Last week I read Don’t Date Rosa Santos and I have opinions
Diaspora: The dispersion or spread of any people from their original homeland.
— Oxford Dictionary
DDRS is an amazing book that has a young protagonist whose grandmother fled Cuba before her mother was born. She grows up living with her abuela, and her mother visits them now and again. Her abuela practices santería, and is a healer and a central part of the latinx community they live in. Rosa is an example of the millions of young latinx who have grown up without having any personal memories of Latin America, like me.
Rosa has heard stories of Cuba like others hear stories of fairies and knights in shining armour. For children of immigrants, the fantasy land of Far Far Away usually has a geographic location. This is why, like so many, Rosa grows up with the dream of traveling to Cuba. When a family has to run away from somewhere, they don’t usually tell their children about the horrors that made them flee, they talk only about the good times, the blue sea and happy family; without realising that they are building an impossible utopia in our minds.
“Your diaspora dream has always been to grow up and stop questioning whether you are latina enough or deserving of what Mimi lost”
Rosa feels the need to prove herself to the world because children of immigrants always have to perform extra hard to prove ourselves worthy of all the sacrifices our families have done. They had to cross seas and leave loved ones and learn new languages and work shitty jobs, all so that we could have a chance at a better life.
They’d never say that to us, but we know it all the same.
When you have grown up so far away that your own accent feels like an act, when you have to ask your parents the meaning of a word because you just had never heard it before, it’s hard to feel like you belong. Rosa wants to major in Latin American Studies and spend a semester in Cuba, her mother insists: “You don’t need to study to be latina” but that’s not the point. Rosa doesn’t feel “latina enough” even though she’s effectively bilingual, has a Spanish name, and her abuela teaches her freaking santería (all things that aren’t necessary to call yourself latinx).
The only requirement to be latinx is to come from a family that (at some point) emigrated from latin america
Rosa wants to be from Cuba when she’s actually from the US and that’s a wound that can’t be healed, because she has a cuban family but half of that has never set foot on the island. She wasn’t born in Cuba, she isn’t cubana like her grandma and that hurts, because she isn’t considered fully from the US either. The main problem for the children of the diaspora isn’t where we come from but rather where we don’t come from. The places we don’t belong.
She isn’t cuban or american because of how we’ve defined this arbitrary things. Her culture is cuban but her birth was in the US, why should this make her any less cuban? At the same time, as someone who now lives in latin america, I can recognize that the diaspora can’t fully understand what it’s like to be from one of these countries, the sheer chaos that entails this fucking continent is something impossible to understand unless you’ve lived it. So we are left with entire generations feeling like they belong neither here nor there, and anywhere they go they are other
“I was a collection of hyphens and bilingual words, always caught in between (…) Never quite right or enough for either”
When Rosa finally travels to Cuba she realizes her Spanish isn’t perfect (something perfectly normal, not even my Spanish is perfect and I live in Spanish) so she stops speaking, deferring to her mother when needed. This makes her experiences more awkward instead of letting herself enjoy the island. She starts policing herself for fear that others will, something that most bilingual children have dealt with at an early age. Dealing with our own accents shouldn’t frighten us like it does, people shouldn’t care, and the thing is, the people who matter don’t actually care. In the end Rosa realizes something that took me a few years to comprehend, she doesn’t belong to any country, she belongs to her community and the people who love her.
The most important thing, as a person of the diaspora, is finding others in your same situation, others that understand what it’s like and just getting through. Enjoy life without the fake ideals of patriotism and “place of origin” because we are all just trying to have a good time and life is too short to tie yourself to a place
Then again, this is just my own experience and my thoughts while reading this amazing book. I encourage everyone to pick it up and reach their own conclusions.