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Adaptation To Another Way Of Life

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Consuelo Perera Rodriguez immigrated to America from Cuba in 1961. She left everything she knew behind to escape the intense political climate of Cuba, right before the rule of Fidel Castro. She left at the age of 19, but lied and said she was 17 in order to receive help under Operation Peter Pan. Operation Peter Pan was the mass exodus of over 14,000 minors to Cuba between 1960 and 1962. This program was created by Father Bryan O. Walsh of the Catholic Welfare Bureau. It was not publicized for fear of it being deemed an Anti-Castro sentiment. Connie left because her parents wanted her to, they knew it would no longer be safe for her in Cuba because of how their people were being treated. Their family was middle class, so they couldn’t afford protection, but were still at risk of being targeted by the government because they were not lower class. Connie says that the hardest part of leaving and immigrating to a new country was leaving her parents behind, despite the fact that they told her to. Another one of the biggest obstacles she said she had to overcome was learning english and adapting to a different way of life. Cubans during this time were not welcome in Florida and faced many struggles falling under the category of discrimination. She told me that there were signs posted around the town that said, “No pets, no children and no Cubans allowed”.

The fact that her people were being compared to animals just for seeking political asylum is so wrong. It was also nearly impossible to find a place to live, they were not allowed to rent apartments so their only choice was to buy property which was extremely hard for a young immigrant with nearly no money. The US government only let them bring three articles of clothing with them, they gave them 100$ and an apartment to live in for 3 months rent free, then they had to figure it out for themselves. She claims everything was so different from simplistic things like food and weather to more serious things like government and discrimination. She came from parents who did not have above a middle school education, and made a life for herself here. Her husband Emilio could not immigrate with her (he was too old and they weren’t married yet) so he went to Spain first and then received a visa to come here. Connie did not have to work until 1977 because Emilio was able to support her.

Dahl talks about masculine and feminine power roles in different cultures in his writing, he quotes Hofstead who says, “Masculinity/femininity is an equally powerful, yet often understated, dimension. Hofstede defines this dimension as follows: ‘masculinity pertains to societies in which social gender roles are clearly distinct (i.e., men are supposed to be assertive, tough, and focused on material success whereas women are supposed to be more modest, tender, and concerned witht the quality of life); femininity pertains to societies in which social gender roles overlap” Her husband supported her before he was even in America so some gender roles, such as the man taking care of the woman cross cultural boundaries. Connie was the first Cuban to ever get married in Portland, and her best friend Rosa was the first Cuban to immigrate to Portland before here, so she claims.

Her first job was with the Bank of America, and then she later went on to work for the Department of Defense in the engineering department doing paperwork. Her story is nothing short of incredible, leaving her family at a young age, immersing herself in a culture where she wasn’t accepted for years, making a life for herself and succeeding despite the odds. The most powerful thing she told me in our interview was this, “Discrimination happens to anyone, it’s up to you to prove you are better than what people think you are. I came from a place where we had nothing, that was what I loved about America, that with hard work and determination you can become whatever you want. Nothing can stop you.”

Intercultural communication is vital to our way of life. Speaking the native tongue of our country, or having your parents live in the same country has you is something we take for granted everyday. I have never faced discrimination based off my race or nationality, and that is my privilege. Connie left an unstable country, her parents fearing for her safety, just to come to a country that visibly and aggressively discriminated against her for being from a certain place. Where she is from is something she has no control over. One story she told me was how a man did not want to rent an apartment to her because of her nationality. After basically begging him, he agreed to let her lease from him, a terrible run down apartment with no shower and essentially everything in it was broken. After 2 years of living there, the owner of the apartment asked Connie for help finding another cuban to rent his other apartment, because he liked her so much. She changed his mindset about Cuban people and proved you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. She proved that she was better than what he thought of her. It is so easy to have a bias towards someone you don’t know because it’s a cultural norm. It’s easy to follow the status quo, and not question your own dislike for someone because it’s what everyone else is doing.

Her struggle to prove that she is a decent person and deserved the same rights as other Americans was not easy to overcome. She told me many people thought Cubans were thieves because in Cuba they had to steal to survive. Many came to this country and had no money, and were used to stealing back home in order to live, so they didn’t understand that what they were doing was wrong6. She says that her people valued hard work and equality, but they were thought of as thieves because of a select group of people who didn’t understand the culture change when they moved here. Culture change can be difficult and observing other cultures is also not an easy feat because assumptions can take out the scientific side of studying another culture. In the Stephen Dahl reading he writes about observing other cultures and cultural norms, it is relevant to this paper because I am getting insight to a big cultural change. Dahl writes, “As culture is shared, it implies that it is not necessarily directly connected to the individual on the one hand, yet at the same time it is problematic to establish how many individuals who share a culture make up any one culture. In everyday language words like Latin culture suggest that countries as diverse as Italy, Spain and Brazil share a common culture.” I cannot assume that because of Connie’s experience, every single one of the 14,000 other children who immigrated had the same experience. For some it may have been easier, and for some it may have been harder. Learning from her singular experience is interesting and important, but it should not alter my view of the entire culture she came from or what she experienced in Florida and Oregon.

From the “Ethics in Intercultural Communication” reading the authors discuss a concept known as the Humanness Principle, that is relative to intercultural communications. I think many people should try to use this principle to understand people and many people could’ve used it when all of the Cuban children came to America as a part of the Peter Pan Operation. The authors wrote, “Although proposed by several scholars, the following description of the humanness principle is from philosopher Christopher L. Johnstone: ‘to be human suggests that one’s conduct is guided by a respect for and a tenderness toward others’ beings… a humanist ethic requires that the individual be responsive in his or her actions to the impact they might have on the humanity to those affected by the act. It demands, finally, that one conduct oneself as as to maximize opportunity for cultivating in oneself and in others an awareness and appreciation of humanness.’” Humanness can change the way intercultural communication occurs by creating mutual respect and appreciation for other cultures. Communicating from a place of curiosity instead of disdain can be crucial in solving issues of discrimination, similarly to what Connie faced.

To conclude, Connie’s story is a powerful one about hardship, cultural change, and strength. At nineteen I don’t think I could’ve done what she did, leaving her family behind, facing cultural discrimination, and completely immersing myself in a new country with nothing but the clothes on my back. Her story is one, but their are 14,000 other ones that are similar to hers. If those other child immigrants had been treated with more humanness, the world might be a little different, a little more positive. She had so many positive takeaways from her immigration, and it tells me a lot about her strength. She spoke about the american dream, about how you can do anything if you work hard enough and I find it inspiring. Intercultural communication is important, because it gives people a chance to hear and learn about experiences like Connie’s. We can learn so much from other cultures if we listen with respect and openness, and if we put aside biases and discrimination. This is so important to our current political climate, where immigration seems to be the headline of so many recent news reports. We should listen to people who wish to immigrate here, learn from their experiences, and make the world better simply by intercultural communication. 

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