A Cuban Grandmother Reunites with Family, Preparing a Dinner to Savor
By Kim Haas
As Yesenia Fernandez opened the door to her apartment, I was greeted instantly and affectionately by her mother, Mercedes Crespo. Mercedes was welcoming, warm and friendly. I liked her immediately. She has that inviting, infectious personality that puts you at ease. Mercedes radiates a certain warmth and hospitality that often characterizes Cubans.
Although she calls this apartment in West New York home, she’s only been living here for a couple of weeks. Originally from Havana, Cuba, she was reunited with her daughter Yesenia, and Yesenia’s triplets (los trillizos) at the end of April, a day shy of her 57 birthday.
This move to the United States was years in the making. After having been denied immigration several years prior, Mercedes was finally granted permission to reunite with her daughter and grandsons (Salvador, Leonardo and Malcolm). Upon seeing los trillizos, Mercedes said it filled her with pride to see them, “lindo, fuerte, sano e inteligente.”
As she settles into living in the United States, Mercedes appears perfectly content and comfortable in the kitchen. We started talking as she was preparing the evening’s meal: chicken cooked in pineapple sauce, rice and beans and a hearty spinach salad.
Because Mercedes is a talented cook, I asked her thoughts about the availability of fresh food in the United States compared to Cuba, particularly since Cuba often experiences shortages. Instantly, her eyes began to fill with tears. Right away, Yesenia comforts her mother, embracing her. Mercedes shared stories of her neighbors, including young children who too often go without food.
“Soy una persona muy sentimental,” says Mercedes. As a self described sentimentalist, it was very difficult for Mercedes to witness her neighbors, especially the young children, experiencing hunger. Her response was to share her food and clothing with her neighbors.
Mercedes finds the abundance of food in the United States impressive. Her Cuban food ration card (la libreta) provided 10 eggs per month and two pounds of sugar among other food staples. New York’s Times Square also left an unforgettable impression; Mercedes was awed by Times Square. Its enormity of people, stores, high rise buildings, the continuous traffic, and the steady, colorful, bright blinking lights. For Mercedes, being in Times Square was, “un sueño.“
And now, she lives just across the Hudson River from the famed 42nd Street. At night, the lights from Times Square shine brightly across the river. The apartment she shares with her daughter and grandsons provides an expansive view of Manhattan island.
As aromas of golden chicken and garlic filled the kitchen air, Mercedes was glowing as she sat at the dinner table. It was adorned colorfully with a basket of dark green avocados, limes, stargazer lilies and a single white hydrangea. The family sits down to the dinner Mercedes lovingly prepared: plates filled with the pineapple chicken, rice and beans and hearty, spinach salad. Everyone is anxious to fill their stomachs.
“Me siento feliz. Me siento bien,” states Mercedes.
Mercedes’ upcoming plans include studying English and looking for employment. With her supportive family and zest for life, Mercedes’ future is filled with possibilities.