The Fight for Freedom: Fojo’s Story


Jocelyn Preciado

Ms. Fojo and her daughter Lisa Fojo

Valli Ford, Staff Reporter

At age 16, the average teenager would worry about many things: school, friends, appearances or possibly relationships. Well, many of us may not know that our EL Para Educator Ms. Lourdes Fojo was a Cuban refugee who had to worry about mobs of people who wanted to lynch her at any given moment. Ms. Fojo tells the incredible story of her journey from a communist country to the land of the free.

Life in Cuba was very tough for Ms. Fojo. “We were not given the freedom of religion or speech. Our government had control over all our movement…police could come into your house without a warrant, especially if you were considered to have suspicious motives.” Ms. Fojo also explains how most of the work land is regulated by the government as well. “We don’t have a lot of cows and fruit trees. The government also owns all the cows in Cuba. If you kill a cow in Cuba, you’re sentenced to 15 years in prison. If you commit murder, however, you’ll be sentenced to 10 years.” Among other things, Ms. Fojo and her family decided they had to leave Cuba.

Ms. Fojo and her family weren’t the only people to know about their departure. “My father was a political prisoner, who was against Castro, and we had to report that we were leaving. Once government officials know you’re leaving, they tell all your neighbors you’re a traitor. They instigate crowds to be against you. There were mobs going to our house and throwing frozen eggs at us, and they felt like rocks.” Ms. Fojo also said the mobs pushed down their front door with rope ready in hand to hang the family. “I knew this situation was serious when my mother, who’s normally very peaceful, grabbed a machete and told the mob, ‘The first person who comes here, you will not hurt my daughter.’” Eventually, the police came and took care of the mob.

When Ms. Fojo had to leave Cuba, she left on a very crowded fishing boat after being taken to jail. It was very terrible and traumatizing for her parents, her uncle and grandmother. “On the fishing boat, there was limited space. [We] were in the boat with criminals and patients that belonged in mental institutions and those people were put together with other families. All of us together, with waves higher than our heads, had to keep ourselves afloat by using our body weight as we shifted from side to side.” As they landed, the criminals went to prison, mental patients went to their institutions and the other Cubans like Ms. Fojo went to refugee camps.

Upon settling in the refugee camps for a month, everyone was given free medical exams, food, clothing and many other necessities. Many of them were kissing the ground because they were so grateful. “Cubans were treated wonderfully; I was so excited that I tried to stand, but I couldn’t. We were on welfare for quite some time, and at one point we didn’t need the government’s help anymore. But when we did, they had our backs and helped us.” After their month’s time, Ms. Fojo and her family lived with her aunt and uncle in Alameda for 10 years. Ms. Fojo thought about her home from time to time, saying how “you can never forget your roots. Cuba’s been with me, and it shaped the way I see things. I also experienced things I didn’t like.” While in Alameda, she met a man (who is now her husband) who taught her the English language. Along with her husband, Ms. Fojo’s ESL teacher and some Catholic churches had a huge influence on her during her early years in America.

With her ongoing learning experience here, Ms. Fojo notices how other parts of the world are very critical of America. “[America] helps other people. We know we need to help, but the rest of the world sees us as selfish. But, we work hard for the money and we deserve it.” She does, however, believe we can work on some issues we’re currently facing. Ms. Fojo herself has never experienced any form of racism and she wishes to know the language better. She knows that while there are tough times, America is the best place to go to “coming from someone who lived under communism.”

Ms. Fojo’s daughter, Lisa Fojo, also had a story to tell. Having her Cuban background, she was treated like an American and had assimilated very well with her schooling. A 2004 West High graduate, Lisa Fojo noticed how the campus was really diverse. “I would be with different cultures all the time, and sometimes I would lose being Cuban and be Latina.” However, when it came time for college, she didn’t feel too much support as she got older. “I learned more about stigma and prejudice in college. For the first time, I felt what it was like to be a minority.” Lisa Fojo has been to Cuba three times. The first time she was there, she went by herself, due to some complications, but she had a great time and experienced a lot. The most recent time they returned, it was a powerful experience for her mother, who hadn’t seen her cousins or other family in 35 years.

According to Ms. Fojo, when they went back to visit, the people who would dehumanize her didn’t recognize her, though her close friends knew Ms. Fojo’s story. “Those who did, however, still felt the jealousy that existed many years ago. They think we had everything just because we were in America…they don’t show gratitude.”

Despite all the bad memories, Ms. Fojo did make some nice ones. “I remember when we would go swimming…you could be 10 feet deep, and the water would still be extremely crystal clear. I would also climb mango trees, and I would remember my grandmother yelling at me to get back down. Due to the fact that many families were poor and controlled, we were very close. And every Sunday, we would have a get-together and eat meals. I didn’t feel like the happiness was there anymore when I came back. It hurts a lot and discourages my return.”

For those who are immigrants, Fojo’s advice would be to try to assimilate. Learn the English language, obey the country’s laws and dream the American dream. “This is the country who took me in, and I’m forever grateful.”