Educated, skilled immigrant from Cuba struggles to find work because of language barrier
Who is Luis Perez?
Race / ethnicity (self identify): Hispanic from Cuba
Resident: Baldwinsville / Liverpool area outside Syracuse, New York
Job status: Unemployed
Last job: Planet Fitness
Hourly wage at last job: $10/hour
Education level: Bachelor’s degree in accounting from University of Havana in Cuba
Number of children: 0
Number of residents living in household: 2
Editor’s note: Several interviews were conducted for this Q/A. Some were conducted with the assistance of a translator. Other interviews were conducted only in English without a translator.
A sit down with Luis Perez
Q: Who makes up your household?
A: I live with my cousin. She’s lived here for 30 years.
Q: When did you come to Syracuse?
A: On Sept. 24, 2008.
Q: Why did you come here?
A: Because in 2008 in Miami was the program if the people is from Cuba, that people sent people money for different state. For me, that program gave me this state. In that time, the U.S. every year gave visas for people from Cuba. (Perez also said that he is an immigrant, and that he came to the U.S. for better opportunities. He said he was one of the lucky ones who got a visa.)Q: Can you share a brief work history?
A: Before, I was working in the Planet Fitness in the gym. (Then) I went to my country for one year … because I want to visit. I was missing Cuba, I was born over there. (Later, Perez added that he also went back because his mother was sick.) I came back in 2015, and my last job (Planet Fitness) sent me to here (La Liga) because my English is not good, it is so-so. In my country I was an accountant for 10 years. I held a different focus in the computer, or organizing files, many things. JOBSplus! sent me to here. This is a program for when the people is looking for a job, that program is saying to people for practicing computer or cleaning or office. I am sent here for training and English, because normally I know computer. For me, it’s because I need to improve my English.
Q: Do you have any special skills?
A: Math. I used to play fencing for eight years. I am also good at cooking — I make Latin food. The fourth is, I am so happy all the time. This is important. (Perez described how he really likes math and used to tutor his classmates when he was 12 years old. While he was enrolled in the University of Havana at age 25, he taught math at a high school for one year, though he does not have a teaching degree. It took him five years to get his bachelor’s degree in accounting, and he received it at age 27.)Q: Could you talk more about your interest in math?
A: In my country, when I was 12 years, I was very good in math and my teacher told me, ‘can you help your partner?’ After that, every year, I helped many students. Right now, too, helping (people) with math here (in La Liga). I like the math a lot.
Q: What about your job at Planet Fitness?
A: I was cleaning the place, because in that time, my English was zero. I was there from 2009 to 2014.
Q: What did you like most about that job?
A: I didn’t like it, because in my old life, I was working in the office. At that time, I didn’t live in the United States. There are different traditions. The problem is that in my country the people are more friendly. Here it’s work, home, home, work. Normally in my neighborhood, there is a big family. All the time, you are speaking with many people in the street, or in the line. For me, when I am here, I say oh, what is that, because I am bored, bored all the time, and I am sad. In 2014, I went to my country for one year, and I come back here because I passed the American Citizenship for naturalization. This is my history. It is short, but it is my history
Q: Can you tell us about your family?
A: My mother is in Cuba. I have six siblings: three sisters and three brothers. I have one brother who is a doctor, and the other is a lawyer. Then my sister is a lawyer, too. My other sister is the accountant. My other sister is lazy. The other (brother) is a shoemaker.
Q: How do you get around Syracuse? What do you use for transportation?
A: My cousin has a car, because my cousin has been working for 20 years. My cousin works at the YWCA. In the morning she gives me a ride, in the evening I take the bus from La Liga and come back to my house. I am leaving at four or three o’clock. (Perez’s time at La Liga is spent receiving language training.)Q: Right now, what is your biggest challenge you face daily?
A: For me it is the English, because I am studying every day here with different people, like you. I have the program in the computer, and on my phone, and I am watching the TV all in English.
Q: What are your options for job searching in Syracuse?
A: I started a new program in the Department of Labor in Syracuse, to look for accountant assistant jobs.
Q: Have you applied for accounting jobs here?
A: Yes. Last Monday was the interview for the credit union, and that person say me, ‘your English is good, you are smart.’ I have to come back next Wednesday for the other interview with the boss. Maybe that company say me ‘yes.’ The job is to introduce many papers in the computer, the mortgage in the computer. When I did my skill in the computer, they say me, ‘you are very smart; you are very fast in the computer. Your English is not very good, but it is good.’ Maybe next week they say me, ‘you have the job.’ (A disappointed Perez reported back that he was not hired for that position.)Q: What do you want others to know about you as an unemployed person?
A: I want people to know my skills in computing, and in accounting.
Q: Is the language barrier the reason you cannot find a job?
A: Yes, because my English is not very good, it is so-so. Many people say me, ‘no your English is good’ but I think my English is not. Because sometimes when I was speaking with interview on the phone, many people say ‘no, sorry.’ Because on the phone, it is more difficult for me. When you are in front of me, it is more easy. On the phone, sometimes I say, ‘I don’t understand, sorry. Can you repeat that?’ That is the problem — on the phone, sometimes I’m lost.
Q: What gives you hope?
A: Normally, I live every day happy.
Q: Does anything discourage you?
A: No, no, nothing — because many people are very sick, very, very poor, and me, I am fine, because I am healthy, I am happy, I have my family. I don’t have problems.
Q: What is a typical weekend like for you?
A: Right now, I am re-painting my home. But normally, I went to the store or the movie. In June, July, April, May, I went to the lake to walk around the lake for 3 miles every day.
Q: Do you have a hobby? What do you like to do in your free time?
A: I listen to music. Spanish and American music, African music. I like to read the news in my country, the old country — the newspaper in the computer, on the Internet. I read the Internet every day — every morning and every afternoon.
Q: What is the job you would like to have now?
If you’ve been following this series by Inspiration for the Nation, it’s now a good time to take stock of your level of financial preparedness, particularly in today’s uncertain business/political climate.