Emmanuel: I know it sounds silly, but can you please state your name?
Patricia: My name is Patricia Barros Jardines.
How old are you?
Right now I am 21, turning 22.
What are your interests here in college?
I am studying neuroscience, and also Hispanic studies. I work at RWIT, which is the student center for academic tutoring, for writing, and technology. I work there as a multilingual tutor. I work with English written papers and also Spanish written papers. I love that job. I love working with students. Students come in, my favorite favorite sessions are when students come in, they have some ideas, they’re grappling with topics, but they haven’t quite put together the frame for their essays. That’s what I love about my job there. Besides working as a writing tutor, I also work as a programming advisor of La Casa an affinity house on campus. I work with the Span dept. I also work with student interaction. I really enjoy that.
As you know, this is an oral history about students or adults who have migrated away from their original countries. What country are you originally from?
I am originally from Cuba. I was born in La Havana. That’s where I am from.
At what age did you leave La Havana?
I left when I was nine.
When you left, did you do it with your parents or other family members?
I left with my mom, my dad, and my little brother. We were lucky we all left together
How did this process come about? Can you explain, elaborate a little bit on it?
Well, I wasn’t really aware of it. My memory of the whole thing was just one day I just knew I was leaving and don’t remember if my mom or my mom must have told me. But I just knew I was leaving. I was taking some last things from my room. I just remember just grabbing this little purse that my uncle had given me for my birthday and that I really liked. I just remember it was fast. I don’t remember process at the airport at all. I remember being at the airplane. I was so excited to be there. I was like Oh an adventure. That’s what I remember leaving Cuba.
How did this happen with the airplane? Relying on your memories. What were the circumstance that led to your family leaving Cuba?
Why did we leave? We left because basically there was no future for us there. Financially, but also just as a person my parents were. From what I hear my parents say, they always felt trapped in a system where they were always breaking the law so, it was just like on an everyday basis. There were a lot of things my parents to do in order for us to have everyday things like food and other things at the house. The situation in Cuba wasn’t getting better. We would have to be breaking the law just to be getting by. That adds a lot of stress over time. Somebody shows up at your doorstep and saying: Hey you are going to jail because you bought fish from that guy that sells fish in the black market. You know things, they’re not bad things. They’re not big things. You’re not allowed to have business in Cuba, at least in that time. Things that are regular things that people do to provide for their families become a problem.
My parent would tell me sometimes that when I was little there weren’t any diapers. My parents didn’t have any diapers for me, desechables. They would have to use these cloths that they would turn into diapers. That’s what they would use. There wasn’t any soap. They didn’t have soap. They didn’t have recyclable diapers, so they had to reuse. But then on top of that, they also they didn’t have soap to clean diapers. Everything was about scarcity. Things that we take for granted here, basic resources were not present. And that makes things hard. Everything is political, you can’t separate it.
How did your parent’s get the possibility of leaving Cuba?
My mom has family in the US, she had been reclamada por su padre. But that process was taking too long so my parents opted for a different option. They, I don’t know the details of this, but Canada had this program with Cuba to recruit processionals like engineers. My parents are both electrical engineers, so they tried to get through this process, which was complicated, but they were lucky enough to be able to leave that way. So, because of that we were able to leave Cuba legally.
Where did you go after you left Cuba?
We left Cuba to go to Toronto, Canada.
How did you feel when you arrived to this new country?
I can’t remember anything about the airport. That same day when we arrived the first month we stayed at a house of my parent’s friend in Toronto. I just remember. We stayed in the basement. That was our apartment. I remember being really sad, crying, you know, I just fell asleep on the floor, on a mattress. It was just weird wow I’m here and I just came here. That’s when I finally
For how long did you live there?
I lived in Toronto. I should say the greater Toronto area. I lived it’s called GTA (Greater Toronto Area) for 4 years, but within Toronto, within that area I lived in very different places. When I first arrived to Canada, I lived in Markham, which is a suburb, and that’s where our friends lived. First we just lived with them. But then after a month we got our first apartment, it wasn’t an apartment it was a basement and lived there for 2 years, and then we moved again to another part of Toronto called Scarborough, which is not really a suburb but it’s more city like. It’s a borough. There is a lot more traffic, and buildings, not really as many houses. I lived there for two years. Then I moved again. This time to the United States.
How was the decision of moving from Canada to the United States made?
Uhm, so my parents always wanted to move to the United States, but the reason that we didn’t do that was because it was difficult to come to the United States. Like I said my mom had been reclamada por mi abuelo. But that takes a while, so my parents opted to move to Canada first. Once they got their citizenship in Canada we set off to the United States.
And that process was really fast?
It actually was. It was fast. It was very hard for my parents in Canada even though that Canada needed engineers and that’s why they were recruiting. There seemed to be no place for my parents. They couldn’t find a job I don’ think my mom had a job for 2 years. She couldn’t have a job. My parents had a really hard time with that. My dad was the only one that had a job. He had started his own company he just provided computer services to different clients. He had a friend that worked at a tech company, so he would find his clients that way. He would just go and fix clients’ computers and so on.
So going back to the original question.
When I hear my parents talk about Canada I hear about how discriminated they felt in Canada. Of course there is also discrimination here as well. But they always juxtapose the discrimination they felt in Canada with the discrimination they had here. It was really hard for my parents for find a job because to get a job they would ask if you had Canadian working experience, any my parents didn’t because they were immigrants. So, how do you get a job if you don’t have the experience? You’ve never lived there before, so it becomes a vicious cycle.
So when we moved to the United States, it went a lot better for my family. My parents both got jobs pretty quickly. My dad always make note of the fact that when we moved to Texas he applied to different jobs and a lot of people offered him interviews, whereas in Canada he would apply for jobs and no one would offer him an interview. He felt so discriminated against, the same thing with my mom. It wasn’t as easy for her either, but she also found a job.
And you said that you moved to Texas, what part of Texas? Because it is, you know, particularly a huge state.
We moved to a suburb of Dallas called Grapevine, TX. We moved there because we had family there. My mom’s sister was there and had children.
Did you attend school during this time? If so, how was the transition between Canada and Texas?
This transition is a lot cleared in my mind because I was older now, so I remember the experience better. I moved to Texas in August 31st of 2004. I went to school there for about 4 months. It was a middle school. I went to the first half of 6th grade in Texas. Now to talk about how I felt. Well, I was very distraught when my parents told me we were moving to Texas; rather it was that we were moving from Canada. I didn’t want to go anywhere. It was very hard for me because I already had friends. I felt like I was very shy and I didn’t want to go through what I went through in Canada. I didn’t have any friends now and I didn’t speak the language. In Texas, I felt like an outsider. Great, I have to go through this all over again. But actually, I made friends, even though I was sad about it, there were good things about Texas, especially, at school since I’ve always I enjoyed school. It was hard for me. It was essentially against my will. I didn’t want to either.
Did you learn English in Canada or did you have previous knowledge before you moved to Canada and from there to the U.S.?
Well, this makes me think of your first question, which was how did you leave Cuba or how did you know that you were leaving.
I did take some English classes when I was in Cuba. Maybe I had a vague idea as to why was I taking these English lessons. Maybe I knew that it was preparing me for something, something that I didn’t want to do, which was that I didn’t want to leave Cuba. I did take these lessons though, but they had no real purpose, I gained no mastery of the language. In Canada is where I actually learned English. I was in an ESL (English as Second Language Program). I really liked my teachers at the elementary school. I think they taught me well.
When you were in Texas how did you feel about making new friends and redoing everything all over again?
Like I said, I am relatively a very shy person. I was even more shy when I was little. I didn’t like the school. It was rough. All of a sudden, you know, it was like: Go make friends! It was hard. I didn’t feel like I fit in at that middle school. It felt like a school out of one of those movies in which all the cheerleaders hang out, and the jocks hang out. Everything was about clicks. I don’t even know how was it that I met my best friend. She must have been in my class, or something. I just had one really good friend.
Do you still keep in contact with that friend?
I don’t, or very little. After I moved from Texas, I kept in touch with her for a very long time. We would write really really long letters to each other. In fact we would write big journals and we would exchange them. It was a close friendship, but then we kind of drifted apart and we didn’t have time anymore to write those really long journals. So, we stopped sending letters to each other.
You said that you moved from Dallas, Texas somewhere. Where did you move next?
I moved to Miami, Florida. This was in the middle of eight grade. This was also against my will, I mean; I wasn’t a big fan of Grapevine, Texas. I found it quite boring. There wasn’t much to do there but I was getting adjusted and then four months later, we are moving again.
Why did you guys move from Texas where you had some family, to Miami?
Good question. I guess the real question is why did we move to Texas in the first place. The reason that we moved to Texas, was… my mom’s sister. My mom’s sister had just moved to Texas, maybe a year before us. Her husband’s job had been relocated. So they were there. My parents thought that it was a good idea to move to there for some reason, mainly because they were alone, so it was more a family-driven decision. But the reason we moved again was because my aunt’s husband’s job got relocated yet again. So they were going back to Miami. So we were like, “we have nothing to do in this place (Grapevine) without you guys” so we moved to Miami. And that’s where all my mom’s family lives. It really made more sense.
Did you guys feel more comfortable in Miami than you did in Texas or in Toronto?
Yeah, definitely. Miami is very unique in that has its own culture and there’s a lot of influences. A lot of Cuban culture, and like my parents say: Miami is Cuba with Coca-Cola.
Why is that?
Because the culture is very present: the food, the music, a lot of other things. It is very present in the city. The thing about the Coca-Cola is like Cuba but with money. You know, there is stuff.
So moving from Texas to Miami, do you thin that you had any changes to your lifestyle, either in school or outside of school, at home?
Of course, there were many changes. Miami was very different from Texas at school. Again, I was still pretty shy, so I was not looking forward to making new friends. The culture was different, the people were different. From an academic point of view, I felt less challenged at the middle school that I was going to in Miami. I always liked school, and l really liked learning. But when I registered in the school in Miami, they put me in classes that were just chaotic. The students there didn’t want to be there, didn’t want to learn, they were not interested in what the teachers said. Some teachers had no control over the classroom. I was just a mess in that sense. I didn’t feel challenged and I don’t think I learned a lot.
How does it compare with schooling in Cuba
I was only in Cuba up to 4th grade. Something I remember from education from Cuba is that we always used to read out loud in literature class, or I don’t know what it was called. We would read passages of national literature or poetry. I never had that experience here really. I might have been once, but it was pretty small. But in Cuba, it was the common thing, Everyone would read out loud and you would go around the class and read passages over and over again, everyday. I also remember that in Cuba I studied a lot of math, even when I was little. Everything was by hand. I remember doing long divisions extensively in class. There was a lot of that. I think those are the two things that stick out the most to me.
My education in Miami, in the math class that I had, in middle school, it was bad. The teacher would literally come to the class and would sit on the desk, play on the computer, and just hand out something, and that was it. There were different types of classes; there were the honors classes, the gifted classes, and the others. Well, I was placed in the regular track. I don’t think the standards should be so low for this track, but that was what it was. It was not challenging at all. I didn’t like it.
Culturally, what were the differences between your family and other families around you?
Even though my family shared a lot of cultural values and traditions with people in Miami, because in Miami there is such a strong Cuban influence, we were different. There is a lot of variety, all types of peoples. One things that we sticks out to me that separates my family from other families is that, for example, we’re not religious at all and we don’t celebrate Christmas at all. We don’t do the whole gift giving or exchange. It’s not part of the culture of our home to do that, so I always felt a little weird around Christmas when people keep asking: “What did you get for Christmas?” But it was ok. I would get some presents though. Other people do celebrate it and would give me stuff. But it would never be from my parents. That’s something that makes my family different.
Why do you think that they are not very religious, if you don’t mind me asking?
In Cuba, religion was kind of stripped away from the people. So I think it has to do with that. It is just not something very present. But there are definitively people in Cuba who are very religious, but there is not a sense of freedom. Maybe down the line, my family was religious, but at some point that was lost. My parents were born in that post-revolutionary era in Cuba, and being religious is not something you are proud of. That ties into the Christmas thing and also to the fact that my family doesn’t do the whole gift exchange. Also, my parent’s are really practical people. My dad just doesn’t believe in buying all these presents for all these people, knowing that they are probably not going to be used, so he sees that as a big waste of money, a materialistic practice that he doesn’t want to partake in. He doesn’t believe in the whole shopping frenzy around Christmas, the big commercials. I think that ties a little bit, going back to Cuba, with some of the socialist, anti-materialist, ideals.
How do you find these cultures in the US that focus on the material, giving, buying and all these things? Do you find it attractive, or do you, just as your dad, find it repulsive?
I have to say, like him, I am repulsed by it. I try to not fall to that. I don’t really do Christmas shopping, I don’t like Christmas shopping. In general, I am not a big fan of shopping. I like giving things to people even if its small like a card. Personally, trying to find a present for someone can be very difficult. I don’t like to be like, oh, I need to buy a present for someone and I am going to go out and try to find it.” If there is something that I know that person wants, I will go and get it. But maybe not for an occasion, but just because, because, “I think my friend would really enjoy it, I should get it for her.” That is very different. It is more about the thought of a friend inspiring me to buy something because it makes me think of her or him, but not the need to try and find my friend in the object. I don’t know, I guess I like more the relationship. I try to not buy a lot of things that I don’t need. My family always emphasized to be practical, to not but things that you don’t need.
Does your family partake of any community-wide celebration, or is your family away from all these things that happen in a community like parties, birthdays, new year’s eve, and other Cuban celebrations?
My family sometimes partakes of things like Christmas, New Year’s parties, birthdays, of course. But I think that is funny that my parents, well more like my dad, but my mom also, don’t want to do these things. My dad is worse, but my mom is not totally against that. My dad would always try to organize a vacation around Christmas so that we leave Miami, so we don’t have to deal with all of these things, so we don’t have to attend parties or buy presents for all these people that we feel obligated to buy presents for. We go far away and we come back after all is over. But sometimes we are with the larger family and will partake of their celebrations. Mostly all we do then is as a small family.
Does your family have any celebrations in particular?
No, nothing, not a single one. Look, we won’t even celebrate something unless someone kind of invites us, or really pushes us. New Year’s Eve we might go to the bay, or watch fireworks around downtown Miami, be by the water, things like that, or go to a restaurant. That, we do like to celebrate.
Now, going straight to the heart of this project, let’s talk about identities. How do you consider yourself after all these different migrations, you know, over the course of your life? Do you still consider yourself Cuba? Are you American, are you Canadian? Feel free to tell me anything.
Tough question. I think, well, I feel very Cuban, especially when it’s about food, music, or dance. I feel very connected those aspects of Cuban culture. I listen to a lot of Cuban music, modern or more classical, traditional, older salsa, trovadores cubanos, fusion music, rock, rap. I love all of that and I stay connected through that. Also, dance for me is very important and when I am home I always go salsa dancing, I go to salsa classes all the time. I stay connected in that sense. The food is also there. My favorite is always Cuban food. Then there is the language. Language is a very important part of my identity, so I want to practice my Spanish, which is why I study Hispanic Studies here. I did it mainly to practice my Spanish. I mean I also like literature, but for me the first thing was to make sure that I practice my Spanish. I stay connected to my Cuban Identity that way. At the same time, I also feel like very, you know, American. I never felt Canadian, I don’t know if I ever felt Canadian, I was only there for four years and I was also young, so I lfet when I was 13. So I feel more American than Canadian. I don’t really know what feeling like a Canadian is.
Yah, sometimes there is contradictions, so everything here is so fast. I feel like this culture, the culture we have, is a fast-paced culture. Cuban culture is not like that, so there is like a disconnect there.
If you think yourself as Cuban, have you ever considered yourself of a Latino identity?
That’s another one I struggle with. I don’t really know what this Latino identity refers to. I think it is very vague. I have felt like I was part of the Latino community, but in a more subtle way. More than anything I feel I am Cuban and there is so much variety, and there is so many, like every culture is so different in America and the Caribbean and Central America,. It is hard to have a Latino identity. I don’t know what that means. I mean, I have thought about it. I do. At the same time I don’t feel that close to that identity, but there are a lot of similarities that I share with Latinos, whatever that might be, like food music, listening to music, dance, so I guess my connection to the Latino identity is really based on the music, dance and the food..
At home, what language do you speak? And, whichever it is, why do you think it is that you feel more comfortable with one language over the other?
So, in my house I spoke both English and Spanish. My parents speak pretty good English and they like to practice their English. I will talk on Spanish, usually, but if there is something I can’t say in Spanish I say it in English, and I know they will understand. Often my parents will tell me how to say something in Spanish. I’m not sure what language do I feel most comfortable with. Sometimes I feel Spanish, sometimes I will feel better in English if there are some phrases I know in English, or if there are some phrases I only know in Spanish. And there is really like I mix. I use to speak Spanish with my parents.
What about your brother?
My brother…okay, my brother left Cuba when he was very little, he was 3. He doesn’t speak that much Spanish. He understands everything, of course, but he doesn’t speak Spanish. He does have like an accent. I know he definitely feels more comfortable in English, so my brother, actually, he does try, he tries to speak Spanish, but a lot of the times he speaks English. He is not afraid to Speak Spanish even though he clearly doesn’t have the same mastery on the language as he does in English. With my grandma, I mean, my grandma doesn’t speak English and we have to speak Spanish with her.
My grandma from my mom’s side lives in Miami.
How do you keep in touch with the people that are in Cuba, how do you keep those connections?
So most of my mom’s family is in Miami. My dad’s family is still in Cuba, like his brother, his mom, I mean. Of course he talks with this family. How do we keep in touch? Email, and phone, yeah,
Has that been facilitated in recent years? Or how do you think that has changed over time?
I am not sure I can answer that question because I am not the one that keeps in touch, it is more like my parents. So I don’t really know. I think that is easier for them to email now than before, but I cannot say that for sure. I do know that they keep in touch through email.
A little big off topic, have you guys visited Cuba?
My mom, my brother, and I have never visited, but my dad went back to Cuba either one or two years after we left Cuba because it was actually like a business trip, it was a company he was working for, I don’t know what exactly the company did, but something about importing technology or manufacturing things, so he went to Cuba, that’s the only time.
What do you think of Cuba now, Do you feel like things are improving? Do you see some hope in, perhaps one day visiting Cuba again?
I think that things are slowly improving, there have been some changes in recent years, in regards to travelling for example, it has been made a lot easier. I would personally like to go back to Cuba. I was thinking not this summer, but the next summer, I would love to go back. I have a cousin that I don’t really know. She was born right when I left, so I only saw her when she was one month old. So I’d like to meet her. Of course I have uncles that I have not seen for 12 years, and other family like cousins that I would like to see. I do see hope, I think little but little things are starting to change and especially with the … people have more opportunity to express themselves. I am thinking of Yoani Sanchez who has a blog has been internationally recognized for his work as a journalist. She blogs about her life in Cuba and she’s written books. There is a lot of other Cuban bloggers in Cuba and also in Miami. There is a whole exchange of ideas to and fro. People in Cuba also exchange ideas in other ways, and even if they don’t have access to the Internet, they will find ways to share information from someone that was able to access the internet. So, little by little, it has generally changed.
So, coming back to where we are now. First of all, when did you decide to come all the way up here to the north again, to attend college?
It was all very sudden and not planned at all. I was a senior in high school, and it was September, I had not thought about at all what college I was going to. I guess I knew I was going to college but I had never really thought about it. I had considered some schools, but I didn’t know about Dartmouth. I found out about Dartmouth because there was an alum from my High school that had gone to Dartmouth and happened to by my boyfriend at the time best friend. He used to talk about it all the time, and he encouraged me to apply. The application was fairly simple, so I think that was probably why I did it. I didn’t want to write another essay, and Dartmouth didn’t ask me for an essay, just the common application essay. I did it. I think anything of it. I felt like probably I wasn’t going to get in. Also, it was in New Hampshire. Hanover, that sounds boring. There is a lot of trees there, what am I going to do. But I came to visit and I really liked it. It was like an emotional response, I felt Okay, I can live here for 4 years, and that’s why I chose to come here. And also because they gave me pretty financial aid.
Were your parents encouraging in you attending college?
Yeah, my parents encouraged me to attend college. My mom, of course was you know sad, and I think she didn’t want me far away. She tried to say something , but it was, I was aware that she didn’t want me to move. My mom and my dad were very supportive of my goals, and in the end.
So now, in the last section, I am going to ask some final fun questions. What is your favorite food, the one thing you crave the most? Because when you talk about experiences of migrating and such you talked about food a lot. What is that favorite dish that you can’t leave without?
Well my favorite food is not a dish but it’s a fruit. It is fruit called mamey. There is different names for it in different countries. Its an exotic food, it is common in Cuba, but in the United States I have only been able to find it in Miami. And even there is difficult to grow, the tree doesn’t give a lot of fruit all the time. It only gives once a year, it takes a lot of effort to grow. So that’s my favorite fruit. I mean, I can live without it, I do, all the time. But in an instant if you were to ask me if you could have anything right now, I would say mamey. I have asked for the fruit for my birthday, and people don’t take me seriously. I want you to get me a mamey please and they show up with something else, like. I was so clear, how could you misinterpret that. It would be mamey or mangoes. I asked my best friend to give me mangoes for my birthday and she did.
What is your fondest memory of Cuba?
Hmm, I have a lot of really fond memories from my childhood. I had a fantastic … I was always outside, always playing with other children. Just playing outside with my friends all the time, I would always come home late. I would only come home because my parents wanted me to eat, but that’s it. I’d eat and go back outside right away to play with my friends Hide and see. I’d go to the beach a lot. I lived pretty close to the beach. I lived by the coast and I had a snorkel, I had one of those, so I lived by the rocky coast and I remember one day I was there and I was just swimming. I was just exploring, It was all these fish, the rocks, it was very beautiful with a lot schools of fish passing by. I just really liked that. I could be at the beach a lot.
Do you have any other things that you’d like to share, from your experience from back in the day when you took off in that plane? How do you feel about the whole thing?
Sometimes it seems like so distant, so separate from my life now. I haven’t completely different life now. I think it is important to have conversations like these. Because sometimes not that you forget, but you don’t reflect, you don’t remember as much. I had never thought about how did I feel the day I left Cuba and things like that. It’s a hard question.
I just want so say, I find a lot of inspiration from that whole journey. In fact, my essay that I wrote to get into college was exactly about this, it was about leaving Cuba and all the changes that I had to go through and how that was hard for me, but how ultimately it was good for me too. I like change now. Not all the time, but I crave change, I always want to try new things. I don’t want to just eat the type of food I like to try different things and that is something that life taught me since I was exposed to a lot of different things. Like when I was in Canada, I had a lot of friends from other countries. I had friends that were Pakistani, my best friend was from Guyana, her family was Guyanese, and they’d share their culture with me, their traditions, their food, and that means a lot of me and it also affects me. So, I really appreciated those experiences even though it was hard for me at the time. The same thing with having a hard time, making friends because I was quiet, and I appreciate now a lot because I am not afraid of that. Every time that I was placed in a new scenario I was shy and I wasn’t afraid that I wasn’t going to make friends, but I always did and I made fantastic friends. I keep in touch with my best friends from Canada all the time. I just visited my best friend this past November. And I have another friend in Canada that I just talked to last week on Skype and keep in touch. I haven’t seen here in 7 years. I really like having friends that come from different parts and have different perspectives, and that friend, she is from Saudi Arabia but she lives in Canada. She has completely different religious beliefs from me, but I really appreciate having people that are different from me in my life. And they always teach me. That’s what life taught me through that journey.
So that’s about all the questions I wanted to ask you. Thank you so much Patty.