LOOKING FOR PAPITO
by Storyteller Antonio Sacre
Approximate Length of Video and Audio: 8 minutes.
Embracing the complex, compound identity of a multicultural heritage and
recognizing that many others in the U. S. share similar heritages.
This excerpt is from a longer story “Looking for Papito” by Antonio Sacre. He describes his own journey of understanding and embracing his own identity. He recalls his earliest years in a bilingual household overseen by a Cuban father and Irish-American mother and his eventual rejection of his Spanish and Cuban identity while in school.
Sacre ends with how he finally reclaimed his identity as both an English speaker and Spanish speaker, as Cuban, and Irish, and American. Sacre began life in a family of three boys who spoke Spanish with their father and his relatives and English with their mother and her relatives. Sacre was given the traditional nickname for firstborn Cuban boys, a name he shared with his grandfather—Papito.
When Sacre arrives at school for the first time, another student makes fun of his name, and Sacre tells his dad he is no longer Papito and should be called Tony from now on. Later in school, students make fun of Sacre because they hear him speaking Spanish with his father; Sacre then tells his father he will only speak in English. Eventually, Sacre’s determination to fit in results in losing his ability to speak or understand Spanish. This, however, does not protect him from being treated as an outsider in high school, where kids call him a ‘Mick Spic’ when they find out he is Cuban and Irish.
While Sacre maintains a genial attitude towards those who want to stereotype him, he is chagrined to find he can longer communicate with his grandmother. During a summer spent with her in Miami, Florida, Sacre finds his brother’s fluent Spanish allows him to be accepted by the residents his grandmother’s neighborhood of “Little Havana,” while he can barely make conversation and is referred to as the “gringo” of the family.
Sacre decides that it is worse to be an outsider in his own family than to be an outsider in school. He spends the summer learning Spanish from his grandmother as she tells him jokes, family history, and cultural stories in his lost language. His grandmother Mimi tells him he’ll never be completely Cuban or completely American. Sacre embraces this complex, compound identity, recognizing that he shares it with many others in the U. S. and can learn from both sides of who he is.
- Video of Looking For Papito (MP4 format)
- Download Audio of Looking for Papito (MP3 format)
- Transcription Text of Looking For Papito (PDF format)
REFLECTIONS & DISCUSSION QUESTIONS ABOUT
Looking For Papito
- Many factors discourage Sacre from embracing his Cuban, Spanish-speaking “self.” What factors do you think are most influential? What do you think could have been done – by schools, Sacre’s family, or Sacre himself – to resist the external, discouraging forces?
- Why do you think Sacre’s father agrees to allow him to use the name “Tony” instead of “Papito” and to refuse to use Spanish any longer? How do you imagine Sacre’s father felt? How Sacre felt? Have you ever experienced a similar conflict in your own family? How did it unfold? Was it ever resolved?
- Sacre decides he doesn’t want to be considered a “gringo” in his own family, and his grandmother tells him that he must speak Spanish to her because she is too old to learn English, but that he must speak English to others outside the family. Sacre re-learns Spanish and seems to have found a way to integrate multiple parts of his identity. How did it affect you to hear this excerpt told in two languages? What do you think Sacre gained by being able to communicate in two languages?
- Sacre’s grandmother tells him that he is neither fully Cuban nor fully American. Sacre says at the end of his story that he realizes now that he is in the same position as many people in the United States who claim multiple identities. Throughout U. S. history, it has been common to insist that people leave behind ethnic identities in order to be considered “American,” yet many people today claim a “hyphenated” identity. What do you think are the strengths of these new, more complex identities? Do you believe there are any risks? How would you describe your own identity and how has that developed during your life?
STORY TRANSCRIPT of
Looking For Papito
by Storyteller Antonio Sacre
Note : The transcript below of the video and audio story is not in correct text book English. It is a transcription of the spoken story. There are also a few variations from the spoken word. This text is for your guidance and reference as you start to study and think about this story.
Hi my name is Antonio Sacre and this is an excerpt from a longer story called Looking for Papito.
Spanish …When my father left Cuba he didn’t speak any English at all … and when he came to the United States he met a woman who didn’t speak any Spanish at all … and the two got married. And they had me. That meant I grew up speaking Spanish with my father and English with my mother.
Now I was born it was just me .. and life was perfect and on my very first birthday my mom and dad gave me twin baby brothers. My mom was up to her ears. My dad said “Three boys in one year that’s the man that I am you know !”
We were handful for my parents of course, and so my dad did what very many other Cuban men would do in the same situation he called his mother. Spanish. My Cuban grandmother came to live with us. We were growing up in Delaware at that time. And so in my house our first language — my two brothers and I — was Spanish. So we spoke Spanish with my dad Spanish with my grandmother and of course we learnt English from my mom and we all learned each other’s languages.
Now, it’s typical in Cuban families for the first born male to have the nickname – Papito … and I was given that nickname by my grandmother Papito. It means little man … little boy. But in my family it reminded her of my grandfather who died right after they came from Cuba and so it was honor to have his name. And when we got out of diapers my grandmother moved back to little Havana in Miami Florida.
Now my first day of kindergarten I was five years old I was so excited to go to school to get out of the house with those two other boys and my mom was sad and my dad was happy — “my boy was going to school you know”.
I get to this school and I see all those kids and I am nervous and excited and I looked at them and I spoke in my first language I said … Spanish … And the kids looked at me and said –what? .. Spanish … And my teacher … she was very sweet … and she said “Honey nobody speaks Spanish here we only speak English”. “Oh that’s OK I speak English too.” “Hi everyone my name is Papito”. And one boy in the back said “Pa- Papido sounds like Dorido! ” “No, no its Papito” “No no its Dorido! ”.
