As a Hispanic Heritage Month tribute Josi Gago reflects on her how her father shaped her life.
My dad was always “old” to me. You see, I was his last surprise or as he would affectionately say, his last “drop”. He was 43 years old when I was born in 1963. He was settled in his ways and had recently left Cuba with my mom and two sisters back in 1961. They left most of their possessions behind but the freedom they gained coming to this country was priceless. His parents were from Southern Spain and the influence of their culture was strong in all that he did. Education, family and honor were what he stood for and it showed in how he lived.
These nice folks here are my grandparents from my father’s side. Perfecta Maria (yes, that was her real name) and Sabatian Gago from Cadiz, Spain. They left Spain by ship to Cuban around 1915 thinking it was the “The of Opportunity”. My dad was born in 1920.
Here is my pregnant mom with me in October of 1963. My dad came in 1961 with my oldest sister (left) and my mom followed shortly after with my other sister (right). I was born two years later in 1963. My mom always thought she was here “temporarily” while the Cuban government resolved its issues. She would still be waiting…
I recall my dad always being very proud to call me his “American Child”. I was the only one with a US passport in the family and was always expected to recognize the American flag everywhere we went. He always expected me to salute and so I did. His gratitude to the United States was immense, yet his loyalty to his heritage was never in question. I was proud to be all things and always felt very connected to the world around me as a result. I never had to chose or take a side, I belonged to this world and it belonged to me.
My father and uncle
These two young studs you see are two University of Havana students around 1941. My dad is on the right. He studied Agricultural and Civil Engineering and always had a book in his hands. When he left Cuba in 1961 along with all of his belongings, he would often say to me, “ Honey, Castro may have taken away my homes, cars and plans I had made for my family here in Cuba, but he can never take away my education or what I have in my mind.” He would point to his head with his hand and smile…it was a bittersweet smile, but a smile nonetheless.
I grew up dancing to Cuban music and eating Paella from Spain and learned how to make the best homemade apple pie at the age of 6. I was never confused and never felt left out.
Havana, Cuba 1959 My mom and 2 sisters, I was born in 1963 in Florida.
Today things are different. There is a sense and pressure that one must pick a culture. It must be one or the other but can’t be multiple. Why must it be this way? One is no better or worse, richer in culture or less and they all have their own beauty. We are different yet all the same. We love, bleed and yearn for family and connection equally. At the end of the day and as time has always shown us, we all want human connection, a sense of belonging and to be loved.
The Cuban traditions and suffering of my parents has made me more loyal to this country yet always appreciating where I truly came from has incredibly value to me. The combination of growing up in a home with good moral values, respect for the differences of others and hard work has instilled a sense of loyalty in all that I do today. I miss my “old man” and think of both my mom and dad often. I still make apple pie, love my Cuba Libré and have raised my four children to know their Cuban history along with their heritage from Spain. I have managed to do this all while living in this magnificent country we call The United States of America.
Here is my tribe. From left to right- Gianni, Gian-Carlo, Genevieve, my oldest, Giovanni on the right and me in the middle. An all American ancestry mix of Cuban, Spaniard and Italian…with a pinch of Moroccan.