Enmanuel Sotomayor Tabares and Aurora D. Bosch Perez met in medical school in Cuba, fell in love, married, and both became doctors, working in the ICU, emergency in general, and internal medicine. On behalf of the Cuban government, they went to Venezuela to practice. That’s when things went downhill.
“We thought our mission to Venezuela would be a humanitarian one,” says Sotomayor. “We thought it was to help people. But it was not what we signed up for. We only received a very small portion of what Venezuela was paying Cuba for our work. We slept on a bare mattress, and we were practicing medicine in a war zone. The Cuban government asked us to do things we weren’t comfortable with – and when we didn’t do those things, we got in trouble. It was all lies. It had nothing to do with helping people. It all revolved around politics.”
The couple knew they needed to leave and wanted to come to the U.S.; however, they didn’t speak English. They needed to get to Colombia before the U.S., but there were forms and applications to fill out.
“We went to a public library to use their computer, but you couldn’t save what you did. We would have to translate the English forms into Spanish and vice versa. It took us seven or 10 tries to translate it so we could understand it. We spent 48 hours straight working on it. People were walking around, looking, so we would delete the whole thing,” says Sotomayor.
“I don’t think I would have done it with kids; it was so dangerous,” says Bosch. “Our main goal was to get here, to the U.S., and to freedom and opportunities. We didn’t think it through; we didn’t think about my mom, his mom — we could have been killed. We had to cross borders without documentation. We had to go through Colombia.”
The couple eventually made it to Colombia and then to Miami. An uncle provided the money for the flight. They came through a refugee program for Cubans. “We were supposed to go to Las Vegas or Kentucky, but they sent us to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 2015,” says Sotomayor.
But in choosing freedom and turning their backs on Cuba, the doctors had to start over in a place where their medical degrees were not recognized.
“Once we abandoned our Venezuelan mission, we were no longer Cuban citizens,” says Bosch. “Coming to a country like this was huge. We have insurance. We can sleep at night without fear that something might happen. It’s a huge difference. It’s the best feeling ever.”
“In Cuba, they tell you that the poverty in the U.S. is so high that people die frozen on the streets and have nothing to eat and are evicted from their houses,” says Sotomayor. “They told us lies.”
“We ate from churches. We took classes to learn how to be a citizen and how to speak English. One of the churches gave us a paper with which church had food on which day. I’m not a citizen yet, but I have the support of a community,” says Bosch.
Bosch plans to get her U.S. citizenship this year and is excited to have her citizenship interview scheduled. Sotomayor became a U.S. citizen in August 2021.
Bosch’s first job offer in the medical field was as a janitor at Lancaster General, but she said it would have killed her soul to do that. So for the first three years in the U.S., the couple worked in a warehouse. Bosch wrapped Christmas presents. Sotomayor also ended up at the warehouse since it paid more money. “But we were safe, and we were free. We had the opportunity to move forward,” says Bosch.
Then they met Dr. Daniel Weber, who has been helping Cuban doctors for many years. When he learned how Cuban doctors were stuck in menial employment in the U.S., the retired Lancaster obstetrician/gynecologist kept thinking of the waste of talent and experience. And, because no one else was doing it, he decided he would launch a program to get them back into medicine or a related field if that was their dream.
“Dr. Weber helped us immensely. He guided us to the program at Penn State Harrisburg,” says Sotomayor.
The couple received their bachelor’s in nursing at Penn State Harrisburg, and Weber then connected them with Dr. Kelly Kuhns and Millersville’s Wehrheim School of Nursing. They are now in the master’s program at Millersville and will graduate as nurse practitioners in 2024.
“The main thing with Dr. Kuhns was that she knew our background and believed in us,” says Bosch. “We are first generation here. We have no relatives here. Everyone is back in Cuba. We are building a future here for our two kids and us. Dr. Kuhns is someone on our side. She’s someone to tell us ‘you can do it.’ We’ve been blessed to have people in our lives who are mentors to us. Dr. Weber and Dr. Kuhns are certainly among those.”
“I met Dr. Weber through the Lancaster Literacy Council,” says Kuhns. “We hope they will go through our DNP [Doctor of Nursing Practice] when they graduate from the MSN [Master of Science in Nursing] program,” says Kuhns. “We have a holistic view of health care here, and we are thrilled to have them at Millersville.”
Kuhns hopes to enroll more Cuban doctors into the MSN and DNP programs at Millersville.
The couple now has two girls, a 3-year-old and a 6-month-old.
“We have hopes and dreams for our two daughters,” says Bosch. “They will have resources here, and we hope they go to college and have a career. It doesn’t have to be in the medical field. We just want them to go and study and be happy.”
Bosch summed up the couple’s journey, “No one can take your beliefs or your knowledge. They can take everything else, but they can’t take those things.”