Laura F. Davis, Ph.D., ACSW, LMSW – Professor, Eastern Michigan University, Ypilanti, MI
Maria V. Munoz, LMSW, ACSW – Transition Coach/Admissions Social Worker, Detroit, MI
Abstract: This study offers a first-person account of family reunification taking place 50 years after a family arrived in the United States from Cuba. It uses the case of Maria, who was four years old at the time of immigration, to demonstrate the intersection of policy and practice. The U.S. embargo of Cuba contributed to Maria’s lack of social supports to deal with separation, loss and grief, and the integration of a culturally-integrated personal identity. The experience gained on an NASW-Michigan sponsored research trip to Cuba provides a model of courage and hope as Maria returns to her country of origin and reconnects with her extended family. Implications for practice are presented based on research techniques using direct scribing and narrative therapy techniques with a single subject. The narrative focuses on three distinct time periods – before the trip, during the trip and after the trip, in accordance with Maria’s sense of shifting identity.
Direct Scribing: Direct scribing is a research technique that uses an interview format to explore subjects’ experiences and perceptions (Martin, 1998, Nybell, 2013). The subject describes an event or responds to a question or prompt while the researcher simultaneously transcribes the response. Subjects then have the opportunity to review and supplement this transcribed narrative either immediately or at a subsequent interview based on their own understanding of what they meant to say. This recursive procedure allows researchers to obtain more in-depth information while also empowering participants. Interview questions may be developed on any subject of interest, either jointly with the subjects or by the researcher.
History: In 1959, a revolution led by Fidel Castro replaced the repressive Batista-led government with a socialist state. The United States responded a year-and-a-half later by implementing a wide-ranging embargo on the transfer of goods, services and visitors between the United States and Cuba. The revolution and subsequent embargo resulted in a surge in immigration to the United States by Cuban residents. Because of the embargo, most of these immigrants have been unable to return to visit family and friends in Cuba since they left. This has limited the ability of Cuban-American immigrants to connect to their family and culture, sometimes with disastrous consequences for Cuban-American family life (Rampersad, 2012).
Analysis: Because of recent changes in U.S. policies toward the embargo, Maria was able to make a trip to Cuba with the NASW in October of 2013 and will be able to return to visit her family. By returning to Cuba, she was able to challenge lifelong beliefs that her country and culture were a failed experiment that should be feared and hidden. Subsequently, through direct scribing, she was able to articulate her family’s circumstances as she exchanged positive, hopeful beliefs for those of shame and fear. The sense of isolation that has haunted her since childhood lifted. She now experiences her social similarities and differences as emanating from a single Cuban-American identity.
Implications for Practice: Maria initially experienced apprehension about returning to Cuba, including more than one false start. She feared visiting a place that had been presented as negative to her throughout her life. Yet, she summoned the courage to act on her sense of hope that she could fit in somewhere. It is that same courage that kept hope alive for her during difficult times. The trip proved to be the impetus to helping her solidify her Cuban-American identity and finding a sense of personal unity. The use of direct scribing helped Maria to identify and analyze those feelings as she moved forward. She subsequently understands how policies like the embargo led to a distorted sense of self and country, and she is empowered to lobby for change and speak out about the policies that have limited her family interaction
Many immigrants are cut off from their cultures and countries because of war, poverty and natural disaster. As they resettle in the U.S., it is helpful for them to reconstruct their stories and to separate myths from realities as they visualize the places they have left. There is much to be learned that is mutually beneficial using direct scribing, listening to the true voice of the experience of those making cultural transitions and integrating their needs into advocacy for policy change
Buckley, E. and P. Decter. 2006. From isolation to community. International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work. 2, 3-23.
DeGenova, M. 1997. Families in Cultural Context: Strengths and Challenges in Diversity. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing.
Frank, M. 2013. Cuban Revelations. Gainsville, FL: University Press of Florida.
Nybell, L.M. 2013. Locating “youth voice.” Considering the contexts of speaking in fostercare. Children and Youth Services Review. 35:8, 1227-1235.
Rampersad, I. 2012. Anti-Embargo activism and U.S. Cuban policy: a rational departure. International Journal of Cuban Studies. 4:1.
Zimmerman, J. L. and V. C. Dickerson. Narrative therapy and the work of Michael White. Cupertino, CA: 21760 Stevens Creek Blvd., 204, 1-18. (unpublished paper)