By Tiffany Coehlo | email@example.com
One of Marisella Veiga’s earliest memories of her childhood in America is learning how to ice skate before learning how to speak English. This was part of the adjustment after fleeing Cuba in the 1960s with her family and resettling in the cold, northern climate of Minnesota.
Veiga’s story is unlike most you have probably heard about Cuban exile because instead of staying in Miami, or where there was a large population of Cubans or other Latin Americans, she and her family moved to Minnesota, a climate quite the opposite of the tropical Cuban climate, to better their chances to survive as a family. They chose to leave Miami where the Cuban culture was “not watered down” to Minnesota where there was only American culture. They had to adapt to the American way of life as they were exiled from their home country.
Veiga, an adjunct English professor at Flagler College, published her memoir in early April of this year on her family’s exile from Cuba and how they dealt with living in an alien country. The book called, “We Carry Our Homes With Us: A Cuban American Memoir,” chronicles the Veiga family’s journey from arriving in the United States and how they assimilated into American culture to Veiga finally going back to Cuba as an adult. Within the book, she discusses her personal struggles with losing her homeland and figuring out who she is outside of her culture while providing historical context of the political issues between the United States and Cuba.
Throughout, Veiga writes about what it is like to be exiled from your country and be cut off from your culture.
“My whole history is gone,” she said. “Do you know what it was like to wait until 53 to see where my parents married, to see the university where they both studied, to see where my father lived, where my mother was born, where my parents courted. People say, ‘Oh well you know, I’m sorry.’ It’s not easy to not have a personal history. It’s certainly not about ice fishing up in Minnesota. That’s not my heritage. That’s not where my soul is. I was cut off from my culture.”
Veiga did not get to fully immerse herself back into her Cuban culture until 50 years after she and her family were exiled.
“I saw it all in 2010 and 2011,” Veiga said. “It’s one of the biggest joys in my life and one of my biggest sorrows at the same time. You are so happy and so sorrowful at the same time that it’s incredible. I cried everywhere I went.”
In her book, the scene where she returns to Cuba is very brief because of how hard it was to write about the loss of her heritage and how emotional both experiences were for her. On returning to the house her parents left behind when they went to America, Veiga said, “When I went back to the house I stood on the back terrace, I looked out, and I felt that breeze. I would have lived there forever, and I mean forever, but no. It’s not that I have a bad situation here. I’m grateful and I thank God, but at the same time, it’s not easy having lost my true home.”
Being in exile and the concept of having a home ripped from you is also discussed in Veiga’s memoir. She writes, “Perhaps one cannot go home again, though often, in my mind and in my moves and travels, I kept trying. It was a foolish practice. Which one would I return to, anyway? Like hermit crabs, we exiles carry our homes with us. That is one of the major lessons of exile.”
Veiga still deals with being a part of two cultures: being a Cuban while also being raised in an American society.
“I would have liked to have known a life with continuity,” she said. “The desire lingers from a natural flow’s severance.”
Here in America, Veiga feels like it is difficult to have a sense of identity if she stayed in Cuba where the history of her family was preserved.
While a life of continuity for Marisella Veiga was what she wanted, it was not what she got. If she stayed in Cuba, she knew it would not have been a good life compared to the quality of life she received living in America.
“We definitely have benefited from living in a representative democracy like the United States,”she said. “I mean freedom of speech and freedom to assemble are just two of the rights I would not have had if I lived in Cuba.”
But Veiga has a great understanding of the politics behind her exile and why it was necessary for her family to leave such a country. When asked about Veiga’s want for continuity in her life she said, “Continuity would have been nice, but it wasn’t in the cards for me. God had different plans.”
The memoir includes several passages about Veiga’s Catholic faith. She is a very spiritual woman who grew up within the culture of Catholic teaching.
“I find it to be a book about a journey of faith, not just because of my family’s faith, but by how it [the book itself] came about. It has been a huge gift from God. The hand of God was there at each and every turn of this book’s creation. I had no plan to write this book and look at the blessing it has brought.”
Veiga’s book is a blessing because it explores the hard issues that come with the devastation of exile and the resilience of the Cuban people, like Marisella and her family.
“We Carry Our Homes With Us: A Cuban American Memoir” can be bought at the Flagler College Bookstore or anywhere books are sold.