News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Cuba: A blend of races with a single culture

Cubans are a people with genes from many parts of the globe. You'll find faces on the island that reveal ancestors ranging from Nubian to Nordic. Most mainstream Americans visiting Cuba for the first time find that diversity surprising. But it's not really unusual. Many other nations in Latin America have similar tapestries of phenotypes. But what makes Cuba unique goes beyond features and pigmentation.

The United States is also made up of a wide range of races. These racial groups are, for the most part, divided into separate communities. African-Americans, in particular, live in a vastly different culture. There are "black" styles of music, food and fashion. Many African-Americans speak with a distinctive English dialect, These differences are an unquestioned fact of life in the United States.

In contrast, Cubans have a single cultural identity. Cubans of every color share the same music, the same food, the same accent. That's not to say racial prejudice does not exist in Cuba.

Look at the highest echelons of Cuban society and you'll find a preponderance of lighter skin. Poverty, on the other hand, is much more egalitarian on the island. The poorest districts are mostly integrated, These conditions preceded the communist revolution, by the way. The Castro brothers can take credit for removing Cuba's versions of Jim Crow. But the strongman overthrown by the communist revolution, Fulgencio Batista, was a person of mixed European and African heritage.

Perhaps Cuba's greatest unity comes from our music. The neurosurgeon and the hotel maid still move their hips in the same saucy way when they hear a conga beat. It seems we all have the 1-2-3, 1-2 rhythm of the clave hardwired into our nervous systems.

Want proof? Watch the video below. You'll see a rainbow coalition of Cuban musicians and everyday folks sharing their passion for music--and the moving words of poet and statesman, Jose Marti.

To be sure, we Cubans have our faults and foibles like every other nation. But there is a lot the world can learn from the beauty of Cuba's cultural unity.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Old stories, new faces

Since 2007 I've hosted, a website where immigrants to the U.S. from all over the world can tell their stories in their own words. This week I received a series of similar stories, all from Phoenix, Arizona. This had never happened before. One of the stories mentioned a class called "English Innovations." After Googling the term in Phoenix, I discovered this course is part of the evening curriculum at Maricopa Community College. The reason behind the series of stories quickly became clear. Posting these stories to the website was evidently a class assignment for people learning to communicate in English.

As a child, my mother took English classes at the local high school. She attended these lessons after making my dinner following a long day of work. I can picture the authors of these stories doing the same. Below you'll find their stories, verbatim. Their struggle to master grammar and spelling underscores the challenges they face every day--and face willingly.

The next time you hear someone say today's immigrants don't want to accept American ways, remember these stories. There are many others like them, people quietly struggling to adapt to a new language and culture so they can provide their children with the same life you'd wish for your own. They're old stories, repeated many times in the course of U.S. history. Only the faces have changed.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Susana, Phoenix Az
My name is Susana, and I am from Mexico City. I am 36 years old. I came to the USA because I was married. My husband and I came to have more opportunities and to have a better life. Now, I live with my sons and my husband. I hope that some day I will see my family again.
On my journey, I felt nervous and was cautious. When I got here, I saw many differences, such as the language, the money and the weather. But as time passed, I met new people and I felt better. Now, I eat different foods, and I found many Mexican restaurants that bring me many memories.
Although I miss my friends and family back home, I am glad that I am able to provide a better life for my children.

Mario, Phoenix Arizona
My name is Mario. I am from Guerrero,Mexico. I am 44 and I am married. I have three children and I came to the United States for a better future. In Mexico I didn't have my own home. I came to Phoenix with the brother in laws and of my wife. I didn't have family in this city. My long term goal in this country is to get my own home. I need to prepare to take my Residence card. That's why in the eigth years I always have had two jobs to survive. It is very difficult to get a long without legal documents. My greatest des8ire is that my children continue studying to improve themselves and have a better way of life. Someday we will have our own home and be able to get our legal documents to go visit our relatives in Mexico.

Maria, Phoenix AZ
My name is Maria 
I come from Tamaulipas Mexico.
I cam to live in Phoenix, A Z
I left my country because need to work 
I had no difficultades because I arrived by plane 
My reaction to the U S A was fear.

Araceli, Phoenix Az 
My name is Araceli. I am from Mexico I came to this country twelve years ago looking for a better life in this country.When I came I brought a suitcase with my Mexican culture,my roots and illusions for a better future leaving behind my family my job my country to start a new life. 
When I was travelng to this country I was very sad because I thought how will be my life in U.S.A .
When I was on the border was the worse experience in my life I feel humiliated because all things was diferent but I am happy because in this country I achieved things that in my country was impossible.
some things I like in this country are I can do my Mexican traditions.
One struggle I encountered was I could not find work because I was undocumented but that not prevented me to get ahead and achieve my dreams.

