The Batistas

This is the Batista family. They are from Marianao, Cuba. They live in Hialeah, FL outside of Miami. According to the American Community Survey there are 2,381,570 U.S. residents that report Cuban descent — in Miami-Dade county there are approx. 1,500,000. Abuelos Reimundo and Olga Batista, and their family from time to time, have lived in this apartment complex in Hialeah since they immigrated in 1980.
Photography by Alexander Saladrigas
Styling by Alexander-Julian

Gabriela Trujillo, 28

What is an American?
To me an American is a person who values freedom to be yourself, freedom of the press, and freedom of expression above all else. To me an American is someone who fights for what is right and for individuals human rights, no matter what. Americans get to make their own choices and are not dictated by their government the way Cubans are by their government.

What are Cuban values?
Cubans value family and community above all else because it is all they have. They must come together to find solutions for their neighborhoods since the Cuban oppressive and does not repair any streets or buildings, the Cuban people have joined together to make whatever changes they can on their own. Whether it be to come together to fix a neighbors leaking roof or to slaughter a pig together so the neighborhood can eat, it is all done by the people.

What does the American Dream mean to you?
The American dream to me means to be whatever I choose to be. To be able to earn and save my own money and have the freedom to do with it what I please. The American dream to me, is the fact that my family came to US as political refugees with nothing to our name, all living in a one bedroom apartment, not knowing a word of English. Within a few years my mom had her own beauty salon with her own clients, making her own schedule and being FREE to do what she wanted with her life and time. That's the American dream. An unheard of luxury in many other places in the world.

What did the American Dream mean to your parents?
For my parents, it meant finally having peace of mind. They went from a tyrannical and totalitarian country that controlled everything. From the rationed food lines, to what farmers were allowed to grow and sell, what farm animals were allowed to be eaten. They had to fight tooth and nail for every little thing they had. For example, my parents tell me stories about how they often didn't know what they would be able to feed me, and my dad would have to walk over 30 miles a day to find me root vegetables, fish, goats milk, anything they could find to sustain their baby daughter. The American dream meant never having to wonder how we would eat again.

Who is able to thrive in the United States of America?
I truly believe that while the US has a lot of work to do, especially when it comes to equality, it is still the best country in the world. I think anyone with determination and discipline anyone can thrive in the US because I have seen it first hand. I've seen refugees and immigrants with no knowledge of the English language build businesses, become working professionals, and in general just carve out their own lane in this country regardless of religion, race, or political affiliation.

Are you free in the United States of America?
Yes, I am free to say whatever I want. I'm free to openly criticize my government (which I often do), I'm free print and post my opinions, I'm free to practice whatever religion I want and marry whoever I want, I'm free to own and sell property, I'm free to have children or not. I fully own the rights to my life and that is a privilege not granted to current residents of my homeland.

Are you patriotic towards the United States of America?
I do love the US and consider myself a patriot because of the freedoms this country allows its citizens. This country is not perfect by any means but I'm glad I'm here and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

Are you patriotic towards Cuba?
I love my Cuban people and our beautiful land, however I do not feel a sense of patriotism because the country has been completely hijacked by the Communist party. You are ONLY allowed to be communist and nothing else. Those who support this and align themselves with the communist party are the ones who always have food on the table and are held in high regard in society. My family, who were always secretly anti-communism, we kept to ourselves and didn't participate in the neighborhood party meetings (snitching committees) and for this we were seen as "gusanos" (worms, scum) this was what they called anyone who didn't agree with them. So no, I do not feel patriotism.

Why did you emigrate from Cuba?
We were refugees trying to escape political prosecution. My family was anti-communist, therefore anti-cuban regime. The Cuban government imprisoned my mothers uncle Juanito for years because he openly said he did not agree with them. They stormed into our home and took him to prison where he was brutally beaten and kept away from his family, simply because he did not agree with the oppressive regime. Not to mention the food rationing, people being pulled and reassigned from their homes (that they had paid for) my great grand father owned a small bodega in his own hometown of Santa Clara, Cuba and the cuban government came in one day and said "you no longer own this, we do now" they kicked him out of his store that he built himself with his own two hands and turned it into a government "nationalized" store where they would control the goods being sold to the community.

