Growing up, I was always extremely proud of my Cuban heritage. Read: Extremely. Proud. Even as a very young kid, I always thought it was sooooooooo cool that my family spoke Spanish. I loved the way it sounded, how it rolled off everyone's tongues with such rhythm and rhyme. I loved the way my name sounded when they said it...... more like 'cada' than 'Khar-ra.' Being called 'Kharita' was the creme-de-la-creme of endearment.
It came as a complete susprise to find out that not everyone had regular family get-togethers involving maracas, tambourines, guitars and a chorus of aunts and uncles who in my mind were the best musicians the world had ever seen.
(We also recently lost my beloved uncle José Luís. He was the oldest of the eight children. I will always remember him for his warm smile, inquisitive nature, incredible brilliance, diplomacy and leadership. In real life, he was a celebrated neurologist, but when I was a kid, I thought he was a rock-star... I still have his album 'Los Tropicales' and remember him with love every time I listen. I love you Tio!)
We had hand-made piñatas, home-cooked ropa vieja, Agua de Violetas, and lunch at Abuela & Abuelo's on Sundays.
As I grew older and came to know the story of what it means to be a 'Prendes' and how my family came to be the strong, inspiring people they are...I felt a sense of honor and pride I previously didn't know was possible.
In preparation for Abuelo's funeral services, the photo albums (arm-loads upon arm-loads!) have resurfaced from the drawers and closets at Abeula's house. I've looked through many of them repeatedly over the years during countless Sunday afternoons visiting 'Los Chachis.' I don't know if I ever saw this one before, or if it just strikes me now because I'm older, but when I saw this photo of my mom with Abuelo, I had to do a double-take (as did everyone else). I've always been thrilled to think that I share some of my mom's features.... but the resemblance in this photo is uncanny.
Maybe it's the expression on her face. Maybe the darling bikini. Or simply the fact that she's standing with Abuelo.... whatever it is.... I can't get enough of it. I feel like when I look at this photo, not only can I see the light that I've always known as my mother shining through her bright eyes and smile, but.... I feel like it sums up so much of my family and myself. Having come to this country with nothing but determination (and eight kids!).... their (our) lives sure are rich in the ways that matter most.
Here's another fave from Abuela & Abuelo's wedding. I don't think it's humanly possible for either of them to have been more handsome. The beginning of "Los Chachis!"
May the music live on forever. :)