This year’s summer reading theme is Reading Takes You Everywhere. I’d like to share with you how reading – and listening – helped me discover my mother’s country.
My mother was born in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In 1960, it was clear that my grandparents wanted their only child to leave the country, and so my mother joined the thousands of refugees that became the first wave of Cuban exiles. My mother made her way to the Midwest where she met and married my father. My name, Stacy Ann, is an Americanized version of my great–grandmother’s name, Anastasia.
Eventually my mother brought her parents here. My grandfather would sing “Guantanamera,” to me, a beloved Cuban song that incorporates the poetry of Cuban writer José Martí. As I grew up, I became enamored of the idea of Cuba. When I asked my mother or my grandparents about it, sometimes they would cry, remembering how it was and knowing what it had become. Eventually, I became aware of the presence of Cuba outside the insular world of my family. I discovered Hemingway. I listened to Celia Cruz and Ibrahim Ferrer. As I got older, I read books such as The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love and Dreaming in Cuban. My mother asked about what I was reading and it opened up a dialogue about her experiences. She explained that she would always love Cuba, but that she was also devoted to her adopted country. When I played the music, she and my grandmother would sing and dance with me. They told me about the big bands that would play in the nightclubs in Guantanamo Bay and about my mother’s uncle who was a bandleader. There were still tears, but there was also laughter.
Literature and music help us express our feelings, our ideas, and they help us document our experiences. In addition to reading books for this year’s reading program, we invite you to delve into our music collection. Reading helps us understand our fellow humans. Listening is one of the most compassionate things we can do for each other. This summer, let’s explore these things together.