Cuban Yoe

By: Mónica B. Ocasio Vega

More than 10 people came into Galaxy Video Store in Cabo Rojo looking for movie rentals between 7:00 and 7:30 pm on a recent Friday night. They all share a common denominator: Yoemir assisted them.

During that evening, in a store full of movies, Yoemir Rodríguez greeted everyone with an ample smile and a cheerful “good evening.” He knew most of the people that came in because they frequent his video store. He knew even the children that came in with their parents to rent their regular Friday night movie.

But they might not know him as well. They might not even know that he’s a Cuban immigrant.

“I left Cuba when I was 21-years-old,” says Yoemir Rodríguez now 32. “I left mainly because of the lack of freedom of speech and I wanted to see a different lifestyle.”

When clients look at Yoemir, they might only see a tall, dark-hair young man who enjoys triathlons, works late and has an “average Joe” daytime job. But beneath that surface appearance stands a man whose life has been full of adventure.

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Yoemir Rodríguez, 32, thinks back to his days living in Cuba.

“When I first left Cuba, I moved to Spain. Then I went on to live a couple of months in the city of lights, France,” says Yoemir. After France he moved to Miami, “the second Cuba,” and then finally arrived in Puerto Rico in 2005. He currently works for the city of Cabo Rojo as its Federal Programs Office Director. He also owns Galaxy Video Store in Cabo Rojo.

The journey that predated these accomplishments is not ordinary. Rodríguez left Cuba without any higher education degrees. However, his current job with the city of Cabo Rojo challenged him to further his studies. He attended Interamerican University in San Germán, where he obtained an accounting degree and graduated Magna Cum laude.

Moving from Cuba to Spain was a significant transition in his life. Moreover, relocating in Puerto Rico entailed confronting new challenges. “Coming from big cities I came to find out the contrast between the citizen treatments here in the island and the places I lived in. In Europe I could walk everywhere; here I had to have a car if I wanted to get anywhere,” says Yoemir. “I did like the warmth of the  people in the island and also their humbleness.”

Yoemir’s life has also been marked by discrimination, even in a fellow Caribbean island like Puerto Rico. When he lived in France people discriminated against him for speaking Spanish, but when he moved to Puerto Rico people discriminated him for being Cuban.

His first job in the island was in a factory. He recalls noticing that his co-workers kept him at bay, so he asked a friend about it. “They’re mad because a close relative of them could have the job you have,” his friend said.

He also struggled to challenge people’s stereotypes about Cubans. “There is this idea that all Cubans are proud and loud, sometimes people see me this way even though I’m not.”

As all people, he has missed his home in Cuba, especially his family. “I grew up in Holguín, which is on the oriental part of Cuba, opposite to La Habana,” said Yoemir as he remembered a very special occasion while living there. He also said there will be memories of times he will probably never live again.

One such memory is of a family holiday party at his grandmother’s house.“She had a “burén” in which cassava could be made. It was a tradition, the roasting of a pig manually, and all of us playing dominoes. Our deal was that whoever lost at the game had to take a turn at roasting the pig.”

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Rodríguez Rodríguez practiced swimming in Cuba, and now practices triathlons in Puerto Rico.

Even if he is away from Cuba, he still cultivates some of the disciplines he learned in his dearest motherland, for nowadays Yoemir is a triathlon athlete. “When I lived in Cuba I went to the sports school where I practiced swimming until the twelfth grade,” he says. “Now I run triathlons.” With this sporting practice Yoemir has been able to create strong friendships and meet people that make him grow closer to his new home. René Torres, a fellow friend and athlete regards Yoemir as a “unique person.”

After his unusual journey, at t 32, Yoemir still has goals to accomplish in his professional and personal life. “I would like to continue on growing in my job and find more ways to challenge myself,” he says.

“Yoemir is an example of perseverance and he’s a good man,” says close friend and town worker Enrique Maíz. He’s indeed a persevering person. He has been able to live in various places, all different from one another, with no one to look over him or anyone for him to rely on for help and has still been able to become a successful business owner that looks constantly for ways to improve professionally and personally.

Relay For Life: A Ray of Hope

By: Jermian J. Román Estrada  &  Yelitza I. Nieves Prosper

15 May 2012

Color Feature

The past April 28 & 29, 2012, the UPRM’s synthetic track was the scene for the annual event of Relay For Life. The American Cancer Society organizes this event in order to collect funds to help cancer patients on their fight against this disease.

Relay For Life is more of a communitarian event more than an athletic one, in which many communities get together in one place to celebrate the fight against cancer and to remember the people who died fighting. The schools, corporations, clubs and even groups of families and friends participates which working all the year to collect funds for the American Cancer Society. They perform many activities and sell t-shirts, hats, and merchandise allusive to the event to collect the money.

As Relay For Life is known worldwide, everyone have heard about it, but only a few know more of it. Many people think that Relay For Life is just walking an entire day in a track.  They ignore that this event involves a lot of meanings, purposes, activities and even prizes.

The principal activities are the three representative words: “Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back”. The event starts with the Survivors Lap, also known as the Victory Lap. At night, they make a lap in silence for the deceased. The next day the event finishes with a lap to Fight Back, making a pledge to keep fighting.

