Coming up Cuban-American, caught
somewhere on the gangplank between identities, Xavier Cortada always struggled to span the
two worlds that defined him. He was the Americanito who knew Cuba only through the
hazy reminiscences of his parents, and the Cubanito who grew up praying to La
Caridad del Cobre. The kid from upstate New York who stumbled over his Spanish, and
the Miami exile who labored to learn the difference between share and chair.
But it wasnt until he hit college that
the contradictions of duality turned sharp. Encased in that Americano world of
fraternities at the University of Miami, Cortada was never farther away from his Cubania.
He had been raised in that near-Cuba that was el exilio and now here he was, a
world from the enclave that defined him.
His childhood had been spent surrounded by
friends from unvisited but familiar places places like Matanzas, Pinar del Rio,
Camaguey. Now, living at the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity house, his friends were from
truly distant locales Missouri, Massachusetts, Kentucky. He was suddenly a
foreigner in his own home.
It is in this muddled place that Cubaba was
born. It was someones mispronunciation of his name. And it stuck. Cortada became
Cubaba, a foil to himself, a frat house caricature in sombrero and toga who brought
comic relief to the pain of otherness even while empowering the Cubanito in the
Later Cortada came to view those Cubaba years
as a youngsters crude attempt at negotiating identity -- a necessary passage to
self-discovery, and ultimately, self-acceptance. Cubaba, the exhibit, is product of those
explorations of self, and of one Cuban-Americans coming to terms with what part of
his identity is truly de aqui and what part is de alla.
The Cubaba series offers not the simplistic
iconography of Cuban nostalgia, but the tempered expressions of being caught somewhere
between the truths and the myths that frame el exilio. When are you most Cuban?
When youre wearing your Cubaba persona in good-natured defiance of shame? Or when
youre kneeling before your virgen on the edge of Biscayne Bay. And when are
you most American? When youre praying for an unknown island, safe at the edge of
that bay, or when you finally find yourself on that mythical island, praying among
strangers in a strange place?
Cubaba reaffirms the precarious balancing act
that is bi-culturalism. And the endless search that is finding a sense of place and person
when you are the product of two worlds.