Cuban Native Describes Life as U.S. Citizen

Commentator Alejandro Barreras is a native Cuban who has lived in the United States for 12 years. He has become a U.S. citizen, but still doesn't feel completely American. He describes his introduction to American culture.

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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

Commentator Alejandro Bujeres(ph) came to America 12 years ago from Cuba. He says his transformation from Cuban to American is still incomplete.

ALEJANDRO BUJERES: From here, it's difficult to imagine the poverty, disillusionment and lack of opportunity in Cuba. My sister is a doctor, a pathologist. If it weren't for the money I send every month, she and her family will starve.

I came to the U.S. from a country with no advertising, no big stores, no free press, and complete state control. The culture shock was seismic, I had never a bank account. I had never driven on a highway. Costco alone almost gave me heart attack.

Everything here has a logo, a uniform, a big lighted sign on a pole by the highway. It's overwhelming. But at the same time, you just want to supersize and buy one, get one free. I used to go to Wal-Mart on my lunch break just to marvel of the variety. They had a mini-iron just for the crease on your pants. I bought one.

I took a road trip on 995 all the way to New York City not too long after I arrived. We stopped at every fast-food joint and casual restaurant. I wanted to be able to tell the difference between Wendy's and Burger King and Cracker Barrel and Long John Silver.

The country looks so big and so rich. I remember thinking in every one of those office buildings, those houses, those malls, there are hundreds of people. They have jobs, houses, cars. Surely I can get a job, a house, a car too.

Credit is something that took a while to comprehend. You mean you're going to lend me money just with my promise to pay it back? I used to read all the solicitations as if they were addressed to me personally, instead of form letters. There you have it, I thought. These people know I am talented, a hard worker.

I couldn't understand it when I was rejected. When I finally did get a car, I promptly charged the $100 limit. It wasn't just shopping. It was becoming an American. But the biggest shock was the way the concepts of freedom and rights are taken for granted here.

Once we were stopped for running a red light. My former wife declined to save the ticket. She argued firmly with the cop. I was paralyzed, convinced that he was going to arrest her or beat her up on the spot. That's what would have happened in Cuba.

She told me afterwards always to stand up for your rights. Behind that badge, he has no better rights than you do. (Unintelligible) you have in those freedoms, those rights, might come naturally to you, but it is something I am still getting used to. I have already become a citizen, but the day I truly become an American will be the day I have (unintelligible) too.

AMOS: Alejandro Bujeres works in advertising in Miami.

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