When I was asked to write about my political history in the United States as a Cuban-American, I could not help but look back and remember May 1980 when I arrived in this country as part of the Mariel Boatlift. Approximately 125,000 Cubans, like my family and me, migrated that year in search of better opportunities and freedom from a totalitarian communist regime. My grandfather was one of many Miami residents who ventured into the sea on boats arriving from the United States to El Mariel, a port in Havana, in search of their relatives in Cuba. Thankfully, Democratic President Jimmy Carter generously opened South Florida’s shores to welcome the waves of Cuban exiles.
Fidel Castro, in order to discredit the legitimate Cuban families leaving the island, emptied jails and forced criminals into the boats. He also let go of patients with mental health conditions as a retaliatory measure. With this cunning move he declared that all Cubans fleeing the country at that time were escorias, in other words, lower class undesirables with criminal records. The unexpected and fast influx negatively impacted the American public view of Cubans. Although we had to endure some cultural impacts during the early years of our arrival, we have demonstrated that we were worth the chance. Cubans from the 1980 exodus in their overwhelming majority have been a positive addition to this society.
As I look back to those days, I cannot help but identify myself with the thousands of new immigrants trying to escape their countries, searching for a better life, the same way we did. Unfortunately, immigrants today are not as lucky as we were in 1980. Jimmy Carter cared for us and respected us. He understood the importance of immigrants in American history. One way or another, we are all immigrants who arrived to this country searching for the American dream. Sadly, today’s president is not as welcoming and has initiated a “witch hunt” against all immigrants. The sad and unjust stories of deportation of asylum seekers and separation of parents from their children continue to pile up, while an unprecedented fear keeps growing among our communities.
As a Cuban immigrant, I embraced the opportunities of living in this great country. I grew and advanced in this society through education and hard work. I built a family that I am proud to present to the world. Today, a once Cuban Marielita is the proud mother of a young reservist Master Sgt. of the Air Force who fought to preserve our freedom and democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. He continues to serve this amazing country while working for the State Department overseas.
My political involvement started when I became a naturalized citizen in the late 80s and started voting. Coming from a country where voting rights did not exist, having that privilege became essential for me. I finally had a voice! Initially, I joined the Republican party, mainly because I admired President Ronald Reagan, the president at the time. A few years later, my discontent for the Republican party grew more prominent as I recognized they did not represent my ideologies, interests and needs.
During President George W. Bush’s first term, I became an independent, especially when he decided to invade Iraq, which I vigorously opposed. I left my voting options open by becoming an independent, but always with a more prominent Democratic-voting tendency.
Today, the little respect I had for the Republican party has been crushed as I witness the great American dream dying. Our nation’s wounds open deeper while our country bleeds. I feel the impotence of not knowing how to help it heal—violence, racial riots, abuse of power and hatred flood the streets.
Our commander-in-chief speaks, and no hope or solution is heard. Instead he insults his political opponents like a school bully, even threatening to throw them in jail. On top of this, we are dealing with a worldwide pandemic, and our present government decides to take things lightly while playing down the seriousness and urgency of the situation. Americans die every day while our president continues to say, “We have it totally under control.” But in reality, nothing is right, Mr. President.
This election’s importance is vital. We have one shot at making it right. We need to concentrate on what matters. We need a president who respects us, regardless of race, gender, or religion; a president who restores order and decency, who helps improve our health system, especially for our elderly with preexisting conditions, helps us fight this pandemic responsibly and revitalize our economy while making our streets and schools safer and free of violence and hatred; a president ready to fight for all of us— the middle and low classes and the immigrants who come to work hard and help make this country a more prosperous place; a president who reestablishes our alliances and respect internationally.
Many of my fellow Cuban immigrants are understandably wary of socialists regimes that promise free services and equality for all people. These promises remind them of those made by Castro at the beginning of its Revolución which eventually consumed the island. That is why they make the leap into thinking that Democrats have a similar agenda. However, I know that the extreme repression and lack of opportunities that we lived in in Cuba could not be further from the Democratic party’s goal. Ensuring that everyone regardless of race and wealth has the same opportunities to grow and prosper does not mean forcing everyone to give up their businesses nor demonizing those who are fortunate enough to live in wealth. However, I fear Republican Cubans have fallen into the trap of trusting in another dictator and demagogue, who is in fact quite similar to the one they left behind.
After more than 30 years of living in exile and having adopted Miami as my hometown, I still cannot forget my roots and heritage. The question “where am I from?” still lurks in my mind. “A Cuban transplant“ is what I always respond to. I have learned to love and respect this country. It makes me sad to hear that we need to make “America Great Again.” America has never stopped being great. Yet, if there is a time when America’s greatness is being tested, it is today.
It is the time to stand up and vote. Let’s make our voice heard loud and clear. We need to elect a president who loves this country and its foundations, who is ready to defend and respect our constitution, who unites us again, and who is prepared to rescue our nation from the ashes and make it ressurge again more potent than ever. We need a proven leader. We need Joe Biden.
Mayda Herrera is an undergraduate student at the University of Miami majoring in creative writing.