The Rolo Gonzalez sisters left the main airport in Nicaragua and were met by a sea of young men. Central American “coyotes”, offering to cross the border to those fleeing their reality, are what await those who are willing to take the risk of entering the United States illegally. Marilyn, 19, and Melanie, 24, took the first step out of Cuba. The two women, carrying two small backpacks and Melanie’s one-year-old daughter, realized how alone they were.
Two medical students’ 4,000-mile odyssey will lead them to question their past lives, inadvertently enter a legal race against time, and leave them on the brink of death after falling off a cliff.
His telling of her story is part of an occasional series on how the United States became the world’s top destination for asylum seekers.
The journey of the two sisters is one that hundreds of thousands of Cubans have made over the past two years in a historic migrant wave to leave the island, which has already been battered by a crisis in the already beleaguered Cuban economy fueled largely by the pandemic. by one of the highest inflation rates in the world.
The exodus prompted the Biden administration in January to take steps to reduce the number of Cuban immigrants the United States has traditionally welcomed while rejecting Haitian, Venezuelan, Mexican and other Latin American and Caribbean nationalities Is.
This happened to the Rolo González sisters, like other Cubans who had emigrated before them, who had lost hope of having a future in their own country. Their optimism then focused on the bleak prospect of a new life in the United States and being able to offer a brighter future to a girl—the daughter of one of the sisters—who would have no memories of the island.
“You know you’re going to go to a new country you’ve never been to and deal with people you don’t know, to arrive at another place you don’t know”, admits the younger sister. “You have your destiny, but you do not know what awaits you on the road.”
Over the past two years, US authorities have detained nearly 300,000 Cubans at the border with Mexico. Some have been returned to the island, but the vast majority remain under immigration rules from the Cold War era. This figure is equivalent to more than half the population of Baltimore, or about 3% of Cuba’s residents.
While studying to become doctors, the Rolo González sisters spent their free time on the outskirts of Havana looking for enough resources to buy basic products such as infant formula to feed Melanie’s daughter.
The women once dreamed of traveling as doctors, but they quickly became disillusioned with life in Cuba due to frequent power outages, lack of medical supplies, and other restrictions.
When Melanie’s daughter Madison was born, she and her economist husband began talking about their family emigrating to the United States. He decided that he would go first, and then he would seek to escape by legal and less dangerous routes.
In May 2022, he flew to Nicaragua. Soon after, Melanie said, he left her for another woman.
However, he still planned to emigrate; Now with my little sister.
Last year the vast majority of Cuban migrants first flew to Nicaragua – where Cubans can travel visa-free – before moving on to Mexico. But there are also a growing number who take the perilous route by sea, boarding overcrowded and precariously built boats to travel the roughly 161 kilometers that separate the island from Florida.
Melanie and Marilyn raise the $20,000 after selling anything of value their father left behind, the house, refrigerator, television, and American coins. as well as money sent by friends and relatives who already live in Florida.
That sum was enough to pay for flights to Nicaragua and a smuggling network that would take them through the United States border.
He sought a license from medical school and informed only five people, including close friends and family, that he was leaving.
A few days before their flight, the two carefully sorted through piles of medications, winter clothes, and baby formula. And he tried to take everything from his life that could fit into two blue and pink backpacks.
Like many other Cubans, the sisters were soon convinced of the relative ease with which Cuban migrants could enter the United States.
At midnight on December 13, the Rolo Gonzalez sisters walked down the corridor of their home decorated with pictures of their relatives and left, thinking it would be there forever.
The last thing he said to his mother before saying goodbye and leaving her alone at the Havana airport was “I love you.” “Until then, it seemed unreal to me,” said the younger sister. “When I saw myself sitting there, I was just thinking what am I achieving. And when the plane took off, we looked at each other and said to ourselves: ‘We are free'”, recalls Marilyn.
They left a Nicaraguan airport with a smuggler who had a picture of them on his phone and received directions via WhatsApp.
It was time to make the first payment: $3,600 in cash.
His “guide” was a shadowy but constant presence, sending him messages with directions as he moved from smuggler to smuggler.
After paying, they began a 12-hour journey with the “coyote” until they reached a dilapidated house in the middle of the night. He woke them up before dawn. With cold air entering their lungs, Melanie and Marilyn begin their walk up a rugged mountainside filled with corn and coffee fields on the Nicaragua-Honduras border.
The sisters continued like this for several days, crossing Honduras and Guatemala by bus, car and on foot through the volcano-topped landscape of Central America.
They marveled at the craggy mountains and round clouds, like oceans that once surrounded them.
“Everything was new,” Marilyn said, “it felt like: ‘We’ve left Cuba.'”
Until then at home, her mother clung to the text messages and photos her daughters sent her to let them know they were okay.
“There’s a terrible emptiness in this house. I look over there, over there, and it’s like I have nothing,” he said.
The Rolo Gonzalez sisters along with 18 other migrants boarded an old blue pickup truck at 3 a.m. as it drove through a dense pine forest in Chiapas, Mexico, in a line of five vehicles carrying mostly Cubans. They crossed an informal pass built by smugglers and the sky, which was drizzling, made the dirt road slippery.
Marilyn was cradling her niece when the vehicle skidded, flipped and flipped 10 times as it fell. The blow hit Merlin and the child through the windshield along with the driver. The young Cuban wrapped his niece around his body. A piece of glass caused a deep wound in the back of the woman’s head.
When she landed on the muddy ground, the woman looked to the ground and was horrified to see the child’s face and blood-soaked hair as she gazed wide-eyed.
Melanie ran in, checked both of their vital signs by telephone light and bandaged her sister’s head as she had learned in medical school in Cuba.
A few days later they learned that the mother of an eight-year-old Cuban boy had died that night.
“We realized it meant we had a lot of life left to live,” Melanie said.
On New Year’s Eve, after more than two weeks of crossing, the Rolo Gonzalez sisters forged the Rio Grande from Juarez to El Paso at dawn. They were immediately met by Border Patrol agents detained in Texas, and quickly released with 60 days’ probation.
Biden’s new ban was announced a few days later. He made it at the right time.
In Cuba, his mother looked at her phone with trembling hands. Three weeks had passed since Marialis had said goodbye to her two daughters and granddaughter.
Family friends were waiting for them in Daytona Beach, Florida. Their beds were decorated with balloons and there was a pink crib in one corner.
Marialis’s phone rang. He narrowed his eyes at the grainy video.
“Look, there’s a car, there they are!” Marialis screamed as a silver car appeared on the screen. Three girls wrapped in jackets went to the entrance of the house.
“Hi, Mom,” murmured with a grin.
“The nightmare is over, my daughter,” muttered the mother.