Posted on Friday, 03.28.14
The riches of Miami's exile community reflected in its young
BY FABIOLA SANTIAGO
There's seldom a dearth of pathetic and pitiable news on my plate.
Drunken bad boys, otherwise known as the U.S. Secret Service, disrespect
with their reckless behavior the president they swore to protect. The
campaign for the governorship of Florida turns into an ugly little
ethnic war. The Cuban charade known as the National Assembly hands down
the edict from Mount Havana to The Exile that Cuban-Americans, whose
homes and businesses the same government confiscated, are welcomed as
When high school senior Flavia Cuervo popped into my day, I was well
into Saturday satire, writing about how far Cuban-Americans have come
from the label " gusanos" (worms) when we fled Cuba's Communist regime
to now being privileged " inversionistas extranjeros," a right still
denied to Cuba's citizens.
Flavia chimed in like a burst of light and hope.
"Good news!" the editor-in-chief of The Harbinger, the school newspaper
at Miami Lakes Educational Center, wrote me. "Last night, I learned that
I was accepted to Harvard, Yale and Princeton."
I choked up, as thrilled as if she were my daughter.
The Harbinger staffers are something else. They weigh in on social
issues, world events, generational riffs — and a couple of weeks ago,
they held a Twitter Talk on the Cuban embargo that was a more
interesting and respectful conversation than what I've heard from many
"The underlying importance of the discussion is not simply to be used as
a trading chip or ultimate move, it is a discussion that bridges a gap
between generations," Flavia wrote about the embargo on the school's
If this is what "The Selfie Generation" looks like, snap away.
The granddaughter of a Cuban political prisoner, Flavia came to this
country with her family in 1999 when she was 3 years old, and the family
settled in the Hialeah-Miami Lakes area. She went into elementary school
as an English-for- Speakers-of-Other-Languages student. At 5, she could
read in Spanish — her mother taught her — but knew little English.
By first grade Flavia was out of ESOL, and by third grade, she was
excelling at Miami Lakes Elementary's gifted program, where she remained
until eighth grade when the school became a K-8 center. She had talent
and worked hard at every subject, but she loved most of all, science.
Flavia applied at Mast Academy, the prestigious Virginia Key magnet high
school that has become controversial because worthy students are turned
down in favor of less academically accomplished students from nearby Key
"It was my dream to go there," Flavia told me, still a bit wistful.
But she was turned down.
She went with her second choice — Miami Lakes Educational, now an "A"
school but once considered only a vocational school for potential
dropouts. She became a part of the rigorous Cambridge Academy program,
which focuses on engineering technology, forensic science, and journalism.
It was in journalism that she found a mentor in English teacher and
newspaper adviser Neyda A. Borges, whose own life story mirrors
Flavia's, and along with her 6.39 weighted grade-point average, her
writer's voice. She's taken on people who stereotype her generation as
apathetic, ignorant, indifferent. She moderated the embargo debate. Her
college essays are heart-wrenching and uplifting at the same time.
"Too often, I fall into these categories: female, Hispanic, immigrant,
divorced parents," she wrote on her Harvard application. "The numbers
tell me that I am supposed to fail, that I'm destined to… Too often I'm
reminded that I am not expected to excel in a male-dominated industry or
get accepted to a top college or graduate with honors."
How sweet it is to watch her conquer.
A Gates Millennium scholarship finalist, Flavia hasn't yet decided where
she'll go. There will be campus visits and financial aid packages for
the working-class family to review.
"A friend tweeted about me being an Ivy League girl now, and I thought,
'Oh, wow, that's me now.' That's so surreal."
But it's all too real. Hers is the kind of story we've come to expect
from immigrant-rich, multicultural Miami.
Such are sometimes the spoils of exile.
Source: Fabiola Santiago: The riches of Miami's exile community
reflected in its young - Fabiola Santiago - MiamiHerald.com -