Audio Recording of Interview
Aurora talks about her journey from Cuba to Miami, her father designing his own raft to escape famine conditions in the island nation after the fall of the Soviet bloc. She discusses how coming to the U.S. and living in a refugee camp made her question her identity and the impact that pressure to assimilate into American culture had on her.
Other interviews of this person can be found below:
Date: January 9th, 2019
Location: 13th Street in Union Square
Summary: Aurora talks about her journey from Cuba to Miami, her father designing his own raft to escape famine conditions in the island nation after the fall of the Soviet bloc. She discusses how coming to the U.S. and living in a refugee camp made her question her identity and the impact that pressure to assimilate into American culture had on her.
Topics: Childhood, Identity, Family
Section 1: (00:00-08:35)
Family: Most of Aurora’s family had left or were attempting to leave Cuba when she was younger but her immediate family had not because she and her brother were very young.
Fleeing: Aurora and her family tried to leave Cuba for the first time when she was 10 years old, but something went wrong with their raft so they had to swim back to Cuba and make sure they didn’t get caught.
Parents: Both of Aurora’s parents were doctors and because they received free education to become doctors, they were unable to leave Cuba with extreme consequences. Her mom quit her job as a doctor in order to avoid this issue.
Section 2: (08:35-14:33)
Childhood: At the age of 13, Aurora’s family had made plans to flee Cuba however at that point Aurora did not want to leave as she was in school and had already made close friends.
Fleeing: Aurora’s dad was given a Russian car and therefore had access to an engine that her family used to create a raft to flee Cuba from. The entire family worked together to help build and design the raft.
Family: Aurora’s family told her that she had no choice but to leave Cuba with them and that it would happen, one way or another.
Food Conditions: In the early 90s when the Soviet Bloc ended, the conditions in Cuba worsened. There were times when Aurora and her family had almost nothing to eat and had to wake up at 5 am to get in line for a piece of bread.
Section 3: (14:33-22:08)
Leaving Cuba: Aurora did not want to leave Cuba but she knew that she had no choice. Along with her family, there were other people who would be leaving on the raft with them including a 5 year old.
Journey from Cuba to US: They traveled for 8-10 hours on the raft until they could no longer see Cuba. During the journey, their engineer stopped working but they had designed a sail on the raft and used that to travel.
Getting Rescued: While traveling to the US, Aurora and the other passengers on the raft were rescued by the US Navy on a boat with numerous other Cubans who were leaving Cuba. There were so many people on the rescue boat that they ran out of food and people were eating toothpaste.
Section 4: (22:08-30:17)
Arriving at a Camp: The US Navy boat took the Cuban refugees to Guantanamo Bay where there were numerous camps that the refugees got split into.
School: There was a school structure formed at the camps for the children but Aurora refused to go because she did not want to learn English and be assimilated. Her brother on the other hand tried his best to learn the language.
Hobbies: At the camp, Aurora and her mother would go on runs a lot. Additionally, Aurora would also read whenever she could find a book and rea;zied that also enjoyed photography and got a camera from the Marines and took pictures.
Life at the Camp: There were a lot of people at the camp and it was very hot there. There was no privacy there and most people had to live in tents, which was made worse due to the heat.
Section 5: (30:17-38:43)
Life outside of the Camp: Aurora’s brother was a classical pianist so in order to have an opportunity to play, the priest of a church would take Aurora’s entire family out of the camp to the town so her brother could play the piano. This gave her an opportunity to see what was outside of the camp.
Identity: Everyone at the camp was given an ID number so they were identified by their ID number rather than their names which led Aurora to feel like she was just a number.
Vetting Process: To leave the camp and come to the US, the refugees had to go through a long vetting process where their blood was taken, a background check was done, and they were asked numerous questions by social workers.
Leaving the Camp: Aurora and her family were at the camp for 10 months but as a child it felt much longer to her, before she and her family could leave and enter the US.
Section 6: (38:43-47:09)
Moving to America: Upon leaving the camp in Guantanamo Bay, Aurora and her family went to Miami where her dad’s brother also lived.
Education: Aurora enrolled in high school and then later community college and did her best to learn English and fit in. After two years of community college, Aurora finished the last two years of college in New York at Cooper Union to study art.
Family Dynamic: Aurora moved away from home and her parents got divorced, and their family dynamic changed. It was hard adjusting to everyone’s new future but ultimately both of Aurora’s parents pursued their own careers and eventually got back together.
Reflecting: Until her 20s, Aurora ignored what she went through going from Cuba to America. When she started reflecting, she realized that she would have liked to stay in Cuba and was upset that her parents had made all these decisions for her. But she also understood where they were coming from.
Section 7: (47:09-56:39)
Resilience: Aurora started a project where she began to talk to people from Guantanamo Bay and their experiences upon coming to America and would at times film it if the people felt comfortable. Through this project, she learned she was not alone in her feelings and it helped her deal with her trauma.
Assimilation: Aurora had a hard time assimilating especially in high school. She did not want to learn the language and wanted to go back to Cuba to be with her grandmother. She felt a strong connection to Cuba and did not want to lose that by assimilating.
Cuban Culture: Certain music helps Aurora feel more connected to her roots. She also finds that dancing helps her feel more connected with her own body.