A Life Interrupted
One year ago, Diana and Randy were living in their home country of Cuba and pursuing careers in medicine. Diana was in her fourth year of medical school, and Randy had begun his residency to prepare for work as an OBGYN.
When she could, Diana visited her mother in Trinidad. With each trip, she became more aware of how life in Trinidad differed from life in Cuba – how greater freedom and a higher quality of life existed outside her home country. “[In Cuba], they say they are the only country in the world where education is free and medicine is free. That’s basically a lie. When you go to Trinidad, there’s public health, and even the actual medicine you buy is free,” Diana says. These realizations left her feeling betrayed by her country’s government.
Diana decided to share her anger and concerns on social media. On the anniversary of the July 11, 2021 protests against the Cuban government—which had been brutally suppressed—Cubans again took to the streets. Inspired, Diana hung a white cloth on her home in solidarity with the protestors. That one action would change her and Randy’s lives entirely.
Cuban authorities took notice and quickly found Diana’s Facebook page. The repercussions were swift. Randy was fired from his job and Diana was kicked out of medical school. Messages came pouring into Diana’s social media accounts issuing death threats. Randy was warned that he should leave Diana as she would bring him trouble, but he stood by her side.
“[In Cuba] you can lose all your life because of a [social media] post,” Diana says. “It doesn’t make sense. Randy had six or seven years studying medicine for nothing. I was fourth in my class in school. They didn’t care when they kicked me out.”
A New Home
Diana felt a sense of safety when she and Randy first arrived at Logan Airport in Boston
Diana and Randy would spend a year in Trinidad, waiting for their next steps and a chance to put down roots somewhere safe. Finally, granted refugee status, Diana and Randy were relocated to Massachusetts this September.
“The first thing that really hit me was the big flag in the airport,” Diana remembers. “It felt safe. Like finally we were in the one place where we could get the help we needed.”
Diana and Randy felt welcomed right away. IINE team members greeted Diana and Randy at the airport and brought them to a hotel room where a warm meal was waiting for them. Within weeks, an IINE Housing Coordinator had found and furnished an apartment for them outside of Boston. “It’s amazing,” says Diana, “It’s really big for us, and has a lot of windows so we get a lot of light. It’s beautiful.”
“The location is really amazing,” Randy adds, smiling. “Everything is near: bus stops, Market Basket, CVS. It’s a 5- to 10- minute walk from everything you really need.”
Still, starting fresh in an entirely new community and country had its challenges. Randy remembers feeling like from the airport on, everything was just so much bigger and more sprawling than he was used to in Cuba. For Diana, it was difficult “understanding the system here. Everything is different and you need to pay attention to all the details,” she says, “and getting into the bus and subway, that’s new for us. We never went into the subway before.”
Diana and Randy wait at a bus stop near their new home
IINE Case Specialist Annis Roberts connected them with federal benefits, including food, cash assistance, and medical services and helped them navigate their new home. “Annis helped us with everything related to learning how to live here, like doctors’ appointments, dental appointments,” says Diana, “everything really—and she’s really good at explaining what to do.”
Randy, who is less advanced in English than Diana, is grateful to be enrolled in an IINE English for Speakers of Other Languages class and is eager to improve. One of his first assignments felt particularly poignant for him, and for Diana who helped him with it. He was asked to write about the most important dish in his country. Randy and Diana had no idea what this might be; usually they barely had enough to eat. An internet search told them that Cuba’s national food was a beef dish called “Ropa Vieja.” They were shocked, recalling that it was illegal for Cuban citizens to eat beef as cows were used only for extracting and exporting milk. It was a reminder of the way communication was controlled and manipulated in his former country as he worked to learn the language of his new home.
Like most new arrivals to the U.S., Diana and Randy were eager to join the workforce as quickly as possible. They are relieved and excited that IINE Employment Case Specialist Liz Kunesh helped them secure jobs within their first three months.
“She really helped us with everything related to work,” says Diana. “Helping us apply for jobs and helping us fill in every paper document—that was really amazing because some of the papers were really confusing.”
Liz taught them how to prepare their resumes, practice interviewing, and find and apply for job openings relevant to their interests and experience. Diana says that she called or texted them before every job interview. “‘Do you have any questions? Do you need to practice anything?,” and arranged for rideshares for them when public transportation wasn’t available. “We really felt supported every time we had to do something new.”
Randy has now started working as a Home Healthcare Aide. He feels very lucky not only to have a job related to his training but also the first job he applied for, since he was warned in orientation that it may take a while. He’s already thinking about the future:
“We appreciate that although we got jobs already, there are sessions that are informative about other careers…I think we could start working, also at night, [with the goal to] not to be in one place, to work, and also to study, and to improve.”
Diana has started working as a Beauty Associate in a duty-free shop at Logan Airport, the place that gave her that first feeling of safety here. “It’s really amazing. When I was a child, all I thought about was planes. I really like them. Maybe because in Cuba it’s really weird to see a plane or be around an airport—those careers are really only for the military, it’s really amazing that I can work in the airport.”
“I was really worried before coming here,” says Diana. “Everything was going to be new, and we don’t know anything about life, but it feels calming for me that people are always there to ask questions to. Everybody is kind to you, treats you well. That’s amazing. It’s really welcoming to have people who are kind to you even when you’re not from here. We are really thankful—for this country and everyone at IINE that really helped us.”