Friday, October 24, 2008

My people

A recent conversation.

"So what are you, Italian, Greek?" asked the stranger. I mentally rolled my eyes and sighed. I've had different versions of this conversation for the past six years since I moved to Boston. This never happened in Miami. The most asked question there was what gym I worked out at.
Back to the recent conversation.
"Um, no. I'm Cuban.'' I answered, sipping my drink.
The guy was perplexed by my answer.
"Cuban? So you're Latino."
"Well, I prefer Hispanic."
"And you write about your people?" I narrowed my eyes.
"Yeah, I write about Bostonians, gays, Hispanics/Latinos, the elderly, the young, just about everyone."
The conversation got me thinking about who he meant by my people.

My name reflects a fraction of whom I am, American and Cuban. Just on the basis of my last name alone, emails come my way on just about anything related to the Hispanic/Latino community in Boston and New England.
In certain settings, people greet me with an "Hola" or "Como estas" and sometimes with an "Oi" or a "Buon giorno." I wonder what the reactions would be if we lived in a matrilineal culture. My name would be Johnny M___. (I won't say. I don't want to be the victim of identity theft but I'll say it sounds more Anglo, even Irish.) I bet people wouldn't stumble on that last name as they do on Diaz in Boston whenever I leave a message or make an appointment. Dee-as? Dye-az? Johnny what? Huh?

But I don't mind being the go-to Hispanic-Latino among my friends in Boston. I feel it's part of my duty and one of the reasons I became a writer, to be a voice for others, stepping into the lives of everyday people and telling their stories. Enlighten, inform, educate, share. Represent...mi gente.

So when that stranger asked me about my people, I began wondering what that meant.

Was he thinking of the proud Cuban exiles in Miami? The patriotic Puerto Rican boricuas in the South End? The hard-working Aztec people in Mexico? The warm mulattos from Santo Domingo? The Chinese descendants in Havana? My olive-skinned paternal forefathers from the Canary Islands? My maternal great grandparents and their parents from Seville, Spain? The married gay couples and their single friends here in the Bay State? My people.

My people would probably be very at home in the South End's predominant gay community as they are among blue-collar Cubans in Boston's Jamaica Plain and Miami's Little Havana. They might feel comfortable in the working-class Latino neighborhood of mostly Spanish-speaking residents in East Boston as they are among Cape Verdeans in Boston's Dorchester or in cosmopolitan Ivy-league Cambridge, or in the more affluent South Shore suburbs of Duxbury and middle-class developments in South Florida's Kendall. Or in the pubs of South Boston and the Asian pockets of Quincy.

I feel a part of all these communities, my people, mi gente.

So fellow readers, who are your people, your gente? Discuss and comment below.


  1. My people: paternal grandparents from the Canary Islands, maternal lineage from Asturias and I am all Cuban... from New Orleans.

  2. Hey, I'm from the Canary Islands, born and raised. Which island were your ancestors from? Anyway, thanks for your books, I kind of identify with what you write about Cuban families, maybe it's a similar culture. Or maybe somebody in Azerbaijan could identify too. I guess your people are those you get to connect with, regardless of their blood, if they are olive-skinned or pasty white.

    Can't wait for "Beantown Cubans" to come out.

    Un abrazo

  3. Thanks Eduardo for the comment.
    My father's side of the family is from the Canary Islands (before my grandparents settled in Cuba.)