Editor’s note: The writer of this small piece, Hilina Gomez, was born in Havana, Cuba and is currently a high school student in Southern Africa.
I stare aimlessly out the window, not paying much attention to the wilting trees nor the singing red-breasted robins. I can smell my grandmother’s cooking from the kitchen. It smells of lamb cooked in a spicy broth and slightly undercooked beef soaked in butter. It was not made often.
I had always been told that this day, as well as a few others throughout the year, was a day of celebration and joy for the people living in the country I am supposed to call my home. I have never been there, and in all honesty.
I hear joyful chatter as some of the guests have arrived early to help prepare the meal. They do this every year, and they never come empty handed. I stay in my bedroom, seated at my desk. Everyone that I hear, lingering about the dining room and the kitchen, all share a common culture to which I have failed to adapt. I wear denim trousers and a purple sweatshirt. I feel it is quite practical as the wind blows gently past my cheeks. I know the other women and girls are wearing something completely different something white, white and pure. It is not that I do not own such attire. It is that I feel a fraud to put it on.
This place they have come to celebrate is not where I grew up nor is it my place of birth. They say it is in my blood, but all my blood contains is numerous microscopic cells carrying nutrients and oxygen throughout my body.
I finally leave my bedroom, paint a smile on my face and greet all the guests. I can see the happiness on everyone’s face and it makes me glad. So I ignore my own melancholy, settle into my seat in the dining room and eat with my family and their friends.
Everyone is sharing stories from back home. On this day we are to look merrily at the past. These stories erupt into moments of heavy laughter, words of remembrance, and from me, a light smile as I listen to all the outstanding events everyone had experienced in a land to which I am nothing more than a stranger.
Of course the country had been described to me several times and I have been show a countless number of pictures and videos but that is not enough.
My grandmother is playing a song on the old tape player we keep around for days like this. People are dancing. I was taught how to do the dance so I join in. As I dance around the people dearest to me and my family, I realise just how much their culture means to them. It is respected and treasured.
I try to respect it too. It is not as easy for me as it is for them. I feel like the odd one out and I am frustrated by my indifference. Despite how much I am shown or told, how can I be expected to love this part of me, if I have not been truly able to experience it for myself?