Opinion: Policies Shouldn’t Define Dignity, from the Perspective of a Cuban Granddaughter
Updated: Aug 11
“Your grandparents came here legally, there’s no reason they can’t.” An older family member once said this to me during a short discussion we had about immigration during the 2016 election season. I immediately questioned how someone close to me could lack the empathy I held for the many immigrants fleeing violence and corruption in certain Latin American countries. My grandparents spent years fighting the communist system under Fidel Castro in Cuba until being forced to flee to the United States. Even though they got to the U.S. safely after a long journey, many of their friends weren’t so lucky. There is a classic Cuban restaurant called “Versailles” in Little Havana, Miami where my grandfather took me a couple years ago. He walked in and rejoiced as he spoke to a man that seemed to be an old friend. My dad explained that this man had been imprisoned in Cuba until recently and hadn’t seen my grandfather in quite a long time. The man seemed excited to be there and it put living in America in perspective for me.
To put it shortly, my grandparents are what I would consider role models and heroes. When given the option to leave Cuba as Fidel Castro came into power, they stayed and led movements against him. Because Fidel Castro led an evil regime in which my grandparents saw friends get put into prison and knew they were wanted themselves, they fled to Miami after a long journey throughout Latin America. My grandma went on to have seven children in Miami. My dad often recalls the times where they sheltered his nine cousins and their family in the same three bedroom home they lived in. Basically, my grandma had sixteen kids under one roof at one point but she also provided for the artistic community of Cubans as well. When people come to visit my house the first thing they notice are the vibrant paintings covering the walls. These paintings have always been in my life and I remember seeing similar ones as a child in my cousins’ homes in Miami. As I grew up I learned that these paintings are from multiple artists who were friends of my grandmother. I would also consider my grandfather an inspiration in the Cuban community. He founded the Center for Human Rights of Miami and served as the President for many years where he helped Cuban families in a Miami and in Cuba. I recently found out that he spoke at the U.N multiple times on behalf of NGOs advocating for Cuban rights. These short bios don’t really explain how much I look up to both my grandparents but everything they ended up accomplishing was because they were lucky enough to escape Castro’s regime.
When taking a course on American history one briefly covers the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cuban revolution in a couple of lessons. This year we learned that the Cuban emigres were given a safe haven in the United States due to the complex situation at hand. After Castro’s rise to power many Cubans fled to the United States and they were allowed to because of the Cuban Adjustment Act. The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 allowed Cubans who were escaping communism to be classified as political refugees and gain permanent residency after being present in the U.S. for at least a year. While I’m not writing a research paper on the Act itself, it helped Cubans integrate into society. Written a year before, The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 created a new demographic of immigrants in the United States. Since it abolished the earlier quota system that favored Europeans, many new people came to the United States after escaping violence in their homelands. Similar to Cubans, many Eastern Europeans fled communism and many Asian immigrants fled war stricken countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia.
This brings me back to my family member’s original comment. How could they invalidate someone else’s struggles and story only because current policies don’t favor immigration as they did when my grandparents immigrated? There is currently a crisis in Venezuela, and the three Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras continue to suffer from corruption and high rates of violence. When I think back to the situation of Cuba I begin to wonder how many people were against Cuban migration. In the nineteen sixties there was a risk of nuclear war with the Soviet Union and people accepted Cubans while trusting their government’s national security decisions. The economy was doing well and accepting Cubans wasn’t seen as a burden like people think accepting immigrants is today. Today as the midwestern towns in the Rust Belt that once boomed during the 20th century begin to fade in the new American economy, nativist attitudes have risen. Instead of a partisan debate led by a president who blames economic issues on immigration, the debate should be seen through a non-partisan lens that appreciates what immigrants can bring to the United States.
The fact that something like accepting or not accepting migrants is political in the first place is extremely disturbing to me. Former President Bush’s book, “Out of Many, One”, reminds us that the topic of immigration shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Though Bush passed laws that regulated immigration heavily due the national security measures taken after 9/11, he has the empathy needed to tell immigrants’ stories. Reflecting back to my family member’s comments, I wish the dignity of humans didn’t depend on the complex world of international relations and politics. Whether or not policies make it easier or not to integrate into the United States shouldn’t stop people from caring about others.