Luz, Phoenix
I left my country in 2003. I came to unite with my husband, who was working here for a few years. I brought with me my 2 children, leaving behind my mom, sibbilings and all my family.
During my journey to Phoenix, I was feeling sad to leave all my life and thinking what it was to come. At the time I arrived my reaccion was better than I was thinking because the neighborhood was good. As I have found a big difference because my home town was smaller and all people living there greeting everyone and here we are like unknown people.
I have found nothing the same.
The struggles were finding the right school for my children and how to transport us and also the big struggle was when I wanted to get work.

Teresa, Phoenix, Az.
My parents came from Puebla, Mexico we came to Phoenix, Arizona. Because my parents came for more opportunities for them and my siblings as well as better medical attention for me, for my eyes. I brought with me my hope, faith my desire to succeed. I am leaving behind my grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins.During my journey to the U.S.A. I felt so excited & had fear at the same time. I had many emotions at this time. My reaction to the U.S.A was difficult in the beginning because I had an auto accident and had long time in physical therapy and mental (emotional), and then when I started school, it was a little hard to learn the new system of education, the difference from my native county is food, culture, language, the people the similarities from my country is some people that are from the same place I am from some places that have same language to me like Spanish the struggles that I have encounter the auto accident, time for my recuperation different system of education and the culture.

Elda, Phoenix, Az
My name is Elda. I am from Sonora Mexico. I came to the U.S.A because my husband did not have a job. My husband came first. Then a month later my children and I came whit some friends. My friends took me to my husband. In my country we have many parties, here in U.S.A every one is in their own world. I had no struggles when I came here. In Mexico we are not safe but in the U.S.A were are.

Ariana, Phoenix AZ 
My name is Ariana; I came from Oaxaca Mexico, when i was 15 years old,my parents decided to move to Arizona because our business got burnt,They rebuilt the grocery store,but nothing was the same.I brought a Virgin of Guadalupe necklace.I left 1 brother and 2 sisters in Oaxaca. I felt sad because my family was separated.I was scared because I didn't know what was on the other side.The truck drivers drove like a crazy person,and I was worried about my dad because he was apart from us.I was so happy we were safe.My native country is a little town so only the road and big street was paved.I remember the weather; it felt so warm at 7:00am. The only thing that was the same was my uncle and aunt who recived us in their house. English was the first problem I had; the first question i learned was "Do you speak spanish? The kids were so mean and rude with no good manners,fortunately I started knowing good people.

Andres, Phoenix, AZ.
I come here to the U S A . for the first time in 1992, because I looking
For better work. Now I have all my family with me, I have good work,
I 'm very happy.
God bless me.

When I came to Amerca it was veri hard because the agente of immigration was holding me and took me bak to Mexico.when I came to America, everything was different than Mexico. So I was feeling sad because I was in a strange place. Everithing, was different the language, monney, stores and the people. I missed my mam, my dad and all my family. The weather was to hot here in Mexico the weather is very nice. I didn't have work . No money and I didn't know any body. I needed to go to places but I did not have a car. I did not know the city. So I really was want to go bak to Mexico.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A tasty review of The Skinny Years

Author Roger Besu
Roger Besu is an exile of my generation, born in Cuba and raised in Miami during the sixties and seventies. He is also the author of a definitive book on Cuban cuisine, Cuban Cooking 101.
I did not know Roger growing up. We met as mature adults. So I wondered if he would connect with my fourth novel set in Miami during the sixties. Roger's review of The Skinny Years left this author feeling heartened that the story resonated as authentic with someone whose experiences mirrored my own.


by Roger Besu, author of Cuban Cooking 101

I started to read this book with the idea that I was going to encounter a chronicle or a biography. What I found was a ride through memory lane – a trip that reaches into the fantasies created by the author about the many encounters of the characters he describes in a family forced into exile from La Habana to Miami. The legend of the Delgado family takes place at the beginning from the sixties when the wave of the Diaspora began and thousands fled the oppressive new regime brought by the Castro brothers and their cohorts. But, the story is not so much about politics but about the serious business of young immigrants coming to the Melting Pot of America and trying to survive in the new environment. 

"There is exhilaration, funny moments and the hard reality, all described in this very witty novel with a delicate touch by a master writer."

You will find in the lives described, as in many lives, those brilliant moments and those very somber, but in between there are many neutral zones. There is exhilaration, funny moments and the hard reality, all described in this very witty novel with a delicate touch by a master writer. You will laugh, cry, remember and find that you can actually understand what it is to find a new life in a new country. The immigrant, be it Cuban, or from whatever background you come from, will find incomparable affinity and rapport with the characters.  

This is a very timely book for those who not only are interested in the history of the Cuban exiles of the sixties, but of the history of immigrants in general in America. A true work of literary license, which is much more interesting than a chronicle  or biography, I say. 

Roger Besu

Monday, July 11, 2016

Honored to be interviewed by Armando F. Sanchez

Armando F. Sanchez

A former educator, Armando F. Sanchez has dedicated himself to inspiring Latino youth through his efforts as a CEO, producer and author. I was proud and honored to appear in Armando's global on-demand podcast interview released this week featuring my latest novel, The Skinny Years.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Skinny Years: Book of the Month for Latina Book Club

Talk about making an author's day... Today I awoke to find Latina Book Club had selected The Skinny Years as its Book of the Month. The thrill did not stop there. The review below that accompanied the announcement had me busting my buttons.

by Maria Ferrer, host and editor Latina Book Club

Colorful. Emotional. Outstanding.

THE SKINNY YEARS can take its place proudly alongside other notable coming-of-age tales like BLESS ME, ULTIMA by Rudolfo Anaya; WHEN I WAS PUERTO RICAN by Esmeralda Santiago; and ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

THE SKINNY YEARS deals with lots of complex issues like identity, loss, belonging and connection. Through our teen hero Victor “Skinny” Delgado,” Ramos y Sanchez gives life and light to the “kaleidoscope of color, culture and creed” that was Miami in the turbulent 1960s.

SUMMARY:  Victor Delgado is eight years old when his family flees Cuba in 1959 as Fidel Castro moves in. The family goes from being land rich to dirt poor. Whereas the family had several maids in Havana, now the mother works as a hotel maid in Miami, while his ex-law professor Dad wallows in the past. Luckily, Abuela is always there to care for Victor and his baby sister and share her own brand of wisdom; as well as his best friend Loco, another exile with dubious connections.

Victor quickly learns to survive in this foreign land where a fat man in a red suit replaces the Three Kings and demons boldly knock on your door wanting treats. He learns a new language and earns a new nickname with one swing of the bat. He obsesses over puppy love; joins the skateboard craze with a home-made board; lives through Hurricane Cleo; stars on the football team; runs away to join a commune; and returns home to reconnect with his family and his future. 

And as Victor grows and changes so do his two homelands: Cuba and the U.S. Victor and the world around him are in constant flux – Cuba and the U.S. face off during the Cuban Missile Crisis; the Civil Rights Movement burns bright; disco balls rule the music halls; and peace walks hand in hand with drugs.

Readers will love the characters, the fast pace, and the realistic setting that frames the story.  It’s an emotionally packed coming of age tale that is destined to be a classic.  Bravo, Raul, Bravo.


You can see the original review at the Latina Book Club website.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Monday, July 4, 2016

Brexit, Immigration and Cuba

Immigration continues to be a thorny topic and Brexit is the latest installment.

Many in the mainstream populations of the Western world now live in fear of change. Those at the bottom rungs of the economic ladder feel immigration threatens their jobs. Others worry about the dilution of their culture. And, let's be candid, there is also a significant element of racism mixed in with these fears.

But the economics of immigration are brutally simple. The mainstream populations of the U.S. and Western Europe (which includes Great Britain whether they like it or not) are aging rapidly. With fertility rates in these nations at an all-time low, it will be impossible for their economies to grow without an infusion of youth. Step in the Developing Nations.

As a Cuban immigrant, I see these trends in a different perspective.

For one thing, we could bring over all of Cuba's 11 million inhabitants and the U.S. population would grow by less than 3%. Another big difference is the Cuban Adjustment Act which allows any Cuban who reaches U.S. soil front-of-the-line status for a green card within one year. No other nation enjoys this privileged U.S. immigration status. With the CAA likely to expire as relations between the U.S. and Cuba improve, it’s little wonder we’ve seen a surge in boat people in the last year. They are trying to get in under the wire.

But Cuba is an exception.

Immigration is a complex problem that defies simple-minded solutions. We cannot have open borders. Nor can we build a wall to keep out people who can contribute to the success of our economies. Fear-mongering and demonizing--by either side of the debate--is not the place to start. It's time to look for rational remedies. The alternative to this approach will be continued economic decline and growing social unrest. The Brexit fallout is proof of that.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A tender and uplifting Young Adult novel

The Season of Stories 
by Silvio Sirias

The Season of Stories by Silvio Sirias is a young adult novel that contrasts the lives of two adolescent characters living four centuries apart. Both live in a time of cultural collision. Sirias skillfully weaves the two narratives, keeping us interested in both storylines.

Anayansi is an indigenous teenage princess living in Central America. Her story begins as their tribal group encounters the arrival of Spanish conquistadores in the early 1500s. Anayansi soon falls in love with one of the Spaniards, leading to an inevitable dilemma.

Diego is a sixth-grader in Los Angeles during the early 1960s. Part of an immigrant family from Nicaragua, Diego effectively navigates the fusion of cultures in Southern California. His mother, however, does not adapt as well. This leads to the crux of conflict in Diego’s story.

How Anayansi and Diego resolve these challenges reveals much about their character—and the makeup of those around them. In both stories, the young protagonists quickly adapt to their new cultural environment while most of their elders struggle. The novel helps us see that there is hope in this suppleness. How the stories of Anayansi and Diego are connected is deftly revealed at the novel’s end.

Silvio Sirias is an author whose decency and compassion shine through the novel’s central characters. (Moreover, it’s refreshing to find a contemporary Young Adult novel that foregoes the slick allure of vampires, wizards or the paranormal.). In The Season of Stories, Sirias has given us an engaging, tender and uplifting novel that nurtures the better angels of our nature.

Review by Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Recent Reader Reviews - The Skinny Years

One week after the official launch of The Skinny Years, I'm thrilled to see the reviews from readers growing each day. Below are excerpts from the most recent reviews with links to the complete text.

"A great read with plenty of American heart and lots of Latino soul."
Dom Cimei - Full review

"Richly rewards the reader for the journey taken."
Sara Templeton - Full review

"Adds another important patch to that which we call the great American quilt of migration."
Jesse Luna - Full review

"An entertaining and thoughtful slice of life."
Kate Hagebuch - Full review

"A lovely tale of the past. Well remembered, told with lots of amor."
Belinda Osorio - Full review

My deepest thanks to everyone who has taken the time to share their thoughts about my fourth novel.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Which parts of The Skinny Years are real?

The Skinny Years is set in Miami during the stormy 1960s. Since I grew up in the same place and time, a number of readers have asked, "Which parts of the novel are real?"

The characters in The Skinny Years are composites of friends, enemies, neighbors and schoolmates from my adolescence. A few real-life experiences of my own are woven into the story as well. (However, I am not the main character, Skinny, as anyone who knows my personal history can attest.) The result is a mashup of the real and the imagined, from the past and from the present, concocted into a narrative that's hopefully interesting. In other words, it's fiction. But a lot about the era and the area in the novel are very real.

Miami's skyline in the sixties
All of the South Florida geographic details in the book are accurate: the neighborhoods, the streets and causeways, the schools, even the bus lines. Many have changed since the sixties, however. The areas most transformed are South Beach and Wynwood, the neighborhood where much of the novel takes place.

South Beach was once a backwater appendix to Miami Beach dubbed "God's waiting room" because of its many retirees lingering near death. It was also a surfing hangout for local teens. Today, as everyone knows, South Beach is a hip and vibrant district for the hard body set.

Below is a view of South Beach as I remember it back in the day. The stretch of coast between the pier and the jetties are the setting for several scenes in the book.
The original "South Beach" of the 1960s
In the novel, Skinny's neighborhood of Wynwood is described as "a low-rent area where the cooks, cabbies, mechanics, and maids whose labor greased Miami’s tourism machine rested their heads and raised their kids." Today, the area is called The Wynwood Arts District. Visit my old neighborhood now and you'll find a collection of trendy art galleries, antique shops, bistros and a few luxury high-rises. In fact, Wynwood now bills itself as "the go-to place for an alternative and more cultural nightlife in the City of Miami." Some have called it the South Beach of the mainland. Nearly fifty years later, color me stunned.
Wynwood today
Other Miami areas included in The Skinny Years are Liberty City and Overtown. These are still predominantly African-American neighborhoods. I'm happy to say Overtown is making strides toward a renaissance of the post-war area when it was a hotbed of commerce and entertainment.

The sixties were a turbulent time. Anyone who lived through the era will remember some of its most vivid milestones: the Cuban Missile Crisis... the Civil Rights movement... the dawning of the youth counterculture... In Miami, these events were especially intense. The Skinny Years offers an intimate, Latin-flavored perspective into this social history.

If you have specific questions about the novel, its characters and events, please contact me directly. I will answer you privately to avoid spoilers for those who have not read the book.

I look forward to hearing from you.

You can find more about The Skinny Years here.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Beatles: A seismic change during the 1960s

The Sixties: The British Invasion - The Beatles arrive at JFK from Jonathan Buss on Vimeo.

If you lived through it, you'll never forget it. 

As a kid, you knew the Beatles were different than any musicians who had come before. It was a seismic change.They were the first and the biggest of The British Invasion of the 1960s.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez