Marissa Cardenas, Cuba

The arrival: August 2004.

The job: Porter at The Mirage

The story: For more than 20 years, Cardenas was a microbiologist in Cuba. But she began to feel trapped. “You can’t say anything against Fidel Castro or complain about the government. Even in your house, you have to whisper or you can go to jail,” she says. The nation’s economic realities—never bright, but increasingly bleak since the end of Soviet assistance two decades ago—didn’t help, either. “Even if you have the money you can’t buy anything,” she says. “If you want to buy spaghetti, they give you only a handful or two ounces per family for one month. We have a free education in Cuba, but we don’t have money for pencils or materials to write on.”

The final straw for Cardenas came when she was asked to leave her laboratory and go work in the fields because they were short on workers. She refused this “offer.” When Cardenas was granted refugee status, she was asked if she wanted to go to Miami. “I said, ‘No, I’ll never learn English there,’” Cardenas recalls. “Send me to where they don’t speak Spanish!’”

She wound up in Las Vegas.

The next step: Cardenas is working hard on her English. Her goal is to take some classes and work in health care again. “I like my job as a porter,” she says. “But I want to be able to work in the medical field again and help people.”

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