After years of education and working in the system, Desiree Gutierrez realized that she reached a glass ceiling. Her gender would limit her ability to advance her career and ultimately define her success. For Gutierrez, this was not an option.
Thinking about coming to the United States was a very quick decision. Gutierrez, a Cuban refugee, has a background in psychology and hotel management training. When she finished her last hospitality course, Gutierrez realized that not all her preparation would work in Cuba.
“I needed a place where you can have a dream and you can accomplish it,” said Gutierrez.
She packed her bags and began a journey through Central America to reach the United States. Gutierrez took advantage of the Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows Cubans who enter the United States to qualify for expedited legal permanent resident status and U.S. citizenship.
“The moment that I arrived in the United States is one of the moments in my life that I will never forget,” said Gutierrez. “I crossed the Nuevo Laredo Bridge into Texas. I felt that every single step I took was going to change my life. Everything was going to be new.”
The Office of Refugee Resettlement helped Gutierrez adjust through the Cuban Haitian Program, a division of Refugee Assistance that provides discretionary grants to state and state-alternative programs to fund assistance and services in localities most heavily impacted by an influx of Cuban and Haitian entrants and refugees.
The program helped Gutierrez with job placement and orientation.
Today, Gutierrez works for the hotel industry in Naples, Fla., where she oversees a housekeeping team that includes many refugees. Never forgetting where she came from, Gutierrez includes English and citizenship lessons in the workplace to help prep her fellow refugees for their citizenship tests.
“This not only helps our refugee staff members with their studying, but it helps our American coworkers see how important learning the English language and learning the civic questions on the citizenship tests are to these new Americans,” said Gutierrez, who is tapping into her psychology background to help improve morale at work.
Gutierrez not only recognizes her workforce for performance levels at work, but for accomplishments outside the workplace — such as their children’s good grades.
“I want to give back and that’s what I have done since I got here,” she said. “I miss my family, parents and friends. But I think I’m in the right place.”
To learn more about the Office of Refugee Resettlement and the Cuban Haitian Program, visit /programs/orr/programs/cuban-haitian.
Founded on the belief that newly arriving populations have inherent capabilities when given opportunities, the Office of Refugee Resettlement provides people in need with critical resources to assist them in becoming integrated members of American society. Since 1975, the U.S. has resettled approximately 2.6 million refugees. Today, the U.S. takes in more refugees than all other countries combined. In Fiscal Year 2010, ORR provided more than 101,000 refugees with resettlement assistance. Only less than half of one percent of the refugees in the world (around 62 million) gets resettled. For more information, visit www.acf.hhs.gov/orr.