Cuban Political Refugees and Their Children: A Personal Account by Manuel Diaz
The circumstances that brought me to this country in 1961 were no different than they were for thousands of Cuban children. The initial shock of separation, language, isolation, etc., was likewise the same for almost everyone with varying degrees of difficulties. It is true that no two organisms react equally to the same circumstances even under similar conditions.
For a very long time I thought I had adapted, because after all I was trying to help my parents after they joined us here. I was kind of the coach, explainer of the cultural differences, and in fact the one trying my best to sell them on the idea of adapting because there were no other alternatives.
A very, very tempestuous, difficult period ensued where calamities and illness of both of them made this very difficult. We were so busy surviving that I really never thought about the cultural nuances. It’s hard to do in the middle of an all-encompassing struggle. I did however, decide that I was going to do all I could to raise what was left of my self-esteem, and part of that plan was to mitigate the ridicule and abuse heaped on me because of my English pronunciation and my accent.
As I grew up married and had children, I was too busy to really analyze much of what was happening. My objectives were to look after my family and move up the ladder in my company, which would have been impossible without the work I had previously put into perfecting my English pronunciation.
Now that I have been retired nine years and have had the time to introspectively examine my life, I have come to some rather interesting realizations. It seems that after all these years, I have realized that I had to leave Cuba in order to become a real Cuban. I realize that adapting to a new country is a lifelong journey, and I still find that some parts of American culture do not “jive” with my native culture.
My children were born in the US. They also got the opportunity to live abroad and be exposed to other cultures, which I strongly believe enriched their lives and education, not to mention what it did for their linguistic abilities in English and other foreign languages.
My children are both Cuban and American, and as such have had the benefit of knowing English as a first language, which meant they never had to endure the ridicule that I did. But coming from a Cuban heritage also means they will never get the chance to see where their father came from because of the political upheaval and the poisonous relationship between the US and Cuba.
Now I have grandchildren. I dearly love them and I love to do things for them, not the least of which is to help them understand the value of education and the value of speaking their minds, and doing so clearly, and if they can do it in more than one language, all the better.
It hurts that I cannot give them the chance to visit Cuba and know about my culture firsthand, but the legacy I pass on to them is to know their value doesn’t lie in what others think of them, but what they make of themselves.
For them, pronunciation in English will not be an issue, but the story of their grandfather battling the odds to learn English may inspire them and help them understand they can overcome whatever odds life deals them. And if it does that much, then everything I endured is worth it!