Like much of the country, I followed along with March for Our Lives and its sibling marches across the country on Saturday. I tuned into the livestream, and retweeted some moving highlights and photos.
It wasn’t until later that something much darker came leaping off my newsfeed. Right-wing conservatives were attacking Emma González, the 18-year-old activist and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor, for wearing the Cuban flag on her jacket while she spoke.
Like González, I am the child of Cuban refugees who fled the island for political reasons. I also have the Cuban flag on clothes, accessories and jewelry because I am proud of where my family comes from and where many of my relatives still live.
My mother showed me that sense of pride when my father told her to put away the Cuban flag dangling from her rearview mirror. Displaying the flag in public made us a target, he said. She chose not to hide where she was from, but it’s been heartbreaking to watch my dad’s warning come to life over the past few years.
We are targets in this country.
“This is how you look when you claim Cuban heritage yet don’t speak Spanish and ignore the fact that your ancestors fled the island when the dictatorship turned Cuba into a prison camp, after removing all weapons from its citizens; hence their right to self defense,” said the post on his Facebook page, next to a photo of González.
The first of many issues with this statement is the use of the word “claim.” It implies that there’s no evidence behind what was said. González’s father is from Cuba, that makes her Cuban American. There’s nothing to claim here. Unlike the Republican congressman who claims to be Christian yet attacks high school students, she is what she says she is.
The second is the loaded assertion that her Cuban background is in doubt because of her inability to speak Spanish. Ethnicity isn’t tied to language, but to your parents. If González spoke with a thick Cuban accent, detractors would then likely question her citizenship and ask if she belonged in this country. Because she speaks without an accent, her background is questioned. As bicultural kids, we’re constantly defending our identities on both sides.
This doubt about her background is also tied to González’s appearance. She does not fit neatly into a Latina stereotype, so critics are trying to take that part of her identity from her. With an island that large and varied, what makes them think we’d all look, act and sound alike once we got to America?
The choice of “ancestors” is also a mistake. This isn’t long ago history for our families. It’s our parents who fled their country and our history with Cuba continues.
The Cuban flag was designed during its fight for independence from Spain in the mid-1800s. Cuba has been flying that flag since 1902, when the U.S. withdrew its occupying forces. That’s decades before Fidel Castro showed up, so it’s important not to conflate the two.
While private gun ownership is forbidden on the island, a lot of other things are too, like Internet inside private homes and food bought on the black market. The view that arming Cubans is the only thing that separates them from overthrowing the government ignores how Cubans feel about the government and that the the obsession to have guns is seen to be extreme on the island.
Navigating Cuban identity is tricky, and I wouldn’t expect someone who considers multiculturalism to be a dangerous topic to understand.
Most of us wear our biculturalism proudly every day. Maybe not on our clothes, but in how we celebrate our culture, our language, food or practices.