Tuesday, May 14, 2013

An Opportunity for Hope


Christine Rushton
May 14, 2013

Light had barely crept through the window separating humid Havana from my cool hotel room. The bell “ping” of my 5 a.m. alarm aroused my travel-burdened bones from the bed and to the bathroom. A half hour later, five of us from the Murrow group sat in the spring-loaded taxi seats on our way to the United States’ Interests Section.

Cresting the Malécon, the sun peered into my drooping eyes as the tires halted at the square outside the U.S.’s immigration interview site. My phone read 6 a.m. More than 400 Cubans stood, waiting for their visa interviews.
Weeping Park in Havana.               Christine Rushton/Murrow College

I stood frozen, shrinking as my limited journalistic experience suddenly faced hundreds of stories filled with hope, determination and defeat.

Police officers and organizers of the crowd stood on a crumbling park bench shouting directions in Spanish through a megaphone. Mothers, daughters, fathers and grandfathers all lined up in either the permanent or visitors visa line. Some huddled for support; others stood alone.

Weeping Park in Havana.               Christine Rushton/Murrow College
As I stood with my own group, inquiring, inquisitive and dismissing glances penetrated our circle of safety. What were a group of Americans doing at a Cuban emigration site before the streetlamps had even shut off? Picking up our notebooks, cameras and recorders, we answered: we have come to tell your story.

Weeping Park in Havana.               Christine Rushton/Murrow College
We interviewed several Cubans that morning. Filtering through those who could not speak English and those who feared misspeaking, we met one older man, 52, standing next to his son, 16. The man had been living and working as a construction manager in the U.S. for 20 years, but his son and wife had remained in Cuba.

“Being separated is very hard,” he said. “That is a decision that you can feel only when you get into the situation. I wouldn’t recommend for other people to be separated from the family.”

That day, after an application process that started in 2001, his son had an interview for a permanent visa. The boy wants to finish his studies in computer science and go to college in the states, but more importantly, he wants the freedom of opportunity.

“I left my country around 20 years ago and I found better living over [in the U.S.],” the father said. “I think I want this also for my son.”

The move will take the boy from his mother. The move will take him from his home. But like a theme of hope resonating through the crowds of people waiting for a chance, the move is worth it.

Residents of Havana refer to the park as Weeping Park because many people who spend their life savings and apply are refused. Thomas Palaia of the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba said roughly 600 Cubans apply for immigration to the U.S. every day; 50,000 immigrate per year, which includes those who do so with a legal visa and those who visit and don’t return to Cuba.

Weeping Park in Havana.               Christine Rushton/Murrow College
Somehow while listening to the stories of the people who had now been standing in line for more than an hour, I could not place them in a numbered statistic. They have souls and dreams. No number is stamped on the back of their work-worn hands.

Closing our notebooks, shutting off our records and shaking the hands of those we had interviewed, we jumped in a cab back to the hotel. The sun now hovered, reflecting images of Havana on the water’s rippling surface along the way. But the waves swept by unnoticed in my glazed eyes. Never before had I experienced such a concentration of determination. Through my journalistic approach, I gained an appreciation for opportunity.

No comments:

Post a Comment