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Be Pretty, Get Married, and Always Drink TaBA Memoir
By Gigi Anders
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Gigi Anders
All right reserved.
It's the classic Latina position: Be pretty, get married, and shut the fuck up. I am not a classic Latina.
I am a Jubana, a Cuban Jewess.
And when you're a bride-to-be Jubana, you have to know you're heading straight into the mondo bizarro jaws of cross-cultural hell. Especially if, like me, you're an only child (which I am, except for my two American-born younger brothers). My mother, Ana, also a Cuban-born only daughter with two brothers, was treated by her indulgent parents like the quintessential Jewish Cuban Princess (JCP) she was and would always be, Fidel Castro's revolution be damned. The princess royal's parents, Boris and Dora, had emigrated as destitute teenagers from Russia and Lithuania to Cuba in the early 1920s. And just like my Polish-born paternal grandparents, Leon and Zelda, they spoke Yiddish and Hebrew with Cuban accents, Spanish with Yiddish accents, and English with Yiddish-Cuban accents.
Boris, born Boruch Benes, was a self-made man and Reform Jew. He started out selling handkerchiefs, bolts of lace, and fabrics, and eventually became the wildly prosperous owner of Camisetas Perro (literally translated, Dog Undershirts--it sounds way better in Español), sort of the Victoria's (and Victor's) Secret of its day. He and Dora threw their onlydaughter the grandest marital bash of that winter season. At my mother's 1954 December wedding in Havana there were 750 guests. That's muchos silk undies. (Think wedding in Goodbye, Columbus, only everyone sounded like Ricky Ricardo or Ricky Ricardo with a Yiddish accent.) Mami's only job on that day was to show up in perfect makeup; a heavy, white, hand-embroidered velvet dress; smile; and do whatever she was told. Which she did. She agreed to have virtually zero input but her attractive presence and choice in groom.
But I've examined Mami's hand-tinted bridal portrait in my parents' Silver Spring, Maryland, living room. I know what really lies behind the twenty-one-year-old bride's crimson-colored smile.
"I'm goheengh to get joo, sohkehr."
The "joo" would be . . . who? My father? Well, that was a given. My father, David, has never been able to say the word no to my mother. Indeed, that was a very strong selling point to get him on her short list. Because in case of doubt, worship works on JCPs.
Was I the sohkehr she was gonna get? Probably, though I wasn't born yet. Mami always said that until she had me, she could wear bikinis. Thanks to me, she, who was otherwise beautiful and perfect, was deesfeegur-ed with ugly, permanent stretch marks, and forever relegated to maillots.
That is hard-core guilt. That is the classic Jewish way. Be alive and be guilty--over what exactly, no one knows and it really doesn't matter anyway. Just be it.
As a result of the disfigurement and due to the presence of my vulva instead of (the infinitely more desirable, powerful, valuable, and superior) penis, I was subjected--just as Mami had been back in her day--to control and guilt, the respective Latin and Jewish mega-bullies. Not that any of us are bitter or anything.
Now, intellectually, we all in my family realize we've been out of Cuba, our homeland, for well over forty years. We understand things have, you know, changed. Today's typical bride is well past twenty-one and is the primary choreographer of her own damn wedding. The parents' primary contribution is to pay for some or all of it and to consider that payment a gift.
Under normal circumstances, with at least seminormal parents (i.e., parents who aren't the children of Cuban Jews and didn't experience in their own lives yet another generation of political/emotional/geographic dislocation at a tender age, and who, as a result, are terminally nuts), "gift" would mean, uh, "gift." But in my case, the planning and execution of my wedding is an all-out conflict, an estrogen-espresso-propulsed struggle for power and control.
I'm sitting with my parents in their family room, going over the guest list. My fiancé has wisely chosen to be suddenly indisposed elsewhere in the country. Neither his relatives nor any of our respective friends' names appear on that list. Mami's going for a Kool (she's the only white person I know of who smokes that brand) and her five millionth cup of jet fuel, aka espresso. Papi is spaced out on the couch, absorbed in the Redskins' latest near-perfect losing streak.
"Dahveed!" Mami commands Papi. "Come over here an' look at our lees. We wan' joor eenpoot."
"No we don't," I tell her, lighting a Parliament and reaching for a TaB. So delicious and soothing, this ritual. My vegetable and carbonated-water diet has kept me going for a good thirty years. I consider it a religion, really. I've actually turned down jobs and spurned relationships because they weren't located near TaB access.
Mami scowls at me.
"Dad," I continue, exhaling, "couldn't care less."
"Dad kehrz! He kehrz a lot. Dahveed! Show joor daughter joo KEHR."
Dad looks up wanly and reluctantly joins us.
"Now look," Mami says, pushing the huge list in front of him. It's on a legal pad she stole from work. Mami isn't one to "buy" things. Actually, she resents having to pay for anything. She believes she should be exempt because Castro took everything away from her. Therefore, she's special. Very special. Castro made her an exiled victim, and she's pissed about it. Cubanly pissed. The kind of pissed you don't get over. And that's why she feels entitled to steal. People who pay for things, like people who voluntarily slow down at yellow lights, are "total sohkehrz."
Papi barely glances at the list. I know what he's thinking:
I love Gigi but my Redskins are on and this is girlie shit and I'm gonna wind up having to sell one or both of my huevos to finance this fucking fiesta. But if I don't, I'll feel too guilty to live. Why do broads make such a fuss over--Hey! Was that OUR touchdown or theirs?!?
Excerpted from Be Pretty, Get Married, and Always Drink TaB by Gigi Anders Copyright © 2006 by Gigi Anders. Excerpted by permission.
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