The Immigrant Experience

By Arguelles, Trinidad | National Forum, Summer 1994 | Go to article overview

The Immigrant Experience


Arguelles, Trinidad, National Forum


I still remember the day I left Cuba. It was May 10, 1980, the day I turned fourteen.

My parents instilled in me the idea that having an education was the most important thing they could provide. Upon arriving at my kindergarten class in Cuba for the first time, I was eager to learn. This experience repeated itself when I enrolled in an American junior high school during the summer of 1980. Becoming an American pupil, I was faced with the challenge of interpreting my performance in terms of As and Bs, instead of percentages, and getting acquainted with the idea of having to wear a P.E. uniform with a school mascot. I was a bit apprehensive, wearing old-fashioned clothes, unable to speak English, and having no friends. The challenge was there.

My parents always said, "What you learn can never be taken away." This spirit of self-betterment transcended all frontiers. I had no books, no old photographs, no toys, and particularly, no knowledge of the language of my new adoptive land.

I soon realized my parents were right in saying, "Education is the key to success." The discrimination I was subjected to when I first arrived, sadly by children of compatriots, began to vanish as my accomplishments in school became known. My first step in becoming someone was to do my best that summer. I learned as much English as I could, although I must admit I was a bit rebellious. I refused to speak English for a long time; I missed Havana, yet I still kept on learning to read and write the English language as a scholastic exercise, for the sole purpose of getting good grades.

Upon finishing junior high, I began to make friends and felt more like a Miamian. Upon graduation I won the Foreign Language award and was among the top students in the class. Because of high school zoning requirements, I was separated from friends. This time it was different; I knew we could keep in touch.

In high school I was no longer an ESOL (English for Students of Other Languages) pupil. I was getting to know what American teenagers were like, and this made me extremely happy. Soon after enrolling I was taking college-bound, honors, and advanced-placement courses. These courses, as well as the clubs and honor societies I was inducted into, gave me the opportunity to interact with classmates of similar academic interests. By the time I graduated, I was a Senior of Distinction, a Miami Herald Silver Knight Nominee, and a member of the Math, Spanish, Science, and National Honor Societies.

I was a teenager with dreams and aspirations. …

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