“Poor Me”: On Life in Cuba & Abroad

Nonardo Perea

In Almendares Park in Havana.

HAVANA TIMES — My friend Paula wrote me from the United States. “People are strange here, it’s not like down there” she told me. “Where we live, people are really snobbish. No one even looks at anyone. To many, we’re just a bunch of dirty immigrants. Everything costs money, even laughter. I regret having made the decision to move here, but, as you know, there are other reasons for being here. I only hope that, in time, we manage to adapt.”

“The fact of the matter is that things are tough for us here. We never stop thinking about Cuba. Miladis [her partner] tells me she wants to go back to Havana every weekend. She’s always saying that, and we start to cry together. Last Friday, when she got out of work, we had to go to the doctor. According to the doctor who saw her, she has a serious urinary infection. She works as a cashier at a market and can barely go to the bathroom – if there are people waiting in line, she can’t move from the spot. She’s getting paid well, but the money is barely enough to live on. I’m looking for a job. I hope to be able to find something next week.”

Here’s the part in which some commentators will start to tear my friend apart. “How could she regret having left Cuba? Why does she not go back there, where no one knows what real work is like?” Others will surely say that there are snobbish people or people who feel superior to others, because of their social standing, everywhere. Others will say that this business of not being able to go the bathroom for number one or two is a lie. “Of course everything costs money. Did you think things would fall from the sky? You have to work 12 hours a day to have what you want to have.” And one can’t always get what one wants, I assume.

The fact of the matter is that there will always be people who agree with my friend and another group of people who disagree with her comments.

The things Paula describes in her emails make me think about how I would do in case I decided to leave the country.

Bearing in mind I am 40 years old, suffer from generalized osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and cervical problems (if I do any lifting, it cause me so much pain that I had to lie down in bed), I wonder what a person like me who, despite wanting to work, is unable to do certain things, would do there.

Commentators will probably now skin me alive.

They will share their ideas and concerns, enumerate the innumerable jobs I could do. Someone will call me an idiot, and I will smile and think to myself: “poor me.” Many think I live in the worst country in the world, where there is bad education, an awful health system, and a long list of etceteras (which are totally untrue).

The truth is that everything in life depends on circumstances. You should know that, many a time, I’ve gone to the doctor’s and been treated marvelously. When I’ve written about things that are wrong, I’ve done so because I believe criticism is due, but my criticisms by no means imply that things are dreadful every single time we go to the hospital or get on a bus. Generally speaking, I have written only about things I consider wrong, sharing my views. I also try to get the word out. I assume it would be very boring to write about the positive things that often happen to me. The world wants to know all of the rotten things that flourish in our country, not the good things. After all, anything positive people write about Cuba is a lie, isn’t it?

Nonardo Perea

Nonardo Perea: I see myself as an observant person and I like to write with sincerity what I think and live first hand. I’m shy and of few words; thus it’s difficult for me to engage in conversation. For that reason, my best tool for communicating is writing. I live in Marianao, Havana and am 40 years old.

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20 thoughts on ““Poor Me”: On Life in Cuba & Abroad

  • Those with the God make the rules! There is no money the best you can own is health.Love is king.

  • Glad I gave you a laugh!

  • Carlyle, are you going to reply to all my postings? You are hilarious.

  • As you prove, you don’t need to be Cuban to be a whiner!

  • That is most interesting. How many Cubans were there? How did the welfare payments in Canada compare with their earnings in Cuba? Were you in the same-line up to obtain welfare? How much is the welfare in Cuba?
    You make a bald statement providing no information.

  • It is a common and understandable that many immigrants miss the “old country”. A Persian man who fled the brutalities of the Islamic Revolution and settled in Toronto once told me that in the 1990’s he thought things in Iran might be getting better. He missed the old culture. He was hoping to marry a nice girl. So he decided to return to see if it was worth starting a business in Iran. He came back to Canada a month later. I asked him if the country had changed or not? His answer was definitive, “No, Iran is just the same as always. But I have changed! I cannot live there anymore.”

    So it is with many Cubans who move to the US. For a few months, they are excited at the new adventure. Then they get homesick, the realities of having to work hard to get ahead begin to drag. So they decide to go back to the island for a visit. But how many return to Cuba to live the rest of their lives there? Very few if any.

    Cuba hasn’t changed, but they have.

  • Could you please provide some accurate statistics?

    The Cuban owners, chefs and waiters of the various Cuban restaurants I have visited are all gainfully employed (i.e. Julie’s Cuban Cafe, Cubana (on Roncy), Latinada, Mambo Lounge, Havana Cuba Grill & Bar, Havana Style Cafe & Gallery, Lula Lounge).

    I have also met Cuban nurses, teachers, computer programmers. The successful Cuban author Jose Latour, along with Cuban musicians Alberto Alberto, Evaristo Machado and Telmary Diaz all make their homes in Toronto.

