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Cecilia Fernandez Weaves a Tale of Acculturation and Immigration in 'Leaving Little Havana: A Memoir of Miami's Cuban Ghetto'

First Posted: Sep 16, 2014 06:57 PM EDT
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Cecilia M. Fernandez

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This article is part of the Latin Post Latina Author Series, presented in collaboration with La Casa Azul Bookstore. The author will read an excerpt from her memoir on Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014 at La Casa Azul Bookstore.

A narrative work that's unapologetic and compelling, addressing immigration, maturation, abandonment, isolation and triumph is not a tale that's easily told. Yet Cecilia M. Fernandez, writer and journalist, shares her story "Leaving Little Havana: A Memoir of Miami's Cuban Ghetto," as if sharing  an easy conversation with a collection of friends with parallel experiences.

Fernandez's personal story is embedded in the story of two nations, two histories that helped to create her during her formative years, affecting her in a profound and devastating way. Born in Cuba and raised in the United States, Fernandez was influenced by cultural upheaval, "the complications of being raised by a mentally disabled mother and a philandering father," who failed to support her emotionally or financially despite being a gynecologist, all of which she describes in her memoir.

"Leaving Little Havana" began as an essay, and with time the Anaïs Nin and Joan Didion-inspired piece grew into a master thesis, then budded into a fully-formed creation which captures her inspirational and obstacle-ridden journey and her identity as a creative person. The book also captured the attitudes and experiences regarding acculturation and immigration, as well as the first wave of Cuban emigration caused by Fidel Castro's reign and the dynamics caused by the diaspora.

"[Acculturation and immigration] are so important because they were huge challenges as I grew up. I grew up in two worlds. When I speak English, I am one person. And, when I speak Spanish, I'm another. To each of those languages, there's a great deal of stereotypes and ways of being. So, for me, it's truly an exploration of identity ... and identity is so important to a creative person," Fernandez told Latin Post during an interview.

"I need to deal with this subject [of identity] first. It's like James Baldwin said. He said the 'African-American question' made him go so crazy that he had to deal with that first before he went on to write other things."

The University of California-Berkley is where Fernandez's writing career began; she reported for the campus newspaper, the Daily Californian, and edited the campus magazine, The Pelican. Her work has been featured in The Stockton Record, The San Francisco Chronicle, Hollywood Sun-Tattler, Latina Magazine, Latina Style, Upstairs at the Duroc (journal of the Paris Writing Workshop), Accent Miami and Le Siecle de George Sand (an anthology). She worked in broadcast journalism, reporting and producing for WPBT, The Associated Press Radio, WSVN, WLTV, WSCV, Telemundo Productions and National Public Radio.

Her life as a journalist bred new outlooks, feeding a different part of her creativity and created opportunities, but her real work didn't begin until she responded to the 'Cuban/Latino question,' which gave her work its own identity and allowed her to understand the scope of her life as an individual and a writer.

"These concerns go around and around in my head, and I had to take care of it. I had to take care of it. In South Florida, there are so many immigration groups, and so many waves of the same country, and I wanted to tell the story of the very first Cubans who came after Fidel came into power," said Fernandez. "Because no one ever focuses on them. Everyone thinks that Cubans just got here the other day. And those Cubans first came in 1959; there's been a long period of assimilation. I wanted to tell that story."

Fernandez stated that it's also important to tell her story because prior to telling it she was asleep and being battered by obstacles, similar to other Hispanics. According to the author, it's very important to share inspirational stories of women of color overcoming obstacles.

Fernandez's third book, not the second, will be an examination of motherhood, Ivy League culture and social status, and it will take place at Berkeley, where Fernandez's daughter attends school. Fernandez's daughter is able to have an Ivy League education, while Fernandez paid for her own way through college and "became a reporter by sheer force."

Now, as a full-time professor at Broward College and Palm Beach State College, writing time is wedged between classes and grading, and is done in two-day writing spurts each weekend. When Fernandez is able to take a semester off, she happily writes and edits for 12-16 hours at a time.

"The life of a writer is one of the most interesting that exists. And many are scared to write because they think they will be poor. But, often, I regret not throwing everything to the wind, locking myself away in a room and writing. What's most important is finding passion, that's the secret to life."

La Casa Azul Bookstore, the East Harlem community treasure, will welcome the author on Sat., Sept. 20 at 6 pm. Fernandez said she was excited to make an appearance at the iconic bookstore but is torn about which scene or episode she will read from her memoir.

Published by Beating Windward Press, with a book cover designed by Kristi Peters and illustrated by Orlando artist Victor Bokas, "Leaving Little Havana: A Memoir of Miami's Cuban Ghetto" will be available for purchase at the reading and signing event on Saturday.

Find Cecilia Fernandez online and on Twitter. And find La Casa Azul Bookstore on Twitter and Facebook.  

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