We left because we knew we'd never be free from this tyranny and there seemed to be no end in sight for the Castro regime. It has now been 62 years of communism for Cubans.

What is your favorite thing about the United States of America?
I love that we are free to think for ourselves here. That we can choose pretty much everything in our lives and are not controlled by our ELECTED governments. (The open and free elections are nice too!!)

What is your least favorite thing about the United States of America?
I can criticize the US for hours. Everything from the way the US has handled international conflict, how they have created and funded militias around the world to advance their agendas. I hate the way the US treats our indigenous population and how they never properly took accountability for the heinous treatment of Black Americans. I even disagree with the Cuban sanctions enforced by the US because it has not hurt the Cuban government at all, (matter of fact Fidel Castro died with an estimated net worth $900 million) these sanctions have only further hurt the Cuban people. I very much do not agree with our current health care system and how it is ran for PROFIT above all else. I can go on forever. This country needs a lot of work but even with all that said, I still believe we are worlds ahead of other countries.

What would you like to see happen in the United States of America?
I would love for this country to heal and for all of us to come together as free people. I wish we could unite over our similarities instead of being divided by our differences. I would love to see this country put up museums and monuments for our fallen indigenous people, and do the same for our ancestors for our Black population, who lost their lives and were so badly treated. I wish for people to seek knowledge and truth outside of establishment media like CNN, FOX, and MSNBC, which I believe has already been far too corrupted by our political parties and their agendas. I wish for us to be free from the two party system all together and on our way to a more inclusive and united people.

Jeffry Batista Ojito, 33

What is an American?
An American to me is a person with privileges who has every opportunity to become whoever they want to be. An individual with rights.

What are Cuban values?
Family, culture and their people. Growing up in Cuba my neighbors were my closest family. The level of compassion for one another in situations where your next door neighbor needed a cup of sugar or salt, even a chicken thigh to cook a soup that would feed an entire family. Unlike the United States where at age 18 adolescents go their way and rent/buy their own apartments/houses, most families in Cuba due to the lack to housing and the poverty live together for their entire life. Our food, our music and our history is very rich and has even influenced others.

What does the American Dream mean to you?
To me the American dream is being able to one day reach your desired financial stability as a result of your hard work and being able to enjoy it.

What does the American Dream mean to your parents?
To my mother the American dream meant providing a better future for me. Making it possible for me to grow in a land of freedom and opportunities.

Who is able to thrive in the United States of America?
Anyone who is willing to take advantage of all the amazing opportunities they are offered with. People who study and work hard for what they desire.

Are you free in the United States of America?
Yes, very much so. I am free to live the life I want, to say what I think, to love whom i want to love. I am entitled to my own ideas and opinions. I am free to travel the world and be friends with anyone i want to be friends with. Free to vote for who I believe will be the president who will represent us the best.

Are you patriotic towards the United States of America?
Yes I am. How couldn't I be devoted and thankful to a nation that has given me the chance to have the future I’ve always dreamt of? To be the man I am today. I have achieved so much since I arrived and I’ve always felt welcomed.

Are you patriotic towards Cuba?
My country and their people are beautiful and I do feel patriotic towards that (CUBA the country). Not towards the dictatorship that oppresses it.

Why did you emigrate from Cuba?
I emigrated because except for my mother, my whole family from my mother's side was already living in the United States and I grew up in Cuba until I was 18 years old without my entire family by my side. Even worse than being apart from my family, was the poverty, the hunger, the lack of freedom, the lack of opportunities to be a professional, the endless nights without electric power because of government mandated outages.  The notion that nothing was ever going to change and if it did it was definitely going to be for the worse, led to the decision to leave the country behind.

What is your favorite thing about the United States of America?
My favorite thing about the United States is the inclusion, the acceptance, the freedom it has given me to be whoever I want to become. I love that as a natural creative who was born to entertain through singing, acting and dancing I've been able to build a career for myself doing what I love, to the point where I was able to star in a movie alongside John Leguizamo, who is an idol to me not only for how talented he is, but also for being such an advocate for Latinos and Afro Americans.

