My mom, Carmen Mena Elsensohn, and her family were immigrants to the United States from Cuba. “The American Dream”, to me, is having freedom, peace, opportunity, equality, happiness, and hope.” They arrived in America on September 1, 1970 in Miami, Florida. My mother was only eight years old, so one can imagine the struggle and pain one can endure when leaving a country that she knew and moving to one of which she knew nothing. She lived in a rural, country area called Pinar Del Río which she describes as being very green with lots of sugarcane and many poor people, her family included. After long days of playing with homemade baby dolls and building mud dams with her cousins, she remembers gathering with her family and eating cena (dinner) that typically consisted of black beans, rice, fruits, pork, and vegetables.
Mí Abuelo (my grandfather), Nazario Mena, is a true hero for sacrificing everything he knew and loved along with his family in Cuba whom he adored. He knew that the United States could give him freedom and ample opportunities to live a life that was true to a phrase that kept him going, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Although he knew he would miss his family, my grandfather wanted to come to the United States because he felt that there was no future in a communist country and wanted more for his wife and children . Once people found out that my family was planning on migrating to the United States, people started turning their backs on them, calling the Menas maggots and sending my grandfather off to work in weird places far away from the family. Even some of their closest family turned on them and stopped talking to them altogether. However, this didn’t stop him. It made him more anxious to leave and start anew in the best country in the world.
My mother barely remembers her trip to the United States. She somewhat erased it from her memories. Besides, who would want to remember not understanding anything, missing family, and not knowing where you were? The only concrete thing she knew about the U.S. was that is was supposed to be a better place. She does remember walking into a gift shop at the airport; something new and wildly interesting to someone like her; smelling the clean, soothing aroma of flowers; and feeling the crisp air.
The following week they moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, where my grandfather still lives today. In fact the house my grandparents live in the same house they bought in 1978 after living around the Gentilly area for several years. When my mother and her siblings started school, their biggest struggle was the language barrier. She remembers having separation anxiety and crying because she was away from her mother with nobody to talk to and lots to say. Eventually they all warmed to the idea of school and made friends and relationships.
Today my mom and my abuelo say that they are 99% American and 1% Cuban. They are glad to have this life and would not trade it for the world. They both are proud to be Americans, and each time they hear the “Star Spangled Banner,” they get chills because it has such a real meaning to them. Some people grow up in the United States and take for granted what they have, but my family has never taken anything for granted. I am enormously proud to be part of the Mena-Elsensohn family and really proud of the Menas for overcoming adversity, staying true to themselves, and being a humble family.
Submitted by Cody Elsensohn (Crusader Correspondence Writer)