Abanicos – fans (often a hand-held fan)

Abrigada warmly dressed

Abrigo – coat

Abuelo – grandfather

Abusador – abuser

Aché – From the Yoruba, a life force humans call down from Spirit with the power to make things happen

Acompaña – to accompany

Acostumbrar to get used to something

Adiós – goodbye

¡A dormir! – Go to sleep!

Aeromoza – airline stewardess (female)

Agradable – pleasant

Agua – bendita holy wáter

Aguacate – avocado

Ahora vengo I’ll be right back

Ají – green pepper

Ajo – garlic

Alfabetizar – To teach someone to read. In Cuba refers to the large-scale literacy campaign.

Algo te cayó mal – Something disagreed with you aka stomach ache

Algodón de azúcar – cotton candy

Allá – over there

Altar altar

Amamanta – to breastfeed

Ambiciosa – ambitious

Anillos – rings

Anuncios – announcements

Apagón – blackout

¡Apúrate! – Hurry up!

Aquí mismo lo dice – It says so right here

¡Aquí se paga el agua! – Here we pay for the water!

Aretes – earrings

Arroz con pollo – rice and beans cooked together, a popular dish

Arroz frito – fried rice

Asqueroso – disgusting

Aterrizando – landing, as a plane lands on runway

¡Atiéndeme! – Pay attention!

Atrasando – overdue, late

Avión – airplane

¡Ay bendito! – Oh goodness! (A common phrase among Puertoricans) More often connotes: “Oh, poor thing! or That’s a shame!”

¡Ay! ¡Qué calor! – Oh! It’s so hot!


Babalawo – a high priest in the Yoruba tradition

¡Bájate! – Get down!

Baño – bath

Barbudos – bearded men

Batidos – milk shake or frothy

Bella – beautiful

Belleza – beauty

Berro – watercress

¡Bienvenida! – Welcome!

Bistec empanizado – breaded steak

Boca – mouth

Bocaditos – hor d’oeurves

Bodeguita – grocery store or a local restaurant/bar

Bolero – genre of slow song & dance, similar to a ballad

Bonita – pretty (feminine adjective)

Bonito – pretty (masculine adjective), also a type of fish

Brazaletes – bracelets

Brigadistas – members of a brigada

Brisa – breeze

Brujería – witchcraft

Buena – good

Buenas – noches Good night (greeting)

Bufanda – scarf


Cachetes – cheeks

Cachumbambé – see-saw

Café con leche – coffee made with milk, similar to cappuccino

Caldo – broth

¡Cállate! Shut up!

Camino – a path or walkway

Camiseta – undershirt

Campesinos – farmer

Cañaverales – sugar cane plantation or field

Canoa – canoe

Cantina – In this usage, prepared foods delivered to home, carried in a metal tiffin

Caracoles – sea shells

Carne – meat

Carne de puerco – pork

Carrozas – parade floats

Cascarilla – fine powder made from crushed hens’ eggs for use in rituals

Caseta – a beach hut used to change clothes

Casona – an old mansion

Castañuelas – castanets

Catarro – grippe or a cold

Cebolla – onion

Cejas – eyebrows

Ceniza – ashes

Centímetros – centimeters

Chancletas – slippers. In this instance, flip-flops

Changó Yoruba – god of thunder and son of Yemayá

Chantaje – blackmail or extortion

Checo – Czech

Chica – girl or any little object, slang for kiddo

Chichón hematoma – on the surface of the head, esp. forehead.  It’s a funny word favored by children and comics.

Choque – collision

Chuletas – pork chops

Cierran – they close (the store)

Cigarillos – cigarettes

Cobrar – to collect monies due, like rent

Cochinito – little pig

Cocinera – cook or chef

Cocos – coconuts

Cóctel – cocktail

Colorete – rouge or blush

Combinao – combined

Comemierda – common Cuban epithet, literally means shit-eater

¿Cómo? – How?

Comparsa – a group of people participating in a carnival parade, usually alternating walking and dancing

¿Cómo está mi vieja? – How’s my old lady?

Compartiendo – to share

Con esta niñita que te toca cuidar – With this child it is my duty to take care of

Condones – condoms

Coño – Common Cuban curse word, roughly translates to “fucking hell,” depending on the tone and context

Consulta – consultation

Corazón – heart

Cordones – cords, as in shoe strings

Coro – chorus

Croquetas de jamón – ham croquettes

Cuba Libre – Free Cuba, a slogan and a drink made with rum and Coke

Cuéntame – Tell me

Culpa – fault or blame

Cumpleañera – birthday girl

Curas – priests

Curitas – bandaids


¡Dale tu pecho! – Go to sleep!

De lo más bien – absolutely fine

¿De acuerdo? – Agreed? Are we in agreement? Okay?

De nada – “You’re welcome” or “Don’t mention it.”

Decepcionado – disillusioned, disappointed

Dedo – finger

Dedo anular – ring finger

Dedo corazón – middle finger

Dedo índice – index finger

Déjala – leave her or leave her alone

Delantal – apron

Delincuente – delincuent

Demasiado – too much or excessive

¡Despiértense! – Wake up!

Despojo – A removal of something. In spiritual terms, it is a ceremony of removing all bad things, a cleansing.

Desprendiendo – detach

¿De veras? – Really? Seriously? No kidding?

Dientes – teeth

Dime – Tell me

Disco – album, a record that plays music

Disfraz – costume

Dormilón – sleepy head

Durofrío – a frozen dessert made with shaved ice and syrup


Edificio – a building


El almuerzo – lunch

El dobladillo – hem

El esteeng – Spanglish for “steam,” referring to a radiator system that heats homes

El kote – Spanish for Kotex, sanitary pad

El malecón – broad boulevard that runs along the sea wall in the city

El paredón – firing squad, literally means “wall”

El que siembra su maíz, que se coma su pinol – He who plants corn will have to eat corn flour. In other words, you reap what you sow.

El Salón de los Pasos Perdidos – Literally, the salón of the lost footsteps, but refers to a reception hall in the Capitol building of La Habana with unique acoustic qualities.

Elegguá Yoruba – god of the crossroads

Emparedados – sandwich

En la lucha – A common response to “how are you?” meaning, “I’m still in the fight” or struggling along

En serio – seriously

Enferma – sick

Enfermera – nurse

Enredada – all tangled up, confused

¡Enséñame! – Teach me!

Entonces – then

¿Entiendes? – Understand?

¡Epa! – exclamation like Olé

Escalera – ladder

Escalinata – long steps

Escuelas – schools

Esparadrapo – surgical tape

Está muy oscuro – It’s very dark

Están acabando con los negros – They’re finishing off Black people.

¿Estás lista? – Are you ready?

¿Estás loco o qué?  – Are you crazy or what?

Estilo americano – American style

Estúpido – stupid


Factoría – factory

Favor – favor

¡Feliz cumpleaños! – Happy birthday!

Fichas – game pieces in the game of dominoes

Fideos – noodles

Flan – a custard dessert with caramel syrup, similar to a crème brûlée

Fosforera – lighter, as cigarette lighter

Fósforo – matches to light

Frijoles – beans

Frijoles negros – black beans

Frío – cold

Frituras de bacalao – codfish fritters

Frutabomba – papaya, a fruit

Fue un susto – It was a shock

¡Fuego! – Fire!

Fuegos articiales – fireworks

¡Fueron los comunistas! – It was the communists!

Fuerzas – forces

Fumadera – a smoking den

Fusible – fuse, electrical


Gato – cat

Gitana – Gypsy

Gotas de agua – drops of water

Granizados – a dessert made with ice, slushy

Grillos – crickets

Gritos – screams

Guajiros – peasants

Guantes – gloves

Guarapo – sugarcane juice, extracted from the cane

Guárdamelo – keep it safe for me

Guatemala to guatepeor – colloquialism equivalent to “out of the frying pan into the fire.”

Guayaba – guava, fruit

Guayabera – a loose-fitting shirt, with pleated fronts popular in Cuba 

Guerrera -warrior

Gusanos – worm or maggot  Derogatory term Castro popularized to refer to Cubans who left the island after the revolution.


¿Ha visto a mi abuela? – Have you seen my grandmother?

Hábito – nun’s habit; also a routine habit

Hasta mañana – See you tomorrow

¿Hasta cuándo? – Until when?

Hermana – sister

Hermano – brother

Hermano de crianza – a “brother” by virtue of being raised together, not a blood relation

Hierba buena (puedes usar yerba) – check peppermint

Hierba luisa – lemon verbena

Hierro – iron, as in an iron rod

Hija de puta – Epithet, literally, “daughter of a whore,” but in usage similar to “son of a bitch”

Hombre – man

Huevos – eggs


Inglés – English

Inocencia – innocence

Inquilinos – tenants

Inquisición – The Inquisition

Una interrupción – Literally, an interruption; euphemism for abortion

Intranquilo – restless, nervous


Jamón – ham

Jefa – boss

Jerez – sherry

Jeringuilla – a syringe for administering injections


Kai! Kai! Kai! Yemaja Ol’odo Yoruba chant and song to the orisha Yemayá. – Rough translation: “Imagine that! Imagine that! Imagine that! Yemayá is the owner of rivers!”


La bolita – illegal lottery, similar to “playing the numbers” in US

La cachimba – pipe for smoking tobacco

La caída – a fall, as if from a great height

La Caridad del Cobre Catholic – Virgen of Charity (who appeared in the village of El Cobre), patron saint of Cuba and syncretized in the Yoruba religion as Oshún.

La Charada – La Charada China is a Cuban system for picking lottery numbers based on dreams. A chart lists the mystical relationship between objects and their corresponding numbers. It has possible origins in the I Ching and Chinese culture.

La curandera – a local healer, usually a woman with knowledge of herbs and other healing practices 

La Ley del Vago – Literally, the Law Against the Lazy, allowed police to detain anyone for loitering or having insufficient proof of gainful employment, but was often misused to persecute “undesirables.”

La merienda – an afternoon snack, between lunch and dinner, especially for children after school

La muchedumbre – hordes of people

La niña buena – good girl

La Reforma Agraria – Land reform laws enacted as part of the Cuban Revolution. The state broke up private properties and landholdings and redistributed these to peasants to work the land and to cooperatives.

La vida es una lucha – Life is a struggle

Labios – lips

Las joyas – jewels

Las nubes – clouds

Laurel – laurel leaf, used in cooking aka bay leaf

Lechón asado – roasted pork, classic Cuban dish

Léeme esto – Read this to me

¡Lengua suelta! – loose tongue (as in “loose lips sink ships”)

Lentejuelas – sequins

¡Levántante! – Get up!

Linda – pretty

Linóleo – linoleum flooring

Listo – ready

Lo asesinaron – He was assassinated

Lo que no sirve se bota – If it’s no good, throw it out

¡Lo que yo diga! – What I say!

Loco – crazy

Los desconocidos – strangers

Los jóvenes – young people

Los Reyes Magos – The Three Kings, the Magi


Madrina – godmother

Maestra – teacher, female

Maestro – teacher, male

Maldad – evil

Mañana – tomorrow

Mantel – tablecloth

Mantequilla – butter

Mantillas – A traditional Spanish and Latin American lace veil or shawl worn over the head and shoulders, sometimes a quite elaborate headdress

Manzanilla – chamomile

Maravilla – a marvel

Marido – “Marido” is an interesting word with no translation in English. It can refer to “husband” or “common law husband” or “unmarried partner.” “Esposo” is only applied to the legally married husband.  Abuelo is Abuela’s “marido” because they are not married—although there’s no way to know that from the application of the word—but he is never her “esposo” because they are not married.  “Marido” can only be used in the masculine; however, there has been a recent use of “marida” or, more commonly, “maridita” in the feminine form to apply to committed lesbian couples. The dimunitive “maridita” is often used in a derisive tone.

Marielita – Assignation given to the 135,000 Cubans who left Cuba on boatlifts from the Port of Mariel in 1980

Mármol – marble

Martillo – hammer

Más respeto – More respect

Más se perdió en la guerra – More was lost in the war, a common saying

Me asustaste – You startled me

Me avergonzaste – You shamed me

Me duele – It hurts

¿Me estás entendiendo? – Are you understanding what I’m saying?

Me muero – I’m dying

Me voy – I’m going, I’m leaving

Meciéndose – rocking, as in a rocking chair

Melaza – molasses

Mentira – a lie

¡Mentirosa! – Liar!

Meñique – the pinky, the smallest finger of the hand

Mi amor – my love

Mi cielito – my bit of heaven

Mi hija – my daughter, my girl

Mierda – shit

Mija – Contraction of “mi hija”—my daughter, my girl

¡Mira eso! – Look at that!

Mojo – A sauce made from garlic, olive oil, citrus and other spices used for marinating or dipping

Molestia – a bother

Monedas – coins

Mono – monkey

Moros – Moors

Moros y Cristianos – Moors and Christians, a dish made from white rice and black beans

Mucho gusto – “Pleased to meet you”

Mujer – woman

Mulata – A racial term, traditionally referring to people with Black and White ancestry, but often applied to anyone brown-skinned. While still commonly in use, it is considered and outdated and racist word.

Muñeca – 1) wrist (2) doll

Musulmanes – Muslims

Muy bonito – very pretty

My moms – affectionate slang term for Mom.  “My moms” is not plural; it is an endearment similar to “my pops” for Dad 


Nada más – No more (than that)

Nadie – nobody

Naranja – orange

Nariz – nose

Nata – 1) The skin that forms of the surface when milk is boiled, 2) cream from milk

Necesito – I need

Nieve – snow

No conocía – I did not recognize or know

No entiendo – I don’t understand

¡No es verdad! – It’s not true!

No hay clases – There are no classes

No llores – Don’t cry

No lo puedo creer – I cannot believe it

No me abandones – Don’t abandon me

No me dejes – Don’t leave me

¡No me digas! – You don’t say!

No me queda más remedio – I am left with no other choice

No me quiere – He or she does not love me

¡No te atrevas! – Don’t you dare!

No te lo toques – Don’t touch it

No te precipites – Don’t be hasty

No te preocupes – Don’t worry

No te puedes imaginar – You cannot imagine

No vayas – Don’t go

Noble – courteous, kind

Novio – boyfriend or fiancé

Numotizine – Brand name of a popular ointment used as a poultice and topical analgesic

Nunca – never


Ocana sode okuá ti sode sode oke sode oma sode oguó batiosode arikú babagwá – Incantation recited during divination with cowrie shells in the Santería tradition of Yoruba origin

Ochossi – Orisha of the Hunt

Ogún – Orisha of iron and metal. He is a warrior associated with truth and justice

¿Oigo? – Literally, “I’m listening.” Equivalent to saying “Hello” when answering phone.

Ojos – eyes

Olokun – Orisha who rule of all bodies of water and other water deities

Ombligo – belly button, navel

Oreja – far

Orine – urine

Orishas – deities in the Yoruba religion of West Africa

Oshún – Orisha of love and beauty

Ostiones – oysters

Osorbo – bad omen in Yoruba divination

Oye esto – Listen to this

Oye, ¿cómo andas? – Hey, how are you doing?


Pa’ trá ni pa’ coger impulso – colloquialism: no going backward, not even to gain momentum

Palangana – wash bowl

Pan – bread

Pan cubano – Cuban bread, similar to Italian, but lighter in texture

Pañuelos – handkerchiefs

Papas – potatoes

Parque El Curita – a park in La Habana, literally the Priest’s Park

Pase lo que pase – Come what may, or whatever happens

Pasear – to go for a stroll

Pastelitos – small pastries, sweet or savory

Patria – nation

Patria o Muerte – Nation or Death, similar to “Live Free or Die”

Patria potestad – parental rights

Pedacito – a small bit, a nibble

Pelirrojo – redhead

Pendejos – pubic hair

Perdón – Sorry, pardon me

Perdóname – Forgive me

Periódico – newspaper

Pero nunca se desaparece de mi corazón – But will never disappear from my heart

¿Pero qué pasó? – But what happened?

Pero tú eres mi Mamá – But you are my mother

Persianas – wooden shutters

Pesadilla – nightmare

Pestañas – eyelashes

Pétalos – petals

Picadillo – ground beef dish prepared with raisins and olives stuffed with pimento

Pídele perdón – Say you are sorry, ask for forgiveness

Piel de gallina – goosebumps

Pío, pío – onomatopeic sound of a bird chirping

Pioneritos – Literally, litte pioneers. Cuban youth organization established in 1961, primarily for primary and secondary schools to replace the banned Scouts clubs of Cuba. Its badges and symbols became part of the revolutionary scholastic uniform.

Plátano maduro frito – sweet fried plaintains

Plátanos – plaintains

Pobrecita – “Oh, you poor thing”

Pomada – pomade, usually for the hair

Por favor – Please

Por la iglesia – a marriage sanctioned by the church; legally married

¡Por fin llegaron! – At last, they arrive!

Por si acaso – just in case

¿Por qué? – Why?

Preservativos – condoms

Privilegios – privileges

Profesores – professors or teachers

Pronto – soon

Puré de malanga – puree of malanga, a root vegetable similar to potato


¡Qué aprenda! – Let him learn!

¡Qué calor hace! – It’s so hot!

Que duermas bien – Sleep well

¡qué pena! What a shame! – What a pity!

¿Qué pasó? – What happened?

¿Qué salió? – What (number) came out?

¿Qué soñaste? – What did you dream?

¿Quién? – Who?

¿Quién es? – Who is it?

¿Quién fue? – Who was it?


Radio Bemba – Gossip that travels through the grapevine. Bemba is a group of Bantu people of Africa. In Cuban slang, the word has come to mean big lips. Common usage ignores this racist connotation.

Recuérdame – remember me

Refresco – a refreshing drink, refreshment

Remachando – to rivet, to clinch, to hammer in, to drive home, to finish off, to reiterate

Remaches – a rivet

Resbalamos – we slip and slide

Respiro – to breathe

Reto – a challenge

Revista – magazine

Revolú – a jumble, a mess,  hurly-burly

Ricos – the rich

Ron – rum

Rubias – blonds


Sala – living room

Saludos – greetings

Salvaje – savage

Salvia – sage, a plant

Sangre – blood

Santiagueros – people from Santiago, Cuba

Santos – saints

Sáqueme – Remove it! 

Sartén – frying pan

Escapulario – A scapular is a small religious object worn by Catholics. It consists of two squares with holy images attached together by strings and hung around the neck like necklace with one image in front of the chest and the other on the back.

Se abolló – It is dented

Se llama – It is called or named

Se pronuncia – It is pronounced (this way)

Se te puede infectar – It can get infected.

Seguro – Sure. Definitely.

Señorita – Miss: A term applied literally to a woman who is still a virgin.

¡Siéntate! – Sit! Imperative form of the verb “to sit.”

Sillón – rocking chair

Sofacama – sofa bed. Correct term in Spanish is two words—sofa cama. The “sofacama” is a stylized version used in this novel.

Solar – A type of housing.  Formerly luxurious colonial grand houses (casonas) in Habana, built with an interior courtyard because of the hot weather (on the Arabian model by way of Spain). In the early part of the 20th century, these large houses were subdivided into as many as fifteen tiny apartments, each one with a door that opened onto said interior courtyard.  The solares were one, some say notorious, solution for the perennial lack of housing that persists in the city even today. 

Soldado – soldier

Solo – alone

Sopera – a porcelain tureen used in ceremonies

¡Suelta! – Let go!

Sueño – dream

Super – superintendent, Spanglish term



Tabaco – means both tobacco, the plant and a cigar

Tambores – drums

¿Te acuerdas? – Do you remember?

Te espero – I will wait for you

¿Te gusta? – Do you like it?

¿Te gustaría? – Would you like (to)?

Telenovela – Spanish soap operas popular on TV

Tengo – I have

Tengo miedo – I am afraid

Tía – Aunt. Often used as a respectful term for someone not related by blood, but a family friend a child refers to as Aunt (or Uncle=Tío) out of respect, as in Auntie

Tienes razón – You are right

Tilo – a type of tea made of linden blossoms

Tiroteo – shootout

Títeres – puppets

Tocadisco – recordplayer

Todo está bien – Everything is fine

Todo lo malo – All the bad (things), as in all the evil things

Todo va a cambiar ahora – Everything is going to change now

Todos los cubanos son locos – All Cubans are crazy

Toma – an imperative form of the verb “to drink,” as in “drink this”

Torcidos – twisted, crooked, bent

Tortilla – A Spanish tortilla is made with eggs and potatoes fried in a pan, similar to, but not exactly the same as a frittata

Tráeme un roncito – bring me a rum

Tranquila – keep calm

Tranquilizante – tranquilizer

Tranquilo – tranquil, calm

Trencitas – braids, again the diminutive

Triste – sad

Tronco – trunk of a tree

Tú la mataste – You killed her

Tú sabes – You know

¿Tú te imaginas? – Can you imagine?


Un beso – a Kiss

Un cortadito – a type of espresso coffee, served in tiny cups with sugar and evaporated milk

Un regalo – a gift

Única – the only one, sole


Velo – veil

Ven rápido – Come quickly

¡Venceremos! – We shall overcome!

Verdad – truth

Virgen – a virgin

Virgencita – An affectionate term for Virgin (as in Virgin Mary) expressed by the diminutive form

Volantes – flyers

Volveré – I will return.


¿Y tú qué? – What about you?

Ya se acabó – It’s finished.

Ya, todo pasó – There, there. It’s all over now.

Yaya – baby word, a boo-boo

Yemayá – Yoruba orisha of motherhood and the sea

Yeso – a cast, as used for a broken bone

Yo soy tu Papá – I am your father

Yo te la cuido – I Will take care of her for you

Yodo – iodine

Yuca frita – fried yuca, starchy tuberous root of a tropical, elsewhere called cassava 


Zorra – literally, fox; but refers to someone sneaky