Now he is just a five year old having fun with the nickname that he never heard before, but obviously I didn’t like it so much. I went home and spoke to my dad. Now if you don’t speak Spanish don’t worry I will translate what I said but this is what I said … Spanish … and my dad said … Spanish… I told my dad I didn’t want the Cuban nickname that my grandmother gave me I didn’t care it was part of the family I wanted to be called a more American sounding name I wanted to be called Tony. My dad said okay.
A couple of days after he dropped me off at school and he said “Adios Papit..aa Tony adios” “OK Papa. Adios” And one of those kids is in the playground … he was maybe third or fourth grader .. he looked like a giant … he came up to me and he said “What was that language you were speaking?” “Spanish”. “Sounds stupid.” “Are you stupid?”
I didn’t know what to say and I went home I did what I lot of other kids do from immigrant families I said … Spanish … I never want to speak Spanish again” … Spanish …“ No from now on — only English”. And when my father spoke to me in Spanish I answered back to him in English. And after a while he spoke to me in Spanish. I pretended like I didn’t understand until he only spoke to me in English and little by little my first language was slipping away.
And when I turned eight my parents got divorced… there is a long story behind that part of.. with their cultural background and part of the way it just the way it worked. And so my dad moved out and I didn’t have anyone to speak Spanish with anymore. But it didn’t matter to me every one at school spoke English. Everything on TV was in English. Movies were in English. My grandmother was in Miami and maybe I’d see a couple of times a year maximum. And the older I got by the time I got into the high school it didn’t matter to me that I didn’t know any Spanish.
Now in my first day of history class…American history in high school … I will never forget the teacher was reading roll call. He said “Antonio Bernardo Sacre who’s that?” “ Ah…that’s me but..my name is Tony” “what kind of a name is this??” “Well its Cuban” and the whole class turned and looked at me and I said “I am not Cuban. I am American. I was born here. My father he’s Cuban” he said “oh yeah… where is your mother from?” “Well she is an Irish American” he said “Cuban Irish American what kind of a combination is that?” and the whole class laughed he was just you know being funny. It was okay.
Now, at lunch there was a kid who came up to me and said “you are a Cuban and Irish huh ? I guess that it makes you a ‘spic-mick’ – or maybe a ‘mick-spic’. And soon in my school that’s the nickname that I got even though I had long ago stopped speaking Spanish, even though I fell and looked as white looking as everyone in that high school, that’s what I became known as — I was the ‘other’ in my high school.
Now, what was happening at the time was there is the movie “Scarface” had come out and there is the stereotype the all Cubans were drug dealers and bad and was just this odd thing was happening.
Lucky for me my grandmother wanted to see me this summer after my first year of high school. And my brother was there that whole summer and when I got in to her house (in Miami) and she saw me she threw her arms around me with a beautiful hug. I was so happy to see her and she started speaking and I couldn’t understand her.
And she said … Spanish … she’s screaming at me yelling at me and my brother said “What’s the matter? You can’t speak … you gotta talk Spanish with your grandmother.” The whole family is in a big consternation yelling at me and my grandmother said …Spanish … “You need to learn how to speak Spanish”. So every day she would sit me down and drill words into me tell me stories about my dad.
And every night … not every night… but every now and then my brother and I would go out to these big Cuban dance parties. He knew the salsa and dances. He could dance with all these girls I would be dancing by myself. Whenever we walked down the street the old Cuban men would say to my brother…. Spanish … “You speak Spanish perfect what’s the matter with your brother? He needs to learn Spanish you know!” ”
And soon in that little Havana neighborhood in my family I was called … ‘El gringo de la Familia’ …the Gringo of the family…they were calling me names and my family — the gringo of the family. And so it was odd for me because I don’t fit in with my family. I don’t fit in my high school. I didn’t know what was going on you know and by the end of the summer
I was jealous of my brother because his Spanish is perfect he looks more Cuban if there’s such a thing. I couldn’t understand my uncles when they are telling jokes with my grandmother, and I said in my halting Spanish “I don’t feel very Cuban in this family” and she said “You are never gonna be fully Cuban or American” she said “You are Cuban American”. And she said you have to speak Spanish with me because I am too old to learn English and you have to speak English in this country.
And at that point I realized that it was worse to be called gringo in my family than to be called names in the school I didn’t really care about. And so I tried the best I could that summer too accept the gain as much as that language I could. And sat with my grandmother while she told stories of the family she told me jokes some silly some a little racey some beautiful little stories.
Some of the jokes became basis of the stories that I tell now all these years later. One is just a little joke — a “barking mouse” There is a cat who chases a family of mice and the mother barks at the cat and the cat runs away and she says “You see kids it pays to speak another language”
And I think about my grandmother every time I think about that little silly beautiful message about the importance of speaking another language.
And I went back to my school proud to be the school’s only Cuban Irish American. There’s one of my friends who calls me — a “Leprachano”. And so now I embrace both parts of it. And I still am not fully Cuban in little Havana — and I am still not fully whatever American means or … whatever the words you would say… but I am somewhere in between the both. And I know now, in all my travels around the country, there are many many other people just like me and we have lots to learn from both sides. And that is just the part I wanted to do.
©2010 RaceBridges For Schools. This lesson plan is part of an initiative for educators called RaceBridges For Schools. It is a project that seeks to provide free tools for teachers and students to motivate them to build stronger and more inclusive communities. This guide may be freely used, reproduced and distributed for educational purposes as long as this copyright information is displayed intact. The video and audio excerpts and transcript included in this unit is copyrighted by Antonio Sacre. Used with permission. www.antoniosacre.com