A Classic Miami Story
BY GEMMA SANTOS
When I arrived in Miami in the early 1970s, I never could imagine that I would end up calling Miami home.
Nor could I imagine that, years later, I would be one of eight individuals in this great nation tapped to create a new examination for immigrants applying to become U.S. citizens.
We came to Miami after a short stay in Spain. I came with my parents, Isabel and Ramon Santos, and my younger sister, Ana. Like many young children, we were excited about moving into a new place, learning a new language and making new friends.
We did not understand that my mother's quiet cries and my dad's despondency at the lack of jobs meant we were in exile. As we left Cuba, my dad had prohibited us from looking back to wave goodbye to our grandmothers and aunt as we walked through the tarmac. He knew it was the point of no return.
Miami was difficult for my parents, who had to learn English and work in fields outside of their expertise. My mother worked at the employees' cafeteria at Mercy Hospital in Coconut Grove, while my dad, who had worked in the furniture business in Cuba, worked at many jobs before starting his interior design business. He is still active today at 75.
My mother was another story.
Even though she had a university degree and she had been a school principal for 21 years in her native Cuba, she was the silent sacrificial lamb. She worked at Mercy for more than 15 years while attending night school to revalidate her university studies. She did this so we had health insurance.
Once she finished school, she secured a teaching position at Westview Elementary. From there, she taught at South Hialeah Elementary, until she retired in 2000.
My mother's resiliency must have worn off because I firmly believe education is the stepping stone to improve my community. A product of Miami-Dade public schools, I attended the University of Miami, where I graduated with a bachelor's degree in arts and science and a master's of science in education. I graduated from Florida State University with a juris doctorate and I am attending Nova University to complete my doctoral degree in education.
Originally, I wanted to practice law, but when I found a part-time teaching position to supplement my income as a paralegal at the Miami-Dade State Attorney's office, I fell in love with teaching. I returned to school to get my credentials and have been teaching for more than 20 years.
I got my start at Brownsville Middle. Today, I work in the communications department of Miami-Dade Schools and teach part-time at Miami High's adult education center. It was in my adult education classroom, where I was preparing immigrants to become American citizens, that I got the call to join a think tank of experts who would be charged with creating a standardized test for citizenship applicants in 2006. It was the first such test.
I live in Kendall with my husband Carlos Catire and our 13-year-old son Francis. My parents and sister still live in the same home that I grew up in West Miami.
I am a volunteer with United Way, Hands on Miami, the Junior League of Miami, Hearing and Speech Center and other professional organizations.
It is my way of saying, ``Thank you, Miami,'' for opening your arms to us many years ago.