My Grandmother's nickname for me is "Gitanita.
" In Spanish that means, "little gypsy." As a surfer, I've always loved to travel in search of waves, but three years ago, I quit my job, sold all my belongings, and said goodbye to my closest friends and family to live my dream life filled with adventure instead of things. At 89, this was a hard pill for my Grandma to swallow. But over time the lectures faded as she saw how I thrived in the unexpected nature of travel, sought out different cultures and rituals, and craved immersion in the unfamiliar. She's never been one to sugar-coat, so my chats with her after a long stint away are always some of my favorites. She loves to hear whether or not the trip was what I expected, what went wrong, how I fixed it…the tough stuff. Because if anyone knew the struggles and sacrifices it takes to make a dream a reality, it's my Grandmother. Or as I call her, my Ita.
In 1961 my Grandparents performed what I honor as an outrageous act of faith and courage; sending their four eldest children on a plane from Cuba to the U.S. with nothing more than a kiss and a blessing. Three years were spent making innumerable attempts to leave the country by every means of transportation possible. Finally, in 1964, they were able to legally and safely travel abroad where they reunited with the children who had been split across America. When they finally arrived, my 7-year old mother didn't even recognize her siblings. The thought of going back, for her, has been unimaginable. For me, it has been a lifelong obsession.
And so 50 years later, I arrived solo with a ten ft. board bag and childhood stories held sacred, both hesitant and hungry for the adventure alongside 6 guys for Surfer Magazine. My taxi drive through Havana set the stage for a beautifully dilapidated city scene, with tropical foliage, congregations on corners, and music pouring from rustic apartment windows. Challenges presented themselves rapidly, from victory-at-sea surf breaking over jagged rock and fire coral, to a 36 hour, exhaust-filled road trip on rugged Cuban highways, to sleepless nights in search of waves we could not find. This was far from my romanticized vision of surfing in my mother's home country, but an opportunity to overcome adversity is one I have learned to accept with the grace of my ancestors. And so we thrived in our moments of sacrifice, while sleeping in the sand, dancing late into the night, or sneaking atop the bus to ride beneath the stars. Without chaos there is no passion, and without passion there is no dream. We were swimming in it all.
Cuba, for me, was more than just manifesting a lifelong vision. It meant realizing myself as I never had before, a woman who can hang with the guys, surf in challenging conditions, embrace a culture regardless of her wounded ties or the divides and pain in its history, endure, be brave, laugh, own her anger, stand grounded, empathize, bounce back, let go, love, forgive and move beyond her comfort zone. But it is with an overwhelming sense of gratitude that echoes through me that I reflect on the sacrifices of my trip, and that is for my Grandmother. Because without her dreams, struggles, and will to prevail, I would never be her "Gitanita.