Sex, age, race, gender, exile

El rapto de las mulatas.jpg

These are stories told to me by men now in late middle age about their teen years. Both are Cubans who came to the U.S. in the early 60's to the Miami area. Since the tales are intimate I will not give their names.

The first, let's call him Paco, is still a handsome man. In his youth he must have been downright pretty. And that made him cougar bait, words that were not current at the time.

Paco wound up in Miami Beach, and one summer he got a job as a beach boy at one of the resort hotels. That meant putting up beach umbrellas, setting up lounge chairs and tending to the guests' needs. Ah, the needs.

Some of these guests were the young wives of businessmen from the North who'd come to Miami not to vacation but to work, and that meant they parked their wives at the beach while they traveled to, say, the orange groves in central Florida for business. One of these women, quite attractive my friend tells me, took a fancy to the handsome teen, who in his hormonal prime did not take much seduction.

The delightfully unfaithful (as far as Paco was concerned) wife told some of the other young wives marooned at the beach resort about this lovely boy who apparently was a good lover -- or maybe a good love student, my friend never reported in detail. And the boy was passed from wife to wife, from bed to bed. He was in heaven.

And here's the deal. Reverse genders and we have a rather gross case of sexual abuse, no? Instead, the story was told to me as a memory of happy times. I've often wondered about this. Yes, I too would be disturbed if the genders were reversed, but as it happened, I am amused.

In the other story the otherness is not age but race. This Miami Cuban, let's call him Antonio, did not  wind up in Miami Beach in his teens but in a district where the high school was almost all black. 

First, a word about Cuban racial attitudes. It's true that in the American South white men have slept with white women since the days of slavery, e.g. Tom Jefferson. The power construct is obvious here. However, black/white relations have always been tense in the U.S. Cuba, like the American South, is marked by the legacy of slavery, but things are not as tense because, well, in Cuban culture tension is not cool. That has meant a somewhat more relaxed attitude toward miscegenation, more often the white-male/black-female kind, of course; that power construct lived on, albeit more subtly.

That, in turn, has meant that the downright physical repulsion some white Americans feel toward blacks is not strong in Cuban culture, where there are many forms of racism, just not much of this one. And that translates into my young Cuban friend happy, hell, ecstatic, to be in a high school where the girls were, well, eager.

The Cuban boys -- I know nothing of Cuban girls in this situation but I bet things were very different -- were for all appearances white, and that had its own appeal to the young ladies. And there is just enough racial tension in Cuban culture to give black girls the appeal of forbidden fruit. Now I don't want to delve into racial erotic stereotypes. Let me just say that when it comes to sexual adventurousness Cuban males are more First than Third World, much to the girls' delight. Apparently, everyone had a good time. Well, I don't know how the black boys took it because Antonio never told me.

What to make of these tales? For all appearances there was nothing but sheer physical joy, and on all sides and that joy was set in motion by otherness. No, Paco did not run off with a cougar; he dated white American girls in high school and eventually married an age-appropriate Jewish-American woman. No, Antonio did not marry one of the black girls from the high school. When he did marry, after a youth full of adventure as a rock musician, it was a white Cuban woman.

Perhaps the stories illustrate, if anything, the nuances and complexities of desire. Which is to say, the nuances and complexities of being human, hard to pin down by identity politics or any other kind, vibrant and alive.