Words of Advice from a Cuban Exile.

I grew up on Chicago and Wells in an art studio.  My home was eclectic, creative and empowering.  The daughter of an artist and a Cuban exile.  My parents were not similar individuals, but somehow the big mouth that got my mother kicked out of Cuba, was the perfect size to guide my artist father.  Their common ground, was their desire to step into any incidence of inequality or unfairness  they witnessed, especially if it had nothing to do with them. Feisty is our family trait.

My father surrounded himself with the Chicago artist community.  So naturally my father wanted me to be an artist as well.  He  enrolled me in the Ruth Page School of Ballet on Rush Street.  So at 4 years old, I took classes 5 days a week!  As I got a little older my love for boxing and Bruce Lee began to distract my desires to become a ballerina.  My dad also participated in amateur boxing.  He fought and won the Golden Gloves several times as a young man.  My mother loved boxing, like most Cubans.  So boxing was a big part of our household which only bred my love obsession with the combat sports.

I started to ask if I could take boxing and karate at the age of 7 years old. Although my father was a progressive thinker, I think he would have cheered me on a path towards becoming President or an Astronaut – not a boxer or martial artist.  In all fairness, this was 1977.  So I begged, bothered, pouted and shouted over my desire to learn karate.  Finally, when I was 9, my mother signed me up in secret for karate classes.  My memories of this time do not outline my first punch or kick or my classmates; they clearly focus on the ritual my mother created to keep karate from my father.

1.  Wear your leotard and tights under your clothes.

2.  Make sure dad saw your hair being pulled back into a bun. Or, arrive back at home with your hair still in a bun.

3.  Leave lots of bobby pins and that ‘ bun-shaped’ thing on the bath room counter.

4.  Complain about Patty my dance teacher who called me names.

5.  Make sure my gi (a karate uniform) was in a black bag left in the trunk.  Do not bring it in the house.

We were able to pull this off for about a year and half.  I was in great shape for 10 year old.  Ballet and karate actually made a great mix.  But when my mom and I sat alone doing my hair we would talk and giggle about why we had to lie.  My mother, the Cuban exile, would simply explain  that, “Your dad is like the government, they don’t need to know everything that is going on.  And, sometimes the government does not know what is good for the people.”

I now have over 30 years in the combat sports and martial arts.  I think we all understand what my mother really meant.  Feisty – yes!  But sometimes words of advice from a Cuban exile simply translate into, ‘mamma knows how to give you what you want, so stick to the plan.’

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