For a better future and life: From Cuba to Alhambra

Alhambra Source and real estate developers Sam and Jackie Wong organized a scholarship in May that asked college and high school students from Alhambra to answer questions about their name, heritage, and growing up a child of immigrants in the San Gabriel Valley. The selected essays will be published once a week. The piece below is written by East Los Angeles College student Jane Fernandez. The 23 year old won publication for her essay about her Cuban American parents' struggles and growing up a child of immigrants. Read Fernandez's essay below and check out the other winning essays we've published.

Although I am an immigrant I do not feel like one. I arrived from Cuba with my family when I was 8 years old. Immigrating to the United States at such a young age erased the few memories I had of my native land. I might have an accent that’s different from American-born citizens but I feel as American as they are.

Being the child of an immigrant made me not understand a lot of what my parents did. All I knew was that I had a home, I had food on our table, and I had toys, and that was enough for me. Now that I’m older and I know the struggles my parents had to go through, I am proud of them.

As recent immigrants my parents were always working. My dad started working at a glass company two weeks after arriving from Cuba. There he worked nights and in the morning he slept and worked at a restaurant. My mom started working with seniors, something she was not used to doing. Being 8 years old and my brother 6, we would cry at night telling my dad not to leave for work. We wanted him to stay home but he knew he couldn’t.

My parents started taking up different jobs, always saving up to give my brother and I a better future. Not the best jobs, but that’s all they were able to get. Then they started going to night school where they renewed their high school diplomas.

Fernandez reading her essay at the Sam and Jackie Wong-Alhambra Source Scholarship Ceremony.

We had an old car that my brother and I were embarrassed to be seen in. Things felt limited at times but we would always go out on the weekend as is the custom in Cuba.

As time went by, I started falling behind in school. My parents weren’t able to help me with my homework. Their English wasn’t good enough. As part of my parents’ desire for me to do good in school, my mom took on English classes. She would sit next to me and try to help me as much as possible.  My mom learned enough English to communicate with my friends but still not enough to get a better job. Meanwhile, after a work-related injury, my dad got a chance to go back to school. I remember seeing my dad studying more than I did. I would go through his books and ask him what he was doing–he was taking a step toward his “American Dream.”

Seeing my parents trying hard made me really happy. I knew that it was never too late to go back to school. And what my parents were doing was different, they were supporting each other.  I was very proud of my dad, he was a role model to me and what made me the happiest was that he was finally able to study something he enjoyed since he never had a chance to go to college in Cuba. 

Fernandez (left) with her grandmother at 8th grade graduation from Northrup Elementary School.

After my dad finished school, and my mom kept working with seniors, once again life felt limited. When all my neighbors had the latest video games, I had to wait until they let me borrow it to play it because my dad couldn’t afford it. My parents also started cutting activities we usually enjoyed during the summer.

I started feeling poor, like my parents didn’t have enough money to spend. We even stopped going out to eat on weekends and our weekly trips stopped. I never compared my parents to my friends’ parents, but I would tell my parents that the house was really boring without cable television and it was embarrassing bringing my friends over.

I thought we were always going to live in the same apartment. I thought that as immigrants they would never get past the two bedroom, limited space unit. My parents never told me what their plans were, so it was a surprise when I found out we were moving. At first I thought it was because we didn’t have money to pay rent, but then I found out it was because my parents had bought a house. All their struggles and hard work had finally paid off.

Fernandez as a high school student, at age 15.

Being the child of immigrant parents can be a struggle, sometimes limited, maybe embarrassing. But it’s a learning experience that leaves you happy to be your parents’ child. Being an immigrant is getting a second chance in life, and my immigrant parents got a second chance to have everything they had always wanted. They gave my brother and me a better future and life.

Essay was lightly edited and condensed.

Read the other winning essays: 

"Stages of shame: A young Chinese American's story" by Shannon Ho"From rebellion to respect" by Yvonne Lee"Latina, Chicana, mestizo: The labels that define us" by Vanessa Solis"'I am a survivor'" by Jessica Ramos"Relating to superheros: A young immigrant and her secret identity" by Valerie Cabral"The nameless Cambodian boy" by Dara Dan

3 thoughts on “For a better future and life: From Cuba to Alhambra”

  1. Great essay by Jane. But the picture caption should read “Fernandez (bottom left)”. Cheers.

    1. Good catch, Ron, thanks for letting us know. I've made the correction.

  2. Great story and thanx to Sam & Jackie Wong for investing in the future.

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