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008. the cuban-american dream

Fryda: [00:00:00] Welcome to teikirisi or welcome back I'm Fryda

Carmen: [00:00:14] and I'm Carmen. And this is a podcast that celebrates all things, Cuban American. And this is our last episode of the first season.

Fryda: [00:00:24] It's really lovely to have been able to do this season alongside a community that we've been able to actually start building off of.

Carmen: [00:00:32] We will be having a second season soon. We'll be taking a hiatus definitely less than two months. So stay tuned. So what are we talking about today, Fryda?

Fryda: [00:00:40] We felt it was appropriate to round off our first season where we tackle identity and family and talking to Cuba and more by discussing the so-called Cuban-American dream. Carmen and I were both born in Cuba and raised in the United States in Miami, specifically, we are Cuban American. And so we, we want to dive into the expectations that our family and our parents have had while coming into this country and how it differs from our own experience being raised here.

Carmen: [00:01:18] If I had to really pinpoint a moment in time when I really started to see the difference between what I would consider to be living the dream and then what my parents considered to be living the dream was the day that I announced like tremenda culicagada

Fryda: [00:01:34] Okay okay, yes keep going.

Carmen: [00:01:36] That means that my butt is dirty. That's like kind of gross, but

Fryda: [00:01:39] Cooley is like a really obscene way of saying, butt.

Both: Esta jevita esta enterita y tiene tremendo, Culo! Okay so culo, culi, cagada, means shatted on.

Carmen: [00:01:50] A culicagada or a culicagado is not only that your ass is dirty, but it means that you're so stupid and so naive that you can't even wipe your ass properly. Like you're still that young and dumb. I walked into the living room and I announced to my parents that I was moving to South Korea. First they didn't believe me. And then once they realized like, Oh shit, like she has a one-way ticket and everything lined up and she's got three pink suitcases she bought from the internet, like. This is happening. There were a lot of uncomfortable and heated discussions about how they didn't want me to go.

And I was like, listen, okay, I'm 22. I know everything. And I'm going

the aha moment that really showed me the difference here is when my dad said something like, yo no puedo creer que yo me tire a la balsa para llegar aqui a comerse un cable a darte a ti todos los gustos para que tu vengas aqui a decirme que te vas a mudar para Corea.

Fryda: [00:03:00] Essentially Carmen's dad is saying, I can't believe I sacrificed so much,threw ourselves to the mercy of the ocean came to this country, gave you all the comforts in the world for you to say, you're going to Korea. Your dad uses all these examples specific to your particular immigration story and your particular sacrifices.

But does this sound unfamiliar to me? No, it does not. This is highly relatable to me. And I imagine to many other children of immigrants.

Carmen: [00:03:35] Yeah. My father still had this impression that South Korea was at risk of communism. So hearing that I was picking up all my shit and moving clear across the world was like, Oh, my God, she's going back, she's going back to the very same place I tried to take her away from. Que malcriada! Like at the time I was thinking like, what are you talking about, daddy? Like, I have this wonderful freedom, this luxury that I get to pack my bags, go across the world and live my life. My mom just could not understand. Why I wanted to do anything other than go out, get a job, get married and have kids.

Like what other life? I remember I kept asking her mom, when you were my age, did you not dream of anything else? And she's like, no, no. I had my job and I had you and your brother and I had a cute little apartment and I had, you know, your dad. And of course I wanted a better life, but you know, I wanted those things in a better environment.

Not necessarily to move clear across the world when you have everything here, like it was just this big, big rift that we just could not come to terms on

Fryda: [00:04:42] many of you might know that I've only worked at nonprofit organizations. I was originally inspired to do this kind of work, watching the way that my dad talked about him standing up to an oppressive government in Cuba, my mom talking about standing up for other people, seeing their suffering. And seeing also how they took the problems in Cuba to heart. I am Cuban American. I'm here in this country and I see a lot of problems and I see a lot of injustice too. And so I felt inspired by them and their struggle to do something about the struggles that people live in here.

Fast forward to now, when I'm doing this work, it is such a dream to be able to get paid, to do this. You can do that in the United States. And my parents are like,

Carmen: [00:05:35] Womp womp womp.

