With a broken heart but a suitcase full of dreams and opportunities, I decided to immigrate to the United States in 2016.
The thought of leaving Cuba and starting a new life in a new country without the love and support of my parents and sister was, without a doubt, a painful obstacle. Still, the idea of a better future for me and my family continues to be my motivation.
Adaptation to a new life in the United States was difficult—hours without sleep, uncontrollable tears, no friends, a new language to learn, new foods, a different legal system—a common experience for those who immigrate and leave everything behind.
After arriving in Oregon, I remember coming to Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon’s SOAR Immigration Legal Services (SOAR Legal) to seek help with my legal paperwork. At SOAR Legal, I found support in obtaining my work permit and residency. They also connected me to Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), where I learned how to seek employment in the United States.
In 2018, God gave me the happiness and joy of being a mother. At the time, I was also studying English at Portland Community College while working as a tax preparer.
Not long after, I was blessed again when I was hired at SOAR Legal as a Legal Assistant. A year later, I was promoted to Asylum Specialist, and this year I was promoted to Cuban Project Coordinator. I have completed various immigration legal trainings and recently became a Department of Justice Accredited Representative, allowing me to practice immigration law.
Assisting people from the immigrant community at SOAR Legal is satisfying work. Meeting with clients who are desperately seeking help reminds me of my first days in this country. I always try to help them with compassion and empathy, because I know firsthand what they are experiencing.
At the beginning of 2023, I faced a new challenge: to become a U.S. citizen. I was very nervous about taking this step. To qualify for U.S. citizenship, immigrants must meet legal criteria; be able to read, write and speak English; and pass an American civics and history test with 100 possible questions.
Once again, I turned to the SOAR Legal team for assistance, who helped me apply for naturalization and provided me with resources to study for the citizenship test. (Learn more about SOAR Legal’s New Americans Initiative in the box on the right.)
On my interview day, it was nerve-racking to know that my future would be defined during a mere seven-minute interview. But the interview went well, I passed the test and fulfilled my dream of becoming an American citizen.
Since leaving Cuba, I have had the freedom to travel to other countries. During these trips, I watch the happiness and joy in my little one’s eyes in seeing incredible things! In moments like this, I realize that even though immigrating was hard, it was the best decision I ever made.
Elena Ricardo Gomar is a DOJ Accredited Representative and Cuban Project Coordinator for EMO’s SOAR Immigration Legal Services.