Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted in Spanish and translated to English.
HARLINGEN, Texas (KVEO) — For many, just getting to the United States without being turned away is the dream. However, those allowed to stay continue facing challenges.
For Norberto Echemendia, that challenge meant leaving behind his family and his home country of Cuba to be right where he always dreamed of being: the United States.\
“I came to find new opportunities, new people, a different way of life and to give my kids an opportunity to flourish,” said Echemendia.
Recently graduated from El Instituto Superior del Arte in Cuba. He set sail for Mexico in 1991.
He traveled the country as an actor and later became a theater and dance teacher.
“La salsa, el sol, la guaracha,” said Echemendia.
After meeting his wife and having a baby girl, he set off to finish the journey he started 21 years ago.
He packed up and started for the U.S-Mexico border in 2012.
“Migrating is difficult,” said Echemendia.
The Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1976 allow Cubans to apply for permanent residency after one year of living in the country.
After almost nine years, he’s finally achieved his dream.
Today, he’s a naturalized American citizen.
“They gave us ours face to face,” said Echemendia. “It was the most exciting thing.”
He is finally settling down, even opening a restaurant called Balsero Latin Kitchen & Seafood.
The name pays homage to every Cuban migrant who has ever built a balsero, or raft, to make the long journey to the U.S.
Echemendia said it is important officials address and focus on understanding why people are choosing to migrate.
“A lot of people risk their life and their families to get to this country and it’s hard,” said Echemendia.
For migrants looking to achieve the American Dream, he shares a piece of advice.
“Don’t give up on your dreams, continue to try and achieve it,” said Echemendia. “Just do it in the best way possible… If you do things right, you pay the filing fees, and you follow the law, you won’t have problems obtaining your American citizenship.”
In the past year, Echemendia, his wife and daughter have all become naturalized American citizens.