Cuban immigrant took up new life for her children

From 4 p.m. to midnight, she wears a green uniform and yellow rubber gloves.

Esperanza Camacho has worked as a janitor at the University of Miami for the past two years, but may not have come to Miami had it not been for her son.

Fifteen years ago, Camacho enrolled her 14-year-old son Lazaro in the New World School of the Arts in downtown Miami. They had traveled to the United States from Cuba the day before. Neither one spoke a word of English.

“I had never been on an elevator before,” Camacho said of the first time she entered the school. “I was staring at all these buttons and figured I would just press any number and see if we were right.”

Camacho and her son navigated through the unfamiliar corridors and discovered what floor they should be on by looking at the paintings on the walls. They finally found the floor with pictures of people dancing.

“He was accepted the moment they saw him dance,” she said.

Four years later, Lazaro graduated first in his class and went on to attend the Juilliard School in New York City, and later opened his own modern dance studio.

“Sorry if I start to cry when I talk about my varon, but he is just the best person I know who deserved every little bit of success he got,” she said.

The fact that her son’s talent would go to waste in Cuba had become harder to ignore as he grew older, she said. It did not take long for Camacho’s daughter to convince her that leaving Cuba would be worth the struggle.

In 1992, she married a local Miami politician, Manolo Soza. Her cousin organized a civil marriage between Camacho and Soza, and she flew to Miami shortly after as a legal U.S. citizen.

But the matrimony did not last long, and her husband’s name was all she said about the marriage.

“It was just what I had to do,” she said. “And as soon as we figured everything out and I could stay here, we went our separate ways.”

Camacho moved in with her cousin and immediately started working as a cleaning lady in different public places in Miami and Tampa before she came to UM.

“It was obviously hard to live here at first,” Camacho said. “I felt frustrated that I did not know any English, and I just wanted my babies to be happy. But I had it much easier than most, and I can say that even though I have pains in my neck and in my back, I am happy.”

Camacho now lives with her 34-year-old daughter and her 6-year-old grandson. In the morning, she takes her daughter to work and her grandson to school, and in the afternoon she picks them up again before she puts on her UNICCO uniform and drives to UM.

Still, Camacho said she just wished she had more time “to do good work.”

“I like to leave the desks [at UM] clean for the kids the next day and I like to clean the whiteboards my own special way with soap, so that all the marker doesn’t get on anyone’s fingers. For the kids, you know?”

Daniela Dello Joio may be contacted at