top of page

Interview for

Natalia Hernandez


Interviewed By:

Rosmeilyn Jerez

Date Interviewed:

Audio Recording of Interview
00:00 / 1:50:09

Born in Güines, Cuba, Natalia immigrated to Miami, Florida at the age of 9 with family. She compares her experiences in the American education system to that of Cuba and describes her immigration process as well as her relationship with her family, faith, and politics.

Other Interviews

Other interviews of this person can be found below:

Additional Notes

Narrator: Natalia Hernandez

Date: July 25, 2020

Location: Ithaca, New York (Virtual)

Summary: Natalia Hernandez, an immigrant from Cuba, discusses her childhood in Cuba and the process of immigrating to America with her family. She also goes into detail about her experiences as a Latina in high school and college at Cornell University.

Topics: Childhood, Education, Politics, Immigration Process, Family, Cultural Adjustment, Employment, Cultural Adjustment, Religion, Pandemic, Mental Health, Discrimination, Politics


Section 1: (00:00-15:02)

  • Childhood- Born and raised in Güines, Cuba until age 9, then immigrated to Miami, Florida in a neighborhood known as “North Cuba” with family

  • Education- Noticed differences between schooling and school culture in Cuba and the U.S. (i.e. uniforms, teachers)

  • Politics, Childhood- Recounts a story where something she said was interpreted as being pro-Capitalism and getting in trouble with her teacher

  • Immigration Process- Having to keep it a secret that her family was planning on moving because of the backlash that comes to families that leave

  • Family, Politics- Family is split on how they feel about communism

  • Some are staunch supporters of Castro, others are tired of the poverty and living conditions

  • Family- Varadero is a special place to her because her parents met there and they have a family home there where she grew up visiting

  • Showed the interviewer a jewelry holder her uncle made out of shells from the beach in Varadero

Section 2: (15:02-28:01)

  • Immigration Process- Remembers her family trying to move furniture out in secret at 3:00am because they lived right next to what was essentially a Communist Party neighborhood watch group

  • Recalls the immigration process at the airport in Cuba and all of her family members being there to send them off

  • Immigration Process- The U.S. immigration process was much worse than Cuba. Having to wait in “el cuartico” or “the room” for hours before they were allowed to enter

  • Immigration Process- Delayed because her dad’s name was Fidel and her brother did not complete the mandatory year of service to the Communist Party

  • Family- Family in the U.S. that she had never met was there to greet her family

  • Family, Immigration Process- Grandpa “claimed” their family to have them immigrate, which is a relatively easier way to immigrate even with all that they had to go through

  • Education, Immigration Process- Part of the reason for keeping immigration secret was to prevent teachers and students from treating her differently

Section 3: (28:01-41:54)

  • Family- Grandpa had rented an apartment for their family, so they had their own space upon immigrating

  • Cultural Adjustment, Education- Had a very difficult time adjusting to school in the U.S. because of the language barrier despite being a good student in Cuba

  • Had many mean teachers

  • Employment- Mother and father at first struggled to find work, then had working hours  that made it difficult to see them

  • Education- School psychologist started tutoring her English and became a support person

  • Education- Struggled a lot with school in fourth grade, but got more comfortable in 5th grade. Schooling became more intense in 6th grade at the charter school

  • Language- Starting processing mentally in English rather than translating to Spanish in her mind in the 8th grade

  • Feels privileged to have immigrated young because she became more comfortable with English

Section 4: (41:54-1:00:06)

  • Education, Family- Pressure from her parents to get all A’s, go to college, and attain a better life– internalizing that mentality

  • Education, Family- Was the first person in her family to really try and aim for out-of-state and Ivy Leagues, so she didn’t have much help from them

  • Education- Applied to many Ivies and prestigious schools with the help of her school counselor and friends that had gotten into these schools in prior years

  • Applied to Cornell the day of the deadline and received a “likely letter” the day after

  • Family- College application and selection process was difficult for her because her parents didn’t understand the process.

  • Cultural Difference- College process in Cuba was very different which is why it was hard for her parents to understand

  • Religion, Education- Mother told her of a college friend in Cuba who was ranked lower as a student because she went to church often

Section 5: (1:00:06-1:14:54)

  • Religion- Grew up Catholic but considers herself to be spiritual, not religious

  • Went to church for special occasions

  • Realized she didn’t adhere to Catholicism or Christianity around 15/16 after her “uncle” passed

  • Became more spiritual in college

  • Religion, Politics- Faced backlash from her extended family when she thought she was atheist because atheism was so closely associated with Communism and generally being a bad person

  • Religion- Sees morality as tied to religion within the Latinx and Cuban community

  • Religion- In her freshman year, she had discussions around spirituality with friends and in classes. She was thinking about what she believed and how she could believe in multiple things

  • Got into Astrology

  • Religion- When she identified as Atheist she was associated as being more American and less Cuban

  • Pandemic, Religion- Difficult to have deeper conversations with her parents over the phone

Section 6: (1:14:54-1:26:35)

  • Pandemic, Employment/Service- Was working at the Office of Student Advocates at the onset of the pandemic, so she was trying to get resources for students and lobby administration

  • Wasn’t processing the events that were taking place because she was doing a lot of work

  • Pandemic- Was living in the dorms at the onset of the pandemic, did not feel like she was in a stable place

  • Observed that the economy was prioritized over people, specifically marginalized peoples

  • Identity- She is thankful to be a citizen and for the opportunities she has gotten, but still critical of the country and its injustices

  • Politics- During the Black Lives Matter protests, she noticed a lot of performative actions by corporations and white Americans, but also genuine people on the ground at protests.

  • Also witnessed rage in the form of riots and protests from oppressed peoples

  • Politics- Got into Facebook fights over Black Lives Matter with Cuban family who immigrated in the 60s/70s and who have since accumulated generational wealth

  • Many white Cubans consistently support Trump and are racist

  • Perceived as communist for voting Bernie

Section 7 (1:26:35-1:35:42)

  • Education- Had negative experiences in PSP, a free freshman summer program for Cornell students

  • Students realized they had to participate in the program because they were marginalized in some way and resented the program for making them do more work

  • Beneficial socially

  • Identity, Cultural Adjustment- Being at Cornell, a PWI, was the first time she really felt like a minority because she was the majority at Miami

  • Cultural Adjustment- Greek Life and multicultural Greek Life were very prevalent at Cornell. She did not want to participate in either and had critiques of Greek Life.

Section 8 (1:35:42-1:50:00)

  • Mental Health- Was feeling symptoms of depression her sophomore year. Her dean was one of the first people to tell her she may be depressed.

  • Almost was not able return for the next semester

  • Family, Mental Health- The difficulty of explaining mental health struggle to immigrant parents

  • Education, Mental Health- Junior year was better for her compared to previous years because she got to take a break the summer before.

  • Discrimination- While living in the Latino Living Community, the fraternity next door had a sign saying “build a wall” around the LLC.

  • An example of the types of things Latinx students face on campus

  • Identity- Has privilege as a white Latina, but still gets insensitive comments and glances when people realize she is Latinx.

  • Mental Health, Family- Mom was understanding of her going to therapy, but the initial conversation about her mental health was difficult

  • Politics, Immigration, Religion- Sees these three as being very intertwined how Cubans engage with the political system

bottom of page