Harold Martinez, Cuba

The arrival: April 2007.

The job: Sales associate and stylist at John Varvatos, an upscale clothing store at the Hard Rock Hotel. He also works as a magician, opening for Jeff McBride at the Olive Mediterranean Grill.

The story: Martinez was a magician in Cuba, working in hotels and resorts. The job was a privilege. People had to audition for admission to a training school for future hotel employees. Few graduated, but the payoff was well worth it. “At the hotels we made more than engineers or doctors because of all the tips we got,” he says. But he also got too much knowledge of the outside world. “We had people coming from France and Canada. They would talk about traveling and their own politics, and they seemed so free and happy,” he says. And while life at work was enjoyable, the outside world was stressful. “I had friends who went to jail for making comments about the government,” he says. “You can never trust anyone.”

The message: Martinez has become something of a political junkie. Not in the way most people here love it these days—with that dark ferocity—but with awe of appreciation and curiosity. “I love that there are two parties and we can decide which one is better,” he says. “Communism sounds good—it’s pretty. But in life people are hungry,” he says. “You have to live with your parents forever because you can’t buy a house.” Martinez misses his country—the beauty and joy of the island—but he now has a daughter, and he says he is excited about providing her all that American life has to offer. “Here we are free, we can do everything we want to do and spend our money on what we want to. And you don’t have to be afraid.”

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