Cubans immigrate to the U.S. by the thousands each year, but there are some positive aspects to life in Cuba, according to St. John resident and Cuban native LuzMey Cordero Lopez-Chavez.
Lopez-Chavez, a dental assistant at St. John Dental, has lived on St. John for two years with her husband, Rodney Rightenburg, who works as a chef at Caneel Bay. They have a one-year-old son together, Virgil Ernesto Rightenburg.
Lopez-Chavez met Rightenburg, a Detroit-native, when he was vacationing in Cuba. He worked for a hotel in the Bahamas at the time.
We were friends for two years, she said. Then one day we went to the beach, he kissed me, and we were boyfriend and girlfriend. Six months later, we were married.
The couple was married in Cuba, and Lopez-Chavez waited one year for her immigration papers before coming to St. John.
Lopez-Chavez cited the government as the reason many Cubans leave the country.
The government is hard, she said. Its impossible to buy a house. Its impossible to buy a car.
However, Cuba does offer things that the U.S. does not, she said. College education and medical care are free.
Here, if you dont work, you dont have food, said Lopez-Chavez. But Castro gives rice and beans every month, and things like soap, cooking oil, sugar and salt every few months.
The hardest thing about leaving Cuba was leaving her family, said Lopez-Chavez.
I miss my family, she said. My family hasnt even seen my one-year-old baby yet.
Under U.S. law, she is able to visit her family in Cuba, but there are strict restrictions on how long she can stay, how much money she can spend, and how much luggage she can bring.
It would be very difficult for Lopez-Chavezs family to visit her here on St. John, she said, because of the paperwork and processing they would have to endure.
Better Opportunity in U.S.
Although she misses her family, Lopez-Chavez said that she has more opportunity in the U.S. than in Cuba.
Here, Im an assistant, and I make something like $500 a week, she said. In Cuba, Id make $10 a month for the same job.
Lopez-Chavez said she does not think she will spend the rest of her life on St. John.
Id like to live here about three more years, she said. Its too quiet for me. In Cuba, I lived in Havana.
Lopez-Chavez said she loves her job and is grateful for everything that Dr. Michelle Lewis of St. John Dental has taught her.
Michelle Lewis taught me everything, she said. A friend of mine told me about the job. I told her I cant do it because I dont speak English, and she said you speak more than you think.
She said that she may move to Detroit, where her husbands family is from.
I want to go to university, Lopez-Chavez said. I want to learn more English.