My name is Suyent Rodriguez. I was originally born in La Havana, Cuba. My parents and I came to the United States in 2005. I was 9 years old. I got the Visa Lottery, so that’s how we got here. When we got to Miami, Catholic Charities helped us. There were only 3 states that offered help, because we didn’t have any family here, so nobody was going to help us out. And one of the states was New Mexico, and I don’t remember what the other two were, and my parents were trying to ask which one was the best state for me and they were like, “New Mexico.” So that’s how we ended up here and we have been here ever since then.
We didn’t know anything about New Mexico (laughter). We got here at night, the plane landed here at night, and we saw all the city lights and we were like, “Oh look, it’s so nice, it’s a city.” And then we actually got out of the airport and they took us to the little apartment that they had for us, and we were like, “not really.” Not much of a city. There was a lot of culture shock involved in it, because it’s nothing like La Havana. It’s not what we were use to. There’s no beach, there’s no people walking outside… it was really hard for us. It still is.
At first, it was exciting because we got out of Cuba and were in the United States, so it was that excitement. But after a while that kind of died out, it was like “ok we are use to the United States now,” then we realized we actually missed Cuba, kinda. I was in fourth grade… yea I was in fourth grade. The school transition was hard too because I didn’t speak any English. I went to a school where they only spoke English, so it was hard for me to adjust and make friends because I didn’t speak the language. Then in fifth grade I switched to a school that was bilingual, so it was much better for me. I was able to communicate with the teachers, and the students, I was able to make more friends. The middle school was bilingual too, and it was the same thing, by then I was able to pick up English and what not. And High School, I finally got out of the ESL program. That was good. And now I feel like I am finally fluid in English and Spanish. I am comfortable in my surroundings academically.
That was also a struggle (cultural identity)… because in Cuba I was considered a mulatta, which in the United States it’s a very outdated term, and people don’t say that anymore. In Cuba we still use it along with many other terms to describe your skin color and whatever is happening. So I was use to being referred to as a mulatta, and then I came here and I really didn’t care about it, and then I started hearing this comment like, “I thought you were Black, but your Cuban.” It kind of confused me. Cuban is my nationality, not my race, I can still be black. My mom is Black, her skin color is Black, she’s Cuban, and she speaks Spanish. So I kind of thought from her point of view… she’s Black and Cuban… what do you mean? So that was really hard, so I started to hear more of these comments and it made me think about them more, think of who I am, and think about how people saw me and how I saw myself. And I was like, “No! I am Black and I am Cuban.” And you can be both. And I am also Hispanic. You can be all three, because they are all different things… your race, your ethnicity, and nationality, they are all different. When I talk to people, I consider myself Afro-Latina, which means that I am a Latina of African decent, and I am Black and Cuban. And I don’t need to pick. I am all of those things.
I feel like I try to explain it to people and some people will understand and others won’t. I try to explain it to people, and I try to help them understand and come to and understanding, but I don’t really care much (laughter). It’s who I am and I don’t really care. But I feel like for the most part, I have been accepted in the Black community and the Hispanic community. Especially like in the beginning there might have been some resistance, like “what do you mean you are both.” But after explaining it they’re usually like, “Ok, come join us.”
I’m actually not very connected to the Cuban community here. My parents own a beauty salon and a lot of Cubans actually go there. I went to Albuquerque High School, so most of the Cubans that are in Albuquerque go to Highland High School, so where I went there wasn’t that many Cubans. At that point I wasn’t surrounded by Cubans.
We moved around a lot. When we first moved here, I was living by tramway, because that’s usually where they put all the refugees when they get here. And then like a year later we moved to Old Town. And then we moved somewhere by Carlisle and Gibson, so the Kirkland area. Then we moved a little closer to Broadway and then we moved to Broadway and Cesar Chavez. So I bounced a lot, so I wasn’t really able to form that sense of community, which is unfortunate.
