Our interviewee today was born in Virginia but raised in Connecticut, and her parents are Cubans. She is a person with an extremely contagious enthusiasm for life. I asked how her parents left Cuba and she replied: “They left Cuba on December 31, 1961, with the excuse of traveling for vacation. The entire family was not allowed to leave, so my father came with my sister and my mother came alone, trying to hide her pregnancy. My father never gets tired of telling us an episode in which the plane was at a certain height and the pilot loudly called, ‘Now you are free.’ He always gets tearful remembering this and it is because he has many mixed feelings.
They came to this country with only the desire to be free, leaving behind all their goods, to start from scratch. He was separated from my mother for two months, until the American government could verify that he was not a communist spy. My mother had a relative in Virginia, where my father went to work as an exterminator. Although he was used to an office job at an international bank, he had to take care of his family and so he did not mind this, much less living in districts that were not nice. They were the only Latinos there. With time, he obtained a small job as a messenger in a bank, where, because of his honesty and despite not speaking English, they gave him the opportunity to be a cashier. My father grew professionally and then we moved to Connecticut where he became the first Latino vice president of a branch of that banking institution, a position he used to help the growing Latino community in Bridgeport. My mother always looked for ways to support my father, first working at taking care of the children and then in sales, carrying books for an international company because she knew Spanish. Today, as a mother, I understand how my parents sometimes must have felt impotent because they wanted to give us the comforts and luxuries they had in Cuba. However, they gave us all that was necessary and more. Thanks to them, I highly value honesty, respect and constancy. Maybe trying to understand them and understand myself I decided to study psychology.
The assignments were very difficult for me because I did not have the academic level but with dedication and effort I went ahead proving to myself that with the help of God and giving our best the only limits to our success are ourselves. I obtained two degrees, one in psychology and one in Spanish. I met my husband in high school while working in a hardware store.
He has been my life, love, support and tranquility, sometimes bringing me down to earth. After being newly married and working as a school psychologist in Bridgeport, I decided to specialize in school psychology at Fairfield University of CT and then received a PhD from the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology in Bronx, NY, which I finished in my last month of pregnancy. Many people told me that I could not work full time and study. But when I am told I cannot do something, this drives me to continue. For over twelve years, I exercised my profession with love and dedication until I realized that while I was playing with the children of others in my office, I was missing the growth of my children. Then God presented me with an opportunity and I was invited to a beauty products demonstration. Ten months later, I was earning more from this company than from working as a psychologist. Almost twenty years later, I can say that this is the best decision I made in my life. This is a job where I have grown internally, changing the lives of many. That’s why I felt the inspiration to write a book to tell all that I’ve learned.”
Your final message? “I found my mission and that is inspiring others to believe that they can be self-sufficient and find the good they have inside. I feel that I can be an example for the Latino community, who emigrated and made so many sacrifices to educate and see their dreams realized through their children.”
María Danniella Gutiérrez-Salem practiced law in Venezuela before going after her own American Dream and becoming a writer in the United States. Mdgutier@gmail.com.