My childhood as a Cuban refugee boy

cubanAfter a brief phase when my mother had complete control over my appearance without any resistance, I demonstrated why I should not have been granted autonomy. Like most young girls born in the early ’70s, I went through the phase of the Dorothy Hamill figure skater bowl cut. At around 7 years old, Princess Diana’s feathered wings were all the rage. I wore pink apparently, although some time ago I destroyed all the photographic evidence that this ever occurred. Pink is such a cheery color it makes my eyes want to explode now.

I rebelled at my first opportunity. By age 8, my childhood wardrobe consisted of New York Yankees t-shirts, gym shorts and no shoes. Standard tomboy uniform. I was also a typical child who hated taking baths, so at 8:00 at night I’d be getting ready for bed before my disgusted mother would notice & make me go wash my feet. At that point what difference did it make? I had been carrying a zillion diseases around with me, and around her house, all day. I never wore shoes as a child until I was scared straight by a science lesson on ringworms.

By 1984, at the ripe old age of 11, I discovered hockey. More accurately, hockey players. I thought Pat LaFontaine was really super cute. My adoration led me to cut my hair just like him. For visual reference, it was basically the same haircut as Ralph Macchio in the “Karate Kid”.

karate kid

To complicate matters, my family referred to me as “Dan.” I would have none of that girly “Dani”. Dani makes me think of girls who dot their “I”s with tiny hearts.

Combine the tomboy clothing line, the Karate Kid haircut, the filthy shoeless feet, and the fact that my French Canadian skin caused me to tan in the range of the Crayola crayon Sepia, and I could have been mistaken for a Cuban refugee boy. Had I been able to speak Spanish, I might have played this to my advantage. The political climate for refugees in the 1980s was much more receptive to refugees than the current state of affairs.

I remember going to bingo with my grandmother and great aunt and being totally shocked that this elderly man kept calling me “Son”. It never occurred to me until my mother hid my clothes and asked if I wanted a sex change operation that there was anything wrong with my appearance. On one hand I thought it was pretty progressive of her for 1984, but I now realize our health insurance would not have covered it so it was an illusory option. She was just trying to shame me into dressing like a girl.

Eventually when I hit puberty I grew out of that phase, for the most part. I’m writing this in my giant, oversized men’s flannel pajamas and watching a hockey game. But at least I have a good haircut now.

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