Rosa Maria Perez

Rosa Maria Perez can clearly remember the day she first arrived in the United States in May 2014. The ground she stepped on was everything she dreamed of — pretty, clean. She said she liked everything.

“I felt like I was born here,” the 56-year-old said. “My family here even said ‘We’ve never seen someone who arrives here act like you do — who hasn’t missed Cuba.'”

Someone who hasn’t cried yet for her native land.

Perez’s family brought her to several stores to show her what they’re like in America, including a Winn-Dixie supermarket. She called it wonderful.

“In Cuba, you don’t see that. Not even the biggest markets there are as big as ones here,” she said.

Perez’s family told her to get whatever she wanted. She picked cheese and a soda. Cheese is very expensive in Cuba, she explained.

Before Perez landed, her family in the U.S. had asked what she wanted for her first meal here. Perez laughed as she recalled asking for soup with all the fixings — noodles, pork, chicken and vegetables.

“In Cuba, you can never find everything you want to eat in a day — it’s a lot of work to compile all the ingredients together,” she said, her laugh growing. “I ate it with so much pleasure.”

Though she wasn’t homesick, Perez said she missed her children. Maurin, Amaury and Yuniel, stayed behind in Cuba.

Ever since she was 20 years old, Perez had been trying to leave for the U.S. She heard it was the second paraíso — paradise — on Earth. She just didn’t want to risk her life like many others have to get here, and instead tried to get here through legal routes. She finally got her break when her father, a former political prisoner, went first.

“I had always fought for this until, finally, I made it. I’m here,” Perez said. “I don’t regret it.”