    In the US, Cuban immigrants have higher education levels, higher income and lower unemployment rates than other Latin American immigrants.

    Oh, and Cuban baseball players are doing rather well in the MLB, if you don’t know.

  • Almost all Cubans that I met in Canada where on welfare.

  • People who whine in Cuba will continue whining in the US

  • Nepotism in Cuba is far different that what has your panties in a bind regarding Chelsea Clinton. No one is forcing anyone in the US to donate money to the Clinton Foundation which pays Chelsea. Likewise the television network she worked for and the various other media contracts that she receives are driven by smart businessmen realizing that the brand Clinton draws readers and viewers. If your gripe with capitalism is that the rich get richer, than admit that. Folks with fame or money or both have greater opportunities to make more money and achieve more fame. Sports athletes who don’t need the money get lucrative endorsement deals. Politicians get free meals in expensive restaurants and famous actors stay free at luxury hotels. You get the point. But so what? As long as I have a opportunity to do the same thing, I don’t begrudge Beyoncé or Michael Jordan their perks. In Cuba, I would not have the OPPORTUNITY and Raul Castro’s grandchildren would. There is the difference. Understand?

  • Why do you harshly (and rightly) condemn nepotism in Cuba but wink at it, in a much more egregious form, when it occurs in the US ?

  • All the Cubans I have met in Canada are doing quite well and although as immigrants they miss aspects of Cuban culture and their extensive families, I have yet to meet one who regrets their decision to leave Cuba. Too many when discussing Cuba and alternatives constrict their minds to thinking of the USA as the only alternative to life in Cuba.
    There is a great big world out there, not only Cubans but citizens of the USA have to stretch their minds. Miami is one city in one country in this great big world. It doesn’t represent all that is best in the world and perhaps makes it difficult for new Cuban immigrants to see the world as it is rather than the half way house that is MIami.
    I understand from the media that over 30 million Americans have no health care system. In the Western world that is unusual, not the norm!
    Those mainstays of the democratic world of:
    These are not peculiar to the USA. Having lived and worked in three European countries and in Canada, I can assure you that those mainstays are common to all of them.
    Yes, there are those who decry such opportunities as all that is evil in the capitalist world but prefer a society where the State takes the decisions.
    Socialism has a central dogma of making the State the ultimate authority for the whole of life. It is based on coercion. It denies the dignity of people. It is a secular creed that has utterly failed. The consequence for thinking people is their cry of:

  • I received a letter too…….from a cousin in Cuba:

    Dear cousin, I want to thank you very much for the 150 bucks you sent to me last month. You cannot imagine what a relief this money brought to me and my family. First I bought mom’s medicines. She had spent the last 2 months with no pain killers for her back pain. I bought enough pain killers for 3 months. You know, in this country’s rare economy almost all medicines must be paid with dollars in spite we get our “salaries” in national coin. I also bought some food. My monthly salary is the equivalent to 30 dollars. With this “salary” I only can buy food for 4 days. Mom’s pension is only the equivalent to 8 dollars a month. It is impossible for us to survive with this miserable income. Most of the time we go hungry, some time I do extra money selling some smuggled goods but it is never enough as to have a normal life. We also continue to live in the only room of our house that survived hurricane Sandy 10 years ago. We have no toilet seat just a hole in the floor. It is too expensive.
    But I am not asking you more money. To send us more money will not solve our problems. There are just 2 solutions for our problems….. a change of regime or to leave the country. That’s why I ask you help to leave the country. I am not asking you to help me to get in the US. To emigrate to the US would be perfect but we would be happy to leave Cuba to any country. Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia, anywhere is better than here. I know I am 48 years old and mom is 65, I know that we are not young people but we are willing to do anything to leave Cuba. I know people have to work a lot in other countries….. well…. I don’t know what make people to think that it is not the same in Cuba. Indeed we have to work a lot here too but the worse is that we get no enough money to live a decent life. I see many friends of mine that left to Mexico or Honduras and they are making a living in those countries. They even send money to their relatives in Cuba. And I know another people that left to the US and are working very hard but also are very happy with the life they got there.
    Please, help me.

    Your cousin.

  • Thanks for sharing these wise thoughts, leaving home is always difficult, but for those who believed the propaganda that the streets are paved in gold, low wage jobs will wake them up. It’s very interesting that stories about the thousands of Cubans who left and are not doing well are not in the pages of the Miami media, that is not the narrative they want to hear. Imagine if it is hard for Cuban in the US who get all the benefits of the Cuban Adjustment act, imagine other immigrants who don’t get the federal welfare. Unless you have a graduate degree and are light skinned, things will not be as easy as people think. In fact, if Warhol was in the United States, with he rhealth conditions, she would go bankrupt like millions of Americans have with health problems.

