December 23 consisted of seasoning the lechon my dad picked up from the slaughter house, cooking the frijoles negros, and cleaning the entire house. My brother and I hid our toys under our beds while Mom shampooed and vacuumed the carpet, and Mema, my grandma, yelled at anyone who dared to enter her kitchen.
By 8:00pm, the harmonious combination of English and Spanish swirled through the air. Tias and tios from Chicagowalked through the door, primos from Houston
“¡Aye que linda!” They’d shriek as they walked through the door and smothered me with besitos.
“Stop growing!” they pleaded “You’re so tall!” I giggled as they gawked at me.
Smiling and laughing, everyone cried and shrieked hellos. My large house became crowded. We’d order Pizza as a midnight snack, the adults spoke about what needed to be done the next day, what needed to be bought, while the kids ate their cheese slices in front of the TV and watched Christmas Special reruns on Cartoon Network.
On the 24th, Dad and Abo, my grandpa, excavate the CajaChina from the attic before the sun had a chance to rise. Theyfound a place for it in the yard, filled it with coal, placed the lechong on top, then bury it underneath some more coal. When the rest of us woke up, my cousins, brother, and I threw on our bathing suits and jumped in the pool. Our lips turned purple from the icy water, but we didn’t mind, our bodies quickly adjusted to the cold. Our grandparents played dominos with a cigar in one hand and a beer in the other. When we got bored of the pool, we’d run and play volley ball for no more than ten minutes then jump back into the waters. When our arms grew tired, we’d run inside, creating a muddy mess, and play on the Play Station. While we played video games, we heard Celia Cruz’ voice faintly over the shuffling and sliding of dominos on a plastic table.
By 6:00, my mom enlisted the us to set the table, the smell of heated vegetable oil filled the air from the platanos she just finished frying. Once my dad placed the perfectly cooked lechong in the center of the table built for thirty, my mom sneaked pieces of crunchy
When everyone settled into a chair, my mom said grace. Rumbling tummies echoed through the dining room as we all became intoxicated by the smell of Frijoles Negros and rice. I wiggled around my chair, mouth watering, as I stared at themushy yuca in sitting in lemon juice.
With a loud, chorused “Amen” we began to eat. The viejoslaughed and cracked jokes about their days in Cuba. They argued about politics and whatever Bush did. They’d argue about something they heard of Fox or a law that just passed, but when it came to Fidel they all agree he was a come mierda. Jokes and insults flung around the room and always resulted in loud laughter. Everyone told us
Noche Buena felt important to all of us, but I think my grandpa loved it the most. That night was evidence, proof he found his American Dream. He came here with nothing, but fear and gave his children everything. Now, he sat between his two gorgeous grandkids and knew we could have everything wewanted. Not just food, toys, or clothing, but we could accomplish anything we ever dreamed of. He looked at my brother and I, only four and five years old, and saw a future full of endless potential. Noche Buena, the night everyone gathered around my parents table, became a testament to what he did. A testament to everything my grandparents, great aunts and uncles did to make it to this country.