I was born the 11th of April, 1935 in Cuba, in the Province of Las Villas. My town was called Esles del Venero, but I was born in El Cafetal, a farm that belonged to my father and his brothers. This place was part of the municipal district of Aguada de Pasajeros. I am from a very poor family, and I remember much from my childhood. I was the first born of six children. I only remember things that make me sad when I compare it to life today. As I was growing up, I started noticing how little we had…
So begins the journal my dad kept, the story of his life, which I have been translating since he died in August 2008. I should have been finished by now, but other priorities pull me away for months at a time, and when I get back to it, I can’t just pick up where I left off. I always go back to the beginning.
When I was a teenager, my paternal grandparents left Cuba for the first time to visit us in Brooklyn. My father and two of his brothers owned a bodega, and I remember showing my grandfather around the store, and the look of disbelief on his face as he looked at all of the food stocked on the shelves. I also remember showing him a clipping of a funny article, the way he looked at it for a minute or so, and then handed it back to me with a smile and nod, but no words.
It was only after my father died that I learned my grandfather was illiterate. My father wrote about it in his journal, how my grandfather didn’t want him to experience the same shame he felt, so he arranged for an old school teacher to teach my father how to read and write in exchange for a bottle of milk each morning. And when I read that story in the journal, that afternoon in the bodega so many years ago came rushing back to me. I finally understood the hidden meaning of my grandfather’s smile and nod.
I am currently reading the Hunger Games trilogy, and there is a famous line from the book that I keep thinking about: “May the odds be ever in your favor.” It is meant as a blessing, but in life, as in the book, having the odds in your favor doesn’t guarantee success. And in some cases, having the odds in your favor can actually work against you, if you put too much trust in the odds and not enough in hard work, sacrifice, and the support of others.
Instead of the odds, I say, give me the will to succeed, the courage to try again whenever I fail, and the love and support of family, friends, and community.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I am thankful that when I look back on my childhood, my memories are not filled with sadness, but with joy. Thankful that growing up what I noticed wasn’t how little we had, but how much. I am thankful for my health and family, my friends and community, my clients and colleagues. And I am thankful that I’m the grandchild of an illiterate farmer who didn’t have the odds in his favor, but who through a lot of hard work and sacrifice, made it possible for me to make a living today as a writer.
I wish you all a safe and happy Thanksgiving, and may love, health, courage, and ambition be ever in your favor.