There’s one thing you can say that will strike fear in the hearts of every Cuban mom in Miami. It’s not telling them you’re pregnant or calling them from the police station — those pale in comparison. It’s telling them you want to go away for college.
Considering my grandma and mom went to Florida International University together and my paranoid great-grandma would freak out if I went to Dolphin Mall after 10 p.m. in high school, I never even entertained the idea of leaving Miami for college.
If your Cuban mom is anything like mine, she’s practically psychic and has already pictured you moving away to Tennessee and having two kids named Connor and Chase who have never tried arroz con frijoles.
Cuban moms’ plan of convincing their kids from birth to go to FIU has been ruined. But rest assured, they have found the culprit — and it’s none other than Americans.
“This thing about the American lifestyle, where the kids go off at 18 and … they can just go do their own thing, what is that? At 18, they’re still punks,” said Cuban mom Idania Conrad. “They’re not adults that can make their own decisions and rationalize things in a good way.”
As you can tell by her last name, this isn’t your average Cuban household. She has to fight off the strong influence of her American, die-hard University of Florida alumnus husband, who has made it his mission to convince their daughter to go to school in Gainesville.
“He influences my daughter to go to UF with all his fun stories. That always conflicts with me influencing [her] about how wonderful and close FIU is,” said Conrad. “The thing that scares me is all these stories you hear about kids that move away and never come back. I had a friend whose daughter moved to Paris to study abroad, fell in love with someone there and now she’s never coming back.”
But don’t believe they come up with these ideas on their own, as Cuban moms seem to congregate at their annual summit to convince each other they shouldn’t let their kids go away for college.
“The Cuban mom mafia has a powerful effect,” said Anik Roman. “Anything they see on TV or anything that happens when a kid goes away to college starts spreading amongst this chain of other Cuban moms … We start saying ‘this may happen’ or ‘look at what happened to so and so.’ … I kind of try to stay away from that and give my kids some kind of autonomy that they’re going to make the right decisions.”
The abuelitas may seem like the neutral parties, just sitting on the couch, watching their telenovelas, acting like they didn’t just hear World War III between their daughters and grandchildren in the room next door. Cuban kids know better. They’re well aware there’s one person who has even more say in big decisions than their moms: their abuelitas. They tell their daughters about every terrible scenario that can possibly happen if they let them go away.
Some abuelitas have found a simple solution to this problem. Roman’s grandma realized she wouldn’t have to stay up worrying about her granddaughter in another state if she just moved there.
“I was so excited when I got accepted into NYU, but then my grandma decided I couldn’t go alone,” said Roman. “She was moving with me. I knew she was serious because she was already making plans. She asked my parents when I was moving there, she told them they would have to fend for themselves now that she was moving to New York … whatever she said, she meant it.”
Roman decided to not go away to college because of her grandmother. This experience convinced Roman to allow her oldest son to go away to University of Central Florida. This of course didn’t go over well with her parents, who needed to see the campus first to make sure it was Cuban approved for their grandson. They regularly sent him care packages of Goya beans because one trip to the supermarket there convinced them that no tienen nada en el Publix de Orlando.
There are some emergencies a simple care package can’t solve, which require an actual visit from your Cuban mom. If you see a crazed woman power walking across the UF campus with pots and pans in her hand, there’s no reason to be alarmed. It’s just Martha Montaner, who at the crack of dawn drove five hours straight to Gainesville to make her sick son una sopa de pollo, so stay out of her way.
“My son called me one day early in the morning, which was already unusual,” said Montaner. “He told me ‘Mom, I don’t feel well.’ So from here I called the pharmacy in Gainesville to have the medicine ready for him. I left work at that moment in a craze.”
Sure, Montaner let her son go away when most Cuban moms probably wouldn’t, but there was a catch. She bought a home just a few blocks away from the school so she could drive up and stay close to her son whenever she wanted to, an idea that has certainly made her fellow Cuban moms proud.
“At first, to be honest, he wasn’t thrilled. But after awhile I turned it around,“ said Montaner. “I said, ‘Look papi, I can wash your clothes. I can cook for you.’ He tried telling me ‘Why would you move to Gainesville? There’s nothing here,’ but I knew that for as long as he was there, the house would serve its purpose.”