First Years in the United States

Lawrence, MA

Orlando migrated to Lawrence, Massachusetts on March 14, 1964 when he was eighteen, almost nineteen, years old.  He arrived to Boston Logan Airport late after “missing [his] flight twice in New York because [he] didn’t understand American English.”

Lawrence, Massachusetts

A decade earlier, in the 1950s, Latino migration to Lawrence started with Puerto Ricans moving to the city in search of economic opportunity5.  In the 1960s, Cuban refugees and Dominican migrants were drawn to Lawrence for reasons similar to those of the Puerto Ricans.  In Lawrence, Orlando shared an apartment with Ivo, a Cuban friend of the family who had recently moved to Lawrence.  Ivo had only been living in Massachusetts for about a year when Orlando arrived, a move that was made possible by a church helping move Cubans out of Miami, Florida.

First apartment with his Cuban brother Ivo

From left to right, Ivo, Orlando’s Cuban brother and Orlando in their apartment in Lawrence, MA circa 1964.

Orlando proceeded to apply for acceptance into a college or university, a process that proved to be much more challenging than gaining citizenship. In addition to being an immigrant, Orlando came to the United States towards the end of the academic year, making it almost impossible to earn admittance to a school.  In order to understand the entirety of Orlando’s college experience, or lack their of, here is his account of the situation:

“I tried to enroll in a college and I had a hard time getting in the college because I was not enrolled from Venezuela, I was walking in to get into the college and I didn’t get the best reception.  So the priest at the college said, or what do you call the person that is…in charge of admissions…something like that.  He, I guess he gave me a little bit of a hard time.  He said that I needed to keep up with my English in order to be able to keep up in the classroom and so on.  Even though I had English in Venezuela since I was in kindergarten, but I was not fluent [in] speaking because there was nobody to speak it with, so I knew grammar but I didn’t know how to converse or perhaps even comprehend a lot of terminology, especially college terminology.  He talked me into going back to school so I went back to high school for one year to get my [American] degree in high school.”

Orlando's first week, and first snow, in Massachusetts.

Orlando’s first week, and first snow, in Massachusetts circa 1964.

After graduating from Methuen High School and taking the SATs, Orlando went back to the admissions officer in hopes of being granted admission into college.  Contrastingly, the officer told him, ‘“first year students have to live…in the college dorms…[but] we don’t have any rooms [available] this year.’”  So Orlando “used the worst English [he] could muster and let him have a few choice words…and walked out,” deciding it was time to get a job in order to earn a living.

In regards to attaining U.S. citizenship, Orlando shared this story:

“It was very very easy.  When I came here, I came basically as a tourist because I was coming in the middle of the school year already so I didn’t have time to go apply for the applying for the schools here ahead of time…I came and I was here for I don’t know a few months and maybe three or four months, my visa was still valid, and I went to the immigration department and I said, ‘I’m gonna be going to school over here so, what do I do?’  So the guy was very nice…he said, ‘Well, you could become a resident.’  And in those days Venezuela was tops with regards to immigration, we didn’t have, there were no problems at all so I applied for a resident’s visa.  I could have applied for a student visa and I said, ‘No give me the resident’ and he said, ‘Sure no problem.’  You know it’s not like it is now, ‘We don’t want you in this country, there are too many of you people.’  So, I applied and he said, ‘The only thing you have to do is you have to register for the army.’

U.S. convoy in Vietnam.

U.S. convoy in Vietnam.

I said, ‘Sure, alrighty…the Vietnam War…I don’t care, I’m here now and I’m gonna do whatever it is.’  I had already registered for the service in Venezuela but I was deferred because I was a student.  I said, ‘Fine.’  I had to go to Boston to the navy yard and go through the tests and they failed me because I had a bad eye, retina detachment, in my right eye so they gave me a 4-F rating. In those days apparently they didn’t need so many people for the Vietnam thing ‘cause I was willing to go, whatever you have to do you do.”