The Great Dilemma: Stay in the US or Return to Cuba

By Irina Pino

Cubans at the Miami airport. Photo: cubacute.com

HAVANA TIMES – The situation many Cuban emigres find themselves in once they live in the US, depends a great deal on how they left, how ready they were to leave, and their achievements. However, one thing is for sure: none of them forget the island.

Many continue to dream that political relations between the two countries changes so they can visit their land freely. Others wish to carry on sending remittances, medicines, and anything else to help out their families.

I have a friend who has been living in Miami for over a decade. Her daughters emigrated processed by their respective fathers, and then they urged her to join them.

Mara sold her apartment for less than what it was worth, just so she could get all the money she needed for the paperwork.

While it’s true that she got what she wanted, the leftover from the sale of her house was a ridiculous amount to sustain her for a while abroad.

She is a Philosophy graduate but that’s worth nothing, because she doesn’t speak English. She has had many different jobs, such as a caregiver and babysitter, as well as a cleaner for apartments.

This is how she’s got by. We recently spoke and she told me how badly things had gone when living with her daughters. The eldest one kicked her out because they had a fight. She had problems with the youngest too for she is so insensitive. She didn’t even do her mother the favor of dropping her off at work. As well as other details that I won’t write here because they are shameful.

My friend admits that her daughters have changed a lot and don’t love her. She is nothing but a burden to them. They don’t take an interest in her health, and her eldest daughter doesn’t let her see the grandchildren.

She had a partner for a while, a retired 70-year-old man (she is 60). He was a good guy who looked out for her, he didn’t let her spend a penny. He apparently loved her.

Thanks to this financial security, she was able to send remittances back to her mother quite frequently, and save money to visit Cuba.

But it’s not all roses, she explains. He laid things straight from the very first moment they began their relationship: he’d never marry her.

They broke up not too long ago because he began to feel depressed and jealous, and he suspected that she was using him for her own interests.

I asked her if she could be repatriated, work as a professor and live with her mother.  She said that she couldn’t even get the money she needed to travel, let alone for all the paperwork.

Right now, she works in a Publix (a super market chain) and spends most of her wages on rent.

She is a person who seems strong, but I could sense her pain and loneliness. “In this country, only status matters and you don’t have real friendships,” she says.

Keeping healthy is her priority now, for she doesn’t know what the future holds for her.

I want to help her, although I don’t know what to say… Things aren’t easy here either… Coming back would mean a thousand problems like dealing with medicines shortages, spikes in food prices and utility rates.

Read more from Irina Pino’s diary here.


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.

2 thoughts on “The Great Dilemma: Stay in the US or Return to Cuba

  • March 9, 2021 at 2:30 pm
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    “She had a partner for a while, a retired 70-year-old man (she is 60). He was a good guy who looked out for her, he didn’t let her spend a penny. He apparently loved her.”

    Did she love …him?

  • March 9, 2021 at 10:12 am
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    “In this country, only status matters and you don’t have real friendships,” says Irina’s friend living in the United States. For some, emigrating to the US or Canada life can be an extreme hardship as the article articulates.

    When one lives in extreme poverty with little hope in the future one dreams of leaving that putrid place and going to another place that other’s, perhaps through friends, media, stories, have painted as nirvana.

    For some that dream comes true. For some, those with caring relatives, friends, a major change in geographical location can manifest dreams and transpose the emigrant to a new successful reality. Such stories do exist in the US and in Canada.

    However, for some the story becomes a sad situation. As Irina describes her friend sold everything she had to pay for her travel documents. Once in the US she was not able to practice her Cuban profession and in order to sustain herself financially: “She has had many different jobs, such as a caregiver and babysitter, as well as a cleaner for apartments.” Irina’s friend is a Cuban Philosophy graduate; she does not speak English.

    Similarly in Canada, many extremely well educated immigrants like doctors, professors, accountants, engineers, must subjugate themselves to menial tasks on the lower rung of the economic ladder in order to pay for their survival. They too send any money they can scrape together back to their poor families to the poor villages they left. Many live in small apartments crammed together in limited space living with friends and family.

    For some their hopes and dreams once they arrive in their new adopted country are quickly dashed as they come face to face with reality, with the lack of “status and connections” required to make inroads to success, so they now vicariously transfer their hopes and dreams to their children. Their children learn the English/French language very quickly and many do extremely well in school. How many Vietnamese, Chinese, Pakistani, and other hyphenated Canadian children win math and science contests and go on to higher education to purse professions their parents perhaps had in their home countries, but could not practice for financial gain in Canada?

    Unfortunately, for Irina’s friend her intro to United States reality was interrupted by negative family relations which are absolutely crucial for success. If one does not speak the lingua franca of the nation and one also has to deal with immediate family turmoil, the odds of success are stacked against you. A friend in need is a friend indeed, as the saying goes.

    Irina’s friend is in a real heart wrenching dilemma. Does she stay in the US working for minimum wage struggling to pay expenses and send remittances back home, or does she save money to prepare to go back home to Cuba to perhaps reclaim the life she left behind? As Irina states Cuba today is in deep economic disrepair so life their will be no easier if not more difficult.

    “Keeping healthy is her priority now, for she doesn’t know what the future holds for her.” That in a nutshell – her health – is what she needs to concentrate on for the future whether living presently in the US, or perhaps rejoining her mother in Cuba. Without health nothing else really matters.

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