Relay For Life started with a parade of all the groups participating, organized by the number of their tent. Every group had a theme of a holiday because of the motto “One World. One Party. One Hope.”  Each tent related the holiday to the fight with cancer.

The student’s organization SHPE-UPRM in the parade. The theme of their tent was “Las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian”.The student’s organization SHPE-UPRM in the parade. The theme of their tent was “Las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian”.

The student’s organization SHPE-UPRM in the parade. The theme of their tent was “Las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian”.

The UPRM band started the parade with the “abanderadas”, followed with the staff of the event and the other groups. Carolina Plaza, Univision reporter, presented the groups while they were walking beneath the arc of Relay for Life.

During this year’s event, the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez Campus had organized 8 teams which were: Sororities of UPRM, Fraternities of UPRM, SHPE, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Industrial Engineering and Business Administration, being Business Administration the group that most funds collected. The relay was from 4 pm of the 28th of April up to 12pm of the 29th of April. The Relay Event makes reference to the proverb: “Cancer never rests”. Due to this proverb, during the event there must always be at least one member running or walking for each team.

Other groups participating were corporation groups like Mr. Special and Sears. High Schools like Eugenio Maria de Hostos from Mayaguez, Segundo Ruiz Belvis from Hormigueros, and some private schools like SESO from Mayaguez participate too. Even when people did not belong to any team, they supported the fight taking short walks on the circuit to complete a lap.

After the parade began the protocol acts to officially start the event. First, they made a prayer. The UPRM rector, Dr. Jorge Rivera Santos, make the commitment to repeat  Relay For Life again in the Campus.

Carmen “Annie” Negron, President of Relay For Life, talked and thanked the staff for their help. They presented the symbol girl, Grecia Kamila Martinez and the godparents, Zamarie Ponce Fantauzzi and Rafael Antonio Martinez Pantoja. Finally, they talked about Relay For Life’s origins.

This event has been celebrated since Dr. Gordy Klatt, a Tacoma colorectal surgeon, wanted to enhance the income of his local American Cancer Society office. In May of 1985, he decided to personally raise money for the fight against cancer by doing something he enjoyed, which was running marathons.

At the time being, Dr. Gordy Klatt spent 24 hours running and walking Baker Stadium at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. In order to help Dr. Klatt in his cause, friends of his paid to run or walk with him for lapses of 30 minutes. When Dr. Klatt finished the marathon, he raised a quantity of $27,000. This was when Dr. Klatt saw a glimpse of the future and saw a 24 hour relay marathon where teams would run or walk to raise funds and awareness against cancer which would later become the first team relay event known as the City of Destiny Classic 24-Hour Run Against Cancer.

The survivors, with dark purple t-shirts,  in the Survivors Lap (Victory Lap).  They start the Relay for Life celebrating the fight aginst cancer..

The survivors, with dark purple t-shirts, in the Survivors Lap (Victory Lap). They start the Relay for Life celebrating the fight aginst cancer..

After that, they did the Survivor Lap. Survivors are invited to circle the track together and help everyone celebrate the victories they have achieved over cancer. The survivors were using dark purple t-shirts and a banner which read: “We are the survivors. Your reason for relay.”

At 8:00 p.m. start the Luminaria Ceremony, the participants walked the track lined with luminaria bags in reflection. The Luminaria were a lighted candle inside a paper bag with rocks, which the box have the name of the person that bought it, and the name of the person to whom it was dedicated.

This part of the event was made to remember the ones that had fallen and lost their lives, never giving up, battling cancer.  As the candles were being lit, there were also hot air balloons that symbolized how the light of those loved ones that died fighting cancer, parted away to the sky to remind all the participants and supporters at Relay For Life about their fight.

Each group elevate an air balloon . They symbolized the memories of all the participants and supporters at Relay For Life.

Each group elevate an air balloon . They symbolized the memories of all the participants and supporters at Relay For Life.

At that moment is also taking place the Caregivers Ceremony. These individuals give their time, love, and support to friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers who face cancer. These Caregivers are identified this year with a plastic transparent medal.

“The caregivers are people near cancer patients; we advise, help, care and motivate them.” said Ana ‘Annie’ M. Sebastian, who has been a caregiver for the last three years. “I had been in contact with the woman I care and she has been active and she even forgets about her disease.” express ‘Annie’ referring to the optimist attitude and the good time she has with her patient.

Agnes Fenollal, a breast cancer survivor, gave words of inspiration to fellow kinsmen for their battles which also served as motivation to others that once were in the same situation. “My battle against cancer has been an intense one, full of doubts and questions. I was very scared because I did not know what to expect, which became to be an uncertain future. In the end, my motivation in life has been and always will be my kids, besides God, in whom I trust and believe in. I have faith and trust that God has a purpose for everything, everything is about having a positive and hopeful attitude and living every day to the max.”

“At Relay, you can find healing, comfort, and support from others who have faced cancer or who have lost a loved one to the disease” express the official Relay For Life website.. Also, you can gather together with friends, family, and colleagues to laugh, cry, and create lasting memories. Each person who shares the Relay experience can take pride in knowing that they are working to create a world where this disease will no longer threaten the lives of our loved ones or claim another year of anyone’s life.

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