Juana la Cubana Jersey Girl Trash

Posted: December 11, 2013 in Cuban Exile, Cuban-American, Jersey Girl, White Trash

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Somos Americanos!” My parents were so proud to boast this–that we were Americans–all the freakin’ time. “We are in America; we are Americans. We will behave like Americans!” Father’s heavily accented English roared. The only thing was that his version of behaving like an American and my version of behaving like an American were very different. Sure, we were Americans, but what my parents did not understand was that there were different versions of Americans–economic class levels–just as there were different versions of Cubans. Their vision of American was the elite kind, those who dined and wined refined. Not me! My version of behaving like an American meant behaving like the kids at school whom I thought were cool. To me, they were truly free–free from following anyone’s rules.

These American kids I grew up with were impulsively divine to me. They were loud, pushy, violent kids who were labeled white-trash since they were poor and lived in projects. They were also very real and interesting, already drinking, drugging and sexing as teens; they did what they wanted–said what they wanted. They were young and did not have to take a chaperone with them to go to the corner store. So different from me who had to take abuelita with her even to walk three blocks to school! It was freakin’ embarrassing, walking a mile ahead of abuelita to make it seem like we weren’t together, me wanting to disappear into the sidewalk. So limited and unlike them was I–them kids, which to me were like American apple pie. I wanted to be like them–they were the true America, in my eyes.

Since my Cuban identity had been watered down to almost nothing due to my parent’s insistence on becoming American, the transition from Cuban to Cuban-American to a white trash Jersey Girl was exceptionally smooth. Forgotten, Cuba became a foreign country, and I a stranger to its culture. All Cuban connections were cut and new American connections made. Without formal inquiries and networking when it pertained to Cuba, I lost a cultural identity with its rich traditions–the Cuban culture, became a culture as alien to me as any other.

My transition into Jersey Girl trash-hood began when I started sixth grade at Theodore Roosevelt Elementary and Junior High School on Bayway Avenue in Elizabeth, New Jersey. School demographics varied but the majority of the students at that time in the 1970’s were Americans. Most of these American peers were poor; most lived off welfare due to unfortunate circumstances that caused the spirit of motivation and the American Dream to dissipate for them–the reason lost in time just as mine will be also.

To fill the emptiness of a dream no more, these poor Americans used alcohol and drugs combined with sex and music as a means to endure the succession of endless days. Most of my classmates had parents who fell under this definition of the poor American class in the land of the free. America’s poor whites, I witnessed, lacked drive to do better–so much like me now. Most were great, great grandchildren of European immigrants from English, Irish or Polish descent. Some didn’t even know their heritage or cultural identity anymore, like my situation, only I was a victim of first generation watered-down-culture syndrome.

These poor white Americans lived in reduced-rent housing units called projects and spent their days doing things that further dug them into the poverty they found themselves in. Crime rate was high within the parameters of the projects, including neighborhoods that bordered the place. Seldom did I step into the projects unless it was with a well-known acquaintance that lived there, which happened on a few occasions–and I always was crapping bricks while inside.

In Elizabeth, there were two different types of projects. The one down the port by First Street were mostly for Puerto Rican and African Americans, and the other was by the Bayway Circle across the street from Roosevelt Elementary and Junior High where I attended school–and close to my home on Grier. Most of my peers lived in these projects by my school, which housed mostly white Americans,and elderly people living on a fixed income.

The first time I heard someone mention the term white trash was at Roosevelt Junior High School when some Italian kid named Fabio called one of his poor white friend white trash. Willy, the white trash, had actually called Fabio a guinea, which was a derogatory name for Italians. When Fabio saw me staring, he looked at me with pissed off eyes and blurted out, “What spic? What the fuck are you looking at? Want some of this?” He had grabbed his private parts while saying that, motioning up and down as he grabbed everything in that area–pig! Willy had laughed. My middle finger had flashed them with hatred that also spewed from my eyes. Spic was the derogatory name if you were Spanish or Latina/o or Hispanic–whatever it is we are called–still can’t get it right. But, I digress.

Fabio and Willy frightened me, but not enough to keep me from mouthing off, “You are both freakin’ ass-holes! Besides, what the heck is a spic? It makes no sense.” My face screamed, “I hate you both, creeps!” Fabio and Willy had laughed at me as they had walked away.  Most of the kids at school were terrified whenever these two came into view. I didn’t give a crap since my rebellious nature continued to grow, and I rebelled even against the rebels themselves. That’s why I was this type of American–I fit in with them for some reason. They triggered the revolutionary within me to come out!

These two major rebels now walked toward me slowly, glints of amazement in their dark eyes as they pondered at my giant cojones–giant testicles. “You are a spic because you lick our floors clean with Spic and Span.” They said this slowly, each with a smirk on their face and a mocking tone, eager to see my new reaction.

“Really? What a fucking laugh.” I tried to sound tough. Coolly, I slowly turned to my locker and began working the lock, ignoring both of them.

“You got balls, spic!” They both yelled in sync. “You ain’t scared of us, are you?”

“Why should I be scared of you? Get lost. I’m going to be late for class.” At the corner of my eye, I saw them look at each other and smile, nodding their head from side to side–whatever that meant.

Sounding relaxed and kind of flirty, they said, “Will talk to you later, girly. We wanna’ know you.” They looked at me seriously, and I returned the same stare right back at them. Nothing more was said as we all headed to our classes. It wasn’t until after lunchtime that they approached me, in the courtyard.

Excerpt from the book, Taking Exit 13….

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