My abuelas have always lived nearby. In fact, for most of my early childhood, they lived on the same block (one was across the street!).
This was convenient for my parents – and it certainly didn’t go unappreciated. My grandmothers could take care of my sister and me while they worked or pick us up from school if we were sick.
Both of my abuelas were – and still are – a big part of my day-to-day life. Growing up, this meant a few things:
Spanish was not a question. Both of my grandmothers, and even the great-grandmother who cared for me in my pre-grade school years, are Cuban immigrants. Spanish is their primary, and only, language. This meant that Spanish was also my first language, and that in order to communicate with my grandmothers, I had to maintain my Spanish vocabulary. It’s thanks to them and my Spanish-language skills that I’ve been led this career path in U.S. Hispanic public relations.
I was immersed in my Cuban culture. I learned first hand what it was like to be Cuban, even though I’ve never been to the island. Still, the food, the slang, the hospitality and pride were instilled from very young. Rice and beans have always been a staple, and while I don’t use slang like “qué bola?,” there’s most definitely un “pulover” y “parqueo” thrown around every so often. Growing up with my abuelas so close to home is one of the main reasons I identify as bicultural, even if they do call me “gringa” sometimes.
I learned about hard work by example. If you ask my paternal grandmother, I think I’m a princess. But that’s because, like all abuelas, she treats me as such. Both of my abuelas will go out of their way to make their grandchildren happy – and we see their hard work. Day in, day out, they’ll clean, cook and make sure everyone’s taken care of. When we were younger, they’d make sure we were healthy and that we’d started our homework. But their hard work extends past their love for their grandchildren. My abuelas made a life for themselves in a completely new country where they didn’t know the language or the customs. That’s admirable.
Right now, I’m sitting in one abuela’s living room, spending some time with her and my little sister. And while not every day is perfect with these Cuban grandmas, I couldn’t be more grateful to have them near. Abuelas’ love is unconditional.