is a difficult journey, shadowed by the emotion of having to give birth in a different environment, but also the challenge of raising children who weren’t born on the island, but still needing to instill its cultural roots in them.
The idea of giving birth outside of Cuba is a stimulant. Healthcare conditions and opportunities available are better in a lot of ways. However, the process also means having a child that will be raised in a completely different environment, between two worlds that immigrant mothers are very familiar with.
Raising a child in a different country without losing their Cuban roots is a constant challenge. Immigrant mothers go to great lengths to transmit Cuban culture, history and traditions to our children. Using music, food, stories and celebrations, we try to keep our essence alive, while we also take on new celebrations, alongside our children, from the country that opened its doors to us and where we’ve built our home.
Nostalgia for the homeland, our family and friends is a feeling that never completely disappears. Sometimes, immigrant mothers wonder if their children will ever get the chance to see Cuba. They become nostalgic when they realize that they won’t walk down the same streets you grew up on, that they won’t climb up the chirimoyatree that was an encampment in your childhood, and that they won’t go to the same schools where you learned to write your first words.
In the story of Cuban mothers in the diaspora, Elpidio Valdes and Mickey Mouse, Maria Silvia and Minne are characters of the same story. They represent the fusion of two cultural worlds that, while different, enrich immigrant families’ lives. It’s a reminder that motherhood transcends cultural borders and creates universal connections based on love for our children and the desire for a better future.
Perhaps one of the most upsetting experiences Cuban mothers face nowadays, is having to watch their children leave for far away lands in search of opportunities they can’t find in Cuba.
Other mothers also decide to emigrate and leave their children with their grandparents or a relative until they manage to settle down in their new destination.
The decision is an act of sacrifice, in the hope that one day, once they are settled, they’ll be able to reunite with their children and give them a better life. Temporary separation becomes the price you have to pay for a more promising future.
Cuban mothers who have had to emigrate with their children, have children abroad or have to say goodbye to their loved ones, are a testament of the trials and tribulations mothers all over the world have to overcome, for their families, for their children and for themselves.