by Margarita Mooney Clayton on July 9, 2021
Prologue: I wrote this essay on July 4, 2014, as I prepared to go to Miami for a reunion of the Gastón family. My grandmother was Eloisa Gastón Segrera, and at this reunion her six siblings gathered with their children and grandchildren—nearly 200 people. My mother, Eulalia Maria Suarez Gaston was the fourth of the 14 children born in Cuba to Manuel Suarez Carreño and Eloisa Gastón Segrera. After moving to the United States in 1961, She married my father, Vincent John Mooney, Jr., in 1968. I am the youngest of their four children and the only girl.
I’m going to Miami for a family reunion of my crazy Cuban family in a week. I love Miami because no one asks me if I’m named after a drink. Everyone knows how to spell and pronounce my name. Margarita, like my mom, my dearly departed abuelita, or my first girlfriend, they might say. Or they might lengthen my name to Maria Margarita. Or Margarita Ana (which happens to be correct). Or they might shorten my name to Maggy, which I love. If they are from Nicaragua, they will certainly recite the first line of Rubén Darío’s poem that starts: Margarita, está linda la mar.
Strangers don’t bother with my name. They just use one of the many generic but affectionate Spanish words for girl, like mama, mami, mamita, reina, princesa, preciosa, muñeca, linda, flaca, guapa, mi amor, mi corazon or mi vida.
When I’m around my huge extended family, I’m just la hija de Lala. Why bother with first names at all when, just like in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s epic family tale 100 Years of Solitude, names repeat across generations and branches of the family? There will be at least 5 Margaritas running around my gigantic family reunion at Miami Beach. Not to mention 8 Cristinas, 10 Teresas, 14 Anas, 25 Marias, 5 Javiers, 6 Patricios, 7 Antonios, 9 Manuels, and 12 Carloses.
I vacillate between amusement and pity for the in-laws meeting the crazy Gaston clan for the first time. It’s just like a scene from My Big Fat Greek wedding: ladies with big hair and nails standing around a roasted pig telling you: This is my cousin Carlos, my other cousin Carlos, and my nephew Carlitos. Let’s go sit with Mimi, Bibi, Gigi and Titi. Have you seen Ani, Anita, Ana Maria or Ana Cecilia? Where are Manuel, Manolo, Manolito and Manny? Have you met Beba and Bebo? Have you met Juanito’s wife Juanita?
Then my mom will walk up and say: Hi, I’m Lala. It’s easy to pronounce. Like a song. Lalalalalala. If you compliment her singing voice, she’ll pull out her guitar and sing you Guantamera, Jalisco, or Cielito Lindo. If you are really lucky, she will belt out Cucurrucucu Paloma!!! Lalalalala will hit the high notes on Ay yay yay yay yay so high your ears might pop and you might get kicked out of the hotel lobby. If you join in the ay yay yay yay yay, you have officially joined the clan.
My mom’s real name is Eulalia Maria Suarez Gaston, but I bet her relatives couldn’t tell you her full name. Practically no one in the extended family has a clue about anyone’s real name. No one goes by their real name and on one cares.
American in-laws look puzzled when people introduce themselves saying: My name is Jose but call me Pepito. Or: I’m Kiko, which is short for Francisco. The in-laws then give up trying to make sense of it all when the next person says: I’m Paco, which is also short for Francisco.
This is not magical realism. This is my real crazy Cuban-American family that I love so much gathering a city that makes me come alive like no other.
Epilogue: As I noted on my blog, I’m now using Margarita Mooney Suarez as my professional name. I don’t expect anyone in my family to bother using such a long name. I hope they just call me guapa, mi amor, mamita, or just “la hija de Lala.”