The Miss Black USA Scholarship Pageant, and I represented New Mexico. It started in the 80’s and there’s a lot of resistance against the pageant because I guess people feel like it’s a racist pageant. There was a point and time where Black women were not allowed to participate in beauty pageants, so those are the roots of Miss USA or Miss America. So we formed our own way, and it has stayed the same way. If you look at the statistics from the Miss USA and Miss America pageant, how many Black queens have there been in compare those statistics to the actual statistics of the United States and how many women there are and the representation is very off. So we formed our own pageant to celebrate our own pageant to celebrate our own beauty. So I have natural hair, I waxed my hair but not anymore. If you look at these mainstream pageants, like Miss USA and Miss America, how many of these Black women that have competed have with their natural hair? And if they were to, would the public accept them? Would they be like “wow… your hair is unprofessional.” And all of these negative comments about their hair. And through Miss Black USA, I felt that my natural hair was welcomed and I was able to fully express my self as the Black women that I am. And I found that it was a pageant where I can be myself and I could fully express myself without thinking people are going to look at me and judge me, because of how I look. So that’s what it meant to me. But the main goal of it is to support and empower young Black women, however they need to be supported.
So in New Mexico we don’t really have a big Black population, so we haven’t really been able to establish a consistency in the pageant. We don’t have a state director, we don’t have a pageant, which is something that I hope to change. Because I think that New Mexico and the Black population in New Mexico needs to be represented throughout the United States. I want to establish a consistency in New Mexico. So we don’t have a pageant right now, so I just had to apply, and that’s how I was able to get it.
It was in Washington D.C., and it was good, we got to do a lot of cool stuff. We went to the White House and we got a tour of it. I never thought that I would get the chance to go to the White House. We met with the ambassador of Sierra Leon, which was amazing. He actually welcomed us to his house, not his embassy that was pretty cool. We were actually appointed good-will ambassadors of Sierra Leon, which was meaningful too. And the actual pageant was actually cool too because for me it was way out of my comfort zone. I never saw myself in a pageant. Like I always wanted to Nuesta Belleza Latina, I think every Hispanic girl that watched Univision wanted to do that right (laughter)? But I never actually did it, and so it was out of my comfort zone but I understand that’s where I was going to grow the most. When they told us that we had to find a talent… I don’t know how to sing, dance or act, what was I going to do? Those are usually the talents that people do. And I was actually able to find my passion for spoken word. I wrote my first spoken word piece and I presented it. It’s about my identity as an Afro-Latina, which is really amazing. Being around these specific Black women was great, it was great to be surrounded by these group of women that support you and instead of being this competition like, “I’m better then you, and I’m going to prove it.” It was like “You can do it!” We support each other and push each other, and whatever we needed. One time I needed some earrings and I just walked around asking if anybody had earrings and I got earrings. I felt like anywhere else it would have been “No!” Because that might give someone an advantage. It was really good to be around that support system.
Mis padres no hablan Ingles, hasta el día no hablan Ingles. Mi mama si a estado en la escuela, como cinco o cuatro años. Y si a mejorado, habla mucho mas Ingles ahora pero todavía no son “fluent.” Pero para eso estoy aquí para interpretar. En la casa nomas hablamos Español, y eso me gusta mucho a mi porque no tengo otro lugar donde puedo hablar Español, porque usualmente estoy en UNM y ahí normalmente hablamos en Ingles. No encontré una comunidad en donde si podemos hablar Español. Entonces tener la oportunidad de hablar Español en la casa me beneficia mucho. (My parents do not speak English, to this day they do not speak English. My mom has been in school, like for five or four years. She has improved, she speaks a lot more English now but she is still not fluent. That is why I am here to interpret. At home we only speak Spanish, and I like that a lot because I do not have another place where I can speak Spanish, because usually at UNM we only speak English. I have not found a community where I can speak Spanish with. So speaking Spanish at home for me is a huge benefit.)
Crecí en un lugar Cubano pero que fue modificado para la cultura Americana. Por ejemplo en los Estados Unidos la gente cuando cumplen los 18 te botan para la calle. Y en muchas países Latino Americanos te quedas en tu casa hasta que te mueras. Y las personas se casan, tienen hijos, y siguen en su casas con sus papas y con sus abuelos. Y abecés las casas se empiezan a dividir, y se convierten en estudios pero siguen la gente en la casa. Entonces mis padres me han dado la posibilidad de que si me quiero quedar ahí me puedo quedar hasta que quiera, pero también tengo la posibilidad de irme a los 18. Y pienso que la diferencia es por el país, porque en Cuba no hay esa oportunidad de irse a los 18 y en los Estados Unidos si hay esa oportunidad. Muchos de los valores Cubanos mis papas me los han inculcado. La comida, solamente comemos comida Cubana, la música escuchamos mucha música Cubana, mucha salsa. Tratamos de visitar Cuba los mas frecuente posible, pero abecés el dinero no alcanza. (I grew up in a Cuban home but a bit modified for the American culture. For example in the U.S. people are kicked out of home when they turn 18 years old. And in many Latin American countries you stay home until you die. People get married, have kids, and they continue at home with their parents and grandparents. And sometimes homes begin to be divided, and they are converted into studios, but they continue in the homes. My parents have continued to give me the possibility of staying home until I want to, but I also have the possibility of leaving at 18 if I had wanted to. And I think the difference lies within the country, because in Cuba there is not that opportunity to leave at 18 and in the U.S. people do have that opportunity. Much of the Cuban values my parents have made sure to instill in me. The food, we only eat Cuban food, and the music we listen to Cuban music, a lot of salsa music. We try to visit Cuba the most frequently possible, but sometimes money is not enough to do so.)
