When she was 5, almost 6 years old, Beatriz walked across the Mexican border with her mother to join her father in Nashville, Tennessee. Her journey to the US did not start in Mexico, however. It began in her town of Remedios, Cuba. For Beatriz and her mother, it was impossible to enter the US from Cuba, the way her father had managed to do several years earlier. Instead, they flew to Venezuela and from there traveled to Mexico, walking 14 hours to the river, where they finally entered the US.
Beatriz’s memories of crossing the border are few. She remember being carried on a man’s shoulders and saying, in Spanish “I don’t want to die! I’m too young to die!” She remembers that her mother ripped her pants jumping over a fence and, strangely, that they heard the sound of a lion which she believes was a recording used by the coyote for an unknown reason.
Because she was so young, her transition to life in the US was relatively seamless. She was in an ELL class for a year before she was able to speak perfect English and started regular classes. While her own adjustment to life in the US was simple, the process of becoming a citizen was not: Beatriz became a citizen 9 years after she came to America. Now that she is older, she knows that the reason her mother was often late coming home was because she would always take a different route to the house and drive past to make sure there were no strange cars in the driveway. Living undocumented was a constant stressor.
Beatriz is appreciative of both her life in the US and her Cuban family. While Beatriz loves living in the US, she wishes she could share what she sees during her visits to Cuba with everyone. The culture and the feeling are different from here, she says. Everyone knows everyone. The doors in her old village are always open, people are louder and there is so much dancing. It’s beautiful and much less populated, but the country is impoverished; the houses are rundown and many people walk around barefoot since they don’t have shoes.
Beatriz says that while she feels more American than Cuban, she never feels completely American. She feels connected to the Hispanic community because of the values they share, even if she doesn’t know them personally. When at restaurants, she loves that servers speak to her in Spanish, that they identify her as being Latina. This feeling of being connected to both American and Hispanic culture is Beatriz’s hope for the Hispanic community. Learning English and becoming a citizen are two important parts of this process, as her own story demonstrates.