When my grandfather was just five years old, his family decided that the best way to improve their quality of life would be to pick up their lives and move from Cuba to the United States. “I wasn’t really told that we were going,” he said. “I didn’t want to go but I didn’t have much of a choice because my parents wanted to go.” With that, my grandfather along with his family got on a plane to Florida.
Charles Abrams was born in Cuba near the end of World War II. He lived in a house with his mother, father and brother. They owned a shoe factory in Matanzas where they made and repaired shoes. This all abruptly changed with their move to the United States.
Within days, my grandfather and his family were in New York doing their best to fit in and assimilate into American culture. “New York was an interesting city in those days and I learned English and Yiddish at the same time,” he said. “Within three months, I was pretty good at it. I could communicate with kids outside.” By this point, my grandfather was trilingual. “English was the great equalizer that set me equal to everyone else,” he said. His ability to pick up English so quickly enabled him to communicate with a variety of people and learn their different viewpoints and ideas.
“My parents instilled in me an appreciation for the difficulties that people who did not live in the United States experienced,” he said, reflecting on how his unique heritage has impacted him as a person. He grew up with an immense appreciation for the hardships of others, most notably, families in Europe who did not have enough food. He even went so far as to say that the reason he chose to study psychology was because he thought it would be the most beneficial to society.
Moving to the United States opened up countless doors for my grandfather, the most notable being education. He attended Syracuse University where he studied psychology. “My college was completely free,” he said. “I think the only thing that I paid for in college was books and some lab fees. Your grandma and I once figured out that our entire college education cost $500.” He later mentioned that he believed that if he had stayed in Cuba, he would have been unable to attend college or graduate school.
In a separate interview, my grandmother speculated on my grandfather’s remarkably quick and easy assimilation into the United States. “I think his ability to understand people from different countries came from his parents,” she said. “His parents came from other countries and he migrated himself. I think it provides a whole different way of looking at the world. The effects could even be deeper than I am aware of at this point.”