My parents came to the US in 1968. My father ran his own dental lab (he made dentures for everyone in town and was often paid in steaks), my mother worked in factories (Devonsheer Melba kept us in croutons for 15 years, A&E stores provided a good discount on the latest styles for 10 more). These were not glamorous jobs by any stretch. Mommy and Daddy went to work in jeans most of the time, granted my father liked to have his jeans dry cleaned, that's another story. But on the weekends, look out! If they were going to the Club, they were dressed. (Club Camajuani is a social organization made up mostly of people from my mother's hometown, Camajauni.) You did not go to the club in jeans and a t-shirt, unless you were looking to get whispered about by the folks playing dominoes for the rest of your life. In case you didn't know, Cubans are not good whisperers. I accompanied my parents to the Club from the time I was old enough to sit on a bar stool. I was a combination mascot and little princess. I'd people watch, drink Shirley Temples, play songs on the jukebox (I distinctly remember they had Sir Richard Harris's version of MacArthur Park and the Spanish version of that classic, Feelings...whoa, whoa, WHOA, feelings) and be fawned over by my parents' friends. My father always wore a suit and tie. My mother wore an equally fancy outfit, often chosen by my older sister. I love my mother, but really, she should not be left to her own devices when putting together an outfit. Three words: Lavender sweat pants. Four more: from the children's department.
Like I said, everyone who went to Club Camajuani was dressed and groomed like film stars. Many of the ladies would have their hair done on Saturdays before showing up at the Club. This was evident from the tightness of their chignons, the poufiness of their teased out "football helmet" styles and the scent of Aqua Net mingling with their Chantilly perfume. Some ladies regularly dyed their hair to cover up the gray. Jet black was popular, as was Ash Blonde. But the color that lives on in memory is Cuban Red. How to describe it? It's not punk, these are respectable Cuban ladies after all, but it's not natural. It's actually pretty fabulous. Take candy apple red and mix in a healthy dose of aubergine, maybe a smidge of black to tone it down (HA!). Depending on how the light hit it, you could have a moment where you'd wonder "Is her hair purple? Oh, wait, nope. Cuban Red" My mother had a very dear friend who sported Cuban Red hair from as far back as I can remember and she was, in a word, fierce. You know how Liza Minnelli is sometimes called La Liza or Liz Taylor is La Liz in the tabloids? Rosita called me La Christy (my middle name is Christina), from the time I was a baby. How beautifully absurd is that? She passed away a few years ago, but I think of her whenever I see a woman working some Cuban Red. It happens more often than you think. My best friend sent me this text message last year while at an airport in Florida : "There's a woman standing on the other side off baggage with Cuban Red hair and a belt that has a red LED buckle that scrolls 'what u want bitch' " Somewhere, Rosita is throwing her head back and laughing her ass off.