My White Boy
I’m married to a white boy. A white, Jewish boy, actually. And even though I live in Miami, this most multicultural town of ours, there are still times when people act surprised that a Catholic Cubanita who was born in Little Havana would end up with a white Jewish boy from Kendall. I find it both amusing and annoying.
But all right, I’m willing to play the game. I’ve dated Hispanic guys – a bunch of Cuban-Americans like myself, an Argentine, a Brazilian – and Ben was actually the first gringo I dated. Not that I'm proud to even admit this, but it took me a couple of weeks to figure out he wasn't Cuban. And about two months to figure out he was Jewish. How awful - I had known him (albeit socially and always drunkenly) for over two years, and I'd never even considered that he might not be Cuban-American or Hispanic, like all my other friends. Take that as a testament to how very sheltered my upbringing was, with me safely ensconced first in a private school that had reopened here after it had been shut down in Cuba, and then in a private Catholic high school that only served to suck me into the predominantly Hispanic, incestuous social vortex that is Miami Catholic high schools.
So shame on me, dating a guy of a completely different cultural and religious background, and I was clueless. I remember being so taken aback when I found out he was Jewish - did I even know any Jews who weren't also Cuban? But that's his fault - at the time he was so heavily into the situation in Northern Ireland that I had every reason to believe he was Irish Catholic. I know, my ignorance just gets worse, doesn't it?
I have to say that for me, being with a white boy, a non-Catholic one at that, was exotic. I mean, the customs, the food, the funny little sayings - it was all fun and exciting for me. And the best part? Boy did housework. I mean, all the guys I grew up with never had to worry about things like chores, laundry, etc. Their mami took care of it all. That's the major bummer about being a Hispanic woman - the understood rule that women cater to men; they serve their food, wash their clothes, and keep the house clean. That rule never washed with me. My parents raised us to be independent, even as my mother was the principal housekeeper who always served my dad his dinner. Growing up, my mom did those things even though my dad never required her to - it was just understood. And yet, whenever my mom had to work overtime or was sick or tired or simply not there, my dad took perfect care of himself. I chalked up their behavior as old-country, old-school rules they couldn't escape, but I never seriously believed they would ever apply to me, even if I ended up with a Cuban-American (CA) boy. I mean, we were living in the United States at the end of the 20th century, for hell's sake. And then I dated a CA who seriously expected me to have dinner ready and waiting when he got home (assuming we married, and this was regardless of whether or not I had a job and whether or not I got home before him). He also had no inclination to clean a toilet or put his own clothes away. Seriously, there was just no way that kind of servitude would be a real option for me.
And with my discovery of the American boy, I realized there was hope. Here was a man who grasped the concept of "you drop it, you pick it up" and "if you're hungry, get off your ass and do something about it." Here was someone who couldn't even fathom the concept that my worthiness as a partner, never mind a wife, was not measured by how well I kept house or how willing I was to serve him his dinner and fetch him his beer. This boy did his laundry when he ran out of clothes, cooked his own food when he was hungry (not to mention the meals he cooked to woo and impress me, that in itself earning him major points), and picked up his own clutter. This is not to say that settling down with a white boy meant I had no household responsibilities - it just meant I wasn't going to carry the load all by myself. I hate to do dishes; in fact, I specifically told him, when he proposed, that I wouldn't do dishes on a regular basis. And so, he does the dishes and I clean the bathroom, his least favorite chore.
But all right, I need to be PC about this, so please don't get me wrong: I'm not hating on the CA boys. I've known some wonderful, cool CA's, and some of them did not at all buy into the whole macho bullshit. They are as modern and equitable as their white-boy counterparts. But in my experience, these boys are in the minority; or, the minute they shack up with a girl, find themselves playing the role their father played at home, sometimes even to their own amazement. That's true of any culture, though, so I can't exactly fault them for that. And as it is, I know that plenty of white boys are just as Neanderthal and backwards about helping out around the house as any other cultural group. So really, it all boils down to the individual, but whatever.
Either way, I think the fact that Ben is Jewish also played a big role in us being able to relate to each other despite our differences. He grew up next door to a Cuban family and in Kendall, so it’s not like he wasn’t exposed to my kind since his childhood. And since he’s not one of those people who hates on Hispanics because they’re different or “taking over” Miami (you know, a racist), it's not like he had some major internal battle going on inside him when we started to date. With Jews, though, there's another dynamic, and it's not the whole "Jews are supposed to marry other Jews" thing, because that just didn't register with him, and his family never harped on that. It turns out that Cubans and Jews are very much alike - to be totally stereotypical (but completely right), both groups normally come from large extended families and are very family-centered and have turned guilt and melodrama into an exquisite art form.
Still, he also hasn’t been immune to the drawbacks of being a minority in a predominantly Hispanic city. He's had to deal with people insulting him because he couldn’t understand something or respond. He’s also had to deal with nasty co-workers who talk shit about him in Spanish right in front of him, unaware that he can understand what they’re saying (these are also the same co-workers who used to insist he join in while they said grace and praised Jesus during office parties, and who would spend the day singing hymns and saying shit like “I love you, Jesus” as they went about their workday). But as I point out to him, he’s currently in his dream job, making the kind of money that will allow me to buy as many shoes and boots as I want, so ultimately, being a gringo had no negative effect on his job prospects. And it never will, in Miami or anywhere else. That may not be true for all the white people, but you know what? We're all subjected to all manner of insults and bullshit at work, and we all cope somehow.
But thanks to Ben, I’ve gotten a better understanding of the frustrations the non-Hispanics here feel. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve witnessed him trying to get customer service (in English), only to have the person continue in Spanish, and then actually getting annoyed because he can’t understand. The worst offenders are in Burdines/Macys (oh yeah, I’m calling them out!). They'll do it to anyone, because when I approach them in English, they barrel on in Spanish. Like, I don't look "American" at all, but WTF - I could be Italian or Middle Eastern for all they know. That's not just rude, it's unacceptable. Ben's a fair guy, and if he sees the person struggling in English - but still trying nonetheless - he'll say some words in Spanish and together they hash it out. I love that about him. And I can empathize, because Lord knows that if I lived anywhere but here, people would call me Mexican and treat me like a half-wit, or something just as ignorantly humiliating and awful. Not that being called Mexican is awful, it's just incredibly ignorant and ridiculous.
So we live our lives trying to understand where we come from and figuring out how to navigate life in a world where we have to deal with ignorance and prejudice. That's right, we open each other's eyes to humanity's stupidity and ignorance, just like in the movies. And how do we battle the ignorance, the hate, and the close-mindedness? We procreate. So that our mixed-culture, mixed-religion children may help create a new breed of human so mixed, that one day no one will be just Cuban. Or just Jewish. Or just Catholic. Or just white.