In a world where everyone seems to be looking for the next big thing, it’s easy to forget that there are people out there who would be happy with anything. There are millions of people around the world who would go to incredible lengths for the chance to live in a country with as many opportunities as we have here. Many of these people live just outside of our very borders, with freedom just a few hundred miles away.
In his new memoir, “My Cuban Story: Funny Memories from Serious Times…,” Burbank resident Vic Cabrera details the remarkable story of his family’s risky departure from Communist Cuba in the early 1960s, through their brief political asylum in Spain, and finally to their struggles to make ends meet as legal immigrants in New York and New Jersey. What sets this book apart from similar immigration stories, though, is Cabrera’s ability to laugh at the same hard times and predicaments that brought him and his family so much grief and heartache decades ago.
Cabrera’s Cuban story begins even before his birth in Havana on May 14, 1954, less than a decade before Fidel Castro’s infamous rise to power. His parents, both from large, close-knit families, were born on neighboring farms in the small town of Jaruco. Cabrera’s father enjoyed a position at the local railroad station, where he made many connections that would eventually be of tremendous help when the family ultimately decided to leave Cuba for good. Their close calls in Cuba are just act one of this story, though.
Despite hard times and troubles with poverty, homesickness and the general struggles that come with being a minority in any location, Cabrera chooses to look back on his early years in America with fond memories. The book is put together as a collection of vignettes that form a portrait of the author’s youth. Cabrera does not attempt to dazzle with flashy prose or elegant style. Instead, he portrays his formative years as a time of youthful innocence, as if he decided long ago never to let go of the endless hopefulness he held onto as a child.
“My Cuban Story” is a quick and uncomplicated read. It is not meant to force you to ask difficult questions or shed a tear for the brave souls who risked everything for their family’s’ future. Cabrera doesn’t seem interested in those things. His story is one of hard work and simple triumphs. His father is neither demonized nor deified; he is a man whose main objective is to do right by his family. He has his fair share of vices, sure, but Cabrera understands that that’s just part of life. He portrays his mother, sister and younger self in a similar light; it was a different time, and they did what they had to do get by while enjoying as much of life as they could.
This book is not the great American immigration story, but it’s clear that the author does not mean it to be. It is a fun, engaging series of recollections—many intriguing, but certainly some less so—that allows the reader to step away from his or her own world for a few hours and follow one family’s journey into Americanization while trying to hold onto its Cuban roots. If you’re looking for a short yet enjoyable read for a peaceful summer evening, look no further than “My Cuban Story: Funny Memories from Serious Times…”
Brian McGackin is the author of “Broetry: Poetry for Dudes” (Quirk Books). He is an alumnus of USC’s graduate creative writing program, where he focused on poetry and literary critical analysis.
What: My Cuban Story: Funny Memories from Serious Times… by Vic Cabrera
Where: Online through MyCubanStory.com, and major book sellers
Cost: $10 paperback (CreateSpace, 114 pages), $7.95 Kindle