The Elderly Who Leave Cuba

Their lives have been turned around by 90 degrees

By Irina Pino

Cuban immigrants in Miami. Foto: theatlantic.com

HAVANA TIMES — Emigres who are over 50 or 60 years old are exposed to huge changes in their lives. Their lives get turned around by 90 degrees, or maybe more even. That’s why their uprooting is usually like an incurable pain, although the situations vary.

A situation can be good, normal, or worse, but they always imply uncertainties about the future, new fears that need to be overcome. However, relatives of the person who arrives to a strange country promise them a life surrounded by material comforts.

It’s true that their outlook usually changes, but for how long?

Let me tell you about my maternal grandmother, who was a sad example of this. In the beginning, everything was happiness, she was happy, surrounded by her children and grandchildren, but then she slowly became a burden to them. Two of her children, my uncles, after having encouraged her to leave Cuba, didn’t want to take on looking after her, so my aunt had to have her in her home for years, before she was finally admitted to a Home, completely blind, after having had unsuccessful cataract surgery in both eyes.

People say you should emigrate in your youth. And if you can leave in your childhood, it’ll be a natural process because children are like sponges.

It isn’t the same when you are twenty or thirty, or even forty, but after sixty years old, it’s hard to take on new projects, even if you still have your wits about you.

I have met people who have regretted leaving in their youth, my aunt Aurora confessed to her sister, my mother, that she regrets not staying with her in Cuba, because now she lives in a  rest home (just like my grandmother); she can’t walk, and her days are filled with great solitude. In spite of her children visiting her everyday, the impersonal feeling at an institution can never replace home.

It’s been proved that health only gets worse with sadness, and that’s what’s happened to my aunt. Her desire to live has been dimmed. She no longer has any plans.

A lot of people who leave Cuba sell their homes and all their belongings, so they can collect the money they need for their paperwork, but sometimes the sum they collect doesn’t cover the true value of what they had, spirituality has no price, and the four silly things you had, the used furniture, objects, books and trinkets take on sentimental value, which is never beaten by new things.

Their children are often heartless, in their eagerness for change, even forgetting that their parents also have their own desires, plans and hang-ups, and that it’s hard for them to let go of them.

Selling a property here in Cuba wouldn’t give you a sum that means much in a capitalist, developed country; in fact it might not even be enough to put down a down payment on a place to live in one of these countries. The money trickles away like water… and you can be certain there won’t be anything left from what you had from that house in Cuba.

Some people reading this article might laugh, joke, and even say that this is material for a cheap and tearful novel. Nevertheless, thousands of people have been beat down by this reality. I have a friend who sold her house for 10,000 CUC (equivalent to the USD), an apartment near the sea, in good condition, and now she doesn’t have a dollar left of its sale.

In her new country, she has worked cleaning flats, and is currently a babysitter for grandchildren.

A professional with a wealth of wasted knowledge, she is a woman who has been erased as an individual for the sake of providing for her children.

And what about her? What’s her future in a country that isn’t hers, where she has no friends, a place where she isn’t even fluent in their language?



Irina Pino

Irina Pino: I was born in the middle of shortages in those sixties that marked so many patterns in the world. Although I currently live in Miramar, I miss the city center with its cinemas and theaters, and the bohemian atmosphere of Old Havana, where I often go. Writing is the essential thing in my life, be it poetry, fiction or articles, a communion of ideas that identifies me. With my family and my friends, I get my share of happiness.

Irina Pino has 265 posts and counting. See all posts by Irina Pino

5 thoughts on “The Elderly Who Leave Cuba

  • Wait for it. …..I mostly agree with you. Hard work is called hard work for a reason. Most Cubans arrive in the US underestimating how hard they will have to work. Not being able to find work in the your field of study is quite common for most third world emigrants to the US. Lower educational standards put doctors, engineers, and many other professionals at a disadvantage. By no means are the benefits of living in the US limited to the obvious and overwhelming material gains. Benefits like freedom of thought and freedom of speech come to mind. Being able to live and work wherever you choose and unfettered access to technology are also non-material but clearly meaningful benefits to life in the US after life in Cuba. Finally, my human feelings don’t come in threads and are certainly not up to you for measure.

  • My Good friend and brother, Moses, who possesses no thread of human feelings, thinking that material possessions are the it all and end all of man’s existence on the planet! There are a lot of things Moses, which material things cannot by. There are a lot of highly skilled Cubans who have traveled up North and cannot obtain a job in their given professions, Some have to prostitute themselves in order to make ends meet. Others have adopted the drug trade to make money because you are recognized only by your wealth, regardless of how you come by it..

    House rent is a killer up North. Some have to work three and four jobs in their old age to try and keep a roof over their heads. There are those who receive their pensions and still have to continue working in order to meet their every day demands. It is not a bed of roses in the Northern Neighbourhood. Cubans are exploited by Cubans on a large scale. Check it out brother Moses and prove me a liar..

    The problem with most emigrants is that, when they return home, they never report the true story.of their struggles in their new land. They always give the impression they walk on streets paved with gold. On my visits to the USA, I have met and conversed with some Cubans who wished that they had stayed in Cuba! I have met US.Citizens in Cuba who have expressed surprise at the way they are treated in the island; the friendliness and the genuineness of the Cuban people..

    You can see these US Citizens driving out in the horse and buggy carts and in the 1940’s Chevrolet and Plymouth cars, taking photos and feeling so elated to be in a place in which they can relax totally with ever a thought of being robbed.They can walk any hour of the day or night and nobody molests them. While I was in the island from March, it came on the T.V that three youngsters found a wallet containing 3,300 Euros. They took it to their parents who in turn took them to the Police Station. Contacts were made and the money handed over to the owner who was so joyful! In passing through Miami, and, in the little discussion with Cuban Migrants, there is always this hint of sadness at leaving home.

    There are a lot of Cubans who would prefer to return home, for they can now compare life in their homeland with life in their new land. They realize that the grass is not always greener on the other side. They also realize that there are certain fundamental assets to the human being which cannot be measured in dollars and cents.

  • I know quite a few Cuban emigres. While a few have regrets about leaving Cuba when they did, NO ONE believes that they are worse off.

  • Some people fare well, others less so. The older you are, the harder it is to relocate and integrate for sure. But you forget, Moses, the human tendency to not want to admit mistakes. El Norte and everything that it represents has been such a magnet for so long that it is hard for people to switch this dream off and admit that it is perhaps not so great a place to live for everyone and that some people won’t make it or be happier. A bit like the Emperor’s New Clothes. Hence the still high levels of emigration.

  • Irina fails to portray the whole picture. There are certainly losses in leaving Cuba. But there are gains as well. On balance, the gains must outweigh the losses. Were that not so, outmigration from Cuba would not be at record levels. Nonetheless, change is difficult for many people.

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