The Cuban American experience is diverse and very interesting.
On one hand, there are those Cubans who stayed in South Florida and grew up there. They attended schools full of other Cuban exiles. They walked on streets beaming with “Cubanismo” or the smell of “cafe cubano”. They were never really separated from Cuba.
On the other hand, the rest of us settled in places like Chicago (Carlos Eire), Virginia (Jorge Ponce), Louisiana (Humberto Fontova) or Wisconsin like me. We had to find “cubanismo” by getting together with other Cubans or playing those Beny More LPs on our turntables.
Speaking of the second group, we chatted this week with Tersi Agra Bendiburg, a “Cubana” who grew up in Georgia.
Her family story is similar to mine, and perhaps yours:
“Tersi had vivid memories from her childhood in post-revolution Cuba. She remembers soldiers walking through her house, taking inventory of everything her family owned. A year later, when they were to leave the country with nothing –not even her parents’ wedding rings, the soldiers returned to re-inventory all the contents of the house. She also remembers her father hiding a young man in their home (who had been shot by soldiers) until he could be passed along safely.
At age, ten, Tersi’s family moved to Mexico City where they stayed with a distant relative while her parents applied for political asylum in the United States. That Christmas was the first time Carmen, age 3, had ever seen Christmas lights because religious celebrations had been halted after the revolution in Cuba.
It was a wonderland. On the Dia de los Reyes, Three Kings Day, Tersi wrote to the kings to let them know Tersi and her family were no longer in Cuba, but were, instead, in Mexico City so they would know where to bring presents. Her parents were so worried that Tersi had written a letter and they had no money to buy her a present. It was then that she spoke with a relative from Decatur, Georgia who told Tersi that the kings had left presents for her and Carmen in Decatur, and that in the future she should direct her letters to Santa Claus because the kings said the coffee in America was too weak for men from the east and the icy streets were too much of a challenge for the camels. Sure enough, when they arrived in Decatur, both girls had presents waiting for them.
In Decatur, the Agra family was sponsored by the First Baptist Church of Decatur. They never needed welfare since they had a little furnished apartment and Mr. Agra began work almost immediately. Tersi attended Oakhurst Elementary where she had the famous spinach incident, and many other adventures.
That first Halloween in the United States Tersi ran home with a pillowcase full of candy. She dumped it out and said, “You just say trick-or-treat and they give you candy!”
“What a country!” Her father exclaimed.”
Yes, what a country indeed!
Today, Tersi tells children the wonderful stories of Latin America and others:
“Latin American Folktales
Consists of a large collection of age-appropriate folktales and legends from Latin America. Tersi explains how these stories crossed the Atlantic from Europe and Africa centuries earlier and became part of the Latin American folklore. The use of songs and musical instruments moves the stories along. Students are encouraged to join in for songs and refrains during the stories. A workshop for grades 5-12 on how to research, collect, and adapt folktales can follow the presentation.
Georgia: Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue
Offers a memorable collection of legends, stories, and anecdotes taken from the folklore and history of Georgia to bring its rich culture to life right before the students’ eyes. This program is especially suitable for eighth grade students who study Georgia history.
Coming to America: Red Clay Stories
Raises awareness and builds understanding about the difficulty immigrants face in adjusting to a new country and putting down roots through bittersweet stories.
Day of the Dead: A Scary Name for a Beautiful Celebration!
Tells how this Mexican holiday of celebration and remembrance reflects the values and customs of the two very different cultures of Europe and the Aztecs. Tersi explores the roots of the Day of the Dead in All Saints Day from Europe and a number of celebrations of the Aztec and other indigenous peoples.
Our Holiday Table: a Multicultural Feast
Tells how real holiday dishes inspire stories drawn from the three cultures that came together to make up the Spanish-speaking Caribbean: Native American, European, and African. “
What a wonderful lady! Thanks to Fernando Hernandez for the introduction
! We spoke with Tersi on Friday’s show and learned that she was born in Florida, Camaguey or not too far from my mom’s hometown of Ciego de Avila! As my mother loves to say: “Que mundo mas chiquito”!