What is your least favorite thing about the United States of America?
My least favorite thing about the United States is that most of the time money is given more value than humanity itself. The fact that some people die because they just don't have the money to afford a surgery or medical treatment that could potentially save their lives is beyond me.

What would you like to see happen in the United States of America?
What I'd love to see happen in the United States is a better Health Care System that will not let any human lives go to waste simply because they don't have money or means to afford care. Health care is a human right.

Olga Ojito Batista, 81

¿Qué significa ser americano?
Aunque vivo en los Estados Unidos, no he podido obtener la ciudadanía ni hablo inglés. Yo misma no me siento Americana.

¿Cuáles son los valores de Cuba?
Valoramos el respeto, la hospitalidad, el tiempo de calidad con nuestras familias extendidas. La familia es la máxima prioridad.

¿Qué significa el sueño americano para ti?
Para mí, el sueño americano consistía en sacar a mis hijas de la isla. Una vez que triunfó la Revolución, la calidad de vida en Cuba comenzó a deteriorarse rápidamente y las relaciones se volvieron muy tensas debido a las opiniones políticas. Sabía que allí no habría futuro para mis hijas.

¿Qué significaba el sueño americano para tus padres?
Mis padres nunca soñaron con venir a Estados Unidos. Aunque no éramos ricos en Cuba antes de la revolución, éramos felices e independientes. No teníamos mucho pero éramos libres. No fue hasta que llegó el comunismo a nuestra isla que mi esposo y yo tomamos la difícil decisión de dejar atrás todo lo que sabíamos para encontrar una realidad mejor para nuestras hijas.

¿Quién prospera en los Estados Unidos?
Por lo que he visto, los que no le tienen miedo al fracaso y riesgos son los que han triunfado en este país.

¿Eres libre en los Estados Unidos?
Sí, soy libre de pensar por mí mismo y tengo libertad de expresión.

¿Eres patriota hacia los Estados Unidos?
Estoy feliz de estar aquí y me siento agradecido de poder vivir aquí, pero no tengo una conexión tan profunda con este país.

¿Eres patriota hacia Cuba?
Extraño mucho la tierra. Extraño las playas y las calles, la gente y los sonidos, los olores. Pero ya no es la Cuba que recuerdo y no siento patriotismo por el gobierno que oprimió a mi familia. Mi sueño era volver algún día a una Cuba libre de la que pueda estar orgullosa y sentir patriotismo, pero ese día no ha llegado.

¿Por qué emigraste de Cuba?
Aunque mi familia apoyó a la revolucion al principio, rápidamente comenzamos a ver cuán opresivo se volvió el nuevo gobierno. Arrestaron a mi hermano y lo mantuvieron en prisión durante años porque protestaba contra la brutalidad. Se confiscaron negocios, se revocaron los hogares de las personas, y se envió a la gente a campamentos donde se les obligó a adoptar ideologías comunistas. Mi familia tuvo que empezar a ocultar nuestra religión católica porque se despreciaba practicar todas y cada una de las religiones. Era un constante adoctrinamiento comunista y no quería criar a mis hijas allí. Quería que fueran libres de decir lo que pensaban y desarrollar sus propios pensamientos. No había oportunidad de trabajo a menos que estuvieras con el "partido"

Llegué aquí cuando tenía 50 años y nunca seguí una carrera, mi esposo encontró trabajo en una fábrica mientras yo cuidaba a los niños del vecindario en Hialeah, FL. Aunque nunca nos hicimos ricos, pudimos cuidar a nuestros nietos mientras sus madres trabajaban y debido a nuestro sacrificio, todos mis nietos son felices y tienen carreras que aman.

¿Qué es lo más te gusta de Estados Unidos?
La libertad y las cantidad de oportunidades

¿Qué es lo que menos te gusta de Estados Unidos?
Lo que menos me gusta de Estados Unidos es la cantidad de gente que trabaja. En Cuba se priorizaba el tiempo y el ocio en familia más que trabajar y ganar dinero.

¿Qué te gustaría ver ocurrir en los Estados Unidos?
Mi deseo para Estados Unidos es que siempre sea una tierra libre para que TODAS las personas encuentren asilo y la oportunidad de una mejor calidad de vida.

Batista Family clothing by Johanna Ortiz and Shop A.AU.