To Be Here is a Dream: Maria and Yunier's Story

"We left Cuba without anything. Only us."

When you first meet Yunier Baldoquin Reyes and Maria Martinez, you might never suspect that they are refugees who just arrived in Lancaster County last October 2016. Their incurable optimism is contagious, and despite only being in this country for five months at the time of this interview, they have already carved out a niche for themselves in the local marketplace and community.

But their journey to get to this place has been marked with uncertainty and loss. With their country in a continual state of political unrest and rampant poverty all around them, Maria and Yunier longed for a better life. "In Cuba, we were living in difficult conditions," said Yunier. "The Cuban people spend most of the day solving basic problems like what food they are going to be able to eat. There was a moment in my life when I was a teen when I decided I needed to get out. I didn't know to where, but I had to get out."

Learning Fast and Leaving Behind

Despite the challenges they faced, Yunier and Maria had a quality education. As Jane Myers of The Literacy Council of Lancaster-Lebanon noted, "I've found that most of our students who are from Cuba are very well-educated and learn fast." And Yunier and Maria are no exception. Yunier has a degree in engineering, and Maria has a master’s degree in education.

It was their education and professional accomplishments that provided them with the key to escape to a better life. Thanks to a friend, Yunier was able to get a job in Suriname. The couple spent one year apart before Maria was able to join Yunier.

"It was tough," said Yunier. "After that year, we decided not anymore. If we move, again, we move together."

Acclimating too their new home was taxing – both Yunier and Maria left their parents behind, with Maria’s father passing away as they were transitioning. Maria also has two brothers whom she left behind in Cuba.After four years, relations between the governments of Suriname and Cuba become “closer,” as Yunier put it, and the couple knew it was time to go. They took an opportunity to come to the United States.

And with their determination, drive, and high-quality education, it didn't take long for Yunier to find a position as a database administrator and Maria to find a job as an assistant teacher. In addition to her new position, Maria is working towards obtaining her teaching certification, so she can more fully utilize her skills and expertise to make a difference in her new home.

Finding Home

After four years, relations between the governments of Suriname and Cuba become “closer,” as Yunier put it, and the couple knew it was time to go. They took an opportunity to come to the United States.

And with their determination, drive, and high-quality education, it didn't take long for Yunier to find a position as a database administrator and Maria to find a job as an assistant teacher. In addition to her new position, Maria is working towards obtaining her teaching certification, so she can more fully utilize her skills and expertise to make a difference in her new home.

There are more challenges and triumphs in Maria and Yunier's story, but they don't like to dwell on the past. They choose to focus on the positive no matter what and to focus on the hope they have for their future in their new home.

"As a child, I always heard about the United States. I thought I'd never be here. To be here is a dream," said Yunier.

When asked how they maintain such an optimistic outlook, Maria said it best - "First, we are alive, and we have opportunities all around us. We always see the good in the bad things. We always think, ‘Today is going to be a good day. Don't be afraid.’ Any time you are positive, you can reach your goals despite all of your circumstances. There is always a way.”