  • I’m not going to bash you. It’s natural and normal to feel the way you do, and for your friend to feel the way she does. Neither of you were groomed for life outside of a bubble and the adjustment is hard. As someone else said in the comments, the same things happen in small town America. If a person from a small town moves to a major city, they experience culture shock. The same also happens to a child whose parents hovered over him so much that he doesn’t know how to function on his own. In Cuba, everything is done for you. In America, you have to do everything yourself if you want to get ahead. Also, your friend needs to get out and make friends with other Cuban immigrants if she is in Miami or another part of the US with a high number of Cubans. She should also join clubs to make friends. You have to be a friend to have a friend. When my grandparents came here from Italy via Ellis Island in NYC, they settled in the same sections that other Italians settled in. That is why CT, NY, and the rest of the Northeast have higher numbers of Italian Americans than other parts of the US. They worked very hard to get ahead and they loved it here.

  • Dan, I don’t know where you are from but in the US we have a saying, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game”. If Chelsea didn’t steal that money by putting a knife in someone’s ribs, I ain’t mad at her. In fact, I would like a hot minute with her to find out how I can do it too. You see, that is the difference with Americans and the freedoms we enjoy. We don’t sit around mad at our neighbors for getting promotions or hitting the lottery. We would rather spend our time trying to figure out how we can get over too. You lefties are all about equality, that is, making everybody equally poor.

  • The fact is that life in Cuba has made you and your friend ill-prepared for life outside of Cuba. You have grown up and live in a place where the entire country has the population of the State of Ohio in the US. Many Americans who grew up in rural areas experience the same sense of isolation when they move to the big city for the first time. Second, it is true that the work ethic is Cuba is far below that of the US. Were it not so, Cuba production would be higher and Cuban would be able to feed itself. Also, true is that if it were that bad your friend would return to Cuba. It could be that she doesn’t want to make you feel so bad since it seems that you are unable to leave Cuba because of your physical issues. Finally, America is not for everybody. We never said it was. Yet, despite the US-haters, immigrants keep coming in droves. We must be doing something right.

  • Dan, you really do have a big chip on your shoulder – that inferiority complex keeps showing. Settle down and forget those resentments! You will feel better!

  • Warhol you are obviously correct is saying that everything in life depends upon circumstances. It is obvious that Paula is suffering from homesickness and anybody that knows Cuba knows why. She has left the land of la familia, of her education, of her friends and her culture including the music.
    She is correct in detecting that there are different income levels in the society she has joined. Few immigrants can expect to enter a new country and find that they earn as much as those who have been there for generations. As the Chinese are experiencing even within their own country, the change from socialism to capitalism is challenging.
    Immigrants everywhere cannot expect their new society to welcome them with open arms and the US in particular experiences lots of problems with illegal immigrants.
    I speak as one with experience of serving on the Board of a multicultural society in a city containing people from over sixty countries including Cuba, and who has visited over thirty countries and lived in five. Emigrating/immigrating is a huge step in life and virtually everyone doing so suffers stress. Language barriers have to be overcome and it is unrealistic to think that the existing society should adapt to your wishes. You have to adapt to theirs. The first two or three years are not easy.
    But having begun to adapt the immigrant slowly realises that the folks around them are not as indifferent to them as they initially thought. Unlike Cuba, most people are in a hurry – either to get to work, to keep an appointment or to shop within a specific period or to pick up the children from school. Nobody plays chess or dominoes in the street.
    Slowly Paula will overcome her retinence and language difficulties, begin speaking to neighbours or to others she meets. Slowly too she will realise the actual benefits of living in a free democratic country rather than a communist dictatorship. It is the latter which is usually the cause for so many Cubans to leave their beautiful country and adaptation to a new life is the price they pay.

  • Warhol, just wait a few minutes. I’m sure you will shortly be treated to a long – winded lecture from some diplomat’s son, or sports car driving man of leisure who spend their vacations sunning themselves while compiling extensive lists of the horrors of life in “Castro’s Cuba”. They will set you straight. In your country, even the successes are failures. If you can’t see that you either work for MININT or are a Castro crony. And tell your friends in Miami to buck up. If they’re not living the American Dream they must not be working hard enough. Don’t they know that here, everyone can become president ? Or president’s daughter. With hard work of course. Chelsea Clinton works so hard, she earned $26,724.00 a MINUTE on one of her jobs, and at 34, she is already worth a cool $15 Million. That’s alot of fula.
    Actually, I know a lot of people, most in fact, in Cuba and outside who would agree with your observations. The Cubans in that bunch can just be ignored. The remainder non-caimaneros should be blithely dismissed as the arm-chair socialists and Castro boot-licking sycophants that they are.

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