The Turn of the “Thirds”


The whole family is absorbed in the search for papers that prove the Spanish origin of their maternal grandparents.  They rummage through the archives, questioning those who were once neighbors of this cantankerous Asturian and the sweetheart from the Canary Islands who was her husband.  They already have the birth certificates and baptism records for all the aunts and uncles, and have managed to finagle internet access to investigate the Ellis Island databases.  Before November they must have a family tree proving they are the grandchildren of Spaniards, “third” in a line of descent that could guarantee them a new passport.

The Spanish Embassy in Havana is preparing for the tsunami of Cubans who can present proof of their Spanish peninsula ancestry by the end of this year.  They are the descendants of those who once made the journey to this island in search of better opportunities.   Many of these mid-twentieth century immigrants went native, lost the accent and ended up feeling themselves to be Cubans.  Now their grandchildren want to take the return path, pushed by lack of opportunity and material hardships.

My neighbor Yampier is among the almost three million Cubans interested in recovering his Spanish heritage.  To accustom himself to his new condition he has started to read the biography of Juan Carlos and Sofia, to say “Madriz” and not “Madri” as we pronounce it here.  He has become a fanatic Barça* supporter and recites fragments from El Cantar del Mio Cid* better than many Spaniards.  His gray passport, the one that says República de Cuba and is viewed with wary eyes in all the airports of the world, is now kept in a drawer.

In a few years, when someone asks him about his origins, he will say something like, “A part of my childhood and youth was spent in Cuba, but in reality I’m European.”  However, his grandmother, Asuncion, and his grandfather, Francisco, remain at rest, as was their wish, in the Cementerio de Colón* in the city of Havana.

Translator’s notes:

Barça = The Barcelona football/soccer team. 

The Song of My Master = A Spanish epic poem written in the 1200s. 

Cementerio de Colón = Columbus Cemetery, the vast central cemetery of Havana.

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