A Cuban Refugee's Journey to the American Dream: The Power of Education

A Cuban Refugee's Journey to the American Dream: The Power of Education

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A Cuban Refugee's Journey to the American Dream: The Power of Education

A Cuban Refugee's Journey to the American Dream: The Power of Education

Read

FREE for a limited time

Synopsis

In February 1962, three years into Fidel Castro's rule of their Cuban homeland, the González family--an auto mechanic, his wife, and two young children--landed in Miami with a few personal possessions and two bottles of Cuban rum. As his parents struggled to find work, eleven-year-old Gerardo struggled to fit in at school, where a teacher intimidated him and school authorities placed him on a vocational track. Inspired by a close friend, Gerardo decided to go to college. He not only graduated but, with hard work and determination, placed himself on a path through higher education that brought him to a deanship at the Indiana University School of Education.

In this deeply moving memoir, González recounts his remarkable personal and professional journey. The memoir begins with Gerardo's childhood in Cuba and recounts the family's emigration to the United States and struggles to find work and assimilate, and González's upward track through higher education. It demonstrates the transformative power that access to education can have on one person's life. Gerardo's journey came full circle when he returned to Cuba fifty years after he left, no longer the scared, disheartened refugee but rather proud, educated, and determined to speak out against those who wished to silence others. It includes treasured photographs and documents from González's life in Cuba and the US. His is the story of one immigrant attaining the American Dream, told at a time when the fate of millions of refugees throughout the world, and Hispanics in the United States, especially his fellow Cubans, has never been more uncertain.

Excerpt

How many of us begin life not knowing who we are or where we live? How many children pass their childhood in a state of utter confusion, not able to speak the language of their neighborhood or understand the alien culture into which they’ve been thrust? How many children sit in a school classroom, taunted every day and viewed as dumb by their fellow students and teachers because they can’t understand a word that’s being said?

Life is confusing enough for a child—any child—but with the solid footing of a stable home and a family that is well integrated into society, most kids can negotiate their way through the joys of childhood and the traumas of being a teenager and build on these foundational years to become responsible adults. Given a solid home life, school, college, and the workforce can be natural progressions for many of us. We grow, we advance, and we achieve.

So what happens when a family’s stable ground is suddenly ripped from under a child’s feet and he feels like he’s walking through quicksand? When he sees his father and mother not as successful adults but living in constant fear? What goes through his mind when he is forced to remain mute, day after day, year after year, because he is afraid if he speaks, his teachers will discipline him? When he becomes stuck, because his teachers interpret his silence as bad behavior?

These were the issues I faced as a boy of eleven. I was once a bright and happy child. But when my family relocated to a strange and forbidding society, I couldn’t speak or understand those around me. I was forced to conform to the standards of a society I simply couldn’t comprehend.

My name is Gerardo González. I am a Cuban refugee who arrived in the United States shortly after Fidel Castro came to power. We fled a regime we wanted no part of, whose economics and ideology we distrusted. But in the United States my father, mother, sister, and I suffered dislocation, isolation, and fear. Today’s immigrants and refugees, in the main, face even more daunting challenges. Regardless of their reasons for fleeing and the traumas they suffer, all who find themselves stateless face common experiences.

This is my story, but it’s also the story of all immigrants who have had to leave their homes out of fear and desperation. We share a constant fear of authority in everything we do. We feel isolated when we see people our own age, born in our host nation, walking freely along the pavement. We feel we’re here under sufferance.

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