Hay un solo restaurante que se llama Havana Restaurant. Pero mi mama dice que su comida esta mejor. (There is only one Cuban restaurant called Havana Restaurant. But my mom says that her food is better.)
A los 13 años me pase 2 meses en Cuba y no quería regresar a los Estados Unidos. Me quería quedar en Cuba ya. Pero tuve que regresar, regrese. Cada vez que regreso hago una reflexión diferente. Abecés es negativa desafortunadamente. Mientras mas tiempo pasa, mas negativa es mi reflexión. Entonces esta ultima vez que fui, fue un shock, porque nunca vía tenido una experiencia tan negativa. No la experiencia con el país, si no cuando yo me senté y pensé como estaba el país, la gente, la sociedad, fue muy negativa y me dolió el corazón. Me acorde cuando tuve 13 años y pase esos 2 meses y no quería regresar a los Estados Unidos y ahora no podía esperar por regresar a los Estados Unidos. Por ejemplo en Estados Unidos las relaciones entre las razas son muy intensas, pero en Cuba no es tanto la raza si no el estado socio-económico. La manera que entras a un restaurante y si te ven tipo de Cubano es como te tratan, y si te ven tipo de turista como te tratan. Y asumen, Como eres Cubano no me vas a dejar propina. No tienes dinero, no se que haces aquí. Si eres un turista de Canadá o donde sea, probablemente tienes dinero, y mientras mas bien te traten mas propina vas a dejar. Y entonces hay esa diferencia de trato. Estaba como quien dice ciega. No lo vía notado antes, pero esta vez, si lo note, y me dolió mucho. (When I was 13 years old I spent 2 months in Cuba and did not want to come back to the U.S. I wanted to stay in Cuba. But I had to return, and came back I did. Every time I go back I have a different reflection. And sometimes it is negative unfortunately. The more time that passes, the more negative the reflection is. The last time I was there, it was like a shock, because I had never had such a negative experience. Not necessarily with the country, but when I sat down and thought how the country was, the people, the society, my reaction was very negative and my heart hurte deeply from those thoughts. I remembered when I was 13 years old and I spent 2 months and did not want to return to the U.S. and this last time I couldn’t wait to return back to the U.S. For example, in the U.S. the race relations are very intense, but in Cuba it is not so much about race but rather the socio-economic position of a person. When you enter a restaurant and if they perceive you to be Cuban that’s how they treat you, and if you are perceived to be a tourist that’s how you are treated. They assume that because you are Cuban you are not going to leave tip. You don’t have money, they don’t know what you are doing there. If you are a tourist from Canada or from wherever, you probably have money, and the best they treat you the more tip you are going to leave. And so that’s the difference in treatment. I think I was blind to that before. I had not noticed before, and this time I did, and it hurt a lot.)
I want world peace (laughter). When I have a family, I want to do something that will change Cuba and the United States in their own little ways. I don’t know what it is; I am going to figure it out eventually. But I want to do something that awakens the consciousness of Cuban people, so we can have another revolution, and so that things can truly change. In the United States, I don’t know yet, but I think we need something just as powerful. I want to play some part in that revolution and bring change to both of the countries. Academically, I just want to keep studying psychology and Africana Studies. In terms of psychology, I want it to be more culturally sensitive. Psychology is a very western subject, we don’t really look at the African continent, we don’t look at Latin America, and I want to take that step to understand that psychology in Latin America and understand the psychology in the other continents. To understand something other then western psychology. So that’s what I want to do in terms of academia.