At the strip mall where Benitez's store is located, tax accountant
Blanes, 40, worked in finance at the
The family wanted a better future for their children, and today Blanes does identify with the term "exile."
"The word 'exile,' I think, means you're in a place where you can't go whenever you want to your birth country," she said.
Many Cuban immigrants today do return, however, some quite frequently. According to the Cuban government, about 500,000 U.S. visitors travel to the island every year, the majority Cuban Americans.
Their reasons for immigrating — primarily economic and not political persecution— combined with frequent visits home, raise questions about whether they can be accurately called "refugees." U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services define refugees as "generally people outside of their country who are unable or unwilling to return home because they fear serious harm."
Some immigration activists and politicians have said it's time to revisit policies that offer generous privileges to Cubans immigrating to the U.S., like the Cuban Adjustment Act, by which Cubans who reach U.S. soil are allowed to stay and are fast-tracked toward residency.
"I don't criticize anyone who wants to go visit their mom or dad or their dying brother or sister in
Cubans have come to American in three general waves: Post-revolution immigrants who faced persecution in
All seven Cuban Americans in
The older generations of Cuban exiles "don't have anything in common with us, culturally, politically, nothing," said Morales, 44, who now runs his own consulting business in
"Those who come don't like to work a lot," he said. "You have to look for the root of the problem. The problem is, in
Instead, he said, they survive by "resolver," which in
Blanes cringes when she hears comments like that. She spent long hours studying at night while caring for two young daughters to re-establish her career here. Many of the unemployed have struggled to find jobs, but do want to work, she said.
Back at the store, Benitez empathizes with her clients, but feels compelled to remind them of the freedoms they enjoy here.
Although he doesn't mention it, Perez was once arrested for illegally selling meat he butchered in
"Hunger is hunger," Benitez said. "Necessity is necessity. The freedom is somewhere in there, but your stomach is first."
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