Jorge Duany: Blurred Borders – An Excerpt

Jorge Duany’s latest book is Blurred Borders: Transnational Migration between the Hispanic Caribbean and the United States. In the book he explores how migrants to the United States from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico maintain multiple ties to their countries of origin. Chronicling these diasporas from the end of World War II to the present, Duany argues that each sending country’s relationship to the United States shapes the transnational experience for each migrant group, from legal status and migratory patterns to work activities and the connections migrants retain with their home countries. In the following excerpt from the book, Duany relates his own migration story.

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An excerpt from Blurred Borders: Transnational Migration between the Hispanic Caribbean and the United States(pp. 10-12):

I was born in Havana in January 1957, but left Cuba with my mother and older brother on December 26, 1960.[1] My parents’ momentous decision to leave the island has always intrigued me, and I still do not understand it fully. When the Cuban Revolution triumphed on January 1, 1959, my father was temporarily working as a television director in Costa Rica. Meanwhile, I remained in Cuba with my mother and brother. My father went back to Havana sometime thereafter but could not find a job, so he had to move again, this time to Panama. Among other reasons, he felt displaced by the swift nationalization of the main Cuban television station, CMQ, where he had worked before. My mother, who then sympathized with the Revolution like most of her family, stayed on until she followed my father, together with my grandmother, who returned to Cuba after three months. My young mother must have been torn by the choice of keeping her marriage together or staying in her home country with her relatives.

Initially, we settled in Panama but moved on to Puerto Rico in 1966. I remember looking at a map of the Caribbean and wondering why on earth we were going there; I felt completely Panamanian by then. My growing family (I had two more siblings now) relocated in San Juan, where my father got a job producing and directing television programs, including telenovelas and game shows. Also, my padrinos (godparents) were living there, as were two of my parents’ cousins on both sides of the family. I spent the rest of my childhood and adolescence in the San Juan metropolitan area. After graduating from high school, I continued my undergraduate and graduate education in the United States. After I finished my doctoral studies, I returned to Puerto Rico and started a full-time teaching career. I later worked for a year in Florida. Since 1988, I have lived continuously in Puerto Rico, with short absences abroad related to my academic career.

In many ways, my family’s experience is typical of the Cuban diaspora to Puerto Rico. We left Cuba during the first stage of the postrevolutionary exodus (the so-called Golden Exiles).[2] My father’s surname derives from Irish migrants to Santiago de Cuba in the late seventeenth century, while my mother’s family, which lived mostly in Havana, was primarily of Spanish origin, especially from the Canary Islands and Galicia. My parents’ occupations mirrored the concentration of Cuban exiles in the middle and upper levels of trade, communication, and other service sectors of the Puerto Rican economy (see Cobas and Duany 1997). My father became programming director at one of Puerto Rico’s leading television stations, until he lost his job after a corporate takeover and had to start again in Ecuador, where he died years later. My mother worked as a cosmetics sales clerk in a department store, an itinerant clothing seller, a beautician, and an insurance agent (although she had been a schoolteacher in Cuba, she never practiced her profession in Puerto Rico).

Since I was very young, I was troubled by the constant question, “Where are you from?” I usually answered, “I was born in Cuba, but grew up in Puerto Rico.” But that answer never settled which country I felt most attached to, an issue that became periodically urgent, as when Puerto Rico’s national team faced Cuba’s in basketball or baseball competitions. I must confess that I have to think twice when I see the flags of the two countries, with their identical layout and inverted colors, before deciding which is which. As a member of the 1.5 generation of immigrants (or perhaps 1.75, as the Cuban American sociologist Rubén G. Rumbaut would have it), my position is quite precarious.[3]If Cuba plays against Puerto Rico, I will root for the Puerto Rican team. But when Cuba faces the United States in international sports, I will usually side with the Cuban team.

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Jorge Duany is professor of anthropology at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras. He is author of The Puerto Rican Nation on the Move: Identities on the Island and in the United States and Blurred Borders: Transnational Migration between the Hispanic Caribbean and the United States.

Excerpt from BLURRED BORDERS: TRANSNATIONAL MIGRATION BETWEEN THE HISPANIC CARIBBEAN AND THE UNITED STATES by Jorge Duany. Copyright © 2011 by the University of North Carolina Press.

  1. [1]2. The following draws on my essay “Becoming Cuba-Rican,” in The Portable Island: Cubans at Home in the World, edited by Ruth Behar and Lucia M. Suarez (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 197-208, reprinted with the permission of Palgrave Macmillan
  2. [2]3. “To my knowledge, the Cuban American sociologist Alejandro Portes (1969) was the first to become synonymous with the first migrant wave (1959-62) after the Cuban Revolution, which drew mostly on he middle and upper classes.” See also Duany 1993.
  3. [3]4. Rumbaut coined the term “1.5 generation” to refer to the children of Indochinese refugees who arrived in California after reaching school age but before puberty. The literary critic Gustavo Perez Firmat (1994) later developed the concept in a Cuban American setting, arguing that persons born in Cuba but raised in the United States are neither fully Cuban nor fully American.  They straddle the linguistic and cultural boundaries between the first and second generations of Cuban immigrants. More recently, Rumbaut (2004) has written of a “1.75 generation”: people who were born abroad but moved to the United States before the age of five, and whose experiences are closer to the second than to the first generation.

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