World Languages teacher Daisy Vazquez remembers the date November 4, 2008 as the first day she felt American. Six years after she immigrated to the United States from her native land of Cuba, the election of President Barack Obama marked a turning point in her life.
In 2002, Vazquez immigrated to the United States under the auspices of the Cuban Adjustment Act, and never returned to Cuba. The law was passed in 1966 to allow Cuban natives or citizens living in the U.S. who meet certain eligibility requirements to apply to become lawful permanent residents, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Website. The law was initially passed to aid Cubans who could not return to Cuba for political reasons.
When Vazquez lived in Cuba, dictator Fidel Castro was the president, and the communist state was the only form of government that she knew. “When you grow up, you are a child and are just having fun with your friends, and also when you are a teenager, you don’t think so much,” she said. Furthermore, the Cuban school system brainwashed students into admiring the Cuban government and viewing the U.S. as an evil, imperialist country, Vazquez said.
However, Vazquez’s family and her own maturity led her to realize the truth about the government. In Cuba, on the days when all televised programs were canceled so that everyone had to watch Castro deliver a speech, her grandfather would yell at the television, believing that Castro was spouting lies. “Even though you [might] grow up in a dictatorship, you have the values that your family gives you,” she said. “Those are good values that I still keep: be honest [and] say what you believe in, even though the government does not favor that.”
When Vazquez was on the cusp of adulthood, she decided that she would move out of the country. “[In Cuba] there is no freedom of expression, no freedom of speech, you can’t choose for yourself, everything is chosen [for] you. At a certain point, you don’t want to live there.”
At the age of 21, Vazquez made the journey from Cuba by herself, eager to explore the rest of the world, and joined many of her relatives in Miami, Florida. When she arrived in Miami, she was disappointed to find that it held an expansive Cuban community. “It was too Cuban for my taste. You want to explore, to meet different people. I didn’t want to be in that community because I thought that was restrictive,” she said.
It wasn’t until she moved to New York three months later that she found the home that she had longed for, saturated with diversity and culture, she said.
As the years passed, Vazquez adjusted to the political culture of the U.S. “In Cuba, everything related to [the] government, anything related to the news, makes you vomit,” she said.
But in the U.S., she found herself intrigued by politics. “Becoming interested in the newspaper and listening to the news was something that I never did in Cuba because it was pointless, and now here, I want to be informed,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez said that Obama’s election was special for her because she was able to vote for him, a right that many Americans often take for granted.
In Cuba, citizens cannot vote for the President, and they are required to vote for lower-ranking positions. In protest, she left the ballots blank in Cuba. “I didn’t know these people, and I don’t believe in them, I don’t believe in the system.”
In the U.S., Vazquez had newfound opportunities which allowed her to discover her passion: teaching. However, looking back on her experience, Vazquez does not see herself as a victim of a dictatorship. “I focus on the good things. I’m happy, and even when I was in Cuba, I was happy.”