Fryda: [00:05:37] When are you gonna get another degree and become a lawyer? Fryda, What about engineering? Fryda, why do you keep working, como una matada, in all of these different nonprofit organizations. When are you going to go for-profit? You see a bunch of people making hundreds of thousands of dollars off of like this home health business over here and this other business over there. And they look at me and they're just like, why is she choosing this?

Carmen: [00:06:02] The system that our parents grew up in has a very linear path in life. You go to school, you study what they call 'una carrera'. I was going to college and I'd be like , daddy, yeah, so I'm majoring in journalism and also political science and I'm also minoring in economics and also minoring in studio art. And he's like, pero que tu estas estudiando, que todo esto,what are you going to do with all of that.

Fryda: [00:06:24] Oh my god, yes! How do those things fit together? What jobs do you get from a political science degree?

Carmen: [00:06:29] Because I was all over the place. They were like, pero es que tu quieres ser periodista, es que tu quieres ser politica, es que tu quieres ser artista, o es que tu quieres ser economista? like I don't understand.

Fryda: [00:06:40] They're like, what box are you going to fit into?

Carmen: [00:06:43] In Cuba, you go to school and you study engineering and then you become an engineer.

Fryda: [00:06:48] Liberal arts education is also quite unique to the United States overall. I would say sure, in Cuba, there's a really marked path and it's like maybe especially rigid, but in most other countries you do go along a bit more of a career path.

Carmen: [00:07:03] I think that coming from a society that has experienced the things that we've already discussed in our previous episodes, extreme famine, extreme scarcity. To come here to the us, to the like capitalist heaven, like I'm doing air quotes right now. Please don't take me seriously. You think that making money is the goal, making money is the measure of success. It's like the thing that you were never even afforded the possibility of dreaming of. And now you're here in the U S and if you don't have that dream, well what other dream are you going to have,

Fryda: [00:07:34] like, if you're playing the game called America, level 10 is you own three different businesses and you're living in this big mansion and you're buying jet skis.

Carmen: [00:07:43] Well, the other thing too is if you're doing Miami right, hot take Miami is all about the bling. Whether it's your car that's your bling, whether it's your actual bling that's your bling. You could be una matada de hambre and you are out there in Dadeland spending your three kilitos.

Fryda: [00:07:59] I was quite the overachiever my entire life. So my parents watch me be the best in everything that I could. And then they're just like, all right. This girl's going to be a millionaire. We're not going to have to work another day in our lives.

And I come out of it and I'm just like, all right, I'm doing an internship and I'm going to spend a summer in Haiti. And they're just like, Haiti? Te vas para haiti, pero fryda? And in the middle of a cholera epidemic, and they're just like, our daughter is crazy, you know, I think similarly, just like you going to South Korea, me going to Haiti is me going back to a poor Island in the Caribbean where they're just like, y pa que, we just took you out of the poor Island in the Caribbean called Cuba.

Carmen: [00:08:42] Oh my God. Yeah.Fryda, I feel like you don't have this because you're an only child, but also compared to my brother. He's in Miami, he has all of his shit together, you know, quote unquote again, all of the shit that you're supposed to have together. Like he has a car and the house and the wife and the kid, and I'm out here , 30, living with a roommate in New York flying by the seat of my pants. My parents had the exact same expectations of me and were like, this is the one, and then I ended up not being the one

Fryda: [00:09:09] you were going to be the one that delivered to them. All of the things that they dreamed of,

Carmen: [00:09:14] I believe my parent's version of the Cuban American dream means something very specific.

One of those things is to get highly educated as high as you can get up there to make money with that education. And then to use that money to amass wealth, in other ways, such as buying a house, the bigger, the better, and with a space for them to go live in so that they don't have to worry about anything, to own businesses and to have cars and to have enough money to do whatever you want in your life.

Fryda: [00:09:53] My parents were able to be highly educated, but weren't able to get anywhere with their education. There's the opportunity to get this free education, but you still end up poor. And that's what they see as different here in the United States. So part of the dream I think, is to come to the United States, maybe become the engineer, but actually make engineer level money, become the doctor and make doctor level money.

Cubans of our parents' generation went through an authoritarian totalitarian regime and a complete overtaking of society by a state that controls everything. When they raise their children, they teach us the consequences of communism and socialism. So we must oppose anything, socialistic, communistic, anything like that in the United States and elsewhere, because we do not want to relive our trauma.

Carmen: [00:10:54] So this translates into very specific beliefs. And this is a hot take: a lot of the times there are many socialistic programs that they have benefited from as an immigrant community, that in their conservative views, they would be throwing away like baby with the bath water,

Fryda: [00:11:13] they are comfortable benefiting from section eight housing, Medicaid, and Medicare. As Cuban Americans, there has historically been a path to residency and then citizenship and then access to those social programs.

Carmen: [00:11:30] I think another thing that happens is that our parents were raised and spent a lot of their adult life, their formative years in their adult life in a completely different system where there is a planned economy. There was no real opportunity for mobility. There's no real freedom of speech. And so for them to navigate and operate in this system, Frieda and I are people of our generation have a lot more access to things, even as simple as like technology that is able to afford us a lot more awareness.

Fryda: [00:12:01] We're over here thinking through our impact in the society that we live in, in a capitalist society, one of the more powerful things you do is purchase or not purchase something. And when it comes down to it, that is not something that they were raised thinking about. Like,

Carmen: [00:12:18] Es que eso no pasaba en Cuba.

Fryda: [00:12:19] I know eso no pasaba en Cuba so like, there's just so much that you and I have in our little heads. There's completely different things going on in their heads. And so in taking us out of Cuba and putting us here, they planted a little flower and they put it somewhere else in another environment and we go and become something that they would have never imagined.

And we have our own little thoughts. Actually back to that, do Cuban American parents think that you are your own person?

Carmen: [00:12:52] Absolutely not. We are property of our parents until they die

Fryda: [00:12:58] or until you get married. Carmen,

Carmen: [00:13:00] let's bring it back a little bit. And talk about this dream that we keep saying that we are living. We are, as you may or may not have guessed by now, two young professionals working in the arts and non-profits, we were always the annoying nerds in school. We do not live in Miami. We're both pretty liberal and neither one of us are doctors, lawyers, engineers, insert whatever career our parents decided is worthy.

We're not married. We don't have children. We're only getting older and we're paying rent. Those things that we described, the house, the car, the money, the education, all of those things. They are actually symbols for the manifestation of the actual dream and the actual dream is not necessarily those things. They are freedom from oppression, economic and social mobility, not living in a totalitarian regime, being able to leave your country and that dream. If we're talking about it like that, if we're stripping it down to the ideas we are living that dream, it just looks so different.

Fryda: [00:14:11] That's the thing I think our parents might have been dreaming about the United States dreaming about what life might be like here ever since Cuba.

So. There has been an understanding of the United States, potentially being this place where your dreams might come true. And one thing that does happen when you reach the U S is that reality does hit you. This isn't a dream land immigrating to the United States is not easy. You're hit with depression and isolation and obstacles, and a lot of things get in the way of fulfilling their dreams.

So. In a way, one of the reasons why they expect us to live out the American dream is because it was too hard for them.

Carmen: [00:14:55] One thing that my parents and I do agree on in terms of the American dream is that I really want to have children one day. My parents look at me and they're like, what are you doing? Like you are getting old and you can't be popping out kids when you're like 50, what are you waiting for? I say things like. Listen, I am trying to build a career. Where am I going to put it? Okay. I live in an apartment in Brooklyn with a roommate. All right. Like the cat is already too much. Um, that's, that's, you know, all of these things that I take into consideration and they're like, But what are you talking about? You just have kids and then you figure it out. We never worried about any of that, but looking back at how they had kids in Cuba, there's always a neighbor who can babysit for you without questions asked. In Cuba, if you're running late from work your tia or your tio or whoever else is living in the house with you is going to pop in downstairs, make sure your kid has done his homework and already got fed and is watching muñequitos.

There are a lot of other resources to help you with your child rearing things. There's el circulo infantil, which, you know, you could argue is kind of like a daycare, but hello, have you looked at daycare prices? It's basically a mortgage and a half and just the price of actually giving birth in a hospital, like it's fricking crazy. They didn't have to worry about that. You don't just pop them out and then they're there, you know, and maybe I'm wrong. I've never had children, but those are the things I'm thinking about. Even when we agree on some of the things that constitute the dream they're still like, but why can't you just do it? And I'm like, I am walking a different walk.

Fryda: [00:16:31] We are presenting this tension between us and our parents, this tension between various visions of the American dream. This is at the crux of like, why we've been having these conversations in this podcast, we are out here trying to understand ourselves and our community. How do we find commonality? How do we open ourselves up to the diversity of experiences that exist between Cuban Americans? Because here we are having been born in Cuba, brought out of Cuba when we were very, very young, but surrounded in Miami, by people who have stories and stories and stories about this parents who are traumatized by their experiences in Cuba.

We were stripped of the opportunity to live in Cuba while we were also saved from Cuba. I think it's a difficult line to walk.

Carmen: [00:17:28] Most of our lived experiences are here in the U S in this very specific box, which we're going to call the hyphen: being Cuban, hyphen American, going back to the anecdote that I started this off with of the day that I decided that I was going to move to South Korea. Despite criticizing me and having some very difficult and tough conversations, the first chance they got my dad at least popped up to South Korea. And then I had to tote my dad around all over Seoul and be like, okay, listen, you can't read anything on the menu, but I got you. You're going to eat some bi bim bap, "que es eso?", "arroz con picadillo",

you know, so. I think at the end of the day. And I think Frida, your parents are also super, super supportive as well in their own ways.

Fryda: [00:18:17] They are thrilled to be able to go on the journey of watching us live out completely different lives than they would ever be able to live out. Anyone who leaves behind everything that our parents are left behind to come to a very unfamiliar setting, to restart their lives that takes a lot of courage and grit. What they did also helps inspire us. A lot of times, I'm just like my parents did this. They started over here. I can start over. I can do this again. You can only go up. I would love to hear from our listeners like how your vision for the future and your life differs from the expectations that your family had, whether you migrated over from another country or you come from a very different upbringing.

It's always so cool to think about the ways that we often transcend the expectations that our parents have of us.

Carmen: [00:19:15] So that being said, this episode was meant to be about the Cuban American dream. Our parents are very big part of our lives. You know, that as the child of an immigrant, your purpose in life is to validate their struggles. I'm so grateful for. My parents and your parents, Fryda, and all of the immigrant parents out there who just want to be able to dream and want their children to be able to dream this one goes out to all of you, shout out. And with that, we're going to get into our cubanismo Fryda. What's the cubanismo?

Fryda: [00:19:50] Carmen, no cojas lucha que la vida es mucha.

Carmen: [00:19:57] Don't sweat it because life is too long to be sweating it.

Fryda: [00:20:01] This is our recommendation. This is the Cuban recommendation for how to live out that life and enjoy it and take it easy. You know? So yeah, we are taking a little bit of time to be able to do more research plan out for season two. We're still going to be active in all the other ways that we're active

Carmen: [00:20:20] on social media we'll still be doing our our cafecito on wednesdays.

Fryda: [00:20:24] We want to continue to build community with all of you. It's been amazing to be able to be a part of this. And if you are our patron, we'll be releasing one more little episode, a hot take episode for you all to enjoy while we're having this little hiatus.

Carmen: [00:20:43] Thank you everyone so much for coming on this journey with us. For all of your support, a big shout out to Jesse. You have rocked our design world. Couldn't do it without you. And a big shout out to our supporters: Jose, Susan, Salia, Catherine, Lauren, Kayleigh, Amaury, Kristen, Sarah, Suli, Karena, Jason, Nick, Daniel, Josh, Yvette, Kellis, Naseem, Fryda's mom, Carmen's dad.

Fryda: [00:21:10] Yes, they're donors too. We hope you'll tune in for next season. Remember, you can check us out on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. We are @teikirisipod. And feel free to email us at

Both: [00:21:23] Besitos! Take it easy!

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