When I was 4 years old, my parents, escaping the communist regime, immigrated to Miami, Florida from Havana Cuba. My household consisted of my parents, my older brother, my maternal grandparents, and me. Like countless other families, my family moved to the United States in search of a better life. After leaving Cuba, we lived in Madrid, Spain for 6 months. This was a difficult time of extreme economic uncertainty. As a child, I remember very little of the struggles my family faced, but some memories do stick with us forever.
Having left behind almost all their worldly possessions, my parents and grandparents struggled economically. As immigrants, the government did not allow my parents to legally work so we found ourselves homeless and without a source of income. We slept in homeless shelters and ate in soup kitchens. As the child of immigrants, I was not allowed to attend school. Upon leaving Cuba, my grandfather was able to bring with him a box of his prized cigars, which he treasured. One morning in December, he went out looking for work, and again was unsuccessful. When he returned home, he grabbed his box of cigars and went out to trade it for something useful. Hours later he returned. He had traded his box of cigars, but he had not traded it for money. He had not traded it for food. He had traded it for a 6-inch plastic doll in a pink dress. That doll was my first gift from my grandfather in a new land of uncertainty and fear. In that act, of trading his prized cigars for a doll, my grandfather showed me that no matter how bad things got, his love for me superseded all things and gave me hope that we would make it.