For Yusneidis Benitez, traveling is not a novelty; she has trekked all over Cuba to sing in restaurants, bars and any other place that will hire her. Now she is traveling outside of the island, accompanied by her family.
With her are her in-laws and her two daughters, who are eight and two years old and still do not fully understand why they are trapped in Costa Rica. In total they are a family of nine.
In most musical groups, singers are the leaders and Benitez is no exception. She maintains order among things that must be done in the La Cruz Night High School room – one of the six centers for Cuban immigrants in the canton. Her mother-in-law takes charge of cleaning the space, while men help to clean bathrooms and bring firewood for the stove.
For the singer, like the rest of the family, the challenge has been difficult. They had to sell everything they had in their home and combine their savings to leave Cuba. Despite their current circumstances (stranded in Costa Rica without being able to continue north), they believe it has been worth it.
“All in all I prefer to be here instead of Cuba. People don’t understand how you can prefer to be in this situation, but only those who live in Cuba can understand,” she said.
The family has the goal of reaching the United States. However, they do not really know what they will do there. One of their plans is to go to Kentucky, as they have heard from other Cubans that it is a state with few Latinos and that they will have more opportunities for work. In addition, they hope to receive benefits such as medical insurance and food stamps.
Although the situation in Cuba is nothing new for anyone, the family felt that they could no longer live with the island’s system.
“To live in Cuba is to fight in vain. You cannot fight for your dreams 100%. People do not understand because when they visit they see Cuba’s touristy side; that’s why they don’t understand us. I do not want to continue in silence, without freedom,” said Benitez.
Cubans migrant recevie food, roof, clothes and personal hygiene products. The La Cruz HighSchool is currently being used as one of the place for migrants to live.
Fear while Adrift
To be stranded in Costa Rica has been hardest part for the family. Like the almost 2,500 Cubans that are in this country, they entered Ecuador to then travel through the rest of the countries. While crossing the border between Columbia and Panama by ocean, they had to spend three hours in a small boat because Panama’s national guard was at the border and they couldn’t enter.
“It was awful to not be able to pass. My daughter got heat stroke. We were in pure midday sun. It was a small boat like any other and we were out there drifting. We all have burns on our skin,” she said.
Her skin is red; they have been sunburned. Every one of the family members has flaking cheeks and noses.
Regarding the problems with Nicaragua, Yusneidis and her family could stay in Costa Rica as a plan B. However, they cannot give up on fulfilling their American dream.
“Costa Rica has been wonderful to us. It is a supportive place. They have given us everything – food, a roof, clothes, personal hygiene products… The truth is that I take my hat off to this country. They don’t give us more because they don’t have more. The truth is that I don’t focus on what they give us, but instead on how they give it to us and the kindness they have shown us is wonderful,” the singer said.
Junior Quintero Silva, Maria Elena Guerra, Yusneidis Benitez, Eymy Chantal Evora, Victor Perez Laguna, Yaqmara Rosello Escalona.