The introduction to the book, which outlines the main arguments:

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Firmat assesses the “Latinization” of the United States that began, he posits, with Desi Arnez, que tenía tremenda personalidad. Arnez fue el modelo for Cuban (Latin) culture and provided Americans with an image of Cubanness. Firmat explores Arnez’s influence in shaping Cuban identity in order to theorize the immigrant experience and explore the development of what he terms the one and a halfers: los balseros of his generation who are both/neither fully Cubano and/nor fully gringo. His generation was born in and lived its adolescence in Cuba pero grew up in America, so they are able to embrace a Cuban identity while understanding and relating to American identity. These immigrants easily vacillate between both cultures and are able to speak, think, love, and pun, as Firmat puts it, in either English or Espanol, though usually in Spanglish.

While Firmat never uses the term, I would argue that the one and a halfers embody Baudrillard’s idea of simulacra—a copy of a copy, without original. Arnez becomes the copy of Cuban identity based on an empty model without original. Firmat describes one of his students conveying that the young man learned how to be un Cubanaso by watching Arnez. The one and a halfer, likewise, embody an Arnez Cubaness, which is an American constructed Cubanness. His generation’s identity seesaws between Anglo and Cuban cultures; what Firmat describes as neither Anglo nor Cuban but rather Cubanglo.

Firmat addresses three stages that the Cuban-American exile passes, as a group that is neither aquí nor allá. Substitution marks the first stage, and Miami became the Cuban-American simulacra where immigrant Cubans made Miami the substitution of Cuban culture. The nostalgic Cuba de ayer plays out in Miami’s Cuban restaurants and Domino Parkin an attempt to re-root uprooted identity. This recreation dissolves as Cuenica’s “This is not Havana” photograph reproduces the affects of Margritte’s “This is not a pipe,” to illustrate that the substitution is not the thing itself. With the realization of the empty substitution, the immigrant para de comiede meirda and falls into destitution, which Firmat elucidates means “no place to stand on.” The immigrant feels perdido—estranged with “nowhere” to call home. This feeling, after some time of Comiéndose un cable, gives way to institution. A new relationship forms between person and place. With nowhere but here, here becomes home. Firmat dice que the hyphen is not a minus sign but a plus sign; Cuban+Americans of his generation maneuver two identities.

I would argue that Firmat’s identity arises necessarily out of postmodern identity described by Lyotard: with the break down of grand narratives, identity springs from the mix of cultures across the globe. Lyotard describes (in my rough paraphrase) how someone eats Macdonalds, watches British TV, listens to music from Japan, drives a German car, and wears clothes from Italy. I would admit that Firmat’s ideas on identity are more complicated than what Lyotard outlines but there are similarities. Close to twenty years since this book, some of Firmat’s more political questions—the idea of return, the problem of identity in the face of going back to Cuba—might be outdated. Most Cubans in 2012 have given up the illusions of return; however, Firmat’s analysis of the one and a halfers manifest in much of the Cuban-American literature. Actual content aside—Cuban-American writing differs greatly as Borland and Bosch outline in Cuban-American Literature and Art: Negotiating Identities—nonetheless, many writers still write from the hyphen, borrowing aspect from both Cuban and gringo traditions in Firmat’s Cubanglo phrase. Much Cuban-American writing published after Firmat’s analysis, regardless of content, engages in Cubanglo culture: mixing, borrowing, embodying both sides of the hyphen in the manner Firmat states the one and a halfers are able to “give both ends of the hyphen their due.” 

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