When I reached out to Marcos Lopez, a Cuba-based friend of Nitza's who wrote a book about her life, the first thing I learned is that, like me, she was born in America, not Cuba. As a kid in the 1920s, she lived in a small apartment in New York City's Washington Heights neighborhood, where her parents frequently welcomed fellow Cuban expats. They would drop by unannounced, and Nitza's mother, Juana Maria, would whip up hearty Cuban meals. "Juana Maria cocina al minuto," friends joked, impressed by her ability to feed a group in minutes. A few years later, Nitza and her family settled in Havana, the island's cosmopolitan capital, where my family comes from. She was homeschooled after a bout with polio left her bedridden. At 19, Nitza was able to walk again and she found a job teaching Spanish at a public school